Without Falsehood: Divining the Election with I Ching

Most people think of the I Ching as a method of fortune telling.  It’s known as The Oracle.  I don’t believe in divination, fortune telling, soothsaying – but I’ve found that if you use the I Ching as a philosophical text, as a book of wisdom, instead of divinations you discover illustrations or models of different ways of life, signposts to different directions.

I Ching consists of 64 gua or hexagrams, each one a combination of six broken or unbroken lines.  The text is made up of commentaries by Confucius and others on the Judgments, or decision, and the image (symbol) formed by the lines.

For a lark, the other afternoon I thought I would divine the election.  Usually, when I “consult” I Ching all I do is simply pick up a translation and read whatever is on the page I opened.  Occasionally, I used to meditate on a thought and then throw the sticks or coins.  It’s rarely a formal question that I have in my mind, but for this exercise, the question was “Who will win the 2016 Presidential election and what will it mean for the future of the United States?”  I tossed 3 coins six times and the lines corresponded to this hexagram:

wu-wang2Wu WangWithout Falsehood

Above:  Heaven, the creative, active

Below:  Thunder, movement, perilousness

Alfred Huang translates Wu Wang as Without Falsehood and says that it “literally means untruthful.”  John Blofeld translates it as Integrity, Richard John Lynn (translating Wang Bi’s interpretation) as No Errancy, and John Cleary (in The Buddhist I Ching) as No Error.

Huang writes, “This gua displays the wisdom of holding to the truth – that is, no matter how situations change, truthfulness never changes.  The ancient Chinese did not have a personal God; they submitted to the will of Heaven and resigned themselves to their fate.  They believed that to live and act in harmony with the will of Heaven was the nature and duty of humanity.”

The way of Heaven means the way of nature, and ideally, to be in harmony with the way of nature.

Falsehood seems an apt hexagram for this election.  We are sure that all politicians lie and according to Politico, this year voters must choose between a presidential candidate who lies every three minutes and 15 seconds, or one who lies every 12 minutes.

Yet, Wu Wang represents more than truthfulness.  Another definition is “a person’s prestige.”

The Judgment:  Without Falsehood.  Sublimely prosperous and smooth.  Favorable to be steadfast and upright.  If one’s intention is not truthful, there is trouble.  Unfavorable to go anywhere.

The Image:  Under the sky, thunder rolls; from it all things are accompanied by truthfulness and receive their integrity.  The ancient rulers, in accordance with this, nurtured myriad beings.

Here is Chih-hsu Ou-I’s interpretation (The Buddhist I Ching):

Judgment:  Freedom from error is very successful, beneficial for the upright.  Denial of what is correct is mistaken, so it will not be beneficial to go anywhere.

Commentary:  In politics, a government that restores well-being accords with the way of heaven and if free from error.  In Buddhism, a teaching that restores the true way is the same as the orthodox teachings and is free from error.  In contemplating mind, on returning to original essence, truth is found and confusion is ended, so one is free from error.  All of these are very successful, and beneficial for the upright.

But whether in worldly affairs or transcendental affairs, helping oneself and helping others, it is necessary to look deep into oneself to be sure one’s mind is free from aberration and one’s words and deeds are not mistaken.  If inwardly one denies what is correct, outwardly one will make mistakes; then one should certainly not go anywhere or do anything in this way.

One way to look at it is from the conventional or relative view, which seems to me rather pessimistic, that no matter who is elected President, the country is going to be in trouble.  The notion that it is not beneficial to go anywhere would seem to indicate that the country is not going to move forward, there will be more gridlock and almost certainly, more division.  That is, as long as our leaders remain with falsehood and out of harmony with nature.

There is another aspect of this view to consider and it relates to Lincoln’s words that the American government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  If we want better politicians, we need to be better citizens.  Too many of us are kind of lazy especially when it comes to learning about the issues.

i_ching_coins2 “To look deep into oneself” is ultimately about truth as a personal experience.  This kind of truth does not necessarily have to do with conformity with facts.  Maybe we could call it self-truth, or integrity, becoming men and women of principle, cultivating an ethical way of life.  It is, to some extent, what we mean when we talk about finding our true nature or original essence.  It is not separate from the realm of truth, but intersects with all truth.

