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The I Ching: Ancient ‘Book of Changes’ That Provides A Personal Path of Balance and Harmony AND Predicts Your Future!

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The I Ching (commonly translated as ‘Book of Changes’ or ‘Classic of Changes’) is an ancient philosophical Chinese text and one of the most important books in world literature. It is the oldest of the Five Classics of Confucianism and offers practical wisdom for any situation and an ordering of the universe. Although the I Ching was originally used for divination purposes, it later became an important part of the Chinese philosophical system as well. The influence of the I Ching is still felt even today as many concepts that characterize the traditional Chinese world view, including Yin and Yang , Qi, and the Five Elements are expounded in this ancient text.

Who Wrote the I Ching?

There are two main views regarding the authorship of the I Ching. According to the traditional Chinese view, the I Ching was written by the mythical sage king Fu Xi, who is believed to have lived during the first half of the 3 rd millennium BC. Legend has it that the eight trigrams were supernaturally revealed to Fu Xi. By the time of Yu the Great, a legendary Chinese ruler who lived towards the end of the 3 rd millennium BC, the eight trigrams had developed into the 64 hexagrams which is the way the structure of the I Ching is arranged.

The I Ching. (Cooltoye / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The I Ching. (Cooltoye / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The alternative view, which is based on modern scholarship, suggests that the I Ching was compiled at a much later date, i.e. around the late 9 th century BC, toward the end of the Western Zhou Dynasty. Among other things, this view expresses doubt in the existence of Fu Xi and argues that the 64 hexagrams predate the eight trigrams. Moreover, instead of attributing the authorship of the text to one particular historical figure, this view holds that the I Ching is a compilation of divinatory concepts that were current during the Western Zhou period.

The Complexity of the I Ching

The I Ching is cryptic in nature and many interpretations of and commentaries on the text were written over time. According to the traditional Chinese view, it was only during the reign of King Wu of Zhou (the founder of the Zhou Dynasty who lived during the 11 th century BC) that the most profound interpretation of the I Ching was written. The king’s brother, Duke Wen of Zhou , is believed to have written the Yao Ci (‘Explanation of Horizontal Lines’) which explained the significance of each horizontal line in each hexagram.

A page from a Song Dynasty printed in the I Ching. (ReijiYamashina / Public Domain)

A page from a Song Dynasty printed in the I Ching. (ReijiYamashina / Public Domain )

The earliest set of commentaries on the I Ching is the Shi Yi (‘Ten Wings’), whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Confucius himself. Doubts about this have been raised since the 11 th century AD and modern scholars are of the opinion that Confucius had nothing to do with the I Ching. Nevertheless, the significance of the Shi Yi is evident in the fact that by the time of the Emperor Wu of Han (who lived between the 2 nd and 1 st centuries BC), the Shi Yi (which by then was known as the I Zhuan, ‘Commentary on the I Ching’), and the I Ching were combined to form the Zhou I (‘Changes of Zhou’) and both texts became canonized.

The I Ching employed a form of divination known as cleromancy, which involves the casting of lots. One’s reading may be casted in a number of ways, including the flipping of coins, the counting of cracks on oracle bones , and the yarrow stalk divination method. The numbers would then be converted into hexagrams and one’s fortune may be interpreted.

The I Ching is an ancient oracle. (Monika Wisniewska / Adobe)

The I Ching is an ancient oracle. ( Monika Wisniewska / Adobe)

How Was the I Ching Used In Everyday Life?

The importance of the I Ching extended beyond the realm of divination as many of its concepts were incorporated into the philosophical system of the Chinese civilization. This is most evident in the teachings of Daoism, as its doctrine of the naturally changing world is drawn directly from the I Ching. Given that Confucius is traditionally regarded to be the author of the Shi Yi, the I Ching is also an important text in Confucianism and major commentaries on the text were written by adherents of this school of thought.

The I Ching’s influence can be felt even today, not only as an oracular text or an Oriental philosophical system , but also in our everyday lives. The story begins in the late 17 th century when the I Ching became known to the West for the first time. It was Jesuit missionaries working in China who decoded the text in such a way that they could use it as an argument for the universal truth of Christianity. It was from the Jesuits that the German philosopher and mathematician, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, learned about the I Ching, which led to the creation of his binary code . While Leibniz did not find any use for his creation during his lifetime, the binary code is used today in almost every modern computer.

Top image: I Ching disk. Source: ft2010 / Adobe.

By Wu Mingren

References

Barrett, H., 2001. Beginner's Guide to I Ching - What is the I Ching?. [Online] Available at: https://www.holisticshop.co.uk/articles/guide-ching-iching
New World Encyclopedia, 2013. Yi Jing. [Online] Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Yi_Jing
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017. Yijing. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yijing
Walter, D., 2014. The ancient book of wisdom at the heart of every computer. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/21/ancient-book-wisdom-i-ching-computer-binary-code
Weinberger, E., 2016. What Is the I Ching?. [Online] Available at: http://www.chinafile.com/library/nyrb-china-archive/what-i-ching
Wilhelm, R., 2019. Introduction to the I Ching. [Online] Available at: https://www.iging.com/intro/introduc.htm

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