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How much study does it take?

I just wandered over to Luis’ Yi blog, where I read that…

“Many people, with a only few years of reading and using the Yi, feel otherwise compelled to, and capable of, holding debates about it with those that have spent most of their life dedicated to its study. Even those life-timers, if sincere, will tell you that they are but mere students of something that cannot be exhausted.”

Now on the one hand, I understand his exasperation. This comes very naturally to me: I have an academic background and a healthy respect for the truth, I know what kind of work and humility is really involved in research, and those who dogmatically propound half-baked theories without doing the real work in any area drive me nuts.

On the other hand… I think there’s an important distinction to be made here. The Yijing is something to study, which is what Luis is talking about here; it’s also something to divine with.

It’s true that study – of your own journal of readings, of the Chinese classics, of the language, of the cultural context of the original text – always deepens and enriches divination. It’s also true that someone doing their first ever reading can have insights that elude the ‘life-timers’.

Divination happens in a moment of spontaneous connection and communication. The message isn’t just something you understand from the text; it’s something that arises somewhere in the space where you’re listening. To receive a reading that speaks to you, you don’t have to learn early old Chinese, or study the Great Learning, or even refer to your 40 years’ worth of reading journals. You only have to show up with your beads or coins and an open mind.

17 responses to How much study does it take?

  1. I’d guess that I’ve logged about 20,000 hours with this book, and read almost everything in print, in English at least, at least twice. That’s just in THIS life. Over the years I’ve gradually become much LESS of a master, and more quick to dismiss those who would refer to or think of themselves as masters. Having been guilty of knowing it all way too soon, I can understand when folks shoot their mouths off without knowing what they’re talking about. But I’ll only rarely challenge this. And yeah – beginners can have delightfully fresh insights, and I frequently do the old DUH! and forehead slap when this happens. The book is bottomless. We’re deluded when we think we’ve gotten to the bottom of it.

  2. Well, I’m glad you placed a link to the whole entry since the quoted text can easily be taken out of context and even a little pedantic on my part… 😀 You should all notice I was commenting on something Allan Lian wrote in his own blog and people should also read that whole text, for which a link is provided in my post. But yes, I stand by what I said there. Also, you say:

    Divination happens in a moment of spontaneous connection and communication. The message isn’t just something you understand from the text; it’s something that arises somewhere in the space where you’re listening. To receive a reading that speaks to you, you don’t have to learn early old Chinese, or study the Great Learning, or even refer to your 40 years’ worth of reading journals. You only have to show up with your beads or coins and an open mind.

    While I certainly agree with that premise, why then does people new to the Yi and even those with some divining experience (and even much), feel continuously compelled to seek other’s opinions about their own readings? Where is the disconnection? Or is it only a matter of close-mindedness?

    BTW, Amen to what Brad said.

  3. I did say you were talking about study rather than divination – I hope that helps with the context thing.

    As for why people feel compelled to seek others’ opinions – partly because we’re a gregarious species, but also I think partly because of the fear of getting it wrong or not doing it properly. ‘Teaching divination’ turns out to be one part providing a solid framework, and nine parts assuring people that the clear inner response they feel to the oracle actually is the answer. (And not a distraction, a mistake, or a sign they’re doing it wrong.) Hence the post.

  4. Thanks. I usually stay away from confining opinions about the Yi (in general and overall) because the darn thing is constantly shifting and the moment you think you’ve “got it,” if shifts again. OTOH, I think am in pretty solid ground with those words.

    Now, your comment above begs the question: is the Yi always immediately clear to you?

  5. Good grief, no. It can take a very long time to get to that ‘clear inner response’ moment – and it’s less a moment than a process, anyway, working through layers. All the tools are just a way of getting the perspective to see from or the questions to ask that open up another response-space.

  6. I think another reason people seek the opinions of others, especially those seen as well-versed in the imagery and workings of the Yi, is the…I’m missing a word here…fear? anticipation, perhaps(?) that the Yi might offer something they haven’t been ready to see for themselves.

    So the “answer” might seem obvious — and yet if it’s too obvious, it raises the doubts that perhaps I’m missing some deeper wisdom in the answer? The more unexpected the answer – and still it resonates if I allow — the more confident I can be that I’ve seen something more/beyond my own expectations/beliefs/assumptions.

    To find that something More can often include seeing what others think – whether the Yi is involved or not. That’s what keeps counsellors and therapists in business;-)

  7. That’s a good point, thanks. At least when you have the ‘!!??!’ reaction, you know you’re not just humouring yourself. Or you know you’re not talking to yourself – same as you do when you ask someone else. There’s a distinctive ‘being spoken to’ feeling about connecting with a reading; I can imagine using other people’s perspectives to clarify/ train up an awareness of what that feels like.

  8. Anyone can have a reading that “speaks to them”, true. But whether it is what the Yi is saying is another matter altogether.

    When I had only studied the Yi for two years I thought I already knew quite a lot. It’s inevitable. Who in their twenties can conceive of a basic apprenticeship lasting ten years if you are lucky, and another few decades or more to feel like you may be getting somewhere? Of course, once you’ve put a ridiculous amount of years into the thing, you may as well say so. But then some fool comes along who has a ten-year advance on you and you think, well if he’s still an idiot then what do years matter? And you wean yourself off mentioning it. It’s only taken you thirty years to learn this much.

