THE LANGUAGE OF CHANGE:
ESSAYS ON THE I CHING
David Frawley has been a student of the I Ching for the last eight years. He is currently preparing a book on it. The Language of Change, portions of which will appear here. He has already published articles on the I Ching, including a study of the House of the I, Ching which appeared in the 1977 I Ching Taoist Book of Days. (Published by Random House, 1976). He is teaching courses on the I Ching at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Wonderful Enlightenment Mountain, Talmage, California.
The I Ching is the very root of Chinese culture, both mundane and spiritual. It was the chief of the ancient Chinese six classics, the very seed out of which Chinese culture evolved. To understand China, particularly the spirituality of China we must always first look to the I Ching. It had a major effect on all the religious and spiritual ways of China, Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist. Confucius himself devoted the last years of his life to the study of it, and his commentaries on I Ching are his last and perhaps highest endeavor. Taoists venerated it along with Lao-tze, and Chuang-tze as their three great classics and Taoist Yoga was based upon it. Buddhists highly regarded the I Ching and the success of Buddhism in China can perhaps be attributed to the affinity to and similarity between I Ching and Buddhist teachings.
However the I Ching also transcends any purely national spirit and could be useful in seeding another even higher culture today. Of the spiritual classics and scriptures of the ancient world, of which it is among the very oldest, it remains perhaps the most alive and accessible, the most widely used today, the most indicative of future developments. Its universality and relevance are thus well established. It remains a book of living and profound wisdom, which communicates directly its unique spirit and perspective.
In this series of studies on the I Ching we are going to inquire into its meaning, language, and structure. First we are going to examine the book generally, particularly in relation to Buddhism, a perspective we will keep in mind throughout these studies. We are then going to examine the Primal and Sequential Arrangements, which stand at the very heart of the I Ching, for they are the keys to the workings of the trigrams which are in turn the basis of the hexagrams. We will examine a way of correlating them, both mathematically and in terms of meaning, which is not available elsewhere. We will try to bear in mind the universal meaning of these things and not merely allow ourselves to get caught up in their names and forms, for the study of the I Ching is to gain an understanding of the whole process of change in our own minds, not merely to acquire information, historical or cultural knowledge.
The purpose of this series is to examine and bring to attention not only the I Ching, which is often regarded as no more than a book of hexagrams, but also the origins and fundamental elements which make the hexagrams intelligible, but which have so far received little attention. We also hope to relate the I Ching more to spiritual cultivation than to mere occult and divinatory practices.
A GENERAL BACKGROUND OF THE I CHING: ITS RELATIONSHIP TO BUDDHISM
The basic nature of all phenomena is change. Life is an endless movement. All things are forever in motion going through the various phases of the great cycle of change. Change is the only certain and unchanging fact in all things. The laws of change are the only: fixed and universal principles through which we can really understand things and organize our lives in such a way as to not be overcome by the movement of time.
Both Buddhism and the I Ching recognize the basic fact of change or impermanence and deal with it in their teachings. Both regard understanding the whole process of change as essential to any spiritual cultivation. The contemplations on the transience of life and the dynamic nature of the mind are common to all Buddhist disciplines. The I Ching shows two levels of the process of change: the cosmic, the harmonious development of yin and yang in the macrocosm, and the human, the psychological, the disharmonious development of yin and yang in the mind of false thinking. The cosmic order, which is the way of the sage, the superior man, is then used as a basis for reharmonizing the human disorder, which is the way of the inferior, ignorant person. Buddhism concentrates more on the psychological process of change, setting it forth in the twelve-fold chain of interdependent origination and teaching us to break this chain through the cultivation of awareness. It shows that all that change is illusory, unreliable, and full of suffering. It sets as its goal release from the wheel of change, which is Samsara, with its endless cycles of disturbed transient states of existence. The I Ching shows that underlying transitory and illusory phenomena are the laws of change. These can be used to understand all events as a single occurrence so that we are no longer caught by their particular forms. By looking beyond the forms of things to the principles of their movement, we can free ourselves from the inertia of events, from attachment to particular states, from taking anything as fixed or final. In fact I Citing with its insistence on self-knowledge could be regarded as a more extended explication of the chain of interdependent origination in a slightly different, somewhat more cosmological terminology. There is the same emphasis on becoming aware of our own thoughts, motives) attitudes and volitions as the seeds whereby we create our "selves" and our environment in our present state of mind.
