Base Structure of the I Ching
The Leadership I Ching
The Technique — 01 QIAN (Yang) — 02 KUN (Yin) — 03 TUN (Difficult Beginning) — 04 MENG (Immaturity) — 05 XU (Waiting Patiently) — 06 SONG (Dispute) — 07 SHI (The Army) — 08 BI (Fellowship) — 09 XIAO CHU (Small Accumulation) — 10 LI (Conduct) — 11 TAI (Peace) — 12 PI (Obstacle) — 13 TONG REN (Fellowship) — 14 DA YOU (Great Harvest) — 15 QIEN (Modesty) — 16 YU (Enthusiasm) — 17 SUI (Compliance) — 18 GU (Correcting the Corruption) — 19 LIN (Advancing) — 20 GUAN (Contemplation) — 21 SHI HO (Biting Through Hardship) — 22 BI (Adornment) — 23 BO (Erosion) — 24 FU (Return) — 25 WU WANG (Innocence) — 26 DA CHU (Great Potential) — 27 YI (Nourishment) — 28 DA GUO (Critical Mass) — 29 KAN (Watery Depths) — 30 LI (Fire) — 31 XIAN (Mutual Attraction) — 32 HENG (Constancy) — 33 DUN (Retreat) — 34 DA ZHUANG (Power of the Great) — 35 JIN (Success) — 36 MING YI (Time of Darkness) — 37 JIA REN (Family) — 38 KUI (Contradiction) — 39 JIAN (Obstruction) — 40 JIE (Dissolution of the Problem) — 41 SUN (Sacrifice) — 42 YI (Benefit) — 43 GUAI (Resolution) — 44 GOU (Contact) — 45 CUI (Congregation) — 46 SHENG (Rising) — 47 KUN (Adversity) — 48 JING (The Well) — 49 GE (Revolution) — 50 DING (The Cauldron) — 51 ZHEN (Force of Thunder) — 52 GEN (Keeping Still) — 53 JIAN (Gradual Progress) — 54 GUI MEI (The Maiden) — 55 FENG (Peak) — 56 LU (The Wanderer) — 57 XUN (Gentle Wind) — 58 DUI (Joyousness) — 59 HUAN (Scattered) — 60 JIE (Self-Restraint) — 61 ZHONG FU (Inner Truth) — 62 XIAO GUO (Predominance of the Small) — 63 JI JI (After Crossing the Water) — 64 WEI JI (Before Crossing the Water)
Download PDF from Scribd
Download PDF from Scribd
The Men of Old
First Line Yang
Second Line Yang
Third Line Yang
Forth Line Yang
Fifth Line Yang
Sixth Line Yin
Patterns of Change
The I Ching and Morality
The I Ching and Emotions
The Reflection Pattern
The Karma Pattern
Three Phases of Action
Non-Action vs. Bold Action
The Men of Old
Taoism is often misunderstood in our times of machinery, the machinery of mind, the conceptual trap, the confusion about the existential and the imaginary, the sensual and the extrasensorial, the real and the imitated. As there is today so much of unnatural conditioning, people are often unable to recognize what is real, and what is fake. One of the main points in this confusion is to associate Taoism with Confucianism, while here in reality two worldviews are opposing each other. Here freedom, there moralistic life denial, here spontaneity, there artificiality, here abandonment to intuition, there blockage of intuition by obsessive scholarship and discipline.
The confusion starts with the very idea to design Taoism as either a ‘philosophy,’ or a ‘religion’ while it’s none of these. It’s pure wisdom.
Philosophies are systems of thought, religions are systems of worship. Taoism is the contrary of a system. Its very essence consists in defying any kind of system.
The next point in this scholarly confusion about Taoism is the point to say it was against desire, or the shaping of desire by sensual perception. Some of the translations of Lao-tzu are highly misleading in this respect, appearing to give the impression of an approach to life which is dry and scholastic, against the perfume of sensuality.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yang Chu, a Taoist who lived in the 4th century B.C. wrote:
The men of old knew that life comes without warning and as suddenly goes. They denied none of the natural inclinations, and repressed none of their bodily desires. They never felt the spur of fame. They sauntered through life gathering its pleasures as the impulse moved them. Since they cared nothing for fame after death, they were beyond the law. For name and praise, sooner or later, a long life or short one, they cared not at all.
This statement is true. But in our days of hero culture’s pseudo values, such a worldview is highly difficult to understand. Ignorant folks are likely to jump to the conclusion that, then, those ‘old men’ must have been criminals.
In truth, the confusion is one of values. Whereas those men were living virtuous lives, the value of virtue is today questioned with the result that ‘correct behavior’ is defined as all behavior that is within the law.
In screwing down virtue to a mere conformity with reigning laws, it was relativized, it became itself a concept.
As laws are constantly changing, under this modern idea, virtue is to be considered as a rather fleeting, volatile notion, something that has no absolute value.
Let me quote one of Lao-tzu’s poems to show what he really means, while apparently this poem, as so many others, appears to deny the value of sensuality or of the sensual world.
The five colors blind the eye. The five tones deafen the ear. The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind. Precious things lead one astray.
Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.
He lets go of that and chooses this.
This poem is not a recipe for life-denial, not an abasement of the senses, but the experience shared by somebody who has indulged in sensual experiences and comes to a point of satiation, a point where intuition says that wisdom is flowering when one listens inside, at a moment when all senses are satisfied. Only somebody who has had the experience of sensual abundance can know that after indulgence, this voice of wisdom is the manna shared by our higher self, which then comes as a profound insight.
This is meant when Lao-tzu’s says that the sage doesn’t go for fame. What this means is not that he shuns the world, but that he might be insulted anyway because he thinks differently about what ordinary people call ‘the law,’ simply because he knows that all human laws are ultimately deeply and grossly unjust.
That is why the sages of old advised to practice deconditioning, to look at life with pure eyes, with eyes of wonder, with a child’s eyes. That is why they, as we would say today, promoted the values of the inner child, which can be seen in the depictions of sages, and of Lao-tzu himself.
These men look childlike, innocent, and carefree, absolutely the contrary of our modern heroes, with their hard rigid mechanical bodies, and their squared stiff faces full of hatred and violence.
The following shows that this childlike wisdom is not a form of foolishness or numbness, or lack of a sense of reality — in the contrary. It shows that this mindset brings about a keen sense for justice and political realities:
Why are people starving? Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes. Therefore the people are starving.
Why are the people rebellious? Because the rulers interfere too much. Therefore they are rebellious.
Why do people think so little of death? Because the rulers demand too much of life. Therefore the people take life lightly.
Having to live on, one knows better than to value life too much.
This chapter is not about I Ching divination in the ordinary sense. If it was, it would not bring something new and original as there are now countless books on the market that extensively explain, annotate and interpret the ancient Chinese wisdom book.
If you wish to study the I Ching in depth, you should either buy one of the traditional I Ching translations, such as the one by Richard Wilhelm, that I myself used during the first years of my diligent study of the I Ching, or you should use a translation and annotation by a Taoist master. For example, I am today using the I Ching translation and interpretation by Master Hua-Ching Ni.
— Richard Wilhelm, The I Ching or Book of Changes (1967). See also Helmut Wilhelm, The Wilhelm Lectures on the Book of Changes (1995), and Hua Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999).
Studying the I Ching was not for me a form of l’art pour l’art, but it had a practical purpose. I wanted to understand the underlying patterns of living that are at the basis of all divination, and the roots of human behavior. And indeed, my understanding of life and living was uplifted through practicing divination on a daily basis since twenty years.
These years also coincided to be those during which I was beginning to coach groups, both in the corporate setting, and privately. This uncanny kind of holistic learning about emotions, behavior patterns, conditioning, on one hand, and the wisdom of subtle cosmic guidance, on the other, rooted me in my new profession as a coach and corporate trainer; and with that decision, and the change resulting from it, my former career as an international lawyer had clearly found an end. My motivation for changing my professional career was the outcome of a deep reflection about the sense of life, and my mission. I understood that I am deeply interested in human beings, and in their paths of life. The law profession, while it interested me in some way, was not satisfying my desire to help people grow, to facilitate their relationships, and to help them lead happier lives. To be a lawyer meant, in daily practice, to sustain people’s desire for conflict and ‘being right,’ for fighting each other, and one was supposed to take sides and defend interests.
