Highest Peaks to Lowest Valleys: a Brief Study of I Ching

Using REDFeather author Chao-Hsiu Chen’s “I Ching”, let’s unpack the text that has guided Chinese governments, oracle readers, philosophers, and the people for almost 4,000 years.

A Very Brief History

The I Ching is considered to be both an oracle to forecast the future and the source for all of Chinese Wisdom. It originally served as a divination manual in the Western Zhou period, but after Confucius wrote his own interpretation, the text’s value was firmly established. According to Chinese mythology, Fu Xi, the first emperor of China, formulated the system of eight “trigrams”, all comprised of three lines, either broken (representing Yin,) or unbroken (Yang.) Later on during the Shang Dynasty, Emperor Zhou Wen Wang further developed Fu Xi’s trigrams into the sixty-four hexagrams that are present in this I Ching.

What I Ching Teaches Us

What makes the I Ching so extraordinary is it’s ability to remain relevant for several thousand years and, will probably remain for many years to come. But why, you may ask, do we reference such an old system? Because humans are naturally fascinated with the ups and downs of life within our multi-faceted and ever changing (and ever complex) world. Take the following quote from Chen’s introduction, “The Temple and The I Ching”:

“Which was has led you here this time?” the master asked me with a gentle smile.

“The way of the water,” I answered respectfully…He broke out laughing.

“If you have found the way of the water, which goes everywhere, even to the lowest places, then you are ready for the I Ching.”

Why does the master laugh? To make fun of the traveler? We hope not. The more likely answer is that the traveler has uncovered the message of the I Ching already:

life (as symbolized through water,) can and will lead you to some very low places. Water touches everything, and so we must be ready for that. But the wonderful thing about this sentiment is that the same is true for the Heavens; water reaches the highest peaks as well, and so will we from time to time.

The same questions that plagued the minds of China’s first rulers are still as relevant today — after all, I Ching is also known as the Book of Changes, and it is safe to say that many changes have occurred within the last year, leaving a lot of us to ask the “big questions”:

  • How can governments, Titans of Democracy, fail?
  • How do the dynasties we have built up in our minds crumble?

Moment to moment, we discover something new that we did not think was possible before — “unprecedented times” we’ve called it. And yet, a 4,000 year old system remains.

The Teachings – Excerpts from Chen’s I Ching

ROOT

Attain your goal without using force. Be tolerant and generous; if you try to reach for what is beyond your grasp, it will slip out of your hands.

NEEDS

Have faith in others, and trust in yourself. The right moment will come and all will be revealed in time.

HALT

Too much talk leads to failure; lead with honesty and kindheartedness. Find the correct balance between motion and inactivity, know your limits to protect yourself from misfortune.

ACCOMPLISHMENT

There is danger hidden within good fortune, and turmoil within peace. Being vigilant is best; always remember that the beginning follows the end, and the end follows the beginning.

Understanding the I Ching

The history, relevance, and ways of interpreting the I Ching are endless — in fact, a Buddhist reads differently than a Taoist, Confucianist, Legalist, or the idealist philosophers of the Confucian school in the Song and Ming dynasties. Like all divination systems, the way you read the oracle is up to you. Take REDFeather’s I Ching Oracle Wheel or our many other Taoist titles.

The answers you seek are out there — one must simply follow the path of the water to find it.

About Chao-Hsiu Chen

A renowned artist, philosopher, and musician, Chen grew up in Taiwan studying Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist teachings. She is the author of over forty books, and her paintings are regularly exhibited around the world.