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Blog post: A few essentials for Yijing readings

hilary

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Responding to emails from someone struggling with his readings started me thinking about the basic principles of interpretation – the real essentials. Of course I have picked up a bunch of background knowledge along the way, and it all contributes, but people can do perfectly useful readings without most of it. There are a few building blocks, though, without which I couldn’t begin to interpret anything. Here are the ones that come to mind:

The changed hexagram is not usually the future

Oh, thank heavens for Stephen Karcher, from whom I first learned this. Plenty of people have to work much harder to reach the same conclusion – and plenty more must give up on the oracle altogether because the idea that ‘second hexagram = future’ creates so many readings that are perfect gibberish.
The second hexagram of a cast – the one you see when the changing lines are changed – can be direction, context, theme, ‘what it’s about for you’. Any of these things can be in the future – especially, of course, if you asked about the future. None of them has to be.

The line takes precedence over the hexagrams

If the hexagram says ‘good fortune’, the line says ‘pitfall’, then what you are asking about is an ill-omened option or position, even though it’s in a basically positive setting. The line is not ‘contradicting’ the hexagram; it’s focussing in on your question.
Yi works rather as you would guiding a half-blind elderly lady along the street. (This is something I do each Friday, so it comes to mind as an example!) ‘Yes, we have time for the bank – no problem, it’s just along here on the left,’ you say. And then, ‘Look out, mind the puddle!’ ‘Look out!’ does not contradict ‘no problem’, and the line does not contradict the hexagram.

The commentary is not the answer

I have ridden this hobby horse round and round the site for years, but I’m always happy to give it another outing. You would not have a conversation with a friend by taking a poll of what half a dozen other people think he’s trying to tell you – let alone other people who have never met you and have no idea what your conversation is about. So why would you set out to interpret a reading by scanning commentaries rather than sitting with what the oracle says?
(As for the authors who think it a grand idea to ‘simplify’ the Yi by removing its images altogether and replacing them with their own circumlocutory waffle, because of course they know everything that image could possibly mean under any circumstances… need I go on?)
In particular, the reading is only as good or bad as the Yi says it is – no matter how alarming the commentator found it. Some examples – equal opportunity, three authors -
Wilhelm/ Baynes, 28.5
‘A withered poplar puts forth flowers.
An older woman takes a husband.
No blame. No praise.’
‘A withered poplar that flowers exhausts its energies thereby and only hastens its end. An older woman may marry once more, but no renewal takes place. Everything remains barren. Thus, though all the amenities are observed, the net result is only the anomaly of the situation…’
Yi actually goes to the trouble of specifying, ‘No blame, no praise.’ The line is like a poem, a mystery removed altogether from human judgement. Wilhelm’s take on it is just depressing – it seems he doesn’t approve of anomalous situations. (What if the flowers are beautiful? What if the woman is happy?)
Karcher Total I Ching, 17.2
‘Following. Tied to the Small Son,
Letting go the Experienced Husbandman.’
‘This is a mistake. You have picked the wrong influence to follow. You will end up alone, without anyone to trust. All you can do then is adapt to whatever crosses your path.’
Wow. You could easily miss that the line says nothing about whether this is good or bad. Are there never any benefits to being child-like?
In defence of Karcher and Wilhelm, they are both following the tradition represented by the xiaoxiang, the commentary on the line that’s part of the Yijing. It calls 28.5 a ‘disgrace’ and for 17.2, in Karcher’s translation, says, ‘This means having nowhere to join helpful companions.’ In other words, it’s a commentary adding value judgements that weren’t in the original – but at least it’s an ancient and venerable commentary.
But not all modern commentaries are based on the xiaoxiang. For 9.3,
‘A cart losing its wheel spokes.
Husband and wife avert their eyes.’
- another line without good or bad omens – the xiaoxiang only says ‘this is a sign they cannot keep their house in order’. So does that always have to mean,
‘Things come apart. The spokes are such a small component of the cart, yet when they are lost the whole system collapses. Husband and wife avoid one another’s gaze: where you would expect communication and rapport, there is an inner disconnection…’
- ?
(Yes, that one’s mine. Considerably more catastrophic than the original – especially since it turns out that sometimes, avoiding direct contact is the best way to avoid emotional escalation. I managed to make it sound like an unmitigated disaster…)
And speaking of things that are not the answer…

All the technical extras are not the answer, either

- not the fan yao, not the nuclear hexagram, not the complement or shadow or ideal or paired line or nuclear story or sequence. These are helpful context. Back to guiding the elderly lady:
‘Did you see where my bus pass got to?’
‘I think after you found your umbrella, you took it out of your purse and put it in your pocket.’
Your answer was not ‘umbrella’ or ‘purse’. Likewise, the fan yao is not Yi’s answer.
(It’s depressing to see people who can’t accept the line they received running through the line pathway to find something easier. ‘In the field, no game’ (32.4) means exactly what it says: what you’re hunting for isn’t here. It doesn’t mean, ‘The king makes offerings on Mount Qi. Good fortune, no mistake.’ (46.4).)

