Friday, December 6, 2013

The mathematics and Tao of I Ching

I Ching oracles consists of 64 sets of double trigram. So, if you ask I Ching for an answer to a certain question, it will give you one of 64 unique answers. Each trigram consists of three full or broken line. The trigrams are placed one on top of the other, ordering is of the essence, i.e. changing the up down positions will change the meaning.

The number of trigrams = 2 x 2 x 2 = 8
The number of hexagrams (oracles) = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 64

To this mathematics, people gave it various meanings, with different texts written on each by many scholars and sages (by the way, good sources to study Chinese culture). The meanings are derived from a reading or interpretation based on, but not limited to, the followings:

1. Full line means Yang, broken line means Yin - each enriched with cultural meaning.

2. Each of the eight trigrams connotes different quality as signifies by different aspects of nature or natural phenomenon (namely heaven, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain, earth) - each enriched with cultural meaning.

3. A hexagram (the Divine reveal) is viewed as a result the combined effect of its two trigrams - the meaning of which is subjected to the interactive effects of the two trigrams, such interactive effects are also enriched with cultural meaning.

4. The six lines in each hexagram can also be viewed as individual Yangs and Yins and having singular or combined impact on the whole hexagram. In particular, there is a temporal element in the order of the line, specifically, the lower the line, the earlier the reflection on the stage of development of a situation.

Hence a I ching oracle does not give you a limited number of 64 unique answers (as the I-Ching oracle internet sites might have told you so). The interpretative possibility is vast, but grounded in metaphysical entities with cultural subtexts (like Yin, Yang, water, fire etc with their rich culturally interpretative possibilities, which also means that it is not anything goes).

If you think that the above is not enough to boggle your mind, I shall introduce you to the element of change. This is actually the core of I Ching (The way of Change) which many people overlook because they have already been dazzled by the complexity of the hexagram interpretations!

How about change? Chinese are pragmatic, they believe in fate, but they also believe in looking closer to see what true fate is hidden behind an apparent fate (like losing one leg can save one's life because one is therefore not being recruited as a soldier to be killed in the coming peasant uprising; and perhaps fate destines one to be a high level official in Court, losing one's leg gives one less than average opportunity to find a better wife, therefore spend less time trying to do so, and therefore more time being reserved for studying the classics, which eventually leads him to pass the Imperial Exam with flying grades. Interpretive opportunities are limitless!)

What is the true fate hidden behind its original shallow manifestation? And what shall I change (my behavior for example) so that fate will lead us to a brighter future?

To this end, there are a number of mathematical juggling and accompanying opportunity for interpretations:

1. How about changing all lines in the hexagram to its opposite and to see what the end hexagram is like? (And how about changing only the top trigram or only the bottom? And how about...) Action-wise is like, but not limited to, doing the opposite of what we are doing now.

2. How about changing the positions of the trigram, top to bottom and bottom to top? (And how about doing 1 after 2?) Action-wise is like, but not limited to, changing the sequence of action (like invest now and spend later, rather than vice versa.

3. How about changing the top line with the bottom line in the hexagram? (And how about the next top one with the next bottom one). Action-wise is like, but not limited to, listen to what the old man (or young kid) has to say.

The most honorable Confucius, after studying I Ching in great details,praised it highly, and wrote a book on it, concluded that those who understand I Ching do not need to ask I Ching. 善易者不卜

Confucius understood Tao.

What does that mean? Perhaps you should ask I Ching....

I Ching Hexagrams

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