The Noble One: Thunder

March 21, 2011

Understanding the Image of Hexagram 51 requires understanding the context of the hexagram. The Statement says, “Thunder comes frighteningly.” When one is shocked by a sudden event, one should look to oneself first. Confucius taught that when there was a problem, he first sought the error within himself.

Thus, The noble one examines his morals in fear and dread. If you are caught in a great upheaval, check to see if you are completely in the right.

Here is where we have to check the other side of the Image, a side only implied and not discussed here. What if you feel that your morals are completely in order? If you are completely sure of that, then perhaps you are the thunder. But in acting, you must make sure that you are completely scrupulous, completely moral. Only then is there no mistake.


The Noble One: Cauldron

March 7, 2011

The Chinese title for Hexagram 50 is Ding. A ding is a three-legged bronze cauldron from the Zhou dynasty (1050–770 bce). The vessel was used in preparing ceremonial meals. The three legs provided support when placed atop a cooking fire.

The ding is associated with power and dominion. In Chinese culture, possession of the ding was symbolic of the right to rule. The term “inquiring of the ding,” means the quest for power. According to legend, there was a set of nine ding, said to have been cast by King Yu of the Xia Dynasty when he first divided the land into Nine Provinces. Possession of this set of Nine Ding was regarded to be the sign of the rightful authority to rule the nation. The whereabouts of the Nine Ding are unknown. Some say that the set was already lost by the Qin Dynasty (221–206 bce). Nevertheless, the symbolism of power has remained with concepts of the ding.

In this context, the Image of Hexagram 50 takes on a special resonance: The noble one takes the principal seat to solidify his commands. Could you stoke the cauldron that feeds all people?

The implications of the ding as lasting shape (once cast, its shape does not change) and symbol of power are unmistakable. The noble one becomes like a ding—taking the principal seat, solidifying his commands. But then, the I Ching would always have us remember our responsibilities and would always have us serve the people. The noble one’s challenge, once the power of possessing the ding is achieved, is to feed all the people. It is only then that power is complete.

The Noble One: Reform

March 7, 2011

Hexagram 49, Reform, is usually translated as Revolution. However, if we think of it in that way, how do we understand the Image? The noble one orders the calendar by the seasons.

Quite clearly, what is meant is not revolution but reform of how people are governed and how people live their lives. Now, the seasons are relatively regular in comparison to human governance. They follow each other without fail, and while there might be variations in weather and temperature, the features of each season have never failed. When human affairs become disordered, the I Ching and the Taoists would have us return to the natural course of things, and, in fact, have us pattern our affairs upon them.

Hexagram 49 does not mean reform, or revolution, to replace one set of human theories with another. It means to align ourselves with the cycles of nature, to become, in effect, more natural.

For the Taoists, problems always arise when people who are out of step with nature. Therefore, reform is a matter of putting ourselves back in accord with nature.

The Noble One: Well

February 20, 2011

The well is a fundamental thing to a village. Without water, people could not live there. The well is needed to quench thirst, wash, and cook. In some places, wells even provide the water to grow crops. The well is truly a central and essential part of any community.

And how simple and pure it is: an opening in the life-giving earth, pure water seeping in, stored unseen, available to sustain many people as long as the work is done to reach it.

In the same way, the Image of Hexagram 48, Well, asks if we can be as vital to our community as a well. The noble one encourages the people and lends them assistance. This is no mere platitude. Firstly, in order to encourage people and lend assistance, one has to have real substance. Just as water in its purity revives the thirsty, so too must a noble one have pure character if he or she will really help others. Secondly, a noble one who is like the well must be just as inexhaustible. Thirdly, the noble one, like the well, does not discriminate. All people draw from a well. All people draw from a noble one.

If you would be a noble one, then ask yourself if you can be like a well, sustaining all who come to you. Could you really “encourage people and lend assistance?”


The Noble One: Distress

February 20, 2011

If we ask a question of the I Ching, and we get an answer, what are we supposed to do? The conventional wisdom would be that we follow the advice that we’re given. But the Image of Hexagram 47, Distress, hints at a different answer.

The situation of Distress is not a good one. Circumstances are unfavorable, and one faces oppressive people. The Image is defiant: The noble one devotes her life to fulfill her will.

In other words, when all is against you, you need to know yourself well enough to understand what you want. The I Ching does not give you a pre-conceived set of goals or values. It honors what you want. This hexagram acknowledges that the situation is unfavorable—like a lake drained of water. But the message is that you have to know what you stand for, and that you must not lose your determination when times are bad.

If you do devote your life to fulfilling your will, then this will be exactly the reason why the situation will change for the better. It won’t happen because your luck changes. Your luck will change because you remain devoted to your will.


The Noble One: Rising

February 3, 2011

There are so many times in life that we are at the beginning of something we want to do, and the prospects seem daunting. We are all in the habit of looking at great people, those who are wealthier, more powerful, and more popular, and thinking, “I’ll never get there.”

