Sunday, February 26, 2012

The logic of I-Ching's Divine Revelation

Asking the I-Ching (易经) oracle was a serious business in ancient China.   It is Divine Revelation par excellence, and this nature is signified in the beginning: to separate the straws into three heaps to signify Heaven (天), Earth (地) and Man (人).  The first question is obvious: is it really Divine Revelation?

If you search the web or ask people who have experienced asking the I-Ching, the answer you get will most likely be "Yes! the I-Ching gives good advice and can foresee the future"!  And of course there are isolated "scientifically-minded" people who condemn the superstitious nature of oracle asking.

On this regard, I find Carl Jung's commentary on I-Ching (translated by none other than his Caucasian Christian priest by profession/Taoist at heart friend Richard Wilhelm)  most interesting.   According to Jung, when a believer asks the I-Ching for Divine Revelation, he brings with him all physical and meta-physical conditions at that particular moment of asking, not the least his own mental state at that particular time/space continuum.  And by definition, that particular event of asking the I-Ching cannot be repeated the second time (hence it is quite irrelevant for a second asking of the same question, that will be under another particular event, which, by definition again, may very likely to generate another outcome). In short, it is unfalsifiable.  And hence a scientific approach with its falsifiability weapon can't be applied to I-Ching's Divine Revelation, under Jung's formulation.

Jung asked the I-Ching several questions before he wrote his commentary.  He said he was astonished to find its revelations did answer his questions meaningfully!  Is it Divine Revelation?  Jung has no answer.

The more popular contemporary oracle for Chinese is various kinds of stick-oracles (kau cim: 求签)  produced by different spiritual organizations or temples.  They all said to be Divine Revelations.  Whereas the I-Ching oracles were written by a Zhou Dynasty Emperor before he was enthroned and was in jail, the contemporary stick-oracles were written by more common folks.  In a future post, I shall talk about how is the logic behind writing some of these stick-oracles.


  1. I think the real usefulness is that consulting the I Ching requires you to think things through thoroughly in order to map the hexagrams to your situation.

  2. Indeed, yours is a rational approach...


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