Taoism > Sources > I-ching


What is I-ching (Book of Changes)?

Change diagram picture
The character for "change" is made of two signs: one for "sun" and the other for "rain". Thus we have the sun-rain alternation which suggests the idea of change
Even if today we are interested in its philosophical aspect (see Richard Wilhelm's introduction), the Book of Changes has been used from the oldest times as oracle, providing  information about the future events and the fulfillment of the consultant projects.

Chinese sovereigns and princes consulted the book on the most diverse issues, such as  political, wealth, health, wars, the meaning of dreams, and so on. Its importance is also proved by its survival from the arson of books ordered by the Chinese emperor Ch'in Shih-huang-ti, in 213 AD

  • History of I-ching

Tradition has attributed the creation of this unique book to Fu Hsi, the mythical ancestor, who invented many other useful things. It is said that he had been the witness of a miraculous phenomenon that put him in contact with the eight trigrams (pa-kua), forming the basic structure of the Book of Changes.

The legend says that while he was walking on the banks of the Yellow River, he saw a dragon coming out of waters and wearing on his back the signs of the eight trigrams that he copied by drawing them with his finger, on the sand.

Fu Hsi picture
Fu Hsi, the divine ancestor,
author of the eight trigrams (pa-kua)
Finally, an outstanding contribution came from the famous Confucius and his school, who added various comments (Wings).

It is all agreed that this book contains the essence of Chinese spiritual movements and that it has influenced everything that was consequently conceived. Nobody can deny its importance in the Taoism too. Read more...

  • Content of the Book

I-ching is a collection of essays on 64 lineal figures made up of six continuous or discontinuous lines. The continuous lines _____ represent the yang principle, and the discontinuous ones__  __, the yin principle.

The 64 hexagrams have titles like Creative (Yang), Difficulty at Beginning, Caldron, Marrying Maiden, Progress, Contemplation... that definitely describe typical situations.

Each hexagram also contains a Judgment (many times offering oracular predictions) and short texts explaining the significance of each individual line.

  • Usage - Oracle of Changes

I-ching has always been used as an oracle. He is also consulted today whenever we need information about our projects and tips to help us achieve them.

There are two methods of consulting the oracle: with coins and snake stems. The coin method is the best known. Read more...

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  • I-ching in the Western Culture

Carl Jung picture
Carl Jung wrote a substantial introduction to the I-ching published in the English version of Carry F. Baynes
The most important contribution to the spreading of this book in Europe was that of Richard Wilhelm.

He was a Christian missionary in China where he met Lao-nai Hsuan, a descendant of Confucian school, who effectively helped him to translate the book into German. More than a simple translation, Wilhelm also added his comments to the 64 hexagrams.

Carl Jung suggested the Cary F. Baynes English version, and it was also him who added a substantial introduction to this version, where he explained with examples the way the book works as oracle. This is the most important contribution to the explanation of the oracular practice to the western culture.

  • I-ching Today

I-ching is together with yin-yang and Tao-te ching one of the most familiar cultural contribution of China. The oracle is used even today despite the confusion concerning the meaning of its answers.

There are many translations in English, unfortunately inaccurate because of the difficulty of classical Chinese language or simple modern adaptations based on meanings that have nothing to do with the original text.


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