The I Ching helped me on my way to find my true mission. This is, then, perhaps the value of this personal guide about the I Ching, as it is the fruit of experience, and not only of theoretical study. And it is destined to help you better understand yourself and others.
Understanding yourself and understanding others is however impossible without understanding the underlying cosmic patterns of living. Human beings do not function differently from the rest of life on earth. Besides that, they are rooted in a universal scheme of cosmic interactions that is little known or totally unknown to psychologists today.
The I Ching or Book of Changes is an ancient text that is said to have been completed during the rulership of King Wen in China, in the last generation of the Shang Dynasty (1766–1121 B.C.). Master Hua-Ching Ni explains in his thorough interpretation of the I Ching:
The system of hexagrams which we call the Book of Changes or I Ching was one of the first great successes in ancient man’s attempts to find the laws which regulate all phenomena. Most significant was the discovery that the laws of Nature are also the laws of humanity and that since Nature and humanity are one, harmony is the key to life. This conclusion was drawn after long internal and external searching which revealed the balanced way of life as the fundamental path. This integral vision of the universe became the spiritual faith of ancient developed people. It was the broad and plain foundation for their discovery of spiritual truth and secret methods. Since life is the main theme in all useful knowledge, the Book of Changes, the Tao Teh Ching, acupuncture, internal medicine, and the internal work of spiritual self-cultivation all make living in harmony with nature their foundation.
— Hua Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999), p. 4. Regarding the Tao Teh Ching, mentioned in this quote, see Hua-Ching Ni, The Complete Works of Lao Tzu (2003).
Regarding today’s modern culture, Master Ni pursues:
In contrast, our overgrown human population, combined with modern city life, obscures the significance of nature in the lives of people today. Great Nature, however, always remains the true source of life. To restore our understanding of this integral truth, we can use the line system of the Book of Changes to study the way in which people and events develop. (Id., 3–4).
— Hua Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999), pp. 3–4.
There are countless studies on the base structure of the I Ching and how it came about with its sixty-four hexagrams that are compositions of two trigrams each. We can consider each hexagram or kua as an energy pattern that is a unique mix and vibrational code 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. The first three lines correspond to the lower trigram, the upper three lines compose the upper trigram. Hexagrams are dynamic patterns in that there is a down-to-up movement contained in them, and a certain time-span inherent in that movement. The lower trigram thus deals with matters that are in their beginning stage, from the start of a project until about half way into its realization. The upper trigram deals with the culmination and the end of processes or projects, positively or negatively.
All sixty-four hexagrams are combinations of the eight base trigrams that Master Ni calls The Eight Natural Forces. In nature’s harmonious and balanced Web of Life, there are many cycles interwoven with each other that contribute to giving flexible stability to every natural system or process.
— See Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life (1997) and The Systems View of Life (2014).
Now, in every cycle, there is what Master Ni calls the balancing force. In the case of pure yang and pure yin, the balancing force is expressed in the central line of the hexagram, which is always the 5th line.
In general, this line signifies a position of leadership, and it holds the whole hexagram together; it is also the most influential line or decisive factor in the hexagram. In most cases, and without considering the divination result, when you draw the 2nd and the 5th line of a hexagram, you can almost be sure that you got a favorable reading for your project or idea. The 6th line, in most hexagrams, deals with some or the other form of excess and thus signals a setback or failure to expect in the future, except in a few hexagrams where the 6th line is entirely positive, as for example in Great Amassment (26) where the top line is interpreted as Heavenly Blessing.
Let me explain the base structure of each hexagram using Great Strength (34) as an example. The guiding advice of this hexagram is: Use your strength prudently. The structure of the hexagram is yang-yang-yang-yang-yin-yin.
First Line Yang
The 1st line, in all hexagrams, expresses a beginning. If I am excessive at the start of a project, I risk early failure. In all new endeavors it is wise to use the first time of a new project for gathering knowledge, exploring opportunities, and getting familiar in a new environment.
In Great Strength (34), the first line reads as follows:
Too much strength in the toes. The beginning stage makes moving ahead difficult. Such strength will surely lead to misfortune.
— Hua-Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999), p. 304. All further references in this chapter are taken from Master Hua-Ching Ni’s I Ching edition.
This means that when I am in an environment I am not yet familiar with and walk in the room with proud flair, when I am the new one in a team and have the biggest mouth, when I come over as the person who believes he knows all, then I might be rejected or encounter failure.
The right attitude at the start of a new project is caution and respectful humility as well as watchfulness so as to get, as early as possible, the feedback of the environment regarding my impacting upon things and people.
Second Line Yang
The 2nd line represents a more advanced stage in the realization of a project. I may have gathered enough information and experience so as to go ahead in my endeavor in a more decisive and forward-looking way than at the start. This line reads:
Caution in using strength brings good fortune. (Id.)
Third Line Yang
The 3rd line represents the end of the lower trigram. It is sometimes showing some form of excess, frequently being negative in its meaning, or it may contain a warning to correct one’s attitude. This line reads for hexagram 34:
Those of self-development do not display their strength. Inferior people willingly show their strength and thus create a dangerous environment. Such a display of strength is like a goat attacking a fence. Because of its stubborn persistence, its horns become weakened. (Id., 404)
Forth Line Yang
The 4th line represents a strong position. It is the first line of the upper trigram and thus can be said to play the role of a senior manager for leading the project to its final realization. As this line corresponds with the 1st line, it can be said to be the higher octave of the beginning line, and reads:
Continue marching in the right direction. All obstructions will disperse. Use strength correctly, in the proper place and at the right time. (Id.)
Fifth Line Yin
The 5th line represents the central line in every hexagram. It is therefore sometimes also called the ruling line.
You can say that when you get the 5th line in any divination, you are on the right track in some way. The 5th line shows that there is a strong point in your project or endeavor that bears some chance for success:
One subdues oneself in order to end all confrontations. No remorse. (Id.)
Sixth Line Yin
The 6th line represents the final stage of a project or endeavor, or its final result. In most hexagrams, the 6th line expresses some or the other kind of excess and therefore gives a negative reading. Or it gives a warning and shows a way out of a possible dangerous turn of events. This line reads, again for hexagram 34:
The stubborn goat attacks the fence, but can neither achieve its goal nor retreat. No benefit. If one learns through one’s difficulties, trouble will not last and there will be good fortune. (Id., 405)
To summarize, in hexagram 34 we see the 6th line operating more like a warning. When you compare this line with the 5th line, you see that the good turn of events (abandoning stubborn behavior) did not happen, probably because the person did not understand that she was behaving in a rigid, stubborn and aggressive manner.
And yet the 6th line still sees a possibility for the person to change and turn things in a positive direction.
In other hexagrams, such as, for example, in hexagrams 1, 11, 28, 63 or 64, however, the 6th line predicts a negative turn of events regardless of further action or retreat from action. It’s as if in these hexagrams, things have developed to a more condensed state of reality than in other hexagrams.
Patterns of Change
Nothing in life is static. All is movement. The universe is a dance. In death processes, the relentless movement of life slows down and comes to a point of profound stillness.
However, in this stillness is contained the grain for further movement, for new life. In every condition is contained its opposite. In stillness is contained movement, in movement is contained stillness, in hot is contained cold, in male is contained female. In the small boy is contained the great general, in the small girl is contained the famous film diva. In yin is contained yang and in yang is contained yin.
What is contained is smaller as what bears it because it is in growth. However, by the same token, what bears the smaller is decreasing in size to become small itself. With culmination and fullness decay sets in, and a new cycle of growth is put in motion.
When we observe changes, we learn that if things are kept within reasonable boundaries and the balance of yin and yang is maintained, they will last. Endurance and lasting success thus are the result of balance, and not of unlimited strength, of flexible adaptation to circumstance, and not of rigid willpower put into one-pointed action.
When yin and yang are in balance, this is called the middle way. But the middle way is a dynamic, not a static condition.