  9. The thing about just turning up with an open heart and coins, but little experience, is that an awareness of timescale is missing. This is quite apart from what in-depth studies in Chinese, Chinese history, and the like brings to divination. If you lack a sense of how long it takes for changes to unfold, then you are like a person scanning the horizon with hopeful eyes for something that is going to take ten years to come. Unless you’ve had a ten-year change, you don’t know what a ten-year change is like. And you haven’t any chance of recognising a twenty-year change. Similarly, you also happen to be pretty useless at a five-minute change, which is why people ask the same question again and again without even noticing that the thing they are asking about has already shifted. Fundamentally, ability to divine isn’t about having useful flashes of insight, it is about attaining a state of constancy of mind. Many people can know what to do after consulting the Changes, but be literally unable to do it. Others, older, wiser, know that the thing that needs to be done has already been done before they even close the book and return it to the shelf. This is the ability to effect great change without even moving from one’s seated posture. It is time that grants this understanding, and then not to all. The more time you have, and the less impatient you are, the better. And that’s something anyone can start on immediately. Just shut up and stop assuming you know something when you know nothing. We’re all here for a lifetime. Let’s suppose it takes that long. If we get wise before that time is up, that’s our good fortune. I remember an American student of Zen asking a Japanese Zen master in America whether he thought Zen had put down firm roots in the United States. The Zen master said: ‘The first thousand years are the hardest.’ The biggest fault of most beginning students of the Yi (less than ten years’ study) is precisely that: lack of a sense of timescale.

  10. “Fundamentally, ability to divine isn’t about having useful flashes of insight, it is about attaining a state of constancy of mind.”

    Maybe. I’ve always thought that ability to divine had to do with ability to divine, not any one trait. You can put hours and years and a lifetime into the Yi and still be a ninny. You can point at me for evidence of this if you like. You can do your first consultation and the message can jump out at you and endorse a decision that you just needed some support for.

    I think generally the Yi is like anything else:

    1 the more you put into it, the more you get out of it

    2 the deeper you are as a person, the more you get out of it

    But that’s only a rule of thumb. The timescale thing is no guarantee. At university I knew lots of professors who were experts in their field who were boring, and foolish at life.

  11. I didn’t say awareness of timescale was a guarantee, I said that without it you know very little. That doesn’t mean that with it you will be less boring and foolish at life. Many old people are stupid. This is clear enough. They don’t have to be professors to be stupid, they can work in shops or on television and be stupid. Long life has done nothing for them because they were probably stupid when they were young too. Stupid young people often grow into stupid old people. But not always. Sometimes they learn something along the way. But now and again you get a stupid young person who might learn something to his advantage who instead turns it down and appears determined to stay stupid, such as when they refuse the wisdom of an older person who is not stupid. Perhaps the young person lumps the wiser older person together with some dusty old professors who failed to impress.

    People who talk about the Yijing are often stupid. It was terrible when they made it available to anyone. Would have been better to just keep handing it around among the elite.

    As for constancy of mind and the ability to divine, take a look at Analects 13.22. Best if you look at the Chinese, the available translations haven’t done this passage great justice.

  12. LOL

    I don’t read Chinese. It’s one of the many things I don’t know, so I can’t take you up on the reference. But here’s another bit I noticed:

    “Anyone can have a reading that “speaks to them”, true. But whether it is what the Yi is saying is another matter altogether.”

    It’s an old argument about whether black velvet paintings are really beautiful just because somebody thinks so and hangs one on the wall next to the three ducks flying up to ceiling with the fluorescent light in it. Some people would argue that sort of art isn’t really beautiful. Hmm… Anyway, I’d say that if someone has a reading that ‘speaks to them’, in other words if it helps their insight or heart quality, then they’re at least on the right track, even if they’re not familiar with the Yi. See, as for ‘what the Yi is really saying’ is by no means an objective quantity. Symbols impact on different people in different ways. Conclusion: you don’t necessarily need to be familiar with the Yi for it to work for you. Conclusion: familiarity with the Yi doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you better than for the uninitiated. As for me, I don’t believe in ‘what the Yi is really saying. What I want is this: I want to be familiar with the oracle, and I want it to work for me. By ‘work for me’, I mean that interacting with it helps me to see my life more clearly. I have this fond belief that if I see my life more clearly, I’ll live more harmoniously and make fewer mistakes. What do you think?

  13. Shapes in clouds can speak to me. Birds formations and smoke too. This is divination. It probably isn’t what the clouds or birds or smoke is saying, just something I draw from it. But the interconnectedness of things runs deep, so I can’t rule out the unity out of which something has spoken. But when we are talking about the Yi, which is a text (though you could say it is other things too), then it is important to know what the text is saying. And, as we know, this is subject to a wide latitude of interpretation. However, this is why ‘study’ and ‘divination’ are a little inseparable when it comes to ‘divining with the Yi’. Otherwise, why not just use tealeaves?

    That said, because it’s important to say things so that people aren’t allowed to clutch too strongly to their wrong ideas, it is true that you can learn things from the Yi without knowing much about it. I know this because I did. However, I saw the sense of improving these ideas as time went on and I learnt more. Such that most of the ideas I had ten or twenty years ago I have discarded. I think it’s a useful thing to overturn your view of the Yi completely at least several times, because if you cling to old understandings the new ones don’t come. And boy, isn’t it true that those who know the least cling to their ideas the strongest?

    People who carve wood all day, who can’t read or write, probably learn the dao of their art after a few decades. The trouble with many who follow the Yi, I find, is that their mouths are often too big and they think too much. It takes years to alter those kinds of habits. But when they do, if they do, then they too may be more in touch with the dao of Yi than when they thought they knew everything.

    But still. The Yi remains a text. And if you want to be sure you are hearing what it’s really saying, then the least you should do is attempt to discover the most accurate reading of it. And revise your views constantly, as you discover more. To rest content with any understanding is a recipe for stagnation. Hence, better to be less sure you have it, better to create a little space in which the Yi can _really_ speak.

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