An extremely old Chinese text, comprising primarily of 64 hexagrams used for divination, as well as many surrounding commentaries. You can read more about the basics of the book here.
As I read the various texts contained in Wilhelm’s translation, this page will first take the form of notes, from this source and others, along with my own disjointed notes and reflections, which I will later develop into a more functional guide and collection of thoughts.
History of the Book of Changes
The Chinese canon of literature, it is held that four ‘holy men’ were the authors of the Book of Changes: Fu Hsi, King Wen, the Duke of Chou and Confucius.
Fu Hsi is a legendary figure, representing fishing, hunting and the invention of cooking. He is supposedly the originator of the linear signs, from which the book is derived. Wilhelm believes that this attribution is indicative of its conception essentially being beyond historical memory in Chinese culture. Curiously, the original eight trigrams have names which seem not to have any other etymological connection in the Chinese language, and some scholars have even suggested they may be foreign in origin. In any case, it is almost certain that they are not archaic Chinese characters.
The eight trigrams were found in combinations from a very early date in the literature of antiquity: the Book of Changes of the Hsia dynasty (2205-1766 BC) and the Book of Changes of the Shang dynasty (1766-1150 BC), called Lien Shan. Very little is known of these texts, though Confucius mentioned in passing that the Shang dynasty text began with the K’un (The Receptive) hexegram. Wilhelm notes it is difficult to know whether the sixty-four hexegrams were in play at this point, or whether they were the same as those we use today.
This said, there is apparently ‘no reason to challenge’ the 64 hexegrams we currently use, which originated with King Wen (around 1150 BC, at the overthrow of the Shang dynasty). He is said to have added ‘brief judgements’ to the hexegrams while imprisoned at the behest of the Shang dynasty. This form of the book was known as ‘Changes of Chou,’ and was used as an oracle throughout the Chou period (this has been confirmed by historical records).
The book in this form was how Confucius came upon it, and he rather enjoyed it, studying it intensively. It is likely the Commentary on the Decision is his work, and also possibly the Commentary on the Images (though this connection is less clear).
A more intensive text on the individual lines, compiled by his pedagogical lineage, supposedly in the form of questions and answers, exists only in fragments.
Followers of Confucius, primarily Pu Shang, were largely responsible for spreading the knowledge of the book of Changes. The development of philosophical speculation in China (The Great Learning, and Doctrine of The Mean), a literature of philosophy sprang up around the Book of Changes, and are to be found in the so-called Ten Wings. Apparently these vary wildly in value and content.
The Book of Changes luckily escaped burning under Ch’in Shih Huang Ti. In this time, it also gained a firm reputation as the book of divination and magic. At this time, a school of magicians made it their object, in the Ch’in and Han dynasties. This is when the apparently confusion with the more modern and expanded concept of Yin Yang bled into the understanding of the I Ching.
The later scholar Wang Pi (226-249 AD) spoke of the book as one of wisdom rather than of divination, displacing a lot of the extraneous affilitations made to the book in previous ages.
In the Sung period, the book was used as a basis of the t’ai chi t’u doctrine, which was likely not of Chinese origin. At this time it had become customary to separate the commentaries contained in the Ten Wings, and to place them with the hexegrams to which they referred. At this time, the book became almost entirely a ‘textbook relating to statecraft and the philosophy of life’.
Then, Chu Hsi (1130-1200 AD) attempted to return it to its position as an oracle, publishing a commentary along with an introduction to his investigations with the work.
‘The critical-historical school of the last dynasty also took the Book of Changes in hand.’ However, Han preference led them to be somewhat unsuccessful with their treatment of the Book of Changes (they didn’t take Sung commentary into account sufficiently).
The present Wilhelm translation is based on an arrangement from the K’ang Hsi period (1662-1722 AD), titled Chou I Chex Chung, which presents the text and wings separately, and includes valuable commentaries from all periods.
Jung wrote in his foreword to the Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, that unlike the Western mind which seeks to explain everything in causality, the I Ching exemplifies the Ancient Chinese manner of thinking instead in synchronicity - the connectedness of independent events at one period in time, informed by the peculiarity unique to a given present, and a nature shared by the events.
