01 January 2009

The I-Ching

I've been curious about the I-Ching (yi jing in pinyin) for quite a while, but whenever I'd pick up a copy of it, I'd get the sense that now was not the time ... right up until I found Deng Ming Dao's Living I-Ching on my trip down to Salt Lake last summer. The title is usually translated as "The Book of Changes". "Ching" or "jing" generally means "classic text".

The idea behind the Changes is simple. All things in life are constantly changing. They change according to observable and predictable cycles. If we can figure out where in the cycle we are, we can be prepared for what's likely to come next. The Book of Changes attempts to organize the cycles of change. It is often used as a tool for divination. Use some random method (usually the casting of yarrow sticks or coins) to choose a hexagram. Rules will determine if any of the lines of the hexagram are about to change, and the changing lines will yield a second hexagram. The first is believed to be the situation as it is now; the second is the situation about to come into being.

While I do cast coins and look up the corresponding passages, I don't think of it as divination. It's more...inspiration. The imagery in the poems may take my thoughts in a different direction with regard to some problem or question. I have noticed that I'm more likely to consult it in times of stress, where I feel a bit out of control, and that fits recent research which suggests superstitious behaviors in part serve to re-establish a sense of control over an uncontrollable situation. For me, I recognize that I will find in the imagery something to soothe my mind, whether it represents an accurate forecast for the future or not.

As for Deng Ming Dao's version, I like that he includes the Chinese character with its partial* pronunciation and some of its meanings. I like that the beginning of the book discusses some of the history of the I-Ching, and the way it progresses through a cycle itself, just as the Changes do. I also like the discussions of each hexagram. He includes the poem, two of the interpretations, the readings for each changing line, and then goes into his own commentary. Interestingly, his commentary is always on a separate page from the "classic" material. I would consider this an excellent version for someone just getting started.

For the record, there is a part of me that takes the I-Ching more seriously than I've indicated here. According to Master Jou (my teacher's teacher), you can't master the Changes by casting coins or sticks: you've mastered them when you know which hexagram applies in a situation without any extraneous ritual. Whether that's truly possible or not, I don't know. I do know that I've had some eerily applicable readings, but I also know that, once I've primed myself with a question, I'm going to see an answer to it in what I read.

One final oddity: when I found the copy of the book in the bookstore and picked it up, it was warm in my hands. My hands almost tingled. I frowned at the book, put it back, and picked up another from the same shelf. No warmth or tingling. So I picked up the Living I-Ching again, and the warmth and tingling came back. I still get it if I hold the book for very long. Does it mean anything? It does to me, at least, but to anyone else, it probably indicates some sort of subconscious appeal of the book to me. However, it's not an appeal for any version of the I-Ching. I found an older translation in an antique store (Jung, or one of Jung's students, iirc), picked it up, and it was painful in my hands. *shrugs* I was actually thinking of buying it until I picked it up. Make what you will of that. I find it a curiosity worth exploring.

No comments: