Initially a deceptively simple but sophisticated system of divination some 5,000 years ago, the I Ching gradually evolved into a more refined and philosophical process: a dialogue within our psyche that unlocked a door normally hidden in the very shadows of our being. In this way it appeared to be magic, but only because the process wasn’t understood.
The I Ching evolved to encompass the guiding philosophies of Taoism, involving the great philosopher Confucius who became so greatly enamored of its innate and mysterious wisdom. And thousands of years later it seduced the renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Nobel Prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli and possibly the greatest scientist who ever lived: Albert Einstein.
A few hundred years earlier, the methodology employed by the I Ching to generate answers had provided the renowned 17th century mathematician and philosopher Gotfried Leibniz, the foundations for the development of his mathematical binary system. The consequence of this development had then provided John von Newmann - one of the greatest mathematicians of modern times who also studied the I Ching’s refined methodology - the basis for the eventual synthesis of the digital computer in the 20th century which Steve Jobs then so profoundly enhanced.
Steve Jobs took technology and turned it into an actual art form and was a major influence on the various technological baubles that adorn our lives today. That he studied the I Ching must then give us cause to wonder exactly what magic was in play here? Jobs, Einstein and so many other adventurously creative minds throughout the history of humankind? Obviously the I Ching is far more than merely a simple book of wisdom. Far more!
Our forebears knew nothing of their unlikely origins as they surveyed the night sky overthe land we now know as northeastern Africa and certainly that knowledge would have been of no importance to them at all. For all they knew, thestars were nothing more than fireflies or some other magical creature that could illuminate the night. Early man’s ability to comprehend the infinity of space and the miracle of his existence was limited in theextreme – his reactions and intelligence mostly instinctive and directed by the needs of his survival: eating, finding a place to spend the night that was safe from prowling leopards or shelter from the sudden storms that seemingly came from nowhere. Life then was far from easy!
His surroundings though were magnificent. Life flourished around him and the fertile terrain produced an abundance of fruits, nuts and wild vegetables. Thick forests - home to large flocks of boisterous and wildly colored birds - gradually gave way to lush fertile valleys and then vast expanses of grassy flatlands where game grazed freely as far as man could see, and then much further to towering mountains and the great mysteries that lay beyond them. These lands were truly immeasurable. Rivers flowed down from those distant mountains and eventually into pristine lakes that stretched to indefinite horizons which seemed to have no end at all: no borders, merely an unending montage of extravagance and splendor.
There were no sounds of civilization then of course. No light at night, save for the scattered phosphorescence of the night sky. No fire to frighten away the predators that constantly prowled in search of food. Perhaps, in a brief flash, lightning would dance across the horizon revealing, just for an instant, the murky outlines of potential threat; but the darkness was embracing. In such an environment small groups of Homo Sapiens clustered together for protection and waited for the sun to free them from the night.
It is understandable that early man would then have made some attempt to show deference to the fickle and infinitely more powerful forces that held sway over their world - the sun, the moon and in fact the entire arena of Nature. These forces were dangerous in their unpredictability and a jagged slash of light across a rapidly darkening horizon was a warning of impending wrath. Storm clouds quickly congregated in a rumbling sky and the first jagged gusts of wind would send man scurrying for some kind of shelter.
These often violent squalls could generate ferocious winds that raced across the plains cascading torrential rains of such intensity that they spawned almost immediate floods, and the resultant deluge then surged through gorges, uprooting trees with impunity and left a trail of devastation in its wake that was almost stupefying in its complete authority. The power that made these things happen was immense and man a mere footprint upon the earth that quickly washed away this much only did man understand of himself.
But such power, for all its capriciousness, had a rhythm and order that allowed the sun to run its daily course, the moon to wax and wane and rain to sustain life itself. There was a distinctive resonance to existence that was obviously directive in some way and consequently the various elemental forces that so dominated man’s existence were perceived as alive - possessing spirits or “souls”. Each distinctive force was ascribed certain characteristics and it was then the interaction between these disparate elements that produced a particular set of circumstances: their arguments, associations and covenants – their interplay. Early animistic worship thus developed from this awareness in an effort to perhaps find favor and beneficially influence events.
It was a simple yet fundamentally sophisticated system: a lake, for example, is still – calm, placid and in a state of receptive feminine tranquility. The waters reflect an image of the mountain which represents unwavering solid strength and often aggressive masculine dominance. But if we then introduce the wind which is ethereal, essentially unpredictable and sometimes even devious, then the waters become disturbed, the reflection therefore fractured, perturbed and unpredictable. In this manner, the various elements combined, interacted and had therefore transitory authority over their domain. By observing these changing alignments, man then considered the overall influences apparent in his life and reacted accordingly.