Hexagram 46, Rising, is built around the image of a great tree. The earth trigram is above, and the wind trigram, below, also means wood. Thus, we have the image of a tree growing in the center of the earth. Think, then, of a young sapling in a redwood forest. The hexagram structure reminds us that the sapling will become a giant redwood if simply given enough time and reasonable conditions: the sapling’s growth process will be the same as the giants’.

The Image of Hexagram 46 says: The noble one is mild, gradually raising what is tiny into the tall and great. We may sometimes be discouraged if we are at the start of a situation. But the Image gives us a vital lesson: no matter how tall and great anything is, it became that way by slow and tiny steps.

Now, the tree doesn’t need to go to school. It does not need any consultants to tell it what to do next. It simply grows according to its nature and becomes great. If we want to understand the lesson of rising, we too, ought to look at our natural talents and resources and allow them to raise us upward.


Lunar New Year 2011

February 3, 2011

Tonight is the eve of Lunar New Year day. On behalf of may you and your family enjoy happiness, prosperity, and longevity.

Studying the I Ching is important, but you need no book to tell you that life is more than abundant; that if you can grasp the direction of the Way, you are already blessed with insight; and that if you can follow the changes, you are already on the edge of divine knowledge.

How often we worry about advantage. How often we look at ourselves and find ourselves wanting. How often we worry whether the future will be kind to us. Really, we ought not to worry. Heaven and earth provide for us in measure overflowing.

Be happy that the old year, with its toil and misfortunes, is gone. Look forward to the new year. Let all bad habits and anxieties fall away with the old year. Let only shining spirit dawn with the first day of the new year.


The Noble One: Collecting

January 17, 2011

The Image of Hexagram 45, Collecting, is: The noble one collects the tools of war to guard against unforeseen danger. That’s surprising, isn’t it?

When we first hear the word collecting, we might expect the I Ching to talk about one of its cherished values: unity. But here, we’re really talking about the amassing of weapons, the build-up of military might.

However, the I Ching is not urging us to accumulate weapons for aggression. The collecting of the “tools of war” is to “guard against unforeseen danger.” In other words, when we have times of peace and plenty, we should use that time to prepare against threats that have not even manifested themselves yet.

But there is one more detail worth mentioning: how can a book of divination speak of “unforeseen danger?” This is important to examine. A book of divination is not a foolproof kind of fortune telling. How can it be? The future is not yet made. There is no predestination. Nothing is definite.

The I Ching is provides us with wisdom for the cycles in play at the moment. What it’s really saying is, “In situations like this, here are the details of what you will be facing.” Then it’s up to you to act accordingly.

So the I Ching is saying here: “When you have the opportunity, make preparations to defend yourself against unforeseen dangers. Use times of prosperity to build the resources in case you are attacked.”

The wisdom of the I Ching is to forsee unforeseen danger.


The Noble One: Copuluating

January 10, 2011

The I Ching, and the Chinese language are both so abbreviated that it’s sometimes necessary to supply connecting words in order to understand the message. The right sequencing of the I Ching’s answers can make all the difference in terms of understanding them.

In order to comprehend the Image of Hexagram 44, Copulating, we can tie the Statement together with the Image: “Copulating: the woman is powerful. Do not marry such a woman”—insteadThe sovereign issues commands to the four quarters. The message then becomes clear: a sovereign has been too busy, perhaps literally spending too much time with his harem. He should go back to his true duty, which is to issue commands to the four quarters. Or to put it in the vernacular, “Stop screwing around and lead the nation.”

There’s no doubt that the I Ching can be blunt in many of its passages. This is definitely one of them, and if we would be the noble one, we would be wise to heed this advice.


Hexagram 43, Decisiveness, pictures a ruler making a significant announcement: “Proclaim in the royal court. Trust in the commands. Be stern. There will be severity. Announce to your own city. There is no gain in going to war. Gain by having a place to go.” The ruler has to issue stern commands in the face of hardship and deprivation. (“There will be severity.”) War is not advised, but having a goal is recommended. (“. . . having a place to go.”) The situation of this hexagram is dramatic. Immediate action is imperative.

And yet, when we come to the Image, we don’t find advice on how to be more decisive or dynamic. Rather, we get the general guidance for the standard by which to make the decision. When one reads: The noble one bestows wealth to those below and shuns dwelling on his own virtues, there’s really more an intersection with “There is no gain in going to war.” In other words, no mass-frenzy, no appealing to patriotism, no tactics that involve force. This is exactly the opposite of what many rulers want to hear: the power that is supposedly theirs is not to be wielded for glory or short-term gains.

Instead, the ruler is urged to consider the people. They are to be enriched, and the ruler cannot “dwell on his own virtues.” This means that the ruler cannot rely on his own power or position. He must make a real distribution of wealth to the populace.

Wise words indeed, especially at a time when the greatest amount of wealth is concentrated in the smallest percentage of our population. Those in finance and business are craftily amassing greater wealth for themselves, and those who are technologically skilled exploit the population as a mere customer-base in which to hunt. Throughout history, the answer to those who abuse power has always been the same: revolution. It would be best if those above are decisive in understanding the wisdom of bestowing wealth on those below.