Life Patterns and the I Ching

The Reflection Pattern

You may know that old parable of looking at a glass of water as half-full, or as half-empty.

You fill a glass half with water, and then contemplate that strange kind of object. Then you wonder about how you should see that object, as a glass half-filled or as a glass half-unfilled, as a glass half-happy or as a glass half-unhappy, as a glass half-useful and half-useless, and so on and so forth. Needless to mention that positive-minded people tend to see that glass as half-filled, whereas negative-minded people tend to make the glass down as half-empty.

We learn from this simple experiment that reality is not to be taken for granted, and rather depends on our way of looking at it!

Or to speak with quantum physics: reality is creatively interacting with the one observing it. Light can be seen as a wave or as a particle. Einstein found this already at the beginning of the 20th century, and before the establishment of what today we use to call quantum physics.

When I see life as order, I tend to see order in all-that-is, whatever occurs to me. When I consider life as nothing but chaos, I tend to make out chaos in the cosmos, and accordingly I experience my own life as chaotic. My internal belief system thus conditions my perception. This explains why reality is far from being the same for all of us. Why do I perceive life so differently from you? Because our perception of reality is a result of the reality we live in and that we have created by our mind.

Is that tautological? It is. Because reality is tautological. If I interact with processes by observing processes, if I change flow by flowing myself, if I let the universe dance to my music by dancing with the universe, then, for heaven’s sake, I must admit that I have no reason to complain for I am responsible for my world!

Then I become aware that all I see is the result of my choice. I want to see roses. So I see roses. I want to see garbage, so I see garbage. I want to see happy children, so I see happy children. I want to see abuse, so I see abuse.

I want to be different, so I see difference everywhere, while difference per se is not a value, but only in relationship to something that is same. If I want to be different for any price, I am just a naughty child who likes to put every toy upside down, to have the clown vomit and the woman her pants down. I want to be conformist, so I see sameness everywhere and all life seems to me carved from one and the same wood. Then, when I see what really appears to be a difference, I tend to argue:

—These two things are not really different, they only appear to be different. In reality, they are same. Their difference is so small that it can be neglected.

However, when I see that I am limited, I cannot but practice modesty, according to Modesty (15), as I will abhor faking to be all-powerful which is the way of the worldly and political forces in place. I will then recognize with ease that I simply harvest what I sow, and this without regret, without sorrow, without a bitter taste on my tongue.

I throw a handful of sand against the wind and wipe my eyes as a result. Like a toddler playing on the beach. That is how the sage evaluates reality. By direct perception as well as trial-and-error.

When I look in the eyes of a small child, I perceive what is true and what is not true. This truth is so strong that it penetrates in my heart and changes things forever.

When I judge life, I cannot perceive the responsiveness of the universe. When I judge, I implicitly have a measure to base my judgment upon. What is this measure other than the length of a fantasy ruler?

Can we know how high the next mountain is that nature creates, or how high the next wave is at the beach when there is heavy sea? Can we know how far the cricket will jump? Approximately yes. But not exactly.

By the same token, all truth is approximate and not exact. In hindsight we can measure all. But that means to measure death! We cannot measure life because that would mean to know exactly the details of things to come. All divinations are approximations. There are good reasons to put away with all fortune telling as it is as approximate as living is. When I live without inquiring into the nature of future events, I am accepting the approximate nature of things, and I live more carefree than when divining all day long. Wallenstein can tell a story. He was not a happy man. Nor was Nostradamus.

When I really understand the nature of living, I see that there are no dreams that eternally have to remain dreams, but that every dream is the creative contemplation of a future reality.

The Karma Pattern

When I see that not values, which are creations of the mind, but dynamic exchanges with all-that-is, which are intuitive dialogues with the universe, bring me closer to perceiving reality more objectively, and less with putting my personal stink, I will avoid values.

If you admit or not that the universe is responsive, you will experience karma, the dynamic feedback created by action, a stone or rose thrown back to you.

Please note that the notion of karma is not a creation of Hinduism, but a reality in a universe that communicates in an organic multi-vectorial manner.