The primitive recognition of the natural and diverse forces that had influence in the lives of those that roamed the plains of Africa so very long ago were thus embedded deeply in our genes; an instinctive understanding of our various vulnerabilities in life and a desire then to somehow overcome them. These same directive forces are those that were embodied in the origins of a system of divination that, it is said, was developed in ancient China by the legendry emperor and sage Fu Xi (Tsi) who ruled nearly three thousand years before the birth of Christ.
China at that time was a land of feudal nobles and often squabbling warlords, mythical dragons and sagacious mystics where so called magical or supernatural abilities were not at all regarded as aberrations at all - merely essential tools that could be used as an assistance regarding the trials and tribulations of daily life. It should come as no surprise then that it was claimed that Fu Xi was supernaturally inspired. Apparently a pragmatic and perceptive leader, he was able to transform society with his sense of humanity and intuitive understanding of the various interactive forces of nature that had influence on life. He taught people the rudiments of fishing with nets, cooking, hunting with weapons made of iron and, according to Ban Gu the 1st century historian, Fu Xi created the laws of humanity and devised eight trigrams in order to gain mastery over the world. Having been also said to have lived to the ripe old age of 197, we can’t therefore guarantee the absolute veracity of his deeds, but whatever the I Ching’s true genesis - supernatural or more cerebral - its system of divination immediately acquired mystical associations.
Originally, the idea behind the I Ching or Book of Changes, as it is known in the English language, was extremely simple: that the various circumstances that occurred in our lives – indeed the whole universe – were the result of two interacting forces named Yin and Yang. Yin was regarded as yielding, feminine, fertile and of the earth, while Yang was masculine, masterful, creative and heavenly. These two symbols, while absolute contrasts, interacted with each other to various degrees depending on the prevalent circumstances and consequently created the various influences and changes that affect and govern our lives. Representing Yin with a broken line and Yang with an unbroken one, a system of divination was developed.
Initially, a question would be answered with these single lines that provided a simple yes or no response - an unbroken line signifying “yes” and a broken line signifying “no” - but Fu Xi had amplified upon this very simplistic approach, taking into account the different fundamental aspects of Yin and Yang: heaven, earth, wind, lake, water, fire, thunder and mountain. He then assigned each element with two lines that symbolized their constantly changing transitional states. Thus were the first trigrams formed.
The subsequent development of the I Ching is obscured somewhat in the metaphysical mists of that period until we reach the time of King Wen, who ruled just over a thousand years before the birth of Christ and was, it seems, a loyal but cautiously guarded servant of the Shang dynasty. Seeking to protect his people from the often obnoxious behavior of the Tyrant of Shang though, he obviously threw caution to the wind and attempted - somewhat rashly perhaps - to persuade him to modify his unfriendly activities. Apparently Wen’s entreaties failed to impress this autocratic ruler and he was abruptly imprisoned for inciting rebellion. We are hardly surprised, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise?
Subsequently meditating upon his misfortune, King Wen obviously had ample time to reflect upon how the eight trigrams that had been previously created by Fu Xi had aligned themselves to create his unfortunate situation. The diverse elemental forces that had provoked his downfall though were perhaps insufficient to fully explain his predicament and King Wen realized that the trigrams could be combined in a different and expanded manner. He accordingly created a system of 64 hexagrams that very much enlarged the range of the diverse influences that are apparent in life. Each hexagram was named and he also wrote descriptions of each one that described their various characteristics.
After King Wen’s death, his son, the Duke of Zhou, added to these texts by studying each line of the hexagrams and assigning them a specific individual meaning, thereby creating a supplementary explanation or special point of concern regarding an answer that the I Ching provided. And as it evolved - for the I Ching was developing almost as a plant would grow from a seed - philosophical texts were added that addressed the pragmatic, humanistic and metaphysical Taoist understandings of the period and these consequently added character and an intimate personality to the book.
The great Chinese philosopher and sage Confucius, who was born in 551 BC, was so completely enticed by the I Ching in fact, that he added to the various texts that had become attached to the book himself and declared that, should he have another fifty years to live, he would then dedicate them all to the study of this amazing work. With the addition of Confucian logic, the I Ching increasingly developed into a book of constructive reasoning and perception that provided an overview of circumstances apparent in a questioner’s life, providing commentary that allowed someone to more fully understand themselves and their motivations: how perhaps it was their own attitudes that were the actual instigators of their problems and not the usual culprits such as the capricious vagaries of “fate” that were so often blamed for one’s misfortune.
