What is the I Ching?

"I Ching, therefore I am!" 

-- So reads the tagline to this blog. My longtime friend Yvonne coined the phrase, and it stuck with a giddy ring of truth. I've been studying the I Ching since 1981; its wisdom is woven into my bones.

The question, "What is the I Ching?" is one thread in the weave ... a question that I can't answer simply (I wonder if any of us can). Translated into English, I Ching -- or Yijing, a more modern transliteration of the Chinese -- means (The) Classic, Book of Change, The Book of Changes, The Changes of Chou (Chou being a tribal people of ancient China, c. 400 B.C.), Change Book, and (The) Classic of Changes. 

One word, one theme, keeps recurring ... Change. 

The fact of perpetual, unchanging Change is the unifier; it is the constancy of change that the Book addresses through 64 Principles most commonly known as Hexagrams, which are sequenced arrangements of lines, based in a basic binary understanding of existential laws that after 33 years of study, I still can't make much sense of.

However! ... One of the fundamental beauties of the I Ching is that its wisdom reveals itself through so many avenues of intelligence. Each reader, each student of the Book, will come to understand it in a completely unique way. My understanding leans to metaphor, psychology, intuition, poetry, and dialogue. Others' grasp of the oracle (an oracle being a source of wisdom) tend to the mathematical (Here's a site by digital/software artist Antonio Cortez -- Inspired by composer John Cage, he's created  a series of 3D hexagrams which, in his words, "capture the spirit, form, and meaning of the original hexagrams"), visually artistic (Cortez again ... and here I think of J.S. Bach, whose music reached a pinnacle of mathematical beauty and expression), historical, cultural, symbolic, and linguistic. There are as many understandings as there are people who delve into study. This is one of the gifts of the I Ching ... Its wisdom speaks through so many voices (as does the wisdom of the Bible and other holy books through their many translations).

(Art: a teaser-chart of Antonio Cortez's 3D I Ching creation)

With all this in mind, I'm going to jot some "first thoughts" that anchor me in meaning to this oracle that has been one of my constant companions through the changes of the last 33 years. Perhaps my thoughts will spark your own; I'd love to read your meanings and hunches about what the oracle is to you.

The I Ching is ... 

* a wise guide through the constant inevitability of change -- through every passage and possibility of human existence
* a conversation; a dialogue between a person and an oracle (oracle = source of wisdom)
* one of the voices of God ... of Existence, of Life, of our Source and Sustenance
* one of my primary modes of prayer
* a book that Carl Jung revered (he called it "both a supreme expression of spiritual authority and a philosopical enigma ... For lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom -- if there be such -- it seems to be the right book.")
* a natural complement to the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu and the works of Confucius
* a mirror of the moment
* an engagement between now ... and then
* one of China's most ancient and revered guides to ethical living, as sacred to people of the Orient as the Bible is to people of Judeo-Christian heritage
* the sanest book on my shelf
* a consistently benevolent, universal, sensical, and humane philosophy
* a practical and immediately applicable manual for living that addresses, with exquisite simplicity, the core questions we have always asked about existence and about the human condition
* an oasis in which to consider questions of relation (To whom do you belong?), location (Where do you belong?), and vocation (To what work/vocation do you belong?)
* sometimes, a scathing wit (and always a humane one) -- I've fallen over laughing several times. Once, in a fit of frustration, I asked the oracle, "What am I supposed to let go of!?" -- The response: Hexagram/Principle 59 -- Dispersion!  
* a soul-mirror of the present moment and of possibilities
* not a human voice, nor an inhuman one ... It is the voice of Wisdom
* not a predictor; not a "fortune teller." The Book offers a snapshot of a moment, its underlying dynamics, and possibilities for behavioural and existential movement; for engagement with what is into what might be ... a platform from which you can change your life in any moment
* a way to propel imagination and intuition into action
* a way to gather mindfulness and mercy into your situations and concerns; a way to hold, behold, and befriend what irks you ... into what might inspire you
* a way to understand how the natural Elements of existence interrelate and act upon all that is
* a distillation of witnessing, wondering, musing, grappling, testing, and apprehending
* a compendium of natural elements, processes, and laws (as Jack Balkin writes in his masterpiece, The Laws of Change, "What are the laws of change that govern human fortunes, and how can human beings understand these laws and learn to live in harmony with the changing world around them?") ... and a means whereby to understand them -- to the point that any person can!
* an engagement of human meaning and mastery with existential Mystery

What is the I Ching to you?


What a wonderful discovery your blog is! I too have been studying the I-Ching since the 80s, and I guess I'm as smitten by the poetry of synchronicity as you are. You might like to have a look at my app, I-Ching, App of Changes: I think we resonate at very similar frequencies. :-) Random smaples and download links here: I Ching App of Changes
Alexa said…
Thank you so much for your kind words and the link to your app! I'm going there right now :-)

Popular Posts