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You are here: Home > I-ching > Philosophy

Philosophy of Change in I-ching

The philosophy of I-ching is focused on the idea of change. Change is eternal and universal - both for the cosmic and the human plane - and therefore it is necessary to know in due time how to adapt to it. We can see here the oracular function of I-ching, namely that of connecting our activity to the temporary conditions and to correct those tendencies that couldn't be successful in a given social or cosmic context.

 

Changes ideogram
This character is the ideogram "I" meaning "change". Some scholars believe that is derived from the early Chinese symbol for "lizard" or "chameleon", while others states that it is composed by the characters for "sun" and "rain".
The alternation of sun and rain clouds (obscuring sun) it is meant to suggest the idea of change.

On the other hand, there are some key themes of I-ching philosophy, which we also find in the Taoist philosophy.

For example, the idea that any movement should be made on the line of minimum resistance. What is the minimum resistance? The image of a brook flowing down the valley, without any efforts, is eloquent. It suggests that you do not just have to avoid effort in any direction, but also that you have to adapt to any conditions in order to reach your goal.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the line of minimum resistance: when you are in the service of a prince (that is, public service), and you have to rush boldly into the face of the difficulties or when you serve a noble cause, which is above the personal interests.

  • The philosophy of naturalness

Knowing what is and not what it seems may be the keyword of the Chinese pragmatism. Moreover, even the philosophy of Taoism (at least the tao-chia or the school of tao) may be equaled with this saying.

The philosophy of naturalness could draw its inspiration from this saying without any care for its simplicity. Indeed, the Chinese philosophy that sets a high value on "know how", could express aphorisms as: when you're hungry - eat; when you're thirsty - drink or when you're sleepy - sleep! The odd part of this matter is that this simplicity of vision seems to be the very mark of a liberated spirit, who achieved Satori (the illumination in Zen Buddhism).

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The philosophy of naturalness in I-ching leads to suggestions and indications that always take into consideration the actual situation. Let's take for instance, Hexagram #38  - Obstruction, which

 

hexagram 39

describes the following conjuncture: a dangerous abyss in front of us, an inaccessible mountain behind us. You could neither move forward nor backward, we would say.

There were many circumstances when we felt as we were caught between Scylla and Carybdis, and we didn't know what to do. The I-ching oracle tells us textually: in such a situation, when we are confronted to obstacles, we cannot overcome directly. In this case, wisdom tells us to stop and to withdraw. This is an advice we could all think about: when we can do nothing and there is nothing else to do than... not to do!

We could ask ourselves with good reason: "What's new about this?" "Nothing", is the oracle's answer. Here is an example of natural wisdom (philosophy), which, because is "natural", it is obvious!

I-ching philosophy results from a natural wisdom connected to the real events of life. It is not a speculative philosophy such as the one elaborated in the Western systems, that is, a philosophy for its own sake, without any echo into reality. This aspect misled Hegel who, in his History of Philosophy, thought to find in the classical Chinese philosophy a fragment of dialectics in a primitive stage!

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  • Bibliography:
    > I-ching, translation by Richard Wilhelm.
    > Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, Harper and Row, New York.
     
  • Read also:
    > History of I-ching - click
    here
    > I-ching hexagrams and more - click
    here.

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