If some years
were added to my life,
I would dedicate fifty years
to study of the Book of I,
and then I might come
to be without great fault.
— CONFUCIUS (when he was 70)
The I Ching is the oldest book in the world. It existed at least 2000 years before Confucius (ca. 551-479 B.C.) and it’s still here today.
Carl Jung (who used the I Ching to explore his unconscious) called it “a great and singular book” in his foreword to Richard Wilhelm’s English translation and that’s been my experience of this wise and poetic masterpiece.
I first met with the I Ching thirty years ago and its directness, practicality and humour (yes, it has a fine comic sense) have intrigued me ever since. It’s an impeccable tool if you seek clarity in a dark situation, but don’t expect it to predict your future. Its genius lies in pointing you towards the best course of action in a firm, no-nonsense manner. It reminds me of a cross between Mr Myagi in The Karate Kid and Judi Dench’s M in Skyfall.
No wonder the Chinese view the I Ching with reverence — it was written by four of their greatest sages, one of whom was a king: Fu Xi, King Wen of the Zhou dynasty, his son, the Duke of Zhou, and Confucius.
The I Ching is an oracle that speaks in images and it’s about as esoteric as our cynical Western minds can imagine. It consists of sixty-four hexagrams (guas) each of which represents sixty-four different phases in an interconnected process of change.
The best translation I know is by Alfred Huang, a Taoist master and a native Chinese speaker who has spent years refining his translation to render it the most accurate representation of the ancient text for westerners.
There are three main ways to consult the I Ching:
- Traditional yarrow sticks
- Coin throwing
- Bamboo sticks
Once you have your question, the oracle is cast with whatever method appeals to you. I like the yarrow stick procedure best — it’s relaxing, meditative and hypnotic.
If you’re looking for an excellent guide to the beautiful and mysterious I Ching, then this is the book to start with:
There’s also a free online I Ching and here’s the link:
Online I Ching
Huang, A., (2010), The Complete I Ching, Inner Traditions, Vermont.