I consult the I Ching since 1990


I first used the famous German translation by Richard Wilhelm, but I found it difficult to understand because Wilhelm did not dare to interpolate the old metaphorical language and bring out something that can be understood by the modern reader. Then, back in 1996, in Holland, a Chinese friend from Hong Kong recommended me The I Ching edition by Master Hua-Ching Ni, which I am using to this very day.

What I was going to learn from Master Ni’s I Ching interpretation was the structure, the patterned structure of the book, and by studying this, the nature of pattern. While I started with the study of systems theory only about ten years later, the I Ching was about the best introduction into systems theory that I could ever have found!

But before I go into more detail, I should first point out why the I Ching is of such high importance for integral spirituality. Obviously, on first sight, the only facts that seem to bring the I Ching together with integral spirituality is that both originate from ancient China, and that typically sages who practice and teach integral spirituality are all, without exception, I Ching experts. Why is that so?

I would argue that all integral thinking, be it spiritual or not, is based upon exactly the same patterns of living, and the interaction of those patterns, that govern the I Ching. Or, more precisely put, these patterns of course govern our lives, and the I Ching is an accurate abstraction of those patterns, in the form of 64 unique hexagrams.

Sometimes it is useful to find the negative pole, or antidote, to something, in order to grasp its true nature. This is so, as J. Krishnamurti** has often pointed out, for life and for love. Both cannot be defined, while their contrary can well be put in words. We know what death is, and we know what hate is. We can verbalize these, while we cannot really verbalize what life is, and love. Of course, we can, but in the moment we do, the essence is gone as the essence of life and love cannot be grasped by the intellectual mind, and thus cannot be shared through language.

Hence, when I want to understand integral thinking, I should try to define what its contrary is. The contrary of integral thinking is fragmented thinking; it is old-style scientific mechanistic thinking; this kind of science leaves out more of life than it describes, than it can describe. So typical for this science is that it discards more from its scientific view of the world than it embraces. For example, it denies a creator force or spirit; it denies a vital energy, a subtle force or field that is at the origin of life, by calling ‘such theories’ vitalistic and thus, unscientific. It looks at the human body as well as the earth, our planet, as if they were machines, clockworks or a lifeless assemblage of parts, elements, matter; it thereby denies the existence of living systems which is why modern science needed systems theory, for it was challenged to describe not dead matter, but living systems.

To conclude this first part of our little topic search, we see more than one link between the I Ching and integral spirituality. Both are part of one single topic; one cannot exist without the other. This is not a coincidence; the simple reason why integral spiritual teachers are always I Ching scholars lies in this age-old link between two branches of the same tree of knowledge.

Now let us focus again on Master Ni, as this series of blogs is about his teaching, not integral spirituality as an abstract notion, not integral spirituality as, for example, taught by the old sages Lao-tzu*** or Chuang-tzu, but as taught by the modern sage Hua-Ching Ni. This is important for the reader to realize, for otherwise this blog topic would be much too vast and would be lacking detail and verifiability.

Now I will point out more about how Master Ni integrates the wisdom of the I Ching in his teaching of integral spirituality which he also termsnatural spirituality. Why the term ‘natural’? The I Ching describes natural patterns of living while pre-holistic science used to vivisect cadavers and thus took conclusions about life after contemplating death. In medicine, this view has caused us to see disease as a sort of attack upon the body by microbes or viruses which then is countered with ‘bullet medicine’, an aggressive, combative approach that uses machinery fight the disease, while it has never even asked the question what health actually is—and which is why the drug-based medical approach produces many undesirable side effects!

It is interesting to note that Hua-Ching Ni’s introduction to the I Ching, which could be called the ‘structural’ part of the book, expands over two hundred sixteen pages, thereby making out one third of the entire book. It is in this overview over the structure of the I Ching that Master Ni explains the basic tenets of the integral view of life as the foundation of his teaching. There are 11 Chapters and two parts to this first section of Master Ni’s I Ching interpretation. The first part is entitled ‘The Natural Truth Underlying the Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth’, the second part is entitled ‘The Natural Path of Life’. The wording of the headers makes it obvious to the reader that the approach taken by the I Ching is todescribe nature, not to impose anything upon nature, nor making any assumption about nature, as modern science does.

Hence, we can say that the I Ching voices a sustainable life paradigm that is based upon nature, and the true observation of nature, not upon intellectual assumptions so typical for the mechanistic scientific approach. As a second step, then, we can say, that this natural view of life is based upon the knowledge about patterns, connectivity, relationships, entanglement, superposition and uncertainty, all notions that not for nothing are so basic to quantum physics****, as this modern scientific approach gets us essentially back to the ancient holistic view of life that is part of wisdom traditions all over the world.