John Blofeld’s interpretation of the commentary on Wu Wang (Integrity):

Those who do what is right win great success . . . Those opposed to righteousness will suffer and have nowhere favorable to go; for, without integrity, what remains for them?

The I Ching is known in English as “The Book of Changes” and because we can change, those without integrity can chose to develop it, and those with integrity can discover how it is beneficial to find harmony with one’s own truth and be without falsehood.

Read more posts about the I Ching here.


Modesty: Earth Above, Mountain Below

The I Ching is a marvelous book, one of the oldest in the world.   I have mentioned before that it’s more than book of divination; it is philosophy, and poetry.

As the English title, “Book of Changes”, implies, the subject is change.  The text and commentary accompanying the sixty-four interrelated hexagrams at the heart of the book provide insight and guidance to help us work with the changes of life.  The hexagram text is attributed to King Wen (1150 BCE) and his son Duke Chou King Wen of Zhou, and the commentary to Confucius and his disciples.  There are countless other commentaries, interpretations, and translations.

qian1Let’s take a very brief look at Hexagram 15: qian, modesty or humbleness.

Alfred Huang’s translation (The Complete I Ching) reads,

The structure of this gua [hexagram] is Earth above, Mountain below.  Normally mountains are high and the Earth is low.  What makes a mountain a mountain is its standing high above the Earth.  In this gua, the mountain stands underneath the Earth.  This image represents a state of becoming humble.

The Commentary on the Appended Phrases (in The Classic of Changes by Wang Bi) reads,

qian0The Master said: “To be diligent yet not to brag about it, to have meritorious achievement yet not to regards its virtue, this is the ultimate of magnanimity.  This speaks of someone who takes his achievements and subordinates them to others.  As for his virtue, he would have it prosper ever more, and as for his decorum, he would it ever more respectful.  Modesty as such leads to perfect respect, and this is how one preserves his position.”

Qian is how virtue provides a handle to things.

Qian provides the means by which decorum exercises its control.

In Taoism and Buddhism, modesty or humbleness is a vital quality to develop.  Tibetan Buddhists value the idea of seeing oneself as lower than others.  But this can be misunderstood as depreciating ourselves, and humility is often seen as a sign of weakness.   But it is really about seeing ourselves and others as equal.  Another word for it might be respect, seeing everyone, and everything, as our teacher.

Finally, in the commentary on the I Ching by T’ien-t’ai priest Chih-hsu Ou-i (1599-1655), translated by Thomas Cleary in The Buddhist I Ching, we find these words,

In Buddhist terms, [qian] means taking from the mountain of infinite virtues of Buddhahood to add to the earth of sentient beings, realizing that all beings have the mountain of virtues of Buddhahood within them, assessing people’s potentials and what suits them, impartially giving out the bliss of Buddhahood, not letting anyone realize nirvana alone.

For buddhas and sages, modesty is a vital trait to cultivate because it is an antidote to pride, one of the five poisons, an affliction caused by self-cherishing and attachment to the notion of “I”.  Buddhas and sages know that modesty is a dharma door that opens not only to to a remarkable and contented life but also to the sublime greatness of altruism.

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The Complete I Ching, Trans. Alfred Huang, Inner Traditions International, 1998

The Classic of Changes A New Translation of the I Ching, Trans. Wang Bi, Columbia University Press, 1994

Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987


Delight: Thunder over Earth

Remnants of former Hurricane Dolores off Baja California barreled through our area this past weekend, bringing much needed rain along with a few other things. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works captured 245 million gallons of storm water from the downpours. That much rain is highly unusual for Southern California at this time of year. Normally, we see no rain, I mean nada, from say, May to October. The storm also gave us several days of cloudy skies, severe flooding in some areas that caused a bridge to collapse, washed out part of Interstate 10, closed beaches due to widespread  lighting strikes, and the loud thunder rolled.