Readings take time

Sometimes you will ‘get it’ at once. Often, you won’t. This does not mean it didn’t work; it means you need to spend time with the reading, sleep on it, let dreams and synchronicities contribute to your understanding, and let understanding evolve. It will. This is how it works.
(I think I was helped a lot by coming to this from the study of literature. I was never going to understand Eluard or Rilke at first glance, so I wasn’t too shocked when I needed some time for readings, too.)

Child-like questions plus imagination unlock the meaning

…and some background knowledge helps, too. But without the willingness to ask simple, silly little questions about the images, you can’t get started at all. ‘Why would an older woman want to marry?’ ‘What’s the difference between a small child and an experienced husbandman?’ ‘What happens to a cart when it loses its wheel spokes?’ ‘What’s a cart?’

Trust the oracle

Yes, it works. Yes, it has given you an answer you can use; no, you do not need to second-guess your first response. (Part of trusting the oracle is trusting yourself to respond.) You just need attention, patience and a lively curiosity.
 

Trojina

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I would add a caution to 'trust the oracle'. It is an oracle not a religion. It does not replace or compensate for your human sense. Of course sometimes answers really do require that you suspend your common sense and in time one sees the oracle's advice was correct. OTOH bear in mind that however daft the question you will always get a response....er because the marbles or coins or whatever you are using will give you a hexagram.


For example suppose someone asks "How can I fly from my 15th floor apartment ?" and they mean just how can they fly unaided by machinery or contraptions of any kind. Well if they cast they will get an answer. But whatever answer they get it won't mean that if they attempt to fly from the 15th floor they won't get smashed to pieces when they hit the ground and die !


Using Yi does not mean abandoning ordinary human sense it is a supplement to it, another perspective.

To trust blindly and helplessly because you just chucked your common sense out of the window and installed Yi there is not a great way to engage with Yi IMO because you have disengaged from your self and your own human sense you were born with about not jumping out of windows. Yes babies are I think born with fear of heights...(some experiment somewhere....glass ledges blah blah ) Also we know who to trust by they treat us but if we don't want to hear that just go on and on asking Yi about it.

Sometimes people demand you just say 'what the answer means' expecting you, like a robot to abandon all ordinary human knowledge.


Take the person casting on how to fly from the 15th floor. One might say "but you cannot fly John" and then John might start jumping up and down saying 'you have to trust the oracle...just say what it means' and so on. You might piddle about with other ways of getting out of the window and so on to ease John's irritation and do more and more casts about how patience is required and when human consciousness is elevated he might be able to jump out of the window but then you would be getting lost IMO.
 

Trojina

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Don't get me wrong there are times when Yi has counselled me not to act where common sense or others would say action was imperative. I listened to Yi because it felt right and it took me through. But that wasn't quite the same kind of question as "when shall I jump out of this 15th floor window ?"

Clearly thinking you can jump out of the 15th floor window is an inflated and stupid idea with no bearing in reality. There is a difference between that kind of inflated megalomania that you are special and will fly and real trust.
 

hilary

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Well, yes. If John is insane to start with, then it seems pretty unlikely that divination will help, and you certainly shouldn't count on it. Though... I have seen cases where Yi can still communicate with people who are out of touch with reality and help them - and I mean fully out of touch, not just romantic delusions. But that's in the realms of extraordinary things Yi may sometimes do - the reason why it's not sensible to start a sentence with 'Yi can't' or 'Yi doesn't' - not something we should expect as a matter of course.

I did say that trusting the oracle includes trusting your own response. That's theoretically completely nebulous, but normally very clear in practice.

I should probably have added 'the Yi is not a replacement for human wisdom or expertise' as one of the headings. Along with 'the Yi is not a replacement for human conversation'. But that's getting beyond questions of interpretation, I suppose.
 

Trojina

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You have missed my point. I was not speaking of insanity as such but where a person keeps on asking a question even when it is quite evident from feedback in the real world that a situation is not viable.

The example of 'john' took this to the extreme that's all.

Take someone who says they have a 'long distance relationship' with someone who seems to uninterested in communicating with them. Yi indicates 'let it go' as it is quite obvious this thing is dead in the water. Later one hears not only does the man in this 'long distance relationship' not bother with the querant they are also in a relationship with someone else and are moving abroad to become a reindeer herder where there will no phone access. After a number of answers from Yi advising the person to let go...well the person doesn't want to so they ask more questions about being together and so on. As a cast will always be produced they start to think they should 'trust' these casts and so lead themselves further and further up the garden path. Meanwhile the guy in question has moved to Greenland or wherever the reindeer are where he has produced several children and herds reindeer. Still the woman says Yi tells her to 'trust'. That is not technically insanity...but the point I was making is that she can't go on with this absurd 'trust the oracle' thing when it is quite clear there is not a cat in hells chance she will ever see the guy again.