Let me use an image to exemplify this truth. When you film a man who steers a car on a straight highway and then review the video and put the playback speed to very slow, you see that the firm static position of the steering wheel is a mere illusion. You then become aware of the fact that for the man to steer the car in a straight manner, he needs to make constant little movements to the left and to the right.
What appears to be stillness, then, is actually the resulting line of a movement from left to right and from right to left, and, consequently, the car does not really move in a straight fashion but more in a wave-like manner. With the same logic as there is no straight line in nature, there is no car driver who ever would steer a car in a straight line. It is only because of the rapidity and the smallness of the controlling steering movements that we perceive the position of the steering wheel as still.
For the same reason, the direction of the car appears to us as straight and only by slowing down the film, we become aware of the wave-like movement of the car on the straight highway.
When you take this as a metaphor and apply it to daily life, you see for example that when you design a web site, you need to be picky about every inch of space; however, being as picky as that in relationships lets you come over as a stodgy jerk, or a stingy nerd.
Rather, it is recommended to show latitude with people, a form of well-meaning generosity that is founded on inner peace and high self-worth. When you treat life and people as straight lines, you actually show that you see the world as a dry arrangement of ideas, and not as an organic and energetic whole that is in a process of constant and dynamic change.
This latitude you should show with people comes from the insight that all our weaknesses and what you may find obnoxious in others are but temporary stages or phases of development in a continuous cycle of change and growth.
This is true for our fears and worries as well. Most progress in life we make by overcoming fears. Fears are guideposts to what lies ahead to be explored for further self-expansion. The biggest mistake we can do in life is to stay away from what we are afraid of, and procrastinate. When you see a small child facing a dog she is afraid of, you will see that the child in most cases does not just run away, but gets into some kind of back-and-forth dialogue with the dog. Run away, come back — run away, come back — and wait and see further …
This behavior is very intelligent because the dog will respond to it. The amazing thing is that the dog’s own fear will decrease because of the game-like toggle approach of the small child. And to the extent that the dog’s fear decreases, the dog becomes potentially less and less harmful to the child. A dog that is in peace is not a dog that bites.
The child does not say: run away forever and see this dog never again. No, the child enters a nonverbal dialogue with the dog which says:
— I am interested in you but I am careful not to make you afraid. This is how I want to lower my own fear, in lowering your fear as well! So let’s play a little swing … which will help us to get acquainted with each other.
When you have a new and daring project, you may intuitively practice the same approach — and perhaps judge it negatively.
You may swing back-and-forth and go ahead a little step and the next day step back a mile. Or your steps forward and backward are of equal length, which is already better. But let me assure you: there is nobody who always goes forward. The natural way when starting something new is to swing toward your project and away from it for a certain while. The I Ching expresses this truth with ‘he lingers for a while and eventually gets settled.’
— Hexagram 3 (Difficult Begin), First Line.
Of course, your intuition always is watchful and each time when you swing forth or back, it will give you little hints. The encouraging hints you get and the ones that hold you back of going further are battling within you, and you will be clear, at the end, what the right way to go is for you. It’s the way that feels good.
The most dangerous moments for your peace of mind are not those where you are busy, and not even those when you are tired, overworked or exhausted. It’s the moments when you feel bored because all is working so smoothly; you got used to your comfort and safety and have nothing to worry about.
Sun Tzu, in The Art of War quotes the general Pan Lo who said that for holding on to peace, we should prepare for war! This laconic dictum means to be mindful all the time, and especially in moments where you think you can just whistle and hang around doing nothing. Nonaction is certainly most creative, but only if you keep your mind unspoiled by destructive or nihilistic ideas. This is so because nonaction favors change as life patterns typically change when we are in a poised, relaxed condition, and when we sit back a little from our daily duties.
However, this positive condition for change is spoiled when we worry. When we are at rest, destructive thought infiltrates like a bunch of cockroaches creeping in a lonesome house. It starts with the more general worries, that I call the 3F-worries, future, fortune, fate — and if you allow these general worries to erode your peace of mind, the worry pattern will get stuck with one or the other specific worry issue that acts like a worry-trigger every time you get back thinking about it.
Positive thought is a funny thing because all speak about it when they are anyway positive. The only time you need positive thought is the time when you are not positive, but caught in the trap of boredom and comfort. The I Ching does not help you being more positive, but it helps you to understand why you are negative.
It asks you why you worry when there is nothing to worry about. But it also tells you when you should worry, because danger stares you in the face while you are running forward like a blind hen. And it shows you when your success is going to turn into failure because you try to hasten growth, and thus burden yourself with stress. And stress, in turn, is a primary source of worry.
Here, you can see how practical the cyclic principles are that the I Ching teaches. There is a dynamic process in all growth; first there is an effort, and this effort is most of the time so consuming that there is simply no space for worries; then a phase of achievement and success occurs, and that is, as Pan Lo noted, the first dangerous abyss. Or as some philosopher put it: there is nothing to defeat great and lasting success but small success. The small petty success is a danger because complacency tends to set in and effort decreases. And with it, worry increases. And doubt.
Positive thought can be built into a habit, but for this to happen, you need to invest considerable time and effort.
Before you reach this state of consistency in controlling your mind, you may apply positive thought as a remedy in all those moments when you feel your comfort, your safety, your success and your riches are suffocating you.
We are most happy at a meal when we start the meal in a really hungry condition. Hunger is the best cook, not a luxurious setting and a bored mind. And the motor of creativity is pure enjoyment that comes from a different kind of hunger, sexual hunger or our fundamental human hunger for art, or for religion.
When you read the autobiographies of famous creators, painters, actors, singers or pianists, you will see that they invariably are most productive in the first years of their careers, at a time when they were still struggling in all possible ways to make a living and propagate their art to find an audience. Klaus Kinski, a famous Polish-German actor, tells in his autobiography that during his childhood, his family was so poor that he frequently was sent to steal food in the market, and as he could run very fast, he never was caught. And still when he was learning his art and got his first roles as an actor, he was so poor that sometimes he had to repeat eighteen hours per day for a role without having anything to eat for one or two days.
— Klaus Kinski, Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski (1997).
Our human nature is such that the surest death blow to creativity is total satiation. You may have known this state when you look at another, and more common, form of creativity: sex. When have you been most happy in your sexual affairs? Was it not during the times when you could have sex only once in a while and when you had to use one or the other form of creativity to find a good partner?
It is interesting to see the parallels between the life of individuals and the life of companies. You will then understand why the I Ching invariably applies for the life of individuals, companies or even countries: it is because life patterns are universal and not bound to human nature. I am talking about growth processes.
All life is growth, and growth can be healthy and constructive, or unhealthy and destructive. Cancer is a growth process as well, but a destructive one. The lesson to learn from nature is to not desire blind or excessive growth, but organic and natural growth. Excessive growth is destructive.
The I Ching expresses this truth with ‘Hastening growth lets the plant shoot up, but it destroys the fruit.’ When you measure growth only in terms of speed or what I call forward direction, you disregard the cyclical nature of life.
Standstill and backward direction or retrogradation are essential movements in natural growth processes, and they have within the cycle the same importance as the forward direction. Every planet spins for several months in a year in the opposite direction. This is called retrogradation in astronomy and astrology. In astrology, the energy of a planet is interpreted also depending on its spin. When the energy of the planet is in forward direction, it is expressed more on the outward level, and its effects are immediate and mostly also visible. When the planetary energy however is in retrogradation, the effects of the energy upon our life are delayed and they are for the most part felt on the inward level only. Thus, the effects of retrograding planets are invisible. Some astrologers, for this reason, speak of inverted planetary energy during the phase of retrogradation.
Similar to planets, the energy of human beings, in the growth process, goes through three different phases: forward direction, stagnation and backward direction.
Western scientific thought and philosophy, ignorant about action patterns, considers positive only the forward direction, denying to credit the validity of the two other essential movements of life. But this statement is of course valid only regarding mainstream culture and mainstream science.
As I have shown in other publications, even in times of the most fundamental repression of holistic pro-life wisdom in Europe, the original holistic life science was taught and practiced in the underground by alchemists such as Paracelsus, to name only the most famous among them.
