December 2002 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
The Star of Bethlehem
in the Eyes of the Magi
Holiday Recipe Swap
Walking Softly
Upon the Earth
Metamorphosis Writing
Contest Final Entries
Sun In Hindu Mythology
The Secret of the I-Ching
December Star Watch
Conscious Community
Interactive Calendar
Book Review
Newsletter committee, writers, & contact info
Index of All Articles
Volume 1, Number 4

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.

The Secret of the I Ching

By Gregory Ellison

Most people know the I Ching - if at all - as an oracle, a way of tossing coins or yarrow stalks to get an “answer” to any question you might wish to ask of the 3,000-year-old Chinese Book of Change. Used in this way, the I Ching has a reputation for responding with sage advice that is often shockingly specific and helpful. In my own experience over many years I’ve found it to be the most accurate and useful of all the oracles.

However, its use as an oracle is only the tip of the iceberg. At the core of this ancient book is a complete philosophy of life that underlies all of its wise advice. The innermost essence of this philosophy - the real “secret” of the I Ching - is contained in the phrase Wu Wei.

Literally translated, Wu Wei means “doing nothing.” That’s a bit misleading, though, because the I Ching certainly doesn’t counsel laziness! Another common translation is “action through inaction,” and this hits a little closer to the mark.

The I Ching teaches that it is possible to become so “tuned in” to the natural patterns of change in the universe that we can accomplish anything simply by harmonizing with the energy around us and letting it carry us where we want to go.

Riding the Cosmic Wave

A good analogy for the idea of Wu Wei is surfing. Just as a surfer does not have to “do anything” to be carried along by the power of the wave, so we do not have to “do anything” to be carried along by the unfolding energy of life.

Of course, it’s not completely true that the surfer doesn’t have to do anything: she has to “tune in” to the power and direction of the wave. She must catch the wave at exactly the right time, moving in the right direction, and skillfully balance on the wave’s rising swell as it carries her up and away. If she fails to do this, she will wipe out; but if she succeeds in harmonizing with the wave, she will be carried along powerfully with little effort of her own!

The I Ching holds that there are “waves” of movement and change circulating continuously everywhere in the Universe and that, like the surfer, we can harmonize with these waves and let them carry us effortlessly to our goal, wherever our destination might be. The trick is to understand the waves of change so that we can successfully harmonize with them, rather than working at cross purposes to them and “wiping out!”

To this end, the legendary Chinese Emperor Fu His created a “miniature model” of the Universe. This model, which was first written down some 3,000 years ago but probably handed down as an oral tradition from times long forgotten, is what we know today as the I Ching. It is a collection of 64 six-line diagrams, called “hexagrams,” that look like this:

Hexagram 61 - “Inner Truth”

The 64 hexagrams of the I Ching purport to describe - in general terms - every possible situation that can occur in the Universe! And what is more, they describe in detail how the forces at work in each situation will ultimately change it into another situation, and why! By understanding and attuning ourselves with this knowledge, we become able to practice Wu Wei: letting the natural currents of change carry us smoothly through life without resistance. Action through inaction.

Yin and Yang

Each line of the hexagram consists of either a solid line ( ) or a line that is broken in the middle ( ). The solid lines represent “Yang” energy (daytime, masculine, active) while the broken lines represent “Yin” energy (nighttime, feminine, receptive or reflective). In the I Ching philosophy, Yin and Yang are said to be the primordial components of all reality, being the first duality to emerge from the undifferentiated unity of God (or Tao, as the ancient Chinese termed the Source of All). Yin and Yang are the basic “opposites” - the blueprint on which all other opposites are patterned.

In calling Yin and Yang opposites, however, it is important to bear in mind that the I Ching notion of opposites is not an “either/or” proposition, nor is it a case of good and evil or right and wrong. In the I Ching’s view opposites are not “against” each other but are rather complementary. They depend on each other. There could be no daytime if there were no night, no summer if there were no winter, no up without down. Yin and Yang are mutually dependent opposites that must always coexist; neither can live without the other. This is why the familiar Yin-Yang diagram always shows a little bit of Yin in the Yang side, and a little Yang on the Yin side.

As these two forces encounter each other, they react in certain orderly and predictable ways, combining, attracting and repelling. This combining and interacting of Yin and Yang gives rise to all the things we perceive in the Universe: everything from the Sun and the Moon and the stars overhead, to the love you feel for your child or mate, to the falling leaf fluttering to the ground and the drug-addicted mugger on the streets of New York ... all are just Yin and Yang arranged in different patterns of interaction!

The purpose of the I Ching is to help us understand these patterns of interaction (the Law of Change) and align ourselves with them so that we can keep our balance. Just as the surfer must stay balanced on the crest of her wave, so each of us must remain balanced with respect to the movement of life if we wish for a healthy, happy and harmonious existence. According to the I Ching, a lack of balance is the source of all unhappiness and misfortune.

We are not always taught to think like this. In fact, we are often taught the opposite: our competitive society teaches us to believe that we must “win” at everything or there is something wrong with us. We are taught to believe that if anything is good, then more of it must be better. If a modest income to support our family is a good thing, then great riches must be a better thing. If my neighbor has a nice new automobile, then I must have a faster or more expensive one to be better.

The I Ching, however, bases its advice on a few basic principles of how Yin and Yang interact in order to remain balanced and harmonious. Here are a few of these principles:


All things are differentiated aspects of One Infinity. When all is said and done, we are One.


Yin is the centrifugal, outward moving force. Yang is the centripetal, inward moving force.


Yin and Yang together produce energy and all phenomena.


Yin attracts Yang. Yang attracts Yin.


Yin repels Yin. Yang repels Yang.


The force of attraction and repulsion is proportional to the difference of the Yin and Yang components. Yin and Yang combined in various proportions produce energy and all phenomena.


All phenomena are ephemeral, constantly changing their constitution of Yin and Yang components.


Nothing is solely Yin or Yang. Everything involves polarity.


There is nothing neutral. Either Yin or Yang is in excess in every occurrence.


Large Yin attracts small Yin. Large Yang attracts small Yang.


At the extremes, Yin changes to Yang and Yang changes to Yin.


All physical forms and objects are Yang at the center and Yin at the surface.

With these basic principles, and 64 diagrams that show all the different ways that Yin and Yang can be combined in basic situations, the I Ching provides sage advice for all occasions. As you might expect, this advice stresses balance and harmony. In a given reading, for example, you might encounter such advice as –

“If you attempt too much, you will end by succeeding in nothing.”
“The teeth are hard, and fall out. The tongue is soft and remains.”
“Great power best expresses itself in gentleness.”
“Evil must fall at the moment it has wholly consumed the good, to which it owed its existence.”
“As you near the attainment of your goal, beware of becoming intoxicated with your achievement.”
“It is better to go on foot that to ride in a fine carriage under false pretenses.”
“Unlimited possibilities are not suited to mankind. If they existed, his life would only dissolve into the boundless.”
“Once you have gained inner mastery of a problem, it follows naturally that your outer action will succeed.”
“To rule truly is to serve.”

The images and commentaries attached to each of the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching explain the qualities of that particular combination of Yin and Yang, as well as indicating how the various forces within a hexagram move, change and interact with one another. It is no overstatement to say that all the secrets of the Universe are contained within this remarkable book, and your effort in studying it will be well rewarded.

And if, in doing so, you manage occasionally to touch that sublime state of Wu Wei, action through inaction, strength through non-resistance ... you might reflect that the wisdom therein is not so very different from the counsel of another Master, who taught that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”