Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing Endures but Change

Well there's literature, and then there's Literature. I Ching (The Classic of Change) was one of the first efforts of the human mind to place itself within the universe, over three thousand years ago. Some people consult it as an oracle: Ask it a question, and I Ching's response can be interpreted as commenting on recent events in your life, perhaps coming events, or as commenting on what is happening now. It's all about the yin and the yang, which represent the eternal opposites, like light and dark, firm and soft, male and female, or radiation and gravitation. The Complete I Ching is the best translation I have found (I own four.), emphasizing the unity of Heaven and humanity and the Tao of Change.

I would like to quote some other reviewers of this Chinese classic. Stewart Brand describes the book as "a brilliant problem-solving device. A problem (or ignorance) generally consists of being caught in local cyclic thinking. To consult the oracle, the wisdom of chance (or synchronicity, no matter), is to step out of the cycle of no-change and address a specific story on the nature of change. You now have an alternative set of solutions that owe nothing but proximity to your problem. You make the associations, you find the way out. It's prayer... I can't think of a more important and useful book than this one. It's famously ancient, poetic, deep, esoteric, simple, involving. It has been the most influential book on American art and artists in the last 15 years." (Brand published this review of an earlier translation in The Last Whole Earth Catalog in 1971.)

Reviewing The I Ching Workbook, Howard Rheingold wrote (in The Millenium Whole Earth Catalog, 1994), "The nature of the oracle within this ancient Chinese book of mental maps is both a personal and a disembodied one; when you use the I Ching for a while, you begin to notice the focuses and blind spots of your own reality filters. And you begin to develop a relationship with the entity that seems to emerge from the pattern of images and poems the book reveals in response to your questions. Whether or not you are a believer in the oracular powers of this process, or whether it is a good guide for art or love or business, as many claim, it is easy to understand that relationship one has with the oracle.

And Carl Jung was also a fan: "The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom -- if there be such -- it seems to be the right book." (In Jung's foreword to the Wilhelm translation, 1949.)

This profound and beautiful book rewards extended study. When I recently read John Briggs' Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change, the parallels with the I Ching were remarkable. I enjoy connections like that. Maybe you will, too.

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