Today, mainstream science is like a lazy school boy, timidly learning lessons in dim afternoon classes it should have learnt, long ago, in the bright morning hours. In last resort, life can only reward those who have really contributed to the progress of humanity, even if it happens hundreds of years after their physical death. Truth cannot be veiled for long: it will eventually appear and shine through even the thickest layers of ignorance and malevolent denial of reality.
Picasso was creative in his younger years, as he was creative in his older years, but when he was young he was very poor and had barely the amount of food he needed for his subsistence. Picasso, as all great artists, lived apart from consumer culture, but he had to pay the price for it. He had to suffer for his art, and it was his passion for art and the pleasure to be creative that saved Picasso from the ultimate failure of giving up and exasperating before he was famous, acclaimed and financially rewarded.
The danger I am talking about is our need for change. When I was at the end of my twenties, I felt I needed a big change, but at the same time was very afraid of it. I became more and more aware that by marrying early in life, I had put myself in a golden cage and that, in addition, my comfort was not based upon a real foundation. I was still financially dependent on my mother and I had stressed the relationship with her up to a breaking point, asking her for more and more money.
She was not minding the money; my mother’s fine intuition was that my marriage was not going to hold for long, and this not because of any material reason, but because of the simple truth that I had married too young for a stable partnership and that my wife and me had very different characters. I stubbornly rejected my mother’s point of view, only to admit later that I had wasted the best years of my life in a deeply problematic relationship that left me angry and frustrated. I had resisted the necessary change of a relationship pattern I was caught in and that later, in psychotherapy, was identified as a non-resolved Oedipus Complex.
Without wanting to expand too much about my own little life, I tell these anecdotes as examples for how we may suffer from a resistance to change more than from actual change. Some coaches today specialize on what they call change management, yet I think we should not separate this skill from the other skills we need in order to master life.
Managing change is managing life. It’s as basic as that. Life is change and resistance to change is always a trap. When you observe growth processes in nature you become aware very quickly that life essentially is change.
When I speak about change, I do not mean only outward change. The changes in the external settings of your life are of lesser importance. The really important changes are those inside of you, in your mindset and belief system. All what you change here has a direct impact on your external life circumstances.
When you change a pattern inside of you before you change it in your outward life, the change actually will feel organic when you incarnate it outwardly in your life. It’s like flowing with life, as if nothing special had happened. It’s what we use to call the welcome change. When you resist change, however, and more so if synchronistic events show you ways to change and you repeatedly disregard them, life may force you to change. Then something rather undesirable may happen, an accident, sickness or a backlash in one or the other of your endeavors, a social or professional downfall or a tragedy in the family.
Flexibility is the single most important virtue or skill we need in order to live through changes with an open and childlike attitude.
Flexibility is somehow an Eastern value. It has always been taught by sages as the foremost quality for mastering life, but in the West, because of a basically moralistic life paradigm, flexibility was never considered as an important life skill. That is why today, in a world that changes faster than ever before, Asian cultures live through the profound changes modern life brings in a more dynamic and less hurtful manner than cultures that follow a pervading moralistic paradigm.
In fact, both Taoism and Buddhism are religions that teach observation of life as the prima materia for the acquisition of wisdom.
To learn from direct observation or to study scriptures in which people have told their observation are two different pairs of shoes. When I am immersed in what others think about life, I am out of focus for my own observation of life. When I study scriptures, I study the past. When I directly observe all around me, including my impact upon others, I am dynamically involved with the present, and I move in the present. Flexibility and observation go together in the same way as rigidity and principle-based living.
It is not a historical hazard that the principle-based life paradigm is presently the one most successfully taught and propagated by famous coaches in the United States. It’s because it fits the principle-ridden and inflexible Christian mindset. But it is definitely not the best teaching for managing change in a non-hurtful, positive and open way!
It was not before reaching my thirties that I began to observe life instead of following one or the other religion or philosophy. I had resisted change so long that life forced me to change. But I welcomed this change because I felt I was returning to my own true being and realizing my own nature. I saw my basic intuition confirmed that life is unendingly flexible and adaptable, and that this quality is built into our human setup because life has created us.
Many of our collective human tragedies are the direct consequence of our life-denying religions and philosophies that teach us to be stubborn and rigid instead of flexible, principle-ridden and moralistic instead of open and loving, and static instead of dynamic.
It was in some way a benediction that the moment I acquired wealth, I had already gone through many fundamental changes, and had suffered quite a bit of misfortune. I also was at that time ready to accept responsibility for my life instead of blaming parents, childhood or the whole world for my trials. With this basically disillusioned mindset, I could manage without hurt the challenge with our family business.
The I Ching and Morality
The I Ching never is moralistic. It has nothing against wealth, nor is it enamored with poverty. It recommends to remain basically simple and to see that our efforts should surpass a mere striving for comfort, as comfort alone cannot give a sense to our lives. However, this does not mean that the I Ching recommends us to stay out of the world or to retire in the forests. Not at all. The art of living the I Ching teaches is to stay in the world without becoming entangled with the world.
The I Ching teaches to focus upon what we are interested in, what we consider as our mission. As a result, the I Ching does not recommend a fatalistic, procrastinating attitude but encourages personal growth.
I would say, after years of experience in divining, that the wisdom book shows us the difference between greed and commitment, as for building commitment, we have to warp against over-commitment in the form of greed. When you are merely greedy, and your base intention is just to amass more riches, when you are lacking a more outgoing commitment to your profession or activity, then the I Ching will disadvise you to proceed.
What is greed? Let us have a closer look. There is no doubt that the powerful motor of capitalism is greed.
Greed is an effective drive because it is fed by emotional flow. However, greed is not for this reason a natural human characteristic; it is rather a compensation longing for material goods that comes about through the repression of our natural desires. To put it shortly: prohibit sex and you will breed greed in people! Greed is a longing for pleasure, and constant pleasure, and it compensates for the prohibited natural body pleasure. Greed is not just a sort of hunger for wealth. What’s wrong with hunger for wealth? What’s wrong with being clean, comfortable, joyful, wealthy and powerful? Greed is not that.
Webster’s dictionary defines greed as ‘excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness’ and it thus bears an element of excess in it. Interestingly, in the Western culture where materialism has come about in the first place, greed is judged very severely as negative and destructive by the Bible.
Does that mean that every Western businessman who follows and practices Christian religion will be caught in a deep conscience split? I think that this would be a misunderstanding of what greed is. In Buddhism, there is perhaps no single other characteristic that is so harshly judged as destructive for human development as greed. And yet I have never seen a Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese businessman who was in the least bothered with being strongly focused upon acquiring wealth and social status.
I think that when we talk about greed, we really talk about excessiveness. Following the Eastern principle of balance and harmony in all doing, which is recognized as one of the fundamental life principles in Chinese philosophy, we would not need to blacklist greed because it would be held as a signal for negative growth because of its excessiveness.
This makes much more sense in my opinion than the moralistic judgment against greed that is to be found in Christian faith, in Buddhism and in Islam regarding greed.
In fact, moralistic judgments have barely a rational basis, as they are often arbitrary. But it makes sense to avoid behavior that, because of its excessiveness, brings about strife, conflict and backlashes in all ways.
To be more correct on the meaning of words, we could then conclude that a free economy is not based upon greed, but upon the natural striving for comfort and wealth, which is just another form of striving for pleasure, but that capitalism in its extreme form is well based upon greed.
Such a position gives us headway out of the dichotomy capitalism-communism and a new landscape in which we may build an economic system for the future that is based upon the pleasure principle, and that avoids to breed greed in the first place through a naturally permissive education.
When you look at permissive cultures, you very seldom find greed among people, whereas for example in the very repressive Protestant or even Calvinistic culture, you find greed very strongly developed in people while paradoxically, the religious dogma harshly condemns it. Needless to say that this produces a schizoid split in conscience that more or less strongly marks this kind of culture. These people are not very agreeable to have around; their lips are tightly closed or even perversely distorted, and they tend to do exactly the opposite of what they are preaching.
An intelligent society must avoid moralism as it’s against human nature, and bring about a human being that is whole as much as possible; this is so because fragmentation brings strife, conflict and violence in human society and in the long run perverts the human nature.