Indeed, the entire philosophy seems to centre around the idea that moments themselves are entirely peculiar. Further, that in generating randomness, such as with coins or yarrow stalks, we create a basis of peculiarity in the moment with which we can consult this set of hexagrams. It is believed that these may give us an insight into synchronicty, or into our infinite selves at the present. However, he particularly eschews its ‘superstitious’ use, noting that it is a matter of self-knowledge, of scrutinising one’s character, attitude and motives.
He further discusses how science is discovering our natural physical laws are being revealed as mere ‘statistical laws’, and that the burgeoning foray into quantum mechanics is revealing that at the centre of what determines phenomena is indeed randomness. Making the observation that in science, to consistently measure and reproduce our results for the model of a particular phenomenon, we must generally isolate it from others. In this way, causality does not do us well in observing the state of the universe. In the reality of nature, events do not happen independently, and are informed and interfered with by an unknown infinity of other events.
Jung further points out that his very palatable explanation involving synchronicity is not the way the I Ching has been approached by the Ancient Chinese. Rather, they viewed it as an oracle, to which one can ask questions and will respond in its own voice (what Jung calls ‘personifying’ the book).
Jung in general seems to be a believer, or rather he believes that there is more to the I Ching than ‘meets the eye’, though he expresses discomfort at writing a foreword to a book in which his object is essentially making acceptable what he cannot explain through reason, appealing to ‘good-will and imagination’ of the reader in approaching an ancient magic ritual.
He also mentions that he is well aware of the arguments against the it, particularly asking: ‘May the old text be corrupt? Is Wilhelm’s translation accurate? Are we not self-deluding in our explanations?’
He draws to psychotherapy and medical psychology a parallel, fields in which there are many unknown quantities, having to adopt methods which seem to work but without any knowledge of why. ‘The irrational fullness of life has taught me never to discard anything, even when it goes against all our theories or otherwise admits of no immediate explanation. It is of course disquieting, and one is not certain whether the compass is pointing true or not; but security, certitude, and peace do not lead to discoveries.’
I feel like this book may include further useful elucidations, for attempting to grasp Jung’s view of the universe.
Our friend Richard Wilhelm attaches high importance to the book, calling it one of the most important books in the world’s literature. He notes that ‘all the greatest and most significant in the three thousand years of CHinese cultural history has either taken its inspiration from this book, or has exerted an influence on the interpretation of its text.’ Indeed, both Taoisn and Confucianism draw great wisdom from it, as well as historical Chinese science and statecraft. Funnily enough, only the I Ching, among Confucian classics, escaped a ‘greatburning of the books’ under Ch’in Shih Huang Ti in 213 BC.
He mentions that even in modern China, texts and art draw from it, and in Japan it is sometimes consulted by statesmen in difficult situations!
It should also be noted that many occult doctrines extraneous exist, and have been attached to it both by Chinese and those outside the culture, including a formalistic natural philosophy attempting to fit all events into a system of numbers. Apparently this became a driving force for driving forces for over-formalisation and removal of experience from Chinese philosophy.
Of particular importance, he notes that to arrive at any real understanding of the book and its teachings, we must divorce it from the ‘dense overgrowth of interpretations that have read into it all sorts of extraneous ideas,’ both modern and ancient.
Originally, of course, the book of changes were a collection of linear signs to be used as oracles. The oldest apparently confining themselves to the answer of yes and no. Yes being an unbroken line, while no was represented by a broken line. Later the combinations of single lines were given to pairs, and later groups of three - giving us the ‘eight trigrams’: ‘conceived as images of all that happens in heaven and on earth,’ or symbols standing for changing transitional states. ‘The eight trigrams therefore are not representations of things as such but of their tendencies in movement.’ Each carries with it a name, attribute, image and family relationship (in the functional sense, rather than as objective entities).
For example, the hexegram represented by three unbroken lines, has the name Ch’ien, or ‘the Creative,’ having the attribute ‘strong,’ the image ‘heaven’ and the family relationship of ‘father.’