Karma means action, nothing more and nothing less, and it is part of all religions, because it is part of our dynamic and responsive universe. Hinduism has the merit to have put a very peculiar stress upon karma, and for good reasons. But when I know to dialogue with the universe in a dynamic manner, such as the universe itself dialogues with us, I can handle karma creatively and do not need to be trapped by it. As the proverb says: For the sage, karma means liberation.

In the West, the notion of karma has been largely misunderstood. It is often taken as a religious theory related to Hinduism or Buddhism. As if the Western part of the globe obeyed to different laws or could abide by different cosmic rules!

To repeat it, karma, literally in Sanskrit means action; it simply means cause-and-effect, or in the terminology of modern systems theory, karma is the law of a responsive, feedback-looping system. I shout in the forest, in a canyon. I hear my voice resonating in space. You can also say that karma is the natural condition in a responsive universe. I kill life and thus raise chances that I am myself killed, because I set an action of that kind, and create a negative resonance. All actions create a resonance according to their nature. I nurture life by being kind and taking care of others, or feedback to them their beauty, their strength, their originality. I support others in the realization of their original nature.

Then, I create a karma of positive resonance that supports me in realizing my own original nature.

There is no god, no savior and no punishment. There are no wrong acts, no right acts. There is karma only, feedback given by the universe.

By observing that feedback and recognizing its nature, positive or negative, I can evaluate the outcome of my actions. There is no other way.

You can’t do that by thinking about your behavior.

Thought is circular and inbound within my own continuum. I cannot abstract from my thought and become an observer-thinker, despite the fact that great sages such as Krishnamurti told us we could develop this ability.

Let’s assume I have not reached that stage of development and thus am still caught in the ego-based structure. Then I have the option to observe the nature of my actions by evaluating the feedback they create in the universe. In being careful and observing what happens around you before you take any major action, you can avoid fatal mistakes and setbacks and act in accordance with the steering power of the universe. This power is of a higher intelligence, and considers not only your actions but the actions of all other humans, of all other beings, and even the actions of natural forces.

How does a particular action you are going to take fit in the universe? What kind of waves will it create? What kind of responses will it trigger? All this can be evaluated before the action is taken. And the I Ching has been created precisely for assisting us in that quest.

Once you understand this, you will agree that to take blind actions is foolish behavior. And yet, most people, especially in the modern world, take blind actions all the time, and even think that it was normal human behavior. It is ignorant human behavior.

Educating children to take blind actions is irresponsible education, or no education at all.

Most Western people will reply that it was through a set of firm behavior rules, so-called ‘morally correct behavior’ that positive karma could be created.

However, moral correctness is on the same line as political correctness. It is totally volatile as moral rules are volatile and change from country to country and in some countries even from village to village, and they change over time as well, and they change when economic conditions change. Hence, morality is a fiction; moralism has been seen throughout human history as one of the most sordid ways to blindfold the masses and keep them from educating themselves about the universal laws and rules that really regulate action and reaction.

How much morally correct behavior triggered wars and genocide all over human history! How many massacres have been committed in the name of well-sounding moralistic slogans, how many millions of people were killed for politically and morally correct principles!?

When I maintain a rigid principle-ridden mindset, I act from an arrogantly fixated ego position. By contrast, when I am humble and flexible, I do not overestimate the powers of my ego and instead rely on the intelligence of the universe to help me finetune my actions.

Then I remain open for help and support and admit that I need help and support in the first place. The universe sends help, but only to those who are open to receive it.

Action Patterns

As already mentioned, the I Ching teaches flexibility as a foremost value for constructive and positive action, action that creates good and beneficial karma for self and others. When I am flexible, I am ready to go not only forward, but at times also backward, and once in a while, I am even putting things on hold, a movement that I call standstill.

Note that I consider standing still, in this dynamic system of positive and constructive action, as a movement. Just as nonaction, from the same perspective, is a form of action, standstill is a form of movement. It is the movement that avoids wrong action by standing still. Wrong action is action that brings about strife, tension, or hurt, to others and, as a karmic reaction, to self as a karmic boomerang.

