It may be the oldest book in the world. Originating thousands of years ago among the courtly shaman-diviners of ancient China, it springs out of the unadulterated consciousness of primeval humanity. Here are truly fundamental perceptions of reality, distilled into inter-related images of physical and spiritual reality. The images are associated with numbers, and the numbers may be derived from certain technical manipulations that enable a skilled reader to use the book as an oracle. In fact, the book has been used and abused for fortune telling from its earliest days. It had itself evolved out of a still more ancient divining tool known as the Tortoise Oracle, whose wisdom it incorporated.
In Chinese, “ching” means book. “I” means change, or changes. Thus the name may be translated as The Book of Changes. But “I” means not only change. Strangely enough, it also means permanence, or the unchangeable. The Book of Changes views all of the changes that we and the world go through as an unfolding of the immutable laws and principles of existence. By explaining our present situation in terms of the natural laws that have given rise to it, we can know where we are headed and what the future is likely to be.
The I ching views the universe as a natural and well-coordinated system in which the process of change never ceases. It presents human nature and destiny as based on principle and order. Study of the I ching thus makes it possible for us to orient individual human activities and situations within the larger context of harmonious interactions between people, nature, and the cosmos.
The I ching is a practical guide through the perplexities and insecurities of daily life. It roots our actions, experiences and expressions in the fundamental ground of existence. It’s beautiful commentaries help to give us the moral strength we need to fulfill our ideals. The loveliness of its images provide endless joys of meditation, study and contemplation.
The heart of the book is in its images. There are sixty-four in all, and the reader must be familiar with the particular meaning of each one, as well as the ways in which one image may change into another image in the course of time. Age-old traditions describing the images through the medium of imaginative verse help the intuitive and psychic personality to disclose the underlying themes. And, in addition, a great number of philosophers have written commentaries about the images in the I ching.
The legendary contributions of Confucius, or Kung-fu-tse, from about 500bc are the most celebrated, but there have been many others of comparable scope and quality. The images have been interpreted from the point of view of many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, and they have been related to secular concerns in translations like the one that has guided the affairs of present-day Japan’s pre-eminent corporate leader, Matsushita.
Indeed, the I ching may be consulted on virtually any subject or concern. All things in Heaven and Earth are dreamt of in this philosophy, Horatio.