This graphic, rehosted from Living Mysticism (a beautifully designed website!) lists the associations of the trigrams as given in the Wilhelm translation.
In terms of the functional familial associations, the sons represent movement in its stages: beginning, danger in, and rest + completion of movement. The daughters, on the toher hand, represent stages of devotion: gentle penetration, clarity + adaptability, and joyous tranquility.
These trigrams came to be combined with one another, again, to create the hexagrams we know and love today - a total of 64 signs. Each line is supposed to be ‘capable of change,’ and whenever aline changes, there is also a change of the situation represented by the hexagram. The Receptive, for example (six broken lines), ‘represents the nature of the earth, strong in devotion; among the seasons it stands for late autumn, when all the forces of life are at rest’. If we change the bottom line, to an unbroken line, we instead get The Return, representing ‘thunder, the movement that stirs anew within the earth at the time of the solstice; it symbolises the return of light.’
‘All of the lines of a hexagram do not necessarily change; it depends entirely on the character of a given line. A line whose nature is positive, with an increasing dynamism, turns into its opposite, a negative line, whereas a positive line of lesser strength remains unchanged. The same principle holds for negative lines.’ There are termed ‘changing lines,’ and are produced by particular numerical formulations for lines - particularly the number nine for positive lines, and the number six for negative changing lines. On the other hand, unchanging lines are represented by 7 (positive) and 8 (negative).
Supposedly in the Chinese manner of interpreting the hexagram, only the hexagrams indicated by changing lines are taken into account, the unchanging lines only being ‘structural matter.’
For example, if one reads a series of 6 broken lines, with the result of 8 in all but the beginning (the bottom) line, which was built with a 6, we ‘change’ the bottom line and our resultant hexagram is Fu, the Return. So in our reading, we take into account both its aspect as a whole, The Receptive, and The Return (I think). If there are no changing lines, we only take into account the entire aspect.
King Wen, around 1150 BC, endowed the hexagrams with counsels for ‘correct conduct’ - we see these in the exhortations of the actions of the ‘Superior person’, actions which will bring fortune.
‘Thus the individual came to share in shaping fate. For his actions intervened as determining factors in world events, the more decisively so, the earlier he was able with the aid of the Book of Changes to recognise situations in their germinal phases. The germinal phase is the crux. As long as things are in their beginnings they can be controlled, but once they have grown to their full conseuqnces they acquire a power so overwhelming that man stands impotatent before them.’
The Book of Changes as edited and annotated by Confucius is the version that has come down to our time.
‘The underlying idea of the whole is the idea of change.’ It’s all very Tao. It should be noted that the I Ching, though seemingly related to Yin Yang, with its circle beginning, the speculations of ‘a gnostic-dualistic character are foreign to the original thought of th I Ching; what it posits is simply the line. […] with this line, which in itself represents oneness, duality comes into the world, for the line at the same time posts an above and below, a right and left, front and back - […] the world of opposites.’ These opposites became yin and yang, by name.
Interestingly, it is noted that the original meanings of yin and yang are thus: yin, ‘the cloudy’ or ‘the overcast’, and yang ‘banners waving in the sun’ (that is, something ‘shone upon’ or ‘bright’). ‘By transference the two concepts were applied to the light and dark sides of a mountain or of a river. In the case of a mountain the southern is the bright side and the northern the dark side.’ This idea is carried over into the Book of Changes, in the sense that there are two alternating primal states of being.
Lao-tse and Confucius believed similarly that ‘every event in the visible world is the effect of an ‘image,’ that is, of an idea in the unseen world. Accordingly, everything that happens on earth is only a reproduction, as it were, of an event in a world beyond our sense perception; as regards its occurrence in time, it is later than the suprasensible event.’
This ‘theory of ideas’ (pretty similar to idealism but also not), is applied in two ways. The book shows images of events and the unfolding of conditions, discerning the seeds of things to come. Through this we understand the past and foresee the future. ‘Patterns for timely action.’
The third philosophical fundament of the book is supposedly ‘judgements’ - ‘clothing the images in words.’