The I Ching or Book of Changes is more than a system of divination. It is also the earliest and most profound classic of Chinese ancient literature that represents one of the first efforts of civilised humankind to understand his or her place in the world and the course and meaning of his life.
The I Ching has been described as a map and guidebook to life’s change points. The basis of its philosophy is that nothing is static. The Chinese believe that any quality or state reaches an extreme and tips over into the opposite, from joy to sorrow, love to hate, darkness to light, peace to war and back again.
While we cannot some events cannot be changed people can influence their destiny by their reactions, whether to decide to wait or act, stay or go, use emotion or logic. There must be endings or there can be no beginnings, loss so that there can be an appreciation of gain. So the future written in the I Ching is not fixed, but depends on recognising the opportunities and pitfalls highlighted by the chosen hexagram, the eight lined unit of meaning that underpins I Ching divination - and then using the wisdom to determining for oneself the direction of the nature of any change.
The original inspiration for the I Ching came from the shell of the tortoise. Legends abound throughout the Eastern world of giant tortoises holding up the world and the Islands of the Blest, the earthly equivalent of paradise where immortality was assured to those who resided there.
For divination purposes the shell of the tortoise was heated until it cracked and the cracks were interpreted. This is still commemorated in the Chinese character for divination:
This is composed of two words: interpret and crack.
I Ching divination in its purest form, dates back about 5,000 years to the time of the ruler Fu Hsi. This monarch was said to have first found the eight trigrams are the building blocks of the sixty-four hexagrams (two trigrams or three lines of yang and yin, put together) on the shell of a tortoise. Fu Hsi, believed to be descended from the P’au Ku, Divine Artisan, who created the mountains and earth, is credited with teaching laws, introducing fishing nets and building the first permanent dwellings.
It is thought that the I Ching was first recorded in about 1,700bc when it still retained a very simple form and was probably still centred around the basic trigrams and their natural images.
The meanings continued to evolve, but the actual recorded Ching was used mostly for predicting natural events until Lord Wen paired the trigrams to create hexagrams about 1122bc. Lord Wen was said to have been an exceedingly wise and benevolent ruler in the Chou principality in what is now the Shensi province of China. His ways were in sharp contrast to those of the last king of the Shang dynasty, Choe, who held the land in a grip of terror and squandered its wealth. There was a rebellion against him and although Lord Wen played no part in it he was thrown into prison. During his time there he was inspired by a vision to write the hexagrams on the wall of his cell. His son, the Duke of Chou, wrote commentaries and added the concept of moving or changing lines. So Confucius was a comparative newcomer when he or his followers added yet more interpretations more than five centuries later.
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