How to use this ancient Chinese divination tool to glimpse the future - and to better understand where you are right now.
Who wouldn't like to know what tomorrow holds? Every ancient culture, it seems, has devised methods to foretell the future. Europeans had their tarot cards, Native Americans had their cowrie shells, Japanese looked into tea leaves and the Chinese depended on the I Ching or the Book of Changes.
I was exposed to The I Ching as a young girl and remember being shocked by the accuracy of the answers. My question had to do with a boy I was attracted to. Would he ever like me back, I asked? After throwing a die, I was referred to a certain page which offered an answer, albeit a cryptic one: Wherever the sister goes, the brother follows. It was true. I befriended the boy's sister and soon enough, he became my boyfriend. I have been a fan of the I Ching ever since.
Written over 5000 years ago by a Chinese sage named Fu Hsi, the I Ching is based on eight trigrams, which look like three rows of three lines (---) one below the other, each of which means a different thing. Fu Hsi developed these trigrams based on his observation of nature and the correlations between different parts of the universe-heaven and earth, fire and water, wood and metal, yin and yang, creation and destruction. And therein lies the first lesson of the I Ching: Everything is interconnected.
Much of Taoist philosophy is based on this interconnectedness. The great Taoist scholars and sages could foretell events by observing seemingly unrelated elements. For instance, a crow's incessant cawing could indicate that a visitor was approaching. In the modern world, we call these omens and pay little attention to them. But as Chinese fortunetellers will tell you, "Just because you can't see the sign doesn't mean that it isn't there."
And therein lies the second lesson of the I Ching: In order to see the future, you have to have be deeply rooted in the present. In other words, you won't see any signs if you are haring around, all stressed out and overscheduled. You have to slow down a bit, observe the world around you and gauge what you see. You have to pick up on subliminal signs and allow your unconscious thoughts to flow through. As Carl Jung writes in his brilliant commentary on the I Ching, "I would sit for hours beneath the hundred-year-old pear tree with the I Ching beside me, practicing the technique by referring the resultant oracles to one another in an interplay of questions and answers. All sorts of undeniably remarkable results emerging alongside meaningful connections with my own thought processes which I could not explain to myself."
This point was driven home to me when I met Master Raymond Lo, an expert on the I Ching. Based in
My husband and I had been talking about moving towns for a long time. We liked where we lived but wanted a few changes. We wanted to live closer to our parents because they were getting old, and offer our children a different school system. When prompted for a personal question, I immediately blurted, "Will we move?'"
Instead of divining, Master Lo smiled and said, "Let's try to improve the question, shall we?"
I nodded, wondering exactly what he meant.
"When you ask if you will move, do you mean that you want to move within the next one year or the next five years?" he asked.
"Within the next one year," I replied.
"Are you moving to seek an improvement or to escape a bad situation?" he asked.
"To seek improvement," I replied.
"Do you desire this move or is it being foisted upon you?" he asked.
"No, it isn't being foisted on us," I said.
"In other words, you desire to move to a new location within the next one year but want to know if the move will improve your situation or not," Master Lo said.
"Exactly," I replied.
In divining, whether it is through the I Ching, tarot cards, or tea leaves, half the answer can be had by simply framing the question to accurately reflect your circumstances. When you run into a psychic or a fortune teller next time, don't jump to ask the question. Reflect on your circumstance and figure out exactly what it is your heart desires.
Once I asked the question, Master Lo asked me to roll three Chinese coins three times and noted how they fell-heads up or tails up. Then he began an elaborate process of giving each combination of heads and tails a Chinese character with a yin and yang connotation, allotting each character with a specific element (there are five elements in Chinese philosophy; water, earth, fire, metal and wood) and doing some mathematical calculations to deduce which of those elements 'conquered' the other.
Ancient I Ching texts explain that this time taken to formulate the answer allows the subliminal subconscious elements to flow through. Many English I Ching translations advocate using bamboo stalks just like the ancient times rather than the quicker coin method. The idea behind it all is to tap into the intuitive, unconscious part of one's self in order to achieve the answer. This slow process of calculation also makes one open to the universe and its suggestions, they say.
Whatever the reason, Master Lo's answer to my question resonated with me. It was specific, and it offered reasons and solutions. You will not move house, he said, because you will lose money and are more attached to your current property than you think. All of which were true. We knew we would lose money with the move but wanted to do it anyhow. I knew I was attached to the current property which was why the move remained a decision we agonized over rather than merely execute.
I asked Master Lo if he referred to the I Ching to ask personal questions himself.
"Not often," he said. "The I Ching is remarkably accurate and one has to have the strength to stomach what it says because it may not be the answer you want."
My sentiments exactly.
It is possible to practice the I Ching anywhere in the world. You don't have to travel to
1. Take the time to formulate a 'good' question. Be specific about time frames (whether it is one month or one year or five years), about what it is that you desire (money, family, power, health, wisdom). As Master Lo explains, some questions ask one thing but imply another. When a person says, "Should I sell my house?" what he is really asking is whether he will make money on the transaction.
2. Follow all the steps explained in the book to get your answer. If possible, take the harder route, i.e., procure and use bamboo stalks rather than the easier coins as part of the process of getting answers. It will allow your mind to settle and your unconscious to simmer through.
3. Be prepared for the answer. It may not be the one you want. Test the answer to see if it works.
These three things will set you on the road to viewing the I Ching as a collaborator rather than as a mere book. They may get you started on the road that Carl Jung took when he came into contact with the I Ching. As your familiarity increases, you may choose to use the book every morning just to get in touch with your inner self, your psyche. Rather than using it to foretell your future, you may end up using it as a vehicle to get more in touch with your present. And that, as any Taoist monk will tell you may not be a bad thing.
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