The I Ching teaches a gradual interplay of different movements, such as, for example, moving forward, standing still for some time, and then moving forward again. This is depending on the lines you receive, and it also depends on the structure and hierarchy of the particular hexagram you are contemplating.

Let us first consider the more clear-cut divinations, those that show an unambiguous move in either of the three directions. Moving forward is clearly expressed by hexagrams such as Progress (35), Rising (46) or Gradual Progress (53). Moving backward is advised by Retreat (33), and this unconditionally as all six lines recommend to retreat from the condition in question, and differ only by the fact that such retreat is more comfortable and easy or less comfortable and bothersome.

Standstill is clearly advised by Keeping Still (52), and here, like in Retreat (33), the different lines only inform about the easiness or uneasiness of the halt, but they do not recommend any movement other than standstill.

Thus, when you get any line of Retreat (33) or the hexagram without lines, this is a clear indication that you are advised to take a distance from the action or endeavor, or relationship, you intend to engage in, or intend to continue engaging in. The same is true for Keeping Still (52). All the lines indicate standstill as the right action for that moment.

Note that it is difficult to know how long a particular hexagram is valid. I do not think that the I Ching invariably advises to retreat from a certain action forever, but in most cases just for a certain time. It is only through repeated divinations that you may get to know the reason why you should retreat and how long, or else if you should definitely stop action for that particular purpose. All advice on divination that says I Ching readings to be valid for either three months or six months is a matter of personal opinion, not to be found in any serious interpretation of the Book of Changes.

I have had situations where the reading was valid for just one day, as the next day a new cycle set in that was foretold by a totally different reading later that same day. This, by the way, is true for all divinatory practices. Books on the interpretation of the Tarot that say a particular reading is valid for six months are expressing personal experience at best, if they are not just repeating the balderdash they themselves learnt from others.

In truth, there is absolutely no rule that says that a certain divination is valid for one minute, for one day or for one lifetime. This is exactly the uncertainty factor in all divination.

You may know all in advance, but you will not know the time when events set in. I have had readings where an event set in the next day, and I had readings where an event never set in, probably because I was heeding the advice and changed the parameters of my behavior in time.

There is a subtle interplay between your intuition and the I Ching. You know intuitively when you should consult the book again. To disregard your intuition and wait six months for the next reading is foolish.

The universe communicates you not only the nature of your karma, but also the time when you should consult the I Ching again. Of course, you may return too often to divination, and for reasons of stress or fear.

And when you consult the I Ching in a negative mood, you may get a negative reading. But then the I Ching will tell you what’s wrong with you. It will tell you that you lack decisiveness, that you need to put first things first, that you should be firm in following your original purpose, that you worry too much, that you should be persistent or that you should advance despite your anxiety. Or it may tell you to meditate and put things on hold for a moment, to free your mind and get new creative inspirations, or to consult a friend or expert for finding the solution. Or it may advise you to do things in cooperation with others, and not single-handedly.

As a beginner, you should first become familiar with the idea of action being naturally threefold, and not consisting only of marching forward. When you look at human history, you see that our old-fashioned and somehow extremely violent tradition has created evil, sorrow and misery by ignoring the simple fact that action is three-directional. Marching forward was seen as the only right action.

In a way, marching forward can be seen as the identifier of the total madness that is so characteristic for patriarchy. And the madness of today’s worldwide consumer culture is the logical historical and psychological follow-up of patriarchy with its ignorance of systemliteracy.

We can see the three base movements equally in the way the I Ching entered the soil of Western culture. There was first a forward movement, during Antiquity, then a long retreat during the Dark Age, and then a period of standstill. The I Ching could be discovered by a wider range of people only after the horror regime of the Church had found its end, thus from about the Renaissance. When the Church declared the I Ching, together with so many other jewels of human wisdom as diabolic knowledge, we can clearly see a phase of Retreat (33). But for various reasons, the I Ching became popular in Western culture only within the new age movement, from the second half of the 20th century.

Today, the I Ching is clearly again in a forward movement, in Western culture. From the Renaissance until today, the I Ching was going through a period of Keeping Still (52). It could be consulted without danger, but was given attention only by a small range of Western scholars, among them the German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) who found that the I Ching implicitly uses the binary code that today is used in every computer.