The I Ching had actually seemed to many that it was in some way animate, for how else could it possibly “know” a questioner in such a personal way - often better than they even knew themselves. The bond that was created by the I Ching with someone that used it was really quite unique and tapped into the very psyche of a questioner with a depth and perception that often startled in its accuracy. It was hardly surprising then that its fame spread rapidly throughout the land and, using the terminology of the Internet age: it quickly went viral.
Despite a general burning of books by the tyrant Ch’in Shih Huang Ti around 220 B.C., the I Ching fortunately managed to escape unscathed and, much in the same way that astrologers are consulted today, it became widely used as an oracle by those that needed advice, guidance or reassurance. But in the process of becoming wildly popular, an almost inevitable process of trivialization set in with the consequence that the I Ching was in danger of degenerating into mere entertainment. A comparison can again be drawn with the popularity of astrology today that is so often regarded as an amusing but essentially mindless diversion to dabble in, but certainly not take too seriously.
By the third century AD, in fact, the I Ching became so widely misinterpreted, translated and diluted – for everyone was in on the act by then - that much of the books wisdom was being completely overlooked. It was at this point that the young scholar, Wang Pi, fortuitously took it upon himself to revise and re-edit the book - restoring it to its rightful position as one of the more fascinating books of philosophical insight that has ever been created.
The basic problem though with the I Ching is that despite the wisdom, understanding and abilities of the book to “know” the person consulting it, the cultural understanding that it reflects is almost totally alien unless one is conversant with the historical background of ancient China and its often impenetrable cultural associations. Imagine - we have difficulty today even connecting with the realities of life in our own country a mere one hundred years ago, what more thousands of years ago in an alien land of mythical beasts and the various supernatural forces apparent at that time in history? The core understanding or “answer” the I Ching gives us is therefore sometimes obscured somewhat by a poetic mist of archaic cultural analogies.
In situations of stress, uncertainty, fear and worry, we need a clear indication of not just a way out of our current situation, but the provision of a set of directions to set us off in a better direction. It can be confusing - to say the least - to be told during times when we need a clear answer, that there’s distant thunder in the mountains, the king has taken a new concubine or that dragons are squabbling in the meadows. We live in a very direct and to the point world these days and our answers must therefore reflect this term of reference. There was consequently a compelling need to create a more relevant version.
The new revision of the I Ching that comprises this website is a hybrid which was created by John Nicholas Stoodley after he had clearly understood exactly what sentient force generated answers: how the apparently random fall of three coins was, in fact, far from random. He consequently rewrote, adapted and even changed the basic arrangement of the original I Ching – “chopped it up” as he referred to the process, and adopted an approach where the spirit and metaphysical understanding was preserved, but one that then goes off on a tangent with a much more current and therefore relevant understanding of our directions and possibilities as a species in the 21st century.
Purists inevitably will be aghast, but then fundamentalists always are; so rigid they are in their determination to prevent change from possibly illuminating their obvious insecurities. This attitude seems odd when everything about us is actually in a continual state of flux: changing, adapting, modifying, learning. Is change somehow dangerous, to be feared - or is it perhaps our attitudes that should give us cause for concern?
What must be realized here is that the hexagrams in the I Ching that are formed when asking questions are composed of lines that are all about change – they represent change – reflecting a transitional and mutable force, but in themselves, not directly responsible for an effect or influence. It is the interaction or associations between these various forces, or lines, that is of importance. And then, very importantly indeed, it is our overall state of consciousness - which is also in a continual state of change - that is a directive and therefore crucial element involved in the process.
It is easy to understand how purists may react, after all an undertaking that takes such an ancient and revered work and radically amends it is almost akin to taking the Bible and deciding to eliminate Genesis and then improbably revising the ten commandments – perhaps making them eleven, or cutting back to eight! Consequently, before started the revision, John Nicholas Stoodley had asked the original version if he should proceed. The answer that he received described a vessel containing (spiritual) nourishment which is unassailable, but not widelyknown, and therefore in need of bringing forward that man may be led appropriately “through the mazes of fate and the obscurities of our own natures.” The meaning was clear. Interestingly, when Jung had been asked by Richard Wilhelm to write the forward to his translation of the I Ching in the early part of the 20th century, he had also asked the I Ching if it would be appropriate for him to do so. He had received exactly the same answer and one is therefore tempted to see a degree of synchronicity involved.
Since this adaptation very much changes the established order of the original, then it is impossible to compare answers from the original Ching to those given by this website - the answers reflecting today’s concerns; situations that didn’t exist thousands of years ago. The spirit is still very much apparent - the “magic” remains intact - but the words are mostly very different indeed. What is of ultimate importance though is that it successfully functions in exactly the same way as did the original.