Saturday, 30 June 2012

Does the I Ching tell a Story?

This blog was originally phrased as a question... can you guess what this poem is about? I hinted that this was something in translation, so to think of words in their broadest possible sense, not to deduce things from the terminology used because this is arbitrary. It is in fact the list of hexagram titles of the I Ching! Now that's revealed, I'll change the question...

Does the I Ching tell a Story? (trans. —okei)

Daybreak, earth springs anew.
Waiting, struggling, calling together.
Offers cautious, trust witheld.
Fellowship begets good reward,
Followers spread forest contemplation,
Detractors elegant, sent home.
Unexpected bounty, determines success,
Worst overcome with time.
Pullback, strong charge, wounded.
Family disagreements impede release.
Less, more, breakthrough, betrothal.
Community rises exhausted, relief.
Simplicity, cauldron resonating, stillness.
Gradual homecoming, enough travelling,
Divining joy, overflowing restraints.
Sincerely, worth doing, unfinished.


  1. : ))

    In the broadest sense....
    it Sounds simply like the journey through life (physical life, anyway)

    Daybreak. earth springs anew ... physical birth
    Sincerely, worth doing, unfinished ........ physical death


  2. ♥ But of course! why didn't I think of it? lovely interpretation. I'll be back on a computer tomorrow to read and say all I know.

  3. This is not easy because of the translation, but it sounds more like the spiritual journey to me... culminating in the betrothal/unity, but with unfinished referring to the soul at the end of life.

  4. lol.... I'm sure you did think of it ... but obviously you feel there is something deeper here... but i wasn't seeing it....

    ahh... but mystic and rabbit may well be hitting some key's to understanding.

  5. Ok, I posted this in haste on a mobile, curious to get your responses, so I'll reveal its source just as hastily from here also.

    Each word corresponds to a chapter heading of the I Ching in the original order! The "translation" of each heading is chosen loosely (by me) among the various possibilities in order to try to make it flow as a whole. Obviously, this is only successful up to a point!

    Does it work? What does it mean? This is where my question comes in... there is a theory out there that the I Ching may be read as a story of the overthrow of the cruel Shang dynasty by King Wen. He gathers people together etc. on this almost epic quest.

    I was wondering like you Nancy if it could be read as a spiritual journey more generally. And I really like Lin's idea of this whole life itself!

    Ingy, indeed there is a polarity of consecutive terms. In fact, every two words of each line up to betrothal is a polar opposite. While every last two words of every following line is a polar twin...that's brilliant!! It highlights Nancy's suggestion of betrothal as the Key!

    If you go away and read verse 44 of the I Ching, you will see this is actually a very negative verse in most translations. But the only female to translate the I Ching is Margaret Pearson, and she turns this on its head, that it's the image of a princess being welcomed by a royal retinue to be escorted to her future husband's kingdom as a total (edit: royal) bride!

  6. That is very cool Okei. Thanks. That style of writing would make interesting poetry as well.

  7. Yes, you definitely have a poetic soul .... : ))

    Okay, going away to find chapter 44 ....

    till later,

  8. Here's Margaret Pearson's translation (in brief):
    ...very different from versions you might read elsewhere!

    The woman is great. Do not grab the woman.
    A royal bride [was met with great ceremony,] not taken by force.

    Image: Below the sky, a wind: the image of the royal bride.
    [As gentle and persistent as the wind,]
    the queen spreads her influence and makes proclamations
    which reach the four corners of the world.

    There are actually three layers of the I Ching. The "title" of each hexagram with a short verse, then the six possible "lines" which are consulted only if they are "changing" in the divination process, and finally the "image". There are then the "wings" which are all the later interpretations and developments over thousands of years, some of the earliest wings attributed to Confucius.

    The above prose-poem is an attempt to make something purely out of the titles, which are presumably the oldest of all these layers. Even then, ancient Chinese is very ambiguous so the experts can't agree themselves about the meanings, and there is even some uncertainty as to whether this was the original ordering... finally, there are certain "almost-symmetries" which suggest the received version of the text may have been tampered with. (The original is supposed to be 3200 years old after all!)

  9. Very interesting Okei and great responses too.

  10. Thanks for reading, Catherine, glad to share! I'm keen to keep investigating...

  11. Interesting as always

    Book of changes -intriguing

  12. Thanks okie .... have never looked at the I ching much ...
    so I found this very interesting.

  13. Had & Lin, I'm delighted with the interest.

    Let me share what a Chinese friend shared with me...

    易经 = yì jīng = Chinese pronunciation of "I Ching"

    yì, the first symbol 易, is associated with the symbol of the sun over that of the moon, and to a lizard whose skin changes, and to water being poured from one cup into another, all three suggesting exchange or "change" — Bian Yi 變易. But in order for there to be change, there must be something "not changing" Bu Yi 不易. Finally, there is a "simplicity" behind the intelligence of how things change without changing and this is expressed as Jian Yi 閒易.

    Perhaps these correspond to the layers of meaning of the I Ching: symbolic, numerological & philosophical. Xiang象(symbolism), Shu數 (numerology), Li理 (philosophy). It is not a spiritual book, like other great texts, but has its origins in shamanism of the enlightened being — Wu巫, so it speaks at the level of the one who consults it. Some say, “Don’t teach someone if he or she is not the right person...Don’t leak the secrets of the universe.” Because its concern is only with success!

    Finally, jīng = 经 is supposed to mean methods, or unchanging truths, hence yì jīng is about the unchanging truths of change! :)

  14. I knew it was the I ching from the first lines haha, cause I've swam in that ocean plenty of times. ;)
    Also had the image of the whole circle of life.
    Not sure if it can be interpreted that way as the whole story. As for individual tosses- they all speak directly to the question, and then it all makes perfect sense, intuition is the translator always.

  15. You're good! You're right, it always "works" somehow. I read that even Martin Gardner a famous expositor of mathematics (hence a logical-type person, even more than me) remarked on the seeming magic of how the lines corresponded to the question asked.

    And yet there's a frustrating element for me of trying to "work it out" as if it's a puzzle... or at least to understand it better... we have the received order of the hexagrams which is the above, which is pretty random except it mostly goes in pairs, and we don't even know if it's the original order. Then there's a "dictionary" order (as if broken lines were encoded with "a" and "z" and you read them in the order they'd be in a dictionary) which I guess people think might be later (more logical, lol). There's even a theory that there might have been an older I Ching made of pentagrams instead of hexagrams, because 5 is very important in Chinese numerology, and also because in quite a lot of the line statements, the same word occurs five times, and then there's an odd one out. I Ching teases us in that way, hinting at deeper structure, while eluding the attempts over the years to find anything convincing! People also say how the fifth line represents apogee (peak) and the sixth excess, but even this is only a sometimes-rule.

    I would really love to write a haiku-version of the core idea of each hexagram, but I need some shamanic inspiration!

    And each time I try to start doing this, I just feel sad and unable... as if still getting in my own way... no point doing it unless it's genuine, yet also I don't want to be doing it as an escape to life, but alongside life.