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The way of Yi Jing

Sunday, August 20, 2006
By: Joey Yap

Let's get the facts right first as always, so that we have a proper context for the conversation. The Yi Jing (often mis-pronounced as I-Ching) originally started out as a book about the philosophy of life and behaviour. Written during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC), it is about the way of life, or if you're more Zen-inclined, the Tao of Life. The Yi Jing tells you, based on your rank or position in society, how you should behave and go about your daily life, as a wife, as a general, as a king, as a Minister. The word "Yi Jing" means sutra or classics of change. Strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with Feng Shui per se.

The Yi Jing in its original form, is very much a form of pictorial philosophy, as represented by trigrams (the dual polarities of Yin and Yang, depicted in three lines) or hexagrams (six lines of Yin and Yang combinations). The ancient sages used the Yi Jing to depict the universe as man knew it and derive philosophical conclusions from it. These trigram and hexagram images were later used by a philosopher called Jing Fang to develop the science of probability, and to develop a means to compute outcomes and events, through understanding causality, time, space and the universe, known as Yi Gua.

Yi Jing and Feng Shui: Connected yet Disparate

Often, people misunderstand the connection between the Yi Jing and Feng Shui. There is indeed a connection between the "Yi" in Yi Jing (Yi being Change) because Feng Shui draws upon the concepts of changing lines, duality of polarity and the Five Elements, the Eight Trigrams, which are components of the Yi aspect of the Yi Jing. But Feng Shui systems involve taking the basic "Yi" information, and deriving a process and method, to use that information in an environmental context.

This means that you cannot import something from the Yi Jing's text directly into Feng Shui and call it Feng Shui. A very good example of this liberal interpretation of the Yi Jing's original text is the importing of the imagery of the Guas (Hexagrams) into Feng Shui by way of man made figurines. Some New Age Feng Shui practitioners claim that placing a figurine of a Dragon Flying Towards the Sky creates the power of Qian Gua (the Heaven Hexagram) because Qian Gua is described in the Yi Jing's texts as 'A Dragon Flying Towards the Sky'. From here, it is expanded to mean that a person with such a figurine can have the power of a King or Emperor, as that is what Qian Gua stands for, amongst other things.

That is taking the Yi Jing not just literally, but with substantial quantities of liberal and highly subjective interpretation. With this kind of approach, you can read just about anything into everything when in actual fact, the concept of Qian Gua as 'A Dragon Flying Towards the Sky' is actually a form of mnemonic, to help sages and students remember that Qian Gua is actually upward moving pure Yang energy. Also, there are 6 Yaos (lines) in the Hexagram with each giving a different meaning to the entire reading.

Yi Gua, which is a form of science of probability, or as the Chinese philosophers called it, the science of divination, is derived from the concept of "Yi" in Yi Jing and was later developed by King Wen (Wen Wang) but technically, it is not Feng Shui. It is a complementary discipline for many Feng Shui and BaZi practitioners, but it is a completely different and separate field of study. It still falls under the broader umbrella of Chinese Metaphysics but it is not Feng Shui. We can only say that fundamental concepts of the Yi are assimilated in the formulas of the Feng Shui practice.

So what then is Yi Gua you might be wondering?

Coin tossing, yarrow sticks and turtle shells


Yi Gua, which is a method of probability science, derived from Yi Jing, has three principle methods. The first method is the method pioneered by King Wen (Wen Wang) which is the turtle shell method. Now, almost everyone is familiar with this or has seen it some time or another in a TVB serial show. You put coins inside a turtle shell, shake it and pour out the coins. The pattern of the coins enables the derivation of a Gua or Hexagram image, which then provides the answer to the query. Of course, nowadays, and probably due to the protection against needless killing of turtles for their shell, most people practice this method without the turtle shell. In the old days, the turtle was used because of the perceived connection to the He Tu, and because it was thought that the turtle's shell depicts the 10 stems, 12 branches and 24 mountains. Hence, it was thought that the turtle had a special connection with the universe.

