Is the I Ching Useful?

By Celia Coates

We know that fire is hot and snow is cold because we’ve felt them. Nothing beats direct experience.

Recently I heard about the experience of a group of women, friends for many years who have been reading books you can learn from, books about quantum physics, esoteric wisdom, and new views on important ideas. These six women have adopted a tradition of consulting the I Ching twice a year. They met on the weekend after the Presidential Election in November and reported,
“All of us being pretty much overwhelmed, we were simply looking for a clue as to what we should make of it all. We sat around a table, one of us with a pencil and paper, and each of us in turn threw the three coins that give you either a solid or a broken line according to whether they are heads or tails. Six lines were recorded beginning with the bottom one in the series. Once you have drawn the pattern for the six lines – the hexagram – you look for it in the key that gives you the number for that pattern.”

The question they asked before throwing the coins was,
“What should we make of all of this?”
The hexagram that resulted was number 12, named “Standstill”. When they consulted the I Ching for the meaning of this, they read,
Heaven is above, drawing farther and farther away, while the earth below sinks farther into the depths. The creative powers are not in relation. … Heaven and earth are out of communion and all things are benumbed. What is above has no relation to what is below and on earth confusion and disorder prevail.

This was very useful for them. You can read the full statement of the hexagram in what is still considered the best version (translated from the Chinese into German and then into English): THE I CHING OR BOOK OF CHANGES, Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes, Princeton University Press.

Carl Jung wrote the foreword to this book and his approach to the I Ching seems to me the wisest. He was guided by his own experiences in consulting the ancient text and although he did not discount the power of the scientific method for discovering what’s correct, he said that there are events in life that are not predictable or controllable and that do not occur frequently enough to be measured and validated by science. There are experiences that are personal, not generalizable, in the moment and not reproducible, and meaningful rather than provable. For these we have to use another way of knowing.

There is something to be aware of though, when we are guided by our own direct experiences. The human mind can construct irrelevant patterns from experiences, patterns that can become superstitions. It’s a stretch, but let’s say that someone touched a candle flame and then it snowed. When it happened again, they came to believe that the first had caused the second. That’s how some superstitions arise. In the last three hundred years scientific discoveries have freed us from the bonds of superstition, but it’s time now to add back in the profound knowledge gained from experiences, not just from experiments. That is a key perspective behind WINN. What do we know because we have lived it? And that we have clear-headedly examined?

Many people have used the hexagrams for fortune-telling or predicting the future in a way similar to reading tea leaves or consulting Tarot cards, but that may not be how you approach them.  The book group used the hexagram they threw as a guide for understanding the current moment and had an experience of the mysteriously useful I Ching. They also found that, once again, it was a dependable and wise guide, like an unfailing guru that can be relied on for insight and counsel. In hexagram 12, the commentary says that the wise man turns inward and looks to his own integrity when dark forces are ascendant. Other hexagrams suggest the advantages of immediate action, but not this one.

Carl Jung wrote in his Foreword that,
“The ancient Chinese mind contemplates the cosmos in a way comparable to that of the modern physicist who cannot deny that his model of the world is a decidedly psychophysical structure.”

And that the hexagrams have a meaning,
“… something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.”

I think that the I Ching can be useful in a variety of ways – from being used as a prompt for thinking about a current question to knowing that the reality we live in is non-material, truly not bound by space and time, and that we can experience something of reality’s many dimensions. The choices are ours. We can explore both the objective and the subjective worlds for ourselves.

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  1. Wotring Anne says:

    Another good one, Celia!!! I am so impressed with your tenacity and persistence in getting WINN out each week. Go well, Anne

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