Now, after this somewhat scholarly explanation, you may want to ask what in fact you can do, in your life, to avoid greed and still develop commitment and a healthy focus upon the acquisition of wealth using positive growth cycles as a motor?
The answer is in the question. When you follow the principle of balance and harmony, you will avoid greed because you are aware of the fact that greed produces hurt, and you don’t want and need hurt for yourself, your family, your friends or your business partners. If you really wish the best for all people you are in touch with, and you go for what Buddha called The Middle Way, you can’t be greedy. Your natural striving for wealth, status and power will come to a standstill in the moment you see that it produces hurt, short-term or long-term, to any creature. You will apply what the I Ching calls self-restraint, and what I call standstill as one of the three main directions in human behavior.
Example. You may stay longer and longer in the office in order to maximize your revenues, but there will be a moment you have to acknowledge that you see your children only at weekends for a few hours, and you become aware that a child needs a father as a human being and not as walking money purse.
You don’t need anybody to tell you that, you know it, and you will know it when the moment arises. And then you may ponder the standstill option or even the backward option, as the forward option then would clearly reveal as destructive for the wellbeing of your family and in the long run for yourself as well.
In the education of your children, when you are too strongly focused on eradicating greed in your child, you will create conflict in your child’s mind. This conflict is actually counter-productive to your goal and will make your child still more greedy. There is only one effective way to avoid children becoming greedy; it is to raise them permissively and thus to ensure they have real opportunities to live our their emotions. At the same time, you need yourself to not be a bunch of greed for you teach by example — we all do!
You cannot bring about qualities in your children that you do not yourself cultivate. And yet, most parents try to do exactly that, and later wonder why they are so ineffective with their educational measures.
Educating your child means in the first place educating yourself. This is actually true for all leadership. The best and most effective way of leading others is by leading self, by being yourself, by incarnating the example.
The I Ching and Emotions
The I Ching has often been found to be too Confucian in its overall attitude toward life. However, we should be careful using such statements. The I Ching has existed long before Confucius, and when scholars state that the I Ching was Confucian in some way, they speak about the interpretation of the wisdom book, not about the original text that is written in a poetic language.
While it is true that Confucian philosophy puts high stress upon restraining emotions, I cannot make out this bias in the original text of the I Ching. But again, excess should in any case be avoided. To repeat what I said above, being excessively emotional would run counter to the I Ching’s general stress upon balance and harmony.
With this general knowledge in mind, let us see how the I Ching’s stance would be regarding anger, the quintessential hot emotion. Let me first clarify that anger surely is not a negative emotion, as so many religions and philosophies declare. Anger shows us where we do not bestow enough latitude upon ourselves. We may respect others, and the whole world, but often we lack self-respect.
The I Ching does not advise against emotions, but it recommends to stay centered despite of emotions. Even in the midst of my anger, I can make sure to not insult anybody, and to guard against over-reacting. And perhaps most importantly, I can accept my anger and refuse to fight against it. In situations of anger, when I asked the I Ching what to do, it recommended to simply leave the place and change the environment. And the anger was gone on the spot when I had turned my back to the place where I had been angry.
When you see that anger signals us a certain change in behavior, in attitude, or in direction, you see that it is actually a very useful emotion.
The I Ching, when you ask it for help in a situation of anger, will not advice you to handle your anger well: it will directly go to the cause and look at what in the first place caused your anger.
And it will tell you what you should do to change the situation so that further anger is avoided. And here you can see how fundamentally different the I Ching is when you compare it with religious scriptures such as the Torah, the Bible or the Koran.
In these scriptures, anger is invariably declared to be a very destructive emotion and the only thing these books do about it is to admonish us to not be angry. But that is stupid because it not only is ineffective, but it completely disregards the higher logic of life that has given us emotions with a purpose, and with a good reason: all our hot emotions are signals that trigger change!
Much to the contrary to religious texts, I argue that the lack of emotions is worse than the presence of emotions. I mean with lack of emotions, boredom. Boredom is the worst that can happen to you.
It is worse than imprisonment, malady and death. It is a real plague. Boredom is the result of losing your soul or being disconnected from your soul. It is an absolutely unnatural condition, while I know that most young people today think that it was a normal condition of modern life. It may be a normal condition of modern life, but this only proves that modern life is a perversion of real life. In real life, there is no boredom.
The I Ching does not talk explicitly about boredom. It does not use that word. And when you think about it, there might be a reason for it.
The I Ching seems to handle boredom in The Undeveloped One (4), a hexagram that concerns education and self-education.
The guiding advice of this hexagram is:
—Go ahead to enlighten undeveloped ones, but it should be the undeveloped one who makes the request, not the teacher. He should approach with sincerity. (Id., 238)
The 4th line reads:
—Stubborn and ignorant, one is helpless. (Id., 241)
The I Ching holds education in high regard. It seems to suggest that every true and lasting success if based upon proper education, and that education means a constant effort and commitment to learning.
Many parents experience their adolescent children being bored, and see daily how destructive this condition is for their children, and even the whole family.
That this happens is in most cases not the fault of teachers but of highly boring curricula. And boring curricula, in turn, are the outcome of a lack of care, of commitment from the side of politicians and policy makers; they show a deep lack of creativity. Most schools are not the fruit of love and care for children, but the inevitable result of child neglect. Education is always given the last priority in budget considerations, while it is of the first and foremost importance for the future of society.
If you are in this position as a parent, you should try all to help your children lead more meaningful existences. To leave it over to schools and school administration boards to educate your children shows more than all that you neglect your children, that you imprison them in institutions that have no regard for the soul of the child, and his or her individual destiny.
To revolt against it does not lead to alternatives as long as parents don’t stick together and pressure politicians and educational authorities to take action for changing things positively in the future. To make your children’s lives more meaningful implies first of all that you make your own life more meaningful, and that then you share as much as possible of your meaningful life with your children.
You may have plenty of money but your day-to-day reality may look devoid of meaningful moments and appear dull and repetitive. I have known children of artists who were quite poor but who shared with their children truly meaningful existences. I found the children invariably to be mature, happy, autonomous and intelligent, and they were very gentle and considerate in their relationships with others.
It seems to me today that there is nothing more important in life than our soul being nourished with meaning. Nothing in our materialistic modern societies can compensate for our collective lack of meaning as a culture. Where are the cultural and religious foundations that give us meaning? It seems that we have lost them, or that anyway, when they seemed to exist in the past, they may have been a part of a rather oppressive cultural system?
I found meaning in my own life only after rejecting many of the false beliefs that I saw the majority of my colleagues in school and university were holding. They believed in a one-pointed form of success that consisted of becoming wealthy, having a family, and a secure job. That was it. When I was bored in my class as a law practitioner, and instead learnt English, my colleagues looked at me strangely and asked me, flabbergasted:
— Why the hell are you learning English? What is this good for? Are you not interested to spend your life where you were born?
I replied that under the circumstances I was not sure where I was going to spend my life, where I was going to find a meaningful profession, as I knew that the law profession was not what I really liked. I further told them that I was doing a masters degree in European Integration for a career in the European Community, and they found me ‘crazy.’
And indeed, I did not know what I really wanted, in my younger years, and I had to wait for many years to pass to have clarity in this respect. Believe it or not, only twenty years later I got an idea what I wanted, and only thirty years later I began to realize it. Perhaps I went the hard way, or, as an astrologer once put it, I had to slow down my spin and become more single-focused. That was very hard for me as I was interested in so many things.
And yet, simply looking at what I liked to do in school, I could have seen very early what it was. But I did all and everything to look away from myself, took others as examples, wanting to be like this famous artist or that interesting writer, or again wanted to live like a saint, or a Gandhi, or engage in philanthropy, or change the world as a revolutionary. And when sitting at the piano, I just wanted to mesmerize my audience with sounds they have never heard before.
Astrology helped me tremendously on my way from the periphery to my center, my true being, avoiding the pitfalls of certain karmic conditions that made me overlook myself constantly.
I was reading books about overcoming the ego, and yet I had no ego, and thus all these books were not written for me. I needed twenty years to find out that I was hardly ever thinking of myself and that others, and their lives, had a much too important place in my life. I was in fact concerned too much about others instead about myself, while I realized that most people were spinning in the opposite sense. They only had themselves in mind, and others were for them something to keep up with, at best.