I-Ching-yuWe often think of storms and dark skies as something gloomy. In the I Ching there is a hexagram called Yu: Thunder over Earth. (Shown on the right.) In his translation of I Ching, Alfred Huang interprets the hexagram as “Delight.” Richard John Lee, translating Wang Bi’s interpretation, has it as “Contentment.” Wilhelm as “Enthusiasm,” and in Thomas Cleary’s translation of the Buddhist I-Ching, it is “Joy.” All are good, but I prefer “Delight” because the preceding hexagram is “Humbleness” and in Huang it reads:

When one’s harvest is great and one can still remain humble, there is sure to be an outburst of delight. Thus, after Humbleness, Delight follows.”

Now, thunder over earth is indicative of a storm, and regardless how great or small one’s harvest in life may be, to find contentment, enthusiasm, or joy in the midst of life’s storms is a sublime delight.

Ou-i, in the Buddhist I-Ching wrote,

In terms of contemplating mind, this is the realization of the truth that nothing is as pictured by the imagination, and the experience of indescribable bliss.”

Here, imagination is used in the sense of to parikalpita, a Sanskrit word meaning imaginary. It is what Nagarjuna means in the Middle Verses when he says that the various factors of existence are all merely like an imaginary city in the sky, and what the Diamond Sutra means when it says, “you should view this fleeting world as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a mirage, and a dream.”

Contemplating mind refers to using meditation to dispel the dark clouds of ignorance so that we may see the truth of reality, that is, existence as interdependent and empty of inherent self-being. “The experience of indescribable bliss” means there is joy, contentment, and delight in seeing truth, which should make us enthusiastic about living.

This is just a glimpse in the meaning of the Yu hexagram, thunder over earth, there is much more. Huang explains that the prime point of the hexagram is to explain the concept of harmony and delight. However, the ancient text accompanying the hexagram depicts circumstances that are neither harmonious nor delightful. The hexagram, then, also serves as a warning against contentment in the way of complacency and self-satisfaction.

The point for me is that with all the negatives that came with the storm, it brought rain, beautiful nourishing rain, and after four years of drought here in California, it was indeed a delight.


The Circle Time Parade of Changes

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow, they fade
And then they have to die
Trapped within the circle time parade of changes

Phil Ochs, “Changes”

Responding to an April post, “Sameness and Nonsameness“, which dealt with Taoist and Buddhist uses of the I Ching (“Book of Change”), a reader commented that the book is a Confucian text. I agree this is a common understanding, but I don’t think it is a complete understanding. Actually, as Taoist master Alfred Huang notes in his translation*, “Both Confucianism and Taoism originated from the philosophy of the I Ching. They both followed the Tao of Earth, but they diverged.” To me the separation between the two seems rather slight, but that may be a matter of perspective and opinion.

I Ching 02bThe “Book of Change” consists of 64 hexagrams or gua (two trigrams of 3 broken and unbroken lines) and related judgments and commentaries. In the traditional account of I Ching history, King Wen of the Zhou (1152-1056 BCE) developed the hexagrams from eight trigrams created by a legendary folk hero named Fu Xi. However, modern scholarship has tracked back the origins to China’s first recorded history during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1046 BCE) when divination was accomplished by studying the cracks in animal bones, tortoise shells, metal, and stone heated in a fire. Even in this crude method, we can see the traces of the four oldest pictograms (Yuan, Heng, Li, Chen).

The judgments are thought to have been composed sometime between the 7th to 9th centuries BCE, and while Confucius (551-479 BCE) has been identified as the author of the commentaries, Wing-Tsit Chan (1901-1994), one of the world’s leading scholars of Chinese philosophy, noted that some scholars believe the commentaries are the work “unknown writers three or four centuries later.”**

During the Ch’in (221-206 BCE) and Han (206BCE-220CE) dynasties, the I Ching emerged as a complex philosophical system that sought to clarify the patterns, structures, and forces of existence.