The I Ching could be called from a Buddhist perspective the Book of Karma, for it explains all karmic situations and the right way to handle them. It is said in regard to the sages of the I Ching, "By thinking through the order of the outer world to the end and by exploring the law of their own nature to the deepest core, they arrive at an understanding of fate." We are overwhelmed by events because we do not see their ultimate consequence. We regard them separately, in isolation from one another, and do not see their sequence or the cycles they follow. We do not see their underlying movement but get caught in their particular fascination, their maya. The I Ching resolves life into 64 basic karmic situations of the hexagrams with six variations or changing lines each. It holds that the movement and significance of all situations can be grasped in terms of these thus enabling us "to penetrate all wills on earth and to determine all fields of action on earth." It shows the essential karmic situations inherent in life, the attitudes, which bring them about, and the right attitudes with which to go beyond them. It teaches us to become aware of our actions, not to bind us to action, but to free us from karma and from the inertia of past actions brought about by uncritical awareness and by the lack of comprehension of the whole movement of change. Through understanding action we return to inaction, for once we know the consequences and the karmic implications of our actions we will no longer feel driven to pursue them. The I Ching shows the causes of joy and suffering, good fortune and misfortune, success or failure in our own attitudes, and in individual and collective karma. Sometimes we are shown to be personally responsible for our situation. Other times our situation is shown to be due to the times, due to collective karma. Thus the interdependence of action is shown and the mutual responsibility of each for all. This is perhaps the true use of the oracleónot to tell us what to door to tell what will happen to us, but to make us aware of the real implications of what we are doing. It is laying bare the threads of karma, disclosing the entire cycle of change inherent in our particular acts. This is not telling us our destiny but showing us how we are making it happen. As such the I Ching is not a book of mere divination. It is not concerned with merely revealing events, but with showing their meaning. As such it is a helpful instrument of karmic attunement, helping us to clarify our karmic situation and understand the laws of karma, so that we might see the way beyond karma and return to the Source beyond action.
The T'ai Chi was considered the Primal Beginning, the Great Origin in the language of the I Ching. By this was not meant the source of things in time but the primal law behind the development of things. All the trigrams and hexagrams, all the kua of the I Ching are just meant as successive steps of returning to this primal, great principle.
All phenomena in the universe, whether material or mental, are various combinations of yin and yang, negative and positive forces. Yin is the passive, material, inferior, inertial; yang is the active, mental, superior, dynamic. Yin is signified by the yielding or divided line showing duality, recurrence. Yang is signified by the firm or undivided line showing unity, development. When-ver there are two things or forces one will be yin and the other will be yang; one will follow and one will lead; one will receive and one will project. Polarity, complementarity is the very essence of relationship, the very essence of movement. Movement always follows the rhythm of duality. There cannot be an out breath without an in breath. It is the turning of the wheel of duality that moves everything in the world. To attain harmony is only to give yin and yang their respective places. What is necessary is to return these two great primal powers to their intrinsic purity, to balance all opposites. In the ordinary, ignorant state of the human mind, yin and yang are confused and unbalanced. Yin, the material, externaling force has become predominate over yang, the mental, internalizing force. Yin leads and yang follows. Yin, duality, predominates over yang, unity. Man falls under the sway of the opposites. Dominated by the power of yin his mind is filled with inertia, controlled by karma, the principle of recurrence. Yin, which should be passive and subservient, in becoming dominant becomes perverted, turns into desire and habit. This in turn leads to the perversion of yang, which becomes angry, violent. Thus the pure yin of receptive awareness and the pure yang of creative energy become obscured. Desire and anger are set in motion, which leads to the revolving of transient and contradictory states in an endless cycle. Man is caught between opposing passions, thrown from one extreme to the other. He pursues pleasure and flees from pain not realizing each creates and sustains the other. And so human consciousness never comes to rest, never comes to realize its Origin and return to the Source. Yin and yang remain forever out of harmony in a state of struggle and conflict.
The I Ching teaches us to always take an integral attitude, to remain aware of the inherent movement of all things through duality, and not to get caught up in one side of a duality. It constantly points out how each thing turns into its opposite, how all things can be mastered through their opposites, how all dualities imply one another, complement one another, and sustain one another. "The Master said: Confusion develops when a man has put everything in order. Therefore the superior man does not forget danger in his security, nor ruin when he is well established, nor confusion when his affairs are in order." If we remember always the "yin in the yang" and the "yang in the yin" we will always maintain balance and harmony, peace of mind. We must balance yin and yang in our minds to go beyond all one-sided views. This is well expressed in the words of the third Chinese Buddhist Patriarch Seng-ts'an: "The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood the mindís essential peace is disturbed to no avail." This discovery of the middle way, the golden mean beyond all dualities is also a major teaching of the I Ching: "Arrogance means that one knows how to press forward but not how to draw back, that one knows existence but no annihilation, knows all about winning but nothing about losing. It is only the holy man who understands how to press forward and how to draw back, who knows existence and annihilation as well, without losing his true nature."This is done by resurrecting the true yang principle, by reducing yin in favor of yang, by returning yang to its predominance over yin. An interiorization of consciousness is required to gather inwardly the mental energy normally wasted outwardly, and use it to transform the mind. Once the creative energy of the pure yang is restored, the receptive awareness of the pure yin will also be restored. When unity, yang, becomes predominant over duality, yin, all opposites can be resolved and reintegrated back into the basic harmony of the Tao.