I would not say that per se, when you are rich, you are more at pains to realize meaning in your life. To say that poor people have a richer life on a soul-level is a nice illusion that I was holding for many years. I think that this dream alleviated me the pain to accept that human life on earth is ingrained with misery. The problem with being poor is that when I work too hard to join both ends, I have no time for myself. The problem with being rich is that when I have too much time for myself, and for maintaining comfort and safety on a daily level, I am too much concerned about myself and life may appear to me as a mere reflection of myself. And then I miss meaning because I reduce life to what appears to be my own boundaries, the bounds of my ego. I then also tend to exclude others from my ego-centered world, or give them a place at the periphery only, instead of letting their soul-being penetrate and enrich me.
I do not say that when we are rich, we are per se more materialistic, while this is a tenor that goes through almost all religious scriptures. I believe rather in the contrary and my life experience confirmed me in that view. The moment I had sold the bothersome family property and put the money in the bank, I felt free of all sorrow and began to eventually focus on what I felt was giving meaning to my life. Never before had I felt such a deep inner peace! I was beginning to pray every day for guidance to engage in the profession I was really talented for, and to enrich other people’s lives with my gifts and talents.
In my experience, tabula rasa thinking, the idea that you can start from page zero, does not really bring progress. When you create without a foundation, you risk to be off-track, off-soul, so to say. Tradition is not a trap, but a pool, a pool for creative development. This is, for example, how Maurice Béjart, the famous French choreographer, described his artistic paradigm.
Béjart, being known as a culture-destroyer, was in reality a culture-builder. He was very conscious of the tradition he was building his art upon, and he admired it and studied it with incredible diligence and unending commitment.
He was, like Picasso, a master in the tradition that had born him to be what he was. But he went beyond that mastership and explored into the unknown. This requires not only a lot of courage, but also a lot of modesty. You are not sure you will be the star because you create novelty. You build a new universe and you cannot know who or what will be the center of that universe. It’s perhaps not you, the creator of it, but a star that is better qualified than you to parent and develop what you have given birth to? This is what life teaches us, and when you consider this reality, you might be humbled.
When you study the biographies of creators, you see that they gravitated around their mission as planets gravitate around the sun. They might have done little jobs for joining ends, but you will not see a painter ending up as a car manufacturer or a pilot. And if he does, you can be sure that the painter in him was not really gifted for his art, because otherwise he would have been more committed to his art than just ‘getting a job.’
I believe that what we are naturally gifted for is like a magnetic field that attracts all that is needed for realizing that gift. But of course, you can use your willpower also for halting when you’ve made half of the way, jumping from a bridge and destroying not only your mission, but also yourself. Human history abounds of this kind of stories, and that again might humble us to acknowledge that nothing is given over to fulfillment when it is not cared for, but taken for granted. This is one of the pitfalls wealth might represent for you. You may begin taking things for granted, success for granted, fulfilled love for granted, and happiness for granted. And then you are off-the-road again and life will teach you that instead of being at an advanced stage of development, you are again in the starting holes.
My mother having been suicidal early in her youth, was not less suicidal once she inherited the family fortune and was rich and comfortable. She was not happy before, and she was not happy thereafter. She had not learnt to be happy. She had taken all and everything for granted, and yet was longing for one single true and fulfilled relationship with a man. But life did not give it to her, probably because she did herself not really commit to this longing.
Truly, life is more beautiful and more exciting when we are hungry, and the most part of the magic is gone when we are satiated! It might be more difficult to attract your soul mate when your thoughts are constantly gravitating around trivial matters, or when you are absorbed in your worries and lose a lot of energy because of sorrow.
Tabula rasa thinking means that you cut off the Ariadne thread that led you to the point where you are now, and try instead to explore the labyrinth of life without a guide. It’s more difficult, and there is a certain chance that you do something that is not really connected with your soul.
The I Ching teaches that every true progress is gradual. Gradual progress means that we build upon what we built before, and so forth.
One step after the other, one brick upon another. No matter how slow we are, as long as we remain focused and committed, we do make progress.
The Reflection Pattern
You may know that old parable of looking at a glass of water as half-full, or as half-empty.
You fill a glass half with water, and then contemplate that strange kind of object. Then you wonder about how you should see that object, as a glass half-filled or as a glass half-unfilled, as a glass half-happy or as a glass half-unhappy, as a glass half-useful and half-useless, and so on and so forth. Needless to mention that positive-minded people tend to see that glass as half-filled, whereas negative-minded people tend to make the glass down as half-empty.
We learn from this simple experiment that reality is not to be taken for granted, and rather depends on our way of looking at it!
Or to speak with quantum physics: reality is creatively interacting with the one observing it. Light can be seen as a wave or as a particle. Einstein found this already at the beginning of the 20th century, and before the establishment of what today we use to call quantum physics.
When I see life as order, I tend to see order in all-that-is, whatever occurs to me. When I consider life as nothing but chaos, I tend to make out chaos in the cosmos, and accordingly I experience my own life as chaotic. My internal belief system thus conditions my perception. This explains why reality is far from being the same for all of us. Why do I perceive life so differently from you? Because our perception of reality is a result of the reality we live in and that we have created by our mind. Is that tautological? It is. Because reality is tautological. If I interact with processes by observing processes, if I change flow by flowing myself, if I let the universe dance to my music by dancing with the universe, then, for heaven’s sake, I must admit that I have no reason to complain for I am responsible for my world!
Then I become aware that all I see is the result of my choice. I want to see roses. So I see roses. I want to see garbage, so I see garbage. I want to see happy children, so I see happy children. I want to see abuse, so I see abuse.
I want to be different, so I see difference everywhere, while difference per se is not a value, but only in relationship to something that is same. If I want to be different for any price, I am just a naughty child who likes to put every toy upside down, to have the clown vomit and the woman her pants down. I want to be conformist, so I see sameness everywhere and all life seems to me carved from one and the same wood. Then, when I see what really appears to be a difference, I tend to argue:
— These two things are not really different, they only appear to be different. In reality, they are same. Their difference is infinitesimally small and thus can be neglected.
However, when I see that I am limited, I cannot but practice modesty, according to Modesty (15), as I will abhor faking to be all-powerful which is the way of the worldly and political forces in place. I will then recognize with ease that I simply harvest what I sow, and this without regret, without sorrow, without a bitter taste on my tongue.
I throw a handful of sand against the wind and wipe my eyes as a result. Like a toddler playing on the beach. That is how the sage evaluates reality. By direct perception as well as trial-and-error.
When I look in the eyes of a small child, I perceive what is true and what is not true. This truth is so strong that it penetrates in my heart and changes things forever.
When I judge life, I cannot perceive the responsiveness of the universe. When I judge, I implicitly have a measure to base my judgment upon. What is this measure other than the length of a fantasy ruler?
Can we know how high the next mountain is that nature creates, or how high the next wave is at the beach when there is heavy sea? Can we know how far the cricket will jump? Approximately yes. But not exactly.
By the same token, all truth is approximate and not exact. In hindsight we can measure all. But that means to measure death! We cannot measure life because that would mean to know exactly the details of things to come. All divinations are approximations. There are good reasons to put away with all fortune telling as it is as approximate as living is. When I live without inquiring into the nature of future events, I am accepting the approximate nature of things, and I live more carefree than when divining all day long. Wallenstein can tell a story. He was not a happy man. Nor was Nostradamus.
When I really understand the nature of living, I see that there are no dreams that eternally have to remain dreams, but that every dream is the creative contemplation of a future reality.
The Karma Pattern
When I see that not values, which are creations of the mind, but dynamic exchanges with all-that-is, which are intuitive dialogues with the universe, bring me closer to perceiving reality more objectively, and less with putting my personal stink, I will avoid values.
If you admit or not that the universe is responsive, you will experience karma, the dynamic feedback created by action, a stone or rose thrown back to you.
Please note that the notion of karma is not a creation of Hinduism, but a reality in a universe that communicates in an organic multi-vectorial manner.