The I Ching was a text used by all three major philosophies in China, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and there was a great deal of cross pollination between these schools of thought. As far as Buddhism is concerned, while the influence of the I Ching was limited, Thomas Cleary writes***, “When Buddhism came into China, it picked up certain key phrases from the Chinese classics to put forth its message in the local idiom.  Among the classics Buddhism drew from was, naturally, the I Ching.  Eleventh-century Ch’an Buddhists used well-known lines referring to effective adaptation, an axial Buddhist theme.”  It’s also important to mention that Buddhism in China was heavily influenced by Taoism.

Within the I Ching there is an understanding of change and a non-dual view of existence generally consistent with Taoism and Buddhism. According to the I Ching, interaction between the two opposite principles, yin and yang, is the primary cause of all change. I or “change” is symbolized by the advance or retreat of the dragon. As in Buddhism, all things are impermanent, subject to change, but change is not one-dimensional, rather it is cyclical. The purpose of consulting the I Ching should not be to divine one’s fate or to engage in a form of entertainment, the aim lies in gaining insight into the ebb and flow of life, with an eye toward creating harmony between the individual and the constant movement of the cycles of change.

In his book, The Inner Structure of the I Ching, Lama Anagarika Govinda calls the text “The Book of Transformation,” for ultimately that is what it is, a tool for transformation, self-development – we might even call it the world’s first self-help book. The I Ching is sometimes referred to as “The Oracle,” but as Lama Govinda tells us,

When we consult the I Ching, we do not renounce our free will, but we seek clarity for our decision. Thus, the I Ching helps us to exert our free will, not to suppress it, as most people think who look for easy solutions and want to avoid responsibility by treating the I Ching as a soothsaying book. The I Ching is not there to predict the future, but to show you the possibilities that lie before you. But you yourself must decide your fate.”

To learn more, I Ching on the Net has a compressive list of related links.

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* The Complete I Ching, Trans. Alfred Huang, Inner Traditions International, 1998, 51

** Wing-Tsit Chan (Ed.), A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1963, 262

*** Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.


Sameness and Nonsameness

Taoism and Buddhism have had a long history of co-existence and interaction. Many of the early Buddhists in China were also Taoists, and Taoism exerted a profound and positive influence on Buddhism. One reason for this is that both Taoism and Buddhism share a non-dual view of reality.

Buddhism expresses this understanding as pratitya-samutpada or interdependence, and in Taoism it is harmony, represented by the concept of yin-yang. In non-duality, there is a quality of sameness to all things, and yet there is also a quality of difference.

The I Ching (“Book of Changes”) is one of the oldest books in the world. Its origins are thought to pre-date recorded history. Most people think of the I Ching as a way of divination, or fortune-telling, but it is really one of the great works of philosophy, and it was used by both Taoists and Buddhists. One such Buddhist was Chih-hsu Ou-i (1599-1655). He began as a Ch’an (Zen) monk, but when he was 31, he gave up Ch’an to devote himself to Pure Land practice as taught by the T’ien-t’ai school. He was also a prolific author, composing numerous commentaries, liturgies, and translations, including a commentary on the I Ching.

The 13th hexagram, Tong Ren (Sky above, Fire below) is translated by Alfred Huang as “Seeking Harmony”, while one of the translators of Wang Bi’s commentary has it as “Fellowship.” In the translation of Chih-hsu Ou-i’s commentary, it is presented as “Sameness with People”. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Without difference, how could sameness be shown? Make sure the different do not lose their difference, so that sameness can rest in great sameness.

In Buddhist terms, just as sky and fire are similar yet dissimilar, dissimilar yet similar, the various states of being each have their families, each of which acts as one being with one mind.

One mind has all possible states of being inherent in it, and every state of being has every other state of being inherent in it, so there are countless differences in the points of interpenetration of these states of being, which are representative of our states of mind.

So all these states of being are ultimately based on just one mind. This is the final attainment of sameness without sameness, nonsameness with sameness.”

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Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching, Inner Traditions International, 1998; Wang Bi, The Classic of Changes A New Translation of the I Ching, Trans. Richard John Lynn, Columbia University Press, 1994; Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.