You can't trust all answers you get if you have totally bent reality out of shape to what you want it to look like via Yi. Consulting Yi is for truth not to uphold fantasies.
 

hilary

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You have missed my point. I was not speaking of insanity as such but where a person keeps on asking a question even when it is quite evident from feedback in the real world that a situation is not viable.

The example of 'john' took this to the extreme that's all.

Take someone who says they have a 'long distance relationship' with someone who seems to uninterested in communicating with them. Yi indicates 'let it go' ...
And that would be when she needs to trust the oracle.
 

Trojina

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Yes, ideally that would be the point at which to trust the oracle. But in real life people often gallop way past that, create a fantasy story such as the reindeer herder and themselves and then, when anyone points out to them what they are doing, they will say "Oh but I must trust the Oracle" That is why as a building block, as you have presented here, I'd like to see a much bigger paragraph. There is more to be said there because 'trust the oracle' can be used in a maladaptive way and I felt there was need of a mention of that since it is quite a common issue.




The commentary is not the answer
I have ridden this hobby horse round and round the site for years, but I’m always happy to give it another outing. You would not have a conversation with a friend by taking a poll of what half a dozen other people think he’s trying to tell you – let alone other people who have never met you and have no idea what your conversation is about. So why would you set out to interpret a reading by scanning commentaries rather than sitting with what the oracle says?
(As for the authors who think it a grand idea to ‘simplify’ the Yi by removing its images altogether and replacing them with their own circumlocutory waffle, because of course they know everything that image could possibly mean under any circumstances… need I go on?)
RIDE IT AGAIN AND AGAIN.....




In other words, it’s a commentary adding value judgements that weren’t in the original – but at least it’s an ancient and venerable commentary.
But not all modern commentaries are based on the xiaoxiang. For 9.3,

‘A cart losing its wheel spokes.
Husband and wife avert their eyes.’
- another line without good or bad omens – the xiaoxiang only says ‘this is a sign they cannot keep their house in order’. So does that always have to mean,

‘Things come apart. The spokes are such a small component of the cart, yet when they are lost the whole system collapses. Husband and wife avoid one another’s gaze: where you would expect communication and rapport, there is an inner disconnection…’
- ?
(Yes, that one’s mine. Considerably more catastrophic than the original – especially since it turns out that sometimes, avoiding direct contact is the best way to avoid emotional escalation. I managed to make it sound like an unmitigated disaster…)
And speaking of things that are not the answer
Yes this has happened many times. That is I notice, and see others notice, that the catastrophising that commentators do is so often not borne out by experience at all .

I have noticed this with 9.3 many times. Many times with 9.3 I have expected some great disconnection whereas most often it appears where people agree to disagree or simply don't pursue a disagreement but look the other way and pretend to be examining their nails or noticing something out of the window or something.

This means you have to re write your book !
 

hilary

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Generally I find the attitude of trust leads to spending more time with readings and being less likely to dismiss/ not understand the ones that say something unpalatable. Though no guarantees, of course.

Also, even if you do ignore a reading or six and lead yourself thoroughly up the garden path, it doesn't follow that subsequent readings are untrustworthy. There is that phenomenon where reading #1 is clear and by the time you get to reading #19 it feels like gibberish and all sense of connection is gone - but readings #2 and 3 probably also offered good, clear reality checks. And sometimes reading #72 will do so, too, or at least guide you back gently towards the real world.
'OK, John, why don't you start by jumping out of a ground floor window to practice your flying?'

(I always have to rewrite my book. By the time you get to hexagram 64, you get the joke in a whole new way.)
 

Trojina

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Isn't trusting or not a private issue, something that is inwardly determined ? So on second thoughts I would take the trust block out since no one needs to be told to trust the oracle or told to have an attitude of trust to it. It doesn't matter if they trust it or not. Trust is not necessary, the answer still comes whether you trust or not. In time you learn to trust in your own way and of course it is as much about trusting oneself as trusting the oracle, as you said, since we only understand the oracle via our own minds.

The other building blocks are things for newbies to consider that they may not have thought of. But trust is something privately determined and of course it means very different things to different people.


Also, even if you do ignore a reading or six and lead yourself thoroughly up the garden path, it doesn't follow that subsequent readings are untrustworthy. There is that phenomenon where reading #1 is clear and by the time you get to reading #19 it feels like gibberish and all sense of connection is gone - but readings #2 and 3 probably also offered good, clear reality checks. And sometimes reading #72 will do so, too, or at least guide you back gently towards the real world.
Oh I think it does follow that subsequent readings will be shaky since if you have led yourself well up the garden path with a set of beliefs you continually reinforce via Yi then further questions are likley based on a whole mountain of false premises. I suppose further questions might possibly help you slide down that imaginary mountain....er but nevertheless you are still on that imaginary mountain. If you weren't you would have nothing to slide down from.
 

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