The I Ching seems like too complex a text for me to undertake on my own!
June 20, 2008 9:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I get started learning about the I Ching and actively consult the oracle?

I just finished Phillip K. Dick's The man in the high castle and it left me with an increasing need to get a copy of the ancient Chinese text, the I ching. I'm sure merely obtaining a copy will not be enough for me to fully comprehend and grok it in fullness.

Can anyone lend suggestion or speak on their experience with the text in terms of analyzing it's philosophical nature and also in terms of consulting the oracle? Are there specific translations or workbooks that you can recommend?
posted by saxamo to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As with most divinatory tools, the point is (IMHO) to read the provided meaning, and meditate on it. The words in the provided meaning are merely jumping points for your consciousness.

To put it another way... the 'true' meanings of the I Ching, Tarot cards, whatever, are merely window dressing for your conscious mind to be occupied with while your subconscious/astral self/whatever-you-want-to-call-it pipes up with the insight required in your particular situation.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2008

Carl Jung wrote a very interesting forward to one of the editions that you may find useful. He does a reading right before your eyes and it gives you a framework for how to think about it.
posted by amethysts at 9:42 PM on June 20, 2008

"It is good to be certain" I Ching

Random numbers, 1-64. Draw a number, read the corresponding text. Or, get some coins and toss them the traditional way to produce the 'trigrams' or 'hexagrams' (I've seen them called both. It's two sets of 3).

With such things, especially from the Chinese, it is best to read more than one translation. Then continue as dirtynumbangelboy says.
posted by Goofyy at 10:16 PM on June 20, 2008

Well thanks, Goofster.

The thing about all of these things--i Ching, Tarot, crystals, ritual magick, whatever--is that they are merely ways to engage the conscious mind and thus distract it while the subconscious gets about its work.

That's actually the point with any ritualistic behaviour, from Buddhism to to Zoroastrianism and everything in between. The acts are there to occupy the conscious mind with the religious psychodrama while the subconscious mind (or the Child Mind, to use one writer's terminology) gets about is business, as that mind doesn't have the filters that our conscious mind has been taught to impose on the world.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:27 PM on June 20, 2008

I definitely understand that most of it lies within me to interpret answers as it pertains to my question. I'm not sure if I actually believe in an omnipresent diety that really contemplates my request; but I did an online divination for kicks and really got some good advice out of it. The only reason I wouldn't pursue this channel probably touches on what bangelboy said above. I'd like to do it myself.

I guess I'm asking more about the technical aspect and the divinations with the coins or sticks and the hexagrams, and also the philosophical aspect of it all. How i can really get into the sphere of this. That Jung article was helpful and a good starting point.
posted by saxamo at 10:59 PM on June 20, 2008

I'd very much recommend the Richard Wilhelm edition / translation. It isn't overly New Age-y and tries to lets the text speak for itself, with some helpful explanations.
posted by rjs at 11:08 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The hexagrams can be generated in any way you please. You can throw yarrow sticks (the traditional way) or flip coins or use sports scores or whatever--the point is that it's functionally random.

You get into the sphere of this by doing so and reading some translations of meanings, and then meditating, letting go of your conscious mind.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:51 PM on June 20, 2008

I really like Wing's I Ching Workbook. Nice big format, good instructions on technique, and the interpretations are clear and practical. Read it alongside the Wilhelm if you want a closer look at the text.

I use the coins because they're quick and easy. Really, it's not as hard as you think. Just dive in and start using it. For an interesting meta wrinkle, try asking the oracle questions about itself.

The more I use it, the more I get a sense of its personality. I think of the I Ching as my wise old Chinese grandfather with the crinkly eyes, who has forgotten more about timing and strategy than most people will ever learn. I find it extremely helpful for day-to-day advice, particularly in business matters.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:26 AM on June 21, 2008

Second the Wilhelm edition for a cultural rendition of the hexagrams. The coin method is very easy and the results are spot on because, as dirtynumbangelboy and Carl Jung both say it's a means to an end. You are the tao thru which the I Ching travels. The more you acquaint yourself with the language used in delimiting the many situations (64 hexagrams (2 per reading) +64X6 for changing lines) the more detailed the applications becomes. Don't be shy about spending lots of questions in it, there is a learning curve that pays off in the end, with your ability to put the book aside, because you will eventually know the tao of any question you might have. I would also recommend the Tao Te Ching as well as The Art of War as tertiary and very functionally useful information. Chinese is wonderfully complex and engaging when used to formulate ideas.
posted by ptm at 2:05 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might find Calling crane in the shade interesting:
A website dedicated to reviews of books on the Yijing or I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle known as the Book of Changes, but also containing a complete 'Introduction to Yijing' for beginners, an accurate transcription of the 1935 Harvard-Yenching Zhouyi, animations of hexagram sequences, articles, and scans of Chinese diagrams.
posted by Abiezer at 7:11 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Martin Gardner had an article in Scientific American (Jan. 1974) showing that the traditional method of dividing sticks gave different weightings to the probabilities of drawing certain hexagrams.

No one I know uses that method, however. Simply opening the book, as in bibliomancy, could serve the function, but tossing the coins focuses the mind and helps make it receptive to an answer. The Wilhelm translation goes into detail on the meanings and relationships of the six positions of the hexagram.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2008

In a nutshell: the I Ching is a tool to get one to stop overthinking things, which is why the best advice to get into it is, well, to stop overthinking things and start using it. There is no secret; there is no "best way". You will develop your own ritual as you go. If you're trying to figure out the best techincal way to approach it, you're going to be too caught up in whether or not you're doing it right to disengage your conscious mind enough to lose the noise.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2008

There is always The Complete Idiot Guide to I Ching, if you are looking for something simple to begin.
posted by Pantalaimon at 4:21 PM on June 21, 2008

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