The I Ching – Its Origin and Purpose
The I Ching (Romanized as Yi Jing in Pinyin which I will use interchangeably in this article) is without a doubt the most influential book of the entire Chinese civilization. It came to life over 5000 years ago and it has influenced people from all walks of life – both directly and indirectly.
Its influence is not just limited to China but beyond to other civilization in the Far East and the West. For example, books on the Yi Jing written in English are widely available.
A typical I Ching publication would consist of pages devoted to each of the hexagrams. It includes the name of the hexagram, how it is constructed (from two Trigrams), the meaning, judgment, commentary, images and comments on the lines.
According to Chinese literatures, four persons influenced the present form of the Yi Jing. They are Fu Xi, King Wen, his son the Duke of Chou and Confucius.
The originator of the I Ching is the legendary first Chinese emperor Fu Xi (2953-2833 BC). He devised the basic ‘Gua’ and according to legend, the Early Heaven Bagua based on Hetu pattern discovered earlier on the back of a dragon horse (or unicorn). In addition to the eight basic ‘Gua’, either Fu Xi or his successor multiplied the original eight ‘Gua’ eight folds to create the Sixty Four Hexagrams that we know today.
Besides the Bagua which is the foundation of the I Ching, Fu Xi taught his people to hunt, to fish, and to rear live stocks. He contributed to the development of silk threads, a rudimentary musical instrument, some kind of calendar and the institution of marriage!
After Fu Xi, it received farther enhancements made by King Wen (1231-1135 BC) the founder of the Chou dynasty. Before he founded the Chou dynasty and became king, he was imprisoned by the tyrant emperor Chou Hsin of the Shang dynasty for an extended period. While undergoing imprisonment, he devoted his time to the study of the hexagram and appended to each of them certain observations and explanation which become the judgments. His son the Duke of Chou was believed to be responsible for the text on the changing lines.
A few hundred years later (around 550 BC), Confucius came on the old text and he gave it intensive study. It is believe that he added to the commentary and contributed the images to the original text.
What is the purpose of the I Ching or Yi Jing?
The I Ching is first a divinatory device and is used by countless millions of people to divine on the important issues of life. However it is also meant to be a book of wisdom and philosophy.
Due to its universal appeal, it has also come to mean different things to different people. Confucius sees it as a source of ethics while Buddhists and Taoists sees it as a means of predicting one’s conduct and a guide to living rightly to avoid unnecessary suffering and a tragic fate.
Interestingly, to Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who invented calculus, it was the essence of binary mathematics while to Carl Jung, the rival to Sigmund Freud in psychology; it was an explorer of the unconscious mind.
And in modern times Wall Street executives, according to Adam Smith of the “Powers of Mind” fame, believe that it can predict the stock market!
The Yi Jing has come a long way from its initial usage as a book of oracles. It has become a dominant influence in Chinese culture and still touches the lives of millions of people through its role in astrology, geomancy, medical theory etc.
The basic premise at the root of the I Ching is that cosmic order and human nature is one. Divination by various methods are a means of stopping time to see the changes that are in progress at a given time thus allowing one to align with these changes instead of going against nature.
We are very lucky to have the Yi Jing today. Around 220 BC, Emperor Shih Huang-Ti ordered the great Burning of Books in his persecution and massacres of Chinese philosophers. Many ancient texts including those by Confucius were destroyed.
The I Ching is one of those that survived!