The second method involves using yarrow sticks - through a method of picking and selecting the sticks, a yin and yang image is derived.

The third method is known as the Plum Blossom (Mei Hua Yi Shu) method. It involves deriving or plucking a Gua based on observation of events and time occurring after the question is asked - for example, a ringing telephone, the colour of the shirt the person is wearing when they asked the question.

I must stress at this point that none of these formats entail superstition. You don't have to pray or make a plea to the gods or anything like that. Which is why I find the word divination is sometimes misleading to use, because it suggests something religious or somehow superstitious. The science of probability and affinity is a better term to use to describe Yi Gua. The practice of Yi Gua is entirely agnostic in nature. Rather, they deal with the method of asking the question, and involve an academic understanding of the Guas and using the right methods to derive the Gua imagery.

The Universe, in a Nutshell (or your subconscious)

Yi Gua in essence is premised upon the theory that the subconscious and the universe are in-tune with each other. The Chinese, through the Metaphysical fields of study, have always subscribed to the concepts of synchronicity, destiny, life and the subconscious. The underlying premise of Yi Gua is that we have all the answers, but we simply do not know how to get to the answers. Our subconscious is in fact, the path to all knowledge.

The trick is being able to get one's subconscious (or the universe if you like) to volunteer the answer or somehow extract the information from our subconscious. And this is what the ancient Chinese sages were looking to achieve, when they pioneered the science of divination, or probability.

Now, I realise that some readers might feel this is stretching the case a little or is way too far on the alternative side of the alternative! But the study of the power of the subconscious is in fact something that Western scientists have always been curious about. Why do people buy Self-Help books? Because they believe in the power of mind over matter. People who use Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is now all the rage amongst the corporate set, and who believe Anthony Robbins can help you change your life, are subscribing to the power of the subconscious. Freud and Jung, two very famous Western psychoanalysts and psychologists, believed in the power of the subconscious to tell us about ourselves, and what we didn't know about ourselves. In fact Carl G. Jung was known to be a strong proponent of Yi Jing studies.

Freud and Jung believed that dreams offered an insight into the subconscious. If you think about it, it's not that far from the Yi Gua method. Most people remember the images in their dreams, and rarely do they remember the words. In Yi Gua, we are looking at the answer to a question afforded by an image - a Gua or a set of lines. Now, I'm not saying that it has been scientifically proven that dreaming involves accessing the subconscious. Not everyone believes that the subconscious exists! But certainly, scientists are studying dreaming and in fact, there is a new scientific field of study, known as oneirology, or the study of dreams. So, it's worth giving some thought and opening one's mind to the possibility. Think about it - why is it that we say, let's sleep on it, when we have to think about something? Could it be because we subconsciously know that the answer will come then? Have you ever had the same dream several times over? Is that the subconscious trying to give you an image or an answer, but you simply do not know what it means?

Still sounds suspect?

One of the reasons why New Age Feng Shui practitioners lean so hard on the Yi Jing to provide basis for their interpretations or theories is that it is extremely difficult, unless you have studied the Yi Jing, learnt Yi Gua or have a strong understanding of Chinese Metaphysics, to tell what's real, from what's flim-flam.

The truth and real practice are very difficult to separate from those who are being economical with the truth. Unfortunately therefore, this makes the public very vulnerable to all kinds of claims, which can in theory, be linked back to the Yi Jing. Hence, this is the reason why I have chosen to write about the Yi Jing and how Feng Shui co-relates to the Yi Jing and what is Yi Gua. The idea is for the public to understand and appreciate the two are somewhat related, yet disparate by practice. The less mystique there is about Yi Jing and Yi Gua, the less likely people will be taken in for a ride.

As for Yi Gua and the method the Chinese developed for computing probabilities, it is not something easy for very rigid minded people to accept or buy in to. I simply ask that you give it some thought. Perhaps sleep on it. Or cast a question to the universe. Perhaps the universe, or your subconscious can offer up an answer!

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