Oh dear, oh dear. Another one – someone explaining how the Yijing is not just an oracle, but ‘so much more than that’. I do wish people would not say this without pausing for a moment to contemplate what an oracle is.
A variation on this ‘just an oracle’ idea (…I think this post is going to become an all-purpose rant…) is that since divination is so self-evidently shallow, the wise ancients couldn’t possibly have been interested in it. So it’s said or implied that the Yi isn’t really an oracle, or at all events not merely for divination.
Well… brief review of the history… the Yi was written as an oracle. Texts were joined with hexagrams because hexagrams are something you can cast – something that directly emerges from the quality of the time and embodies it.
I believe this is why people have been fascinated with the book for the past few millennia: not so much because of any ancient concepts it contains as because a cast hexagram, or the relationship and tension between two hexagrams, has this power to describe and embody present truth. (And because of this it has a unique power to breathe life into concepts we come up with long after it was originally written – not least the pairing of yin and yang.)
Yi, the oracle called Change, is still doing what it has been doing for 3,000 years or so: helping people to see reality. It helps ordinary people to see and think differently as they navigate their ordinary lives.
My most recent reading is a pretty good example of that. For a while now, I’ve been trying to build some relationships with other bloggers and practitioners online. I’ve been searching out people to follow and trying to think of something worthwhile to say in response to their posts, and I haven’t really created any momentum at all. So I asked Yi for advice, and received hexagram 1, line 3:
‘Noble one creates and creates to the end of the day,
At nightfall on the alert, as if in danger.
From this I can glean a couple of practical hints: work harder, and be on the alert later in the day (which makes sense, because nightfall for me is prime working hours for the American people I want to connect with). It also completely reverses my whole idea of what this is about: following and trying to respond is the stuff of hexagram 2 – Earth, the Receptive – and I’ve received hexagram 1, the Creative. Create, create!
So here I am this morning writing a post instead of searching for a place to comment… and you might be thinking that when writing a rant about the non-trivial nature of divination, I could have found a better reading to use as illustration. Well, yes… and no.
This is not the obviously life-changing kind of reading. Most readings most people do are not. They just allow us to understand ourselves and one another a little better, to see things from another point of view, to notice the current of things so we can spend a little less effort struggling against it, to liberate a little more of our potential. We might end up choosing a better car or having a more skilful conversation with a colleague.
There is something disconcerting about this, isn’t there?
From the Dazhuan as translated by Richard Rutt:
“Yi, being aligned with heaven and earth,
can wholly set forth the dao of heaven and earth.
Yi looks up to observe the patterns of heaven,
and looks down to examine the veins of earth.
it knows the causes of darkness and light,
origins and ends;
it comprehends the meaning of birth and death,
how form and essence fuse in an entity,
lasting till the soul departs in alternation.
it knows the condition of spirits and souls.
Being in accord with heaven and earth,
it does not go contrary to them;
its knowledge embraces all things,
and its dao assists all under heaven.
Thus it does not err.”
And Yi is also really helpful when I need to rethink my approach to social media.
This is not an easy gulf to bridge, between the greatness of the Yi and the trivia of readings. Only… if I divine about trivia, does that make divination trivial?
Here is what I have found still more powerful in readings than the help and insight they offer: the immediate experience of connection, of being part of the whole. You ask a question, you do something wholly random… and suddenly, something is speaking directly to you. You find you are seen and acknowledged; you might burst into laughter or tears in response. There’s a sense of wonder and belonging at the same time. Just an oracle.