I’ve been taking a good, long look at the Way of Harmony I Ching software.
It’s designed to encourage that kind of steady, take-your-time approach: it offers you gentle colours, the option of soft background music or sounds, and a simple, uncluttered interface. Some real thought has gone into creating a piece of software that allows for a spacious experience of divination: there are relaxation instructions and audio guides available to use before consulting; there is information on Taoism; divination is introduced as an intuitive, meditative process. It may be a computer program, but it doesn’t reduce divination to a ‘press button, get answer’ process. (Hooray.) Also, it doesn’t dogmatically impose this approach; if you want to open the program and cast a hexagram quickly, you can. (Hooray, again.)
It’s true that this software has been around for a while, and the interface has an old-fashioned feel to it. But it also feels friendly, and there is plenty of good stuff hidden behind its simple initial menu. Under ‘Additional features’ > ‘Insight screen’ there’s consistently lucid, thoughtful advice on approaching and using the oracle (though you’ll want to take the ‘history’ section with a pinch of salt), as well as an introdction to Daoist texts and practice. There’s good information on trigrams with additional hexagram commentary based on their qualities under ‘Additional features’ > ‘Trigram chart’. It’s not always obvious where everything is (for instance, there’s commentary on the significance of each line position under the heading ‘Trigram chart’), but you can explore without getting lost; it’s always easy to get back to the main screen.
Another good thing: there are many helpful suggestions for further reading, including a generous review of the San Shan Yijing software – I think that speaks volumes in itself.
The journal function is easy to use, with a list of past entries to review and edit. The journal is also the place to go to find the commentary on any hexagram, just by clicking on it in the list on this screen – so if you want to chronicle past readings here, or just browse the hexagrams, you can. However, there is no journal search, which is likely to get awkward if you store a lot of readings here.
Still another good thing: in addition to the straightforward three-coin approach, and the option of entering a reading you’ve cast yourself, there are a couple of imaginative approaches to selecting a hexagram. There’s a ‘mirror reading’, where you’re guided through a landscape and component trigrams are selected according to the paths you choose to explore. And there’s intuitive selection: an animation of the hexagram sequence that stops when you click; you can have it whiz past too fast for your conscious mind to follow, and watch and absorb the change – and click to stop it if and when you feel the right moment to do so. (I found I’d stopped it at hexagram 54, the primary hexagram of my reading for the year.)
For the sake of completeness, I should give you the not-so-good things. Firstly, a minor technical glitch in Windows 7: if you use alt+tab to move between open programs, Way of Harmony doesn’t appear on the list. So it’s possible to open the software (which occupies the full screen), use alt+tab to switch to another program – and then be unable to find your way back. But this isn’t an insurmountable problem: if you reduce any other programs you might need for your consultation to something less than full screen, you can keep Way of Harmony visible and accessible in the background.
You may find this doesn’t bother you at all once you get used to it – download a free trial and see.
Another disadvantage: this won’t work as a sole resource for your readings, as it doesn’t include a full translation – just commentary on/ paraphrase of the Judgement, and an almost-translation of Image and line texts.
The commentary is unique to this software, and it’s good. A couple of examples – just small excerpts from longer commentaries –
“The Creative… is the
spiritual spark which initiates the creative cycle of nature.
The Receptive responds by providing a vessel to shape
the spirit energy’s potential into energetic form.”
“You are invited to welcome the receptive energies that this
Hexagram represents and to reflect on how its simple, open,
and devoted responsiveness expresses itself in your life. The
time favors relaxed listening, intuitive knowing, and tuning
mind and feeling to the often unconscious rhythms of nature.”
The author regularly uses ‘you are invited’ as an opening phrase, and characterises each hexagram as a time with its own unique qualities.
But that almost-translation, using some but not quite all of the original, inevitably loses some of its specificity and vividness. The horse’s lost yoke-mate in 61.4 becomes ‘you turn away from your companion’. ‘This makes my heart ache’ in 48.3 becomes ‘a sad situation’. The flowing tears of blood in 3.6 become ‘profound wounding’ (though he does then quote the original in the commentary!).
And so on. It’s a shame.
He’s also made some clear choices to change the translation of the Image: the ‘noble one’ is abolished and replaced with the ‘way of heaven’ or ‘way of development’ or ‘way to connect people to heaven’, and so forth. I can understand a desire to avoid the idea of a ‘superior person’, but I don’t think depersonalising the text actually helps. There are more drastic changes at Hexagram 8, where the image of the king investing in his chosen relationships, building cities to connect with his feudal lords, is swapped for a general ideal of universal human fellowship. He explains what he’s doing, and why, but something is lost.
Each hexagram commentary concludes with a poetic reflection on the hexagram, called ‘Beyond the Changes’. Here’s an example from Hexagram 61:
Patiently waiting in the depths of an open heart
is the doorway
to the wondrous mystery of your ultimate nature.
Gently devoted to truth
Perfectly surrendered to the wholeness of the Tao…
Sincere good fortune.
There is an unpretentious, simple approach throughout the commentary and the software as a whole; infused by the author’s Daoist view, it seems designed above all to draw you into the experience of divination. That makes it a good option for beginners; true, it would be a vastly better one if only it included a full translation, but it does recommend good books – and not just tucked away in a ‘further reading’ section, but after the commentary for every hexagram. The author’s very clear that his words are meant just as a ‘starting point for your journey’.
A highlight for me is the substantial essay on ‘Creative Consultation’ you can find via the ‘insights screen’. It doesn’t say anything startlingly novel or scintillatingly brilliant – it just gives wise, down-to-earth, lucid advice on approaching the Oracle. For beginners, it lays good, lasting foundations; for others, it contains good, welcome reminders. I’d recommend you download the free trial if only to read it.