In the near future, during the Aquarius Age, the I Ching will receive an honorable and important position within a greater range of wisdom devices that are constantly reaching wider circles among the educated classes of international society, and foremost the young generations, which is one of the main reasons why I wrote this book.

Three Phases of Action

Action is what I call forward movement within a positioning that sees action together with nonaction and retreat as one of the three phases of action. After having introduced the notion of three base movements in the previous paragraph, let me now have a regard on the various phases within the forward movement.

The I Ching deals with action in most hexagrams. As already mentioned, there are only a few hexagrams that recommend action through and through, while most are mixed in the sense that within a course of action, diligent attention and careful inspection is recommended to avoid excess, and a setback or failure as a result of overacting.

Let me explain this using Yang/Creative Energy/The Active Principle (1) as an example. The first line of this very powerful hexagram that consists of six yang lines recommends nonaction.

The second line recommends to seek advice. The third line predicts danger, but says there will be no harm. The forth line, eventually, sets action completely free and the fifth line predicts great success. However, the top line is a quintessential example for excess and is generally interpreted as a painful setback through an arrogant and inflexible attitude, or a rigidly forward-moving behavior.

Let me now give a few examples for hexagrams that end in a positive 6th line. I think it is important to consider that not after every culmination point follows a negative spiral. Such a conclusion would be a misunderstanding of the I Ching. Flexibly intelligent action uses the time after completion, as hexagram 63 teaches us, for securing what has been achieved, and for rest and meditation.

It is short-sighted to interpret the I Ching as a set of patterns that ‘predict the future.’ The truth is that no future can ever be ‘predicted’ because every moment a different thought and emotional pattern can be put forward that changes the present state of events, thereby changing the future by changing the present. The future is but an extrapolation of a vibrational pattern set in the present. When I change the present pattern, logically the future pattern will be different as well. That is why, as I mentioned earlier, a particular reading can be superseded in a day, an hour or a week, but not in any time intervals determined in advance.

Life is infinitely flexible. After a thunderstorm, a hurricane or an earthquake, there may be a certain level of destruction, but it’s not the end of the world. Nothing in nature can cause the end of nature—except human ignorance and willfulness. This is an unwritten law pervading all living in the cosmos.

The first example of a hexagram that ends in a positive 6th line is Great Harvest/Abundance (14), which is called by some I Ching experts as the most lucky of all hexagrams. Here, the 6th line simply reads in Hua-Ching Ni’s interpretation: ‘Heavenly blessing. Good fortune. No problem.’

—Hua-Ching Ni, I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth (1999), p. 295.

Another example is Modesty/Humility/Moderation (15) where the 6th line reads:

He uses modesty instead of aggression with outsiders to correct the confusion within his territory. (Id., 300)

Other examples are:

Obstacle/Adversity/Obstruction (12);

Advancing/Going Forward/Progress (19);

Contemplation/Stocktaking/Reflection (20);

Adornment/Beauty/Grace (22)

Great Potential/Creative Energy/Great Power (26);

Nourishment/Nutrition/Self-Cultivation (27);

Critical Mass/Great Excess/Imbalance (28);

Mutual Attraction/Wooing/Marriage (31);

Retreat/Withdrawal/Going Backward (33);

Family/The Clan/Group Life (37);

Contradiction/Opposition/Disharmony (38);

Obstruction/Obstacle/Difficulty (39);

Dissolution of the Problem/Release/Liberation (40);

Sacrifice/Decrease/Reduce the Excessive (41);

The Well/Water Hole/Reaching the Water (48);

Revolution/Reformation/Groundbreaking Change (49);

Cauldron/Harmonization/Stability (50);

Gradual Progress/Positive Development (53).

In all these hexagrams, the 6th line is positive and constructive. Now, if almost one third of all hexagrams of the I Ching give a positive reading for the 6th line, it cannot be said, as some scholars erroneously do, that the 6th line in every hexagram of the I Ching invariably predicts misfortune.