Karma means action, nothing more and nothing less, and it is part of all religions, because it is part of our dynamic and responsive universe. Hinduism has the merit to have put a very peculiar stress upon karma, and for good reasons. But when I know to dialogue with the universe in a dynamic manner, such as the universe itself dialogues with us, I can handle karma creatively and do not need to be trapped by it. As the proverb says: For the sage, karma means liberation.
In the West, the notion of karma has been largely misunderstood. It is often taken as a religious theory related to Hinduism or Buddhism. As if the Western part of the globe obeyed to different laws or could abide by different cosmic rules!
To repeat it, karma, literally in Sanskrit means action; it simply means cause-and-effect, or in the terminology of modern systems theory, karma is the law of a responsive, feedback-looping system. I shout in the forest, in a canyon. I hear my voice resonating in space. You can also say that karma is the natural condition in a responsive universe. I kill life and thus raise chances that I am myself killed, because I set an action of that kind, and create a negative resonance. All actions create a resonance according to their nature. I nurture life by being kind and taking care of others, or feedback to them their beauty, their strength, their originality. I support others in the realization of their original nature.
Then, I create a karma of positive resonance that supports me in realizing my own original nature.
There is no god, no savior and no punishment. There are no wrong acts, no right acts. There is karma only, feedback given by the universe.
By observing that feedback and recognizing its nature, positive or negative, I can evaluate the outcome of my actions. There is no other way.
You can’t do that by thinking about your behavior.
Thought is circular and inbound within my own continuum. I cannot abstract from my thought and become an observer-thinker, despite the fact that great sages such as Krishnamurti told us we could develop this ability.
Let’s assume I have not reached that stage of development and thus am still caught in the ego-based structure. Then I have the option to observe the nature of my actions by evaluating the feedback they create in the universe. In being careful and observing what happens around you before you take any major action, you can avoid fatal mistakes and setbacks and act in accordance with the steering power of the universe. This power is of a higher intelligence, and considers not only your actions but the actions of all other humans, of all other beings, and even the actions of natural forces.
How does a particular action you are going to take fit in the universe? What kind of waves will it create? What kind of responses will it trigger? All this can be evaluated before the action is taken. And the I Ching has been created precisely for assisting us in that quest.
Once you understand this, you will agree that to take blind actions is foolish behavior. And yet, most people, especially in the modern world, take blind actions all the time, and even think that it was normal human behavior. It is ignorant human behavior.
Educating children to take blind actions is irresponsible education, or no education at all.
Most Western people will reply that it was through a set of firm behavior rules, so-called ‘morally correct behavior’ that positive karma could be created.
However, moral correctness is on the same line as political correctness. It is totally volatile as moral rules are volatile and change from country to country and in some countries even from village to village, and they change over time as well, and they change when economic conditions change. Hence, morality is a fiction; moralism has been seen throughout human history as one of the most sordid ways to blindfold the masses and keep them from educating themselves about the universal laws and rules that really regulate action and reaction.
How much morally correct behavior triggered wars and genocide all over human history! How many massacres have been committed in the name of well-sounding moralistic slogans, how many millions of people were killed for politically and morally correct principles!?
When I maintain a rigid principle-ridden mindset, I act from an arrogantly fixated ego position. By contrast, when I am humble and flexible, I do not overestimate the powers of my ego and instead rely on the intelligence of the universe to help me finetune my actions.
Then I remain open for help and support and admit that I need help and support in the first place. The universe sends help, but only to those who are open to receive it.
As already mentioned, the I Ching teaches flexibility as a foremost value for constructive and positive action, action that creates good and beneficial karma for self and others. When I am flexible, I am ready to go not only forward, but at times also backward, and once in a while, I am even putting things on hold, a movement that I call standstill.
Note that I consider standing still, in this dynamic system of positive and constructive action, as a movement. Just as nonaction, from the same perspective, is a form of action, standstill is a form of movement. It is the movement that avoids wrong action by standing still. Wrong action is action that brings about strife, tension, or hurt, to others and, as a karmic reaction, to self as a karmic boomerang.
The I Ching teaches a gradual interplay of different movements, such as, for example, moving forward, standing still for some time, and then moving forward again. This is depending on the lines you receive, and it also depends on the structure and hierarchy of the particular hexagram you are contemplating.
Let us first consider the more clear-cut divinations, those that show an unambiguous move in either of the three directions. Moving forward is clearly expressed by hexagrams such as Progress (35), Rising (46) or Gradual Progress (53). Moving backward is advised by Retreat (33), and this unconditionally as all six lines recommend to retreat from the condition in question, and differ only by the fact that such retreat is more comfortable and easy or less comfortable and bothersome.
Standstill is clearly advised by Keeping Still (52), and here, like in Retreat (33), the different lines only inform about the easiness or uneasiness of the halt, but they do not recommend any movement other than standstill.
Thus, when you get any line of Retreat (33) or the hexagram without lines, this is a clear indication that you are advised to take a distance from the action or endeavor, or relationship, you intend to engage in, or intend to continue engaging in. The same is true for Keeping Still (52). All the lines indicate standstill as the right action for that moment.
Note that it is difficult to know how long a particular hexagram is valid. I do not think that the I Ching invariably advises to retreat from a certain action forever, but in most cases just for a certain time. It is only through repeated divinations that you may get to know the reason why you should retreat and how long, or else if you should definitely stop action for that particular purpose. All advice on divination that says I Ching readings to be valid for either three months or six months is a matter of personal opinion, not to be found in any serious interpretation of the Book of Changes.
I have had situations where the reading was valid for just one day, as the next day a new cycle set in that was foretold by a totally different reading later that same day. This, by the way, is true for all divinatory practices. Books on the interpretation of the Tarot that say a particular reading is valid for six months are expressing personal experience at best, if they are not just repeating the balderdash they themselves learnt from others.
In truth, there is absolutely no rule that says that a certain divination is valid for one minute, for one day or for one lifetime. This is exactly the uncertainty factor in all divination.
You may know all in advance, but you will not know the time when events set in. I have had readings where an event set in the next day, and I had readings where an event never set in, probably because I was heeding the advice and changed the parameters of my behavior in time.
There is a subtle interplay between your intuition and the I Ching. You know intuitively when you should consult the book again. To disregard your intuition and wait six months for the next reading is foolish.
The universe communicates you not only the nature of your karma, but also the time when you should consult the I Ching again. Of course, you may return too often to divination, and for reasons of stress or fear.
And when you consult the I Ching in a negative mood, you may get a negative reading. But then the I Ching will tell you what’s wrong with you. It will tell you that you lack decisiveness, that you need to put first things first, that you should be firm in following your original purpose, that you worry too much, that you should be persistent or that you should advance despite your anxiety. Or it may tell you to meditate and put things on hold for a moment, to free your mind and get new creative inspirations, or to consult a friend or expert for finding the solution. Or it may advise you to do things in cooperation with others, and not single-handedly.
As a beginner, you should first become familiar with the idea of action being naturally threefold, and not consisting only of marching forward. When you look at human history, you see that our old-fashioned and somehow extremely violent tradition has created evil, sorrow and misery by ignoring the simple fact that action is three-directional. Marching forward was seen as the only right action.
In a way, marching forward can be seen as the identifier of the total madness that is so characteristic for patriarchy. And the madness of today’s worldwide consumer culture is the logical historical and psychological follow-up of patriarchy with its ignorance of systemliteracy.
We can see the three base movements equally in the way the I Ching entered the soil of Western culture. There was first a forward movement, during Antiquity, then a long retreat during the Dark Age, and then a period of standstill. The I Ching could be discovered by a wider range of people only after the horror regime of the Church had found its end, thus from about the Renaissance. When the Church declared the I Ching, together with so many other jewels of human wisdom as diabolic knowledge, we can clearly see a phase of Retreat (33). But for various reasons, the I Ching became popular in Western culture only within the new age movement, from the second half of the 20th century.
Today, the I Ching is clearly again in a forward movement, in Western culture. From the Renaissance until today, the I Ching was going through a period of Keeping Still (52). It could be consulted without danger, but was given attention only by a small range of Western scholars, among them the German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) who found that the I Ching implicitly uses the binary code that today is used in every computer.