I shall close this blog entry with a quote found in Master Ni’s Introduction to the I Ching:

Hua-Ching Ni
Quite simply, rather than offering a dogma or doctrine, the Book of Changes teaches one to look for the most appropriate point in any particular behavior or event. This method is invaluable to an individual’s self-discovery and self-alignment. One who comes to understand this sense of appropriateness, incorporates it into his or her thought processes and adheres firmly to it as the highest ‘doctrine’ of his or her own personal religion will benefit in all three spheres of life. Such a person will find clarity in the mental / sphere, balance in daily life, and positive, steady spiritual growth. (Ni, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth, 1990, Preface, ii-iii).

Glossary

* I Ching or Book of Changes is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. A symbol system designed to identify order in what appear to be chance events, it describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy that is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. It is based on the alternation of complementary energies called yin and yang, which are developmental poles that by their alternation trigger inevitable change. It is also based on the old integrative philosophy of the five elements that is part of many other esoteric science traditions. The philosophy centers on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change.

The I Ching consists of 64 hexagrams. Each hexagram or kua is an energy pattern that is a unique mix of the two base energies, yin and yang, represented symbolically by lines. Yang is represented by a solid line, yin by a dotted line. Each hexagram is composed of six lines, and two trigrams consisting of three lines each. The lower trigram deals with matters that are in their beginning stage, from the start of a project until about half of its realization. The upper trigram deals with the culmination and the end of processes or projects, positively or negatively.

The I Ching has been a book for divination and relief, and for spiritual learning for many great and famous people such as Confucius, Hermann Hesse, John Lennon, Carl Gustav Jung, and many others. I personally consult the I Ching on a regular basis since 1990.

** J. Krishnamurti (1895–1986) was born in a small village in south India. Soon after moving to Madras with his family in 1909, he was adopted by Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society. She was convinced that he was to become a great spiritual teacher, and Reverend Charles Webster Leadbeater became his personal tutor. Three years later she took him to England to be educated in preparation for his future role. An organization called The Order of the Star was set up to promote Krishnamurti’s anticipated role as a World Teacher and Maitreya. In 1929, however, after many years of questioning the destiny imposed upon him, Krishnamurti disbanded this organization, turning away all followers saying that: ‘Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular spiritual path.’ From that time until his death in February 1986 at the age of ninety, he traveled around the world speaking as a private person, teaching and giving talks and having discussions. His aim was to set people psychologically free so that they might be in harmony with themselves, with nature and with others. K taught that humanity has created the environment in which we live and that nothing can ever put a stop to the violence and suffering that has been going on for thousands of years except a transformation in the human psyche. If only a dozen people are transformed, it would change the world. He used to call this transformation ‘psychological revolution’.

*** Lao-tzu (604 BC–531 BC) was a Chinese classical philosopher. The reputed founder of Taoism, he preached conformity to the Tao, or eternal spirit of right conduct, and is considered one of the great figures of Chinese history. He is the author of the Tao Te Ching. According to the legend Lao-tzu was a contemporary of Confucius, and worked as an archivist in the Imperial Library of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC).

**** Quantum Physics or quantum mechanics is a fundamental branch of theoretical physics with wide applications in experimental physics that replaces classical mechanics and classical electromagnetism for the subatomic realm. It is the underlying mathematical framework of many fields of physics and chemistry, including condensed matter physics, atomic physics, molecular physics, computational chemistry, quantum chemistry, particle physics, and nuclear physics. Along with general relativity, quantum mechanics is one of the pillars of modern physics.

Bibliography

Blofeld, J.
The Book of Changes
A New Translation of the Ancient Chinese I Ching
New York: E.P. Dutton, 1965

Wilhelm, Richard
The I Ching or Book of Changes
With C. Baynes
3rd Edition
Bollingen Series XIX
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967

Hua-Ching Ni
I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth
Revised First Edition
Santa Barbara: Seven Star Communications, 1990

Hua-Ching Ni
The Taoist Inner View of the Universe and the Immortal Realm
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1979, 1996

Hua-Ching Ni
The Power of Natural Healing
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1991, 1995

Hua-Ching Ni
The Complete Works of Lao Tzu
Tao Teh Ching & Hua Hu Ching
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1991, 1995

Hua-Ching Ni
Life and Teaching of Two Immortals
Volume I, Kou Hong
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1992

Hua-Ching Ni
Life and Teaching of Two Immortals
Volume II, Chen Tuan
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1993

Hua-Ching Ni
Internal Alchemy
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1992

Hua-Ching Ni
Nurture Your Spirits
Santa Monica: Seven Stars Communications, 1990

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