Non-Action vs. Bold Action

Nonaction is action, Lao-tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching. And this wisdom is part of the I Ching as well. You can find nonaction in the I Ching in two different ways:

As a general standstill, as indicated by Keeping Still (52);

As a tactical standstill, as part of various action-hexagrams:

The 1st line in Yang (1);

The 1st line in Dispute (6);

The 6th line in Small Accumulation (9);

The 1st line in Great Harvest (14);

The 1st line in Great Potential (26);

The 4th line in Fire (30);

The 3rd line in Mutual Attraction (31);

The 1st line in Power of the Great (34);

The 1st line in Resolution (43);

The 4th line in Contact (44);

The 5th line in Adversity (47);

The 3rd line in Revolution (49);

The 3rd line in Gradual Progress (53);

The 1st line in Before Crossing the Water (64).

As mentioned earlier, when nonaction appears as a line in an otherwise dynamic hexagram, and contrary to the general advice given in Keeping Still (52), interpretation is needed.

Typically, one of these critical lines is drawn together with other lines of the same hexagram. When this happens, a temporary halt is indicated or the line can be said to indicate a very careful way to proceed. If the line is drawn as a single answer without any other line, this means that indeed nonaction is the best for a certain time.

The time-span cannot be predicted, as I pointed out earlier, but from a systemic point of view I would argue that the time-span of rest or nonaction indicated by Keeping Still (52) is certainly more extended as the one indicated by any of the lines that recommend a temporary halt. That is all I can say on the time matter.

For all those who are caught in the erroneous belief the I Ching was but a textbook on Confucianism, and that it did not favor any form of bold and spontaneous action, let me advance the following arguments to put things in the correct light:

The I Ching is much older than Confucian thinking;

Confucius is said to have studied the I Ching most diligently and never pretended to have developed any knowledge or system that superseded or surpassed the wisdom of the I Ching;

The I Ching contains a number of lines that advise bold and massive action, and to prove my point, I will line them up in full detail here, and exhaustively so:

The 4th line of Yang (1);

The 5th line of Yin (2);

The 4th line of Difficult Begin (3);

The 1st line of Peace (11);

The 6th line of Obstacle (12);

The 2nd line of Great Harvest (14);

The 2nd line of Modesty (15);

The 2nd line in Advancing (19);

The 5th line of Return (24);

The 1st line of Innocence (25);

The 6th line of Great Potential (26);

The 6th line of Nourishment (27);

The 1st and 2nd lines of Fire (30);

The 2nd line of Power of the Great (34);

The 3rd line of Success (35);

The 6th line of Contradiction (38);

The 1st, 2nd and 6th lines of Dissolution of the Problem (40);

The 5th line of Sacrifice (41);

The 1st, 2nd and 5th lines of Benefit (42);

The 2nd, 4th and 5th lines of Congregation (45);

The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th lines of Rising (46);

The 4th, 5th and 6th lines of The Well (48);

The 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th lines of Revolution (49);

The 5th and 6th lines of Cauldron (50);

The 2nd, 4th and 6th lines of Gradual Progress (53);

The 1st line of The Maiden (54);

The 1st, 4th and 5th lines of Peak (55);

The 5th line of The Wanderer (56);

The 5th line of Gentle Wind (57);

The 1st and 2nd lines of Joyousness (58);

The 1st line of Scattered (59);

The 5th line of Inner Truth (61);

The 5th line of Before Crossing the Water (64).

If more than half of all hexagrams of the I Ching recommend unbridled action in one or several lines, the opinion sometimes expressed in the literature that the wisdom book was an action-breaker and led people to procrastination seems to be unfounded. In fact, having studied and practiced both the Tarot and the I Ching for almost thirty years, I find the Tarot more difficult to interpret because it uses psychological archetypes for describing circumstances. By contrast, the language of the I Ching is rather precise, and its advice to the point.

It is perhaps more difficult to get to bold action when using the Tarot for divination as this is the case with the I Ching. Let’s not forget that in the past, in China, many great generals have used the I Ching for war strategy and for gathering precise information about when and how to advance or retreat the army in order to win the battle.

After all, what the I Ching definitely cannot do is to act for you! There is a moment when you have to cease reflecting and start acting. And in that moment, the I Ching has to be laid aside.

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