In the near future, during the Aquarius Age, the I Ching will receive an honorable and important position within a greater range of wisdom devices that are constantly reaching wider circles among the educated classes of international society, and foremost the young generations, which is one of the main reasons why I wrote this book.
Three Phases of Action
Action is what I call forward movement within a positioning that sees action together with nonaction and retreat as one of the three phases of action. After having introduced the notion of three base movements in the previous paragraph, let me now have a regard on the various phases within the forward movement.
The I Ching deals with action in most hexagrams. As already mentioned, there are only a few hexagrams that recommend action through and through, while most are mixed in the sense that within a course of action, diligent attention and careful inspection is recommended to avoid excess, and a setback or failure as a result of overacting.
Let me explain this using Yang/Creative Energy/The Active Principle (1) as an example. The first line of this very powerful hexagram that consists of six yang lines recommends nonaction.
The second line recommends to seek advice. The third line predicts danger, but says there will be no harm. The forth line, eventually, sets action completely free and the fifth line predicts great success. However, the top line is a quintessential example for excess and is generally interpreted as a painful setback through an arrogant and inflexible attitude, or a rigidly forward-moving behavior.
Let me now give a few examples for hexagrams that end in a positive 6th line. I think it is important to consider that not after every culmination point follows a negative spiral. Such a conclusion would be a misunderstanding of the I Ching. Flexibly intelligent action uses the time after completion, as hexagram 63 teaches us, for securing what has been achieved, and for rest and meditation.
It is short-sighted to interpret the I Ching as a set of patterns that ‘predict the future.’ The truth is that no future can ever be ‘predicted’ because every moment a different thought and emotional pattern can be put forward that changes the present state of events, thereby changing the future by changing the present. The future is but an extrapolation of a vibrational pattern set in the present. When I change the present pattern, logically the future pattern will be different as well. That is why, as I mentioned earlier, a particular reading can be superseded in a day, an hour or a week, but not in any time intervals determined in advance.
Life is infinitely flexible. After a thunderstorm, a hurricane or an earthquake, there may be a certain level of destruction, but it’s not the end of the world. Nothing in nature can cause the end of nature — except human ignorance and willfulness. This is an unwritten law pervading all living in the cosmos.
The first example of a hexagram that ends in a positive 6th line is Great Harvest/Abundance (14), which is called by some I Ching experts as the most lucky of all hexagrams. Here, the 6th line simply reads in Hua-Ching Ni’s interpretation: ‘Heavenly blessing. Good fortune. No problem.’
— Hua-Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999), p. 295.
Another example is Modesty/Humility/Moderation (15) where the 6th line reads:
He uses modesty instead of aggression with outsiders to correct the confusion within his territory. (Id., 300)
Other examples are:
- Obstacle/Adversity/Obstruction (12);
- Advancing/Going Forward/Progress (19);
- Contemplation/Stocktaking/Reflection (20);
- Adornment/Beauty/Grace (22)
- Great Potential/Creative Energy/Great Power (26);
- Nourishment/Nutrition/Self-Cultivation (27);
- Critical Mass/Great Excess/Imbalance (28);
- Mutual Attraction/Wooing/Marriage (31);
- Retreat/Withdrawal/Going Backward (33);
- Family/The Clan/Group Life (37);
- Contradiction/Opposition/Disharmony (38);
- Obstruction/Obstacle/Difficulty (39);
- Dissolution of the Problem/Release/Liberation (40);
- Sacrifice/Decrease/Reduce the Excessive (41);
- The Well/Water Hole/Reaching the Water (48);
- Revolution/Reformation/Groundbreaking Change (49);
- Cauldron/Harmonization/Stability (50);
- Gradual Progress/Positive Development (53).
In all these hexagrams, the 6th line is positive and constructive. Now, if almost one third of all hexagrams of the I Ching give a positive reading for the 6th line, it cannot be said, as some scholars erroneously do, that the 6th line in every hexagram of the I Ching invariably predicts misfortune.
Non-Action vs. Bold Action
Nonaction is action, Lao-tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching. And this wisdom is part of the I Ching as well. You can find nonaction in the I Ching in two different ways:
- As a general standstill, as indicated by Keeping Still (52);
- As a tactical standstill, as part of various action-hexagrams:
- The 1st line in Yang (1);
- The 1st line in Dispute (6);
- The 6th line in Small Accumulation (9);
- The 1st line in Great Harvest (14);
- The 1st line in Great Potential (26);
- The 4th line in Fire (30);
- The 3rd line in Mutual Attraction (31);
- The 1st line in Power of the Great (34);
- The 1st line in Resolution (43);
- The 4th line in Contact (44);
- The 5th line in Adversity (47);
- The 3rd line in Revolution (49);
- The 3rd line in Gradual Progress (53);
- The 1st line in Before Crossing the Water (64).
As mentioned earlier, when nonaction appears as a line in an otherwise dynamic hexagram, and contrary to the general advice given in Keeping Still (52), interpretation is needed.
Typically, one of these critical lines is drawn together with other lines of the same hexagram. When this happens, a temporary halt is indicated or the line can be said to indicate a very careful way to proceed. If the line is drawn as a single answer without any other line, this means that indeed nonaction is the best for a certain time.
The time-span cannot be predicted, as I pointed out earlier, but from a systemic point of view I would argue that the time-span of rest or nonaction indicated by Keeping Still (52) is certainly more extended as the one indicated by any of the lines that recommend a temporary halt. That is all I can say on the time matter.
For all those who are caught in the erroneous belief the I Ching was but a textbook on Confucianism, and that it did not favor any form of bold and spontaneous action, let me advance the following arguments to put things in the correct light:
- The I Ching is much older than Confucian thinking;
- Confucius is said to have studied the I Ching most diligently and never pretended to have developed any knowledge or system that superseded or surpassed the wisdom of the I Ching;
- The I Ching contains a number of lines that advise bold and massive action, and to prove my point, I will line them up in full detail here, and exhaustively so:
- The 4th line of Yang (1);
- The 5th line of Yin (2);
- The 4th line of Difficult Begin (3);
- The 1st line of Peace (11);
- The 6th line of Obstacle (12);
- The 2nd line of Great Harvest (14);
- The 2nd line of Modesty (15);
- The 2nd line in Advancing (19);
- The 5th line of Return (24);
- The 1st line of Innocence (25);
- The 6th line of Great Potential (26);
- The 6th line of Nourishment (27);
- The 1st and 2nd lines of Fire (30);
- The 2nd line of Power of the Great (34);
- The 3rd line of Success (35);
- The 6th line of Contradiction (38);
- The 1st, 2nd and 6th lines of Dissolution of the Problem (40);
- The 5th line of Sacrifice (41);
- The 1st, 2nd and 5th lines of Benefit (42);
- The 2nd, 4th and 5th lines of Congregation (45);
- The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th lines of Rising (46);
- The 4th, 5th and 6th lines of The Well (48);
- The 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th lines of Revolution (49);
- The 5th and 6th lines of Cauldron (50);
- The 2nd, 4th and 6th lines of Gradual Progress (53);
- The 1st line of The Maiden (54);
- The 1st, 4th and 5th lines of Peak (55);
- The 5th line of The Wanderer (56);
- The 5th line of Gentle Wind (57);
- The 1st and 2nd lines of Joyousness (58);
- The 1st line of Scattered (59);
- The 5th line of Inner Truth (61);
- The 5th line of Before Crossing the Water (64).
If more than half of all hexagrams of the I Ching recommend unbridled action in one or several lines, the opinion sometimes expressed in the literature that the wisdom book was an action-breaker and led people to procrastination seems to be unfounded. In fact, having studied and practiced both the Tarot and the I Ching for almost thirty years, I find the Tarot more difficult to interpret because it uses psychological archetypes for describing circumstances. By contrast, the language of the I Ching is rather precise, and its advice to the point.
It is perhaps more difficult to get to bold action when using the Tarot for divination as this is the case with the I Ching. Let’s not forget that in the past, in China, many great generals have used the I Ching for war strategy and for gathering precise information about when and how to advance or retreat the army in order to win the battle.
After all, what the I Ching definitely cannot do is to act for you! There is a moment when you have to cease reflecting and start acting. And in that moment, the I Ching has to be laid aside.