An I Ching Update

Just wanted to give you all an update on my study of the I Ching…


Hua Ching Ni’s Version of the I Ching

I finally finished the introductory pages of The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth by Hua Ching Ni. If you are thinking of studying the I Ching, this would be a great place to start. I read up to the first hexagram. Mind blowing stuff! I have had a hard time explaining what each version brings to the table because they are so varied, but with Master Ni’s version – you just have to read it! (Then come and tell me about it in the comments!)

Hua Ching Ni was raised in China and came to the U.S. in his adult life. He comes from an unbroken chain of 76 straight generations of Taoist masters. Whoa. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve probably heard me mention that before. (It bears repeating.) For anyone wishing to study Taoism from a metaphysical perspective, rather than a strictly religious perspective – he’s your guy! He has written over 70 books, possibly more than 80 at this point, on Taoism, diet, Chinese medicine and chi gung. He founded a well-known Chinese Medicine clinic in California. He’s pretty knowledgeable about this stuff.

One of the things that stood out to me about the beginning chapters in Ni’s book was the perspective. To the ancient Chinese, South was at the top of the map. It might seem like a simple thing, just turning a map upside down, but it is way more than that. The perspective of the very way that they first defined their homeland was by looking at it from the viewpoint of the North Star. When you are at the North Star looking down, South is at the top of the map. It was this sort of perspective shifting that really got to me as I first started studying this stuff all those years ago.  It was the kind of realization that had me question the very foundation of what I thought I knew.

Just look at a map with the South end up… it is rather disorienting. This may seem like a rather petty thing to relate to, but what it did for me was it literally turned my world upside down. In ancient times, they had the foresight to think of things, not from their own perspective, but from the outside looking in. I have found this concept reinforced in multiple other ways as well. On page 12 of The Lunar Tao, Deng Ming-Dao talks about the Heavenly Lord of Primal Origin. He writes, “According to one sage, ‘If you would know Yuanshi (the Heavely Lord of Primal Origin), you must go beyond the boundaries of heaven and earth because he lives beyond all limits.” I take this to mean (in my own words) – if you want to know Tao, you must think outside the box.

As I read about these upside down maps, I started poking around. Now, it seems, the world is pretty much in agreement about map perspectives but the orientation of a map is way looser in the Asian regions than it is in the United States. In Australia, there is a movement to put the South side up on maps because apparently there is some positive psychological effect of being at the top of the map. (See this post explaining how different people in different countries use maps and this post for a new perspective on upside down maps!)

Add this disorientation of differing views of maps to my misunderstanding of the sky and the map of the Big Dipper and I am deeply humbled by all of this. But I am here to learn. I am open to learning. I want my perspective changed because it is becoming increasingly clear to me that there is a lot out there for me to discover. I can’t wait to dig into the hexagrams!

Legge’s & Wilhelm/Baynes’ Versions of the I Ching

I then started reading Legge’s introduction of the I Ching, which is one of the first versions in English. It comes from a very intellectual perspective (more from the physical realm) and somewhat disregards the spiritual/divination perspective (at least for the introductory pages, which is what I have read so far). It was written in the late 1800′s, at a time when his speaking out about the importance of a book on ancient divination may have had some serious religious repercussions for his personal life. Then I read the forward to the Wilhelm/Baynes version where Carl Jung spoke of the boldness of Wilhelm and Baynes to give justice to this art of divination (my words). What beauty! Not just in the contrast, but in the development over time of this ancient work and how we perceive it. Also in the cultural respect that we have learned to appreciate as we develop the ability to travel more and get to know other cultures globally.

A Modern Comparison

These earlier two works (Legge and Wilhelm/Baynes) fell in sharp contrast to both Hua Ching Ni’s version and Deng Ming-Dao’s versions, both of which come from the Taoist perspective and both from the perspective of the Chinese culture. Both the earlier and the more modern versions are good, but for completely different reasons. At first, it amazed me that you could have so many completely different ways of looking at an ancient book like that. But then, in considering the times, it left me feeling in awe of the great expanse of time as it relates to our own human development. Not just me as one person, but US as one humanity. We’ve grown up a bit since 1899. We’ve learned to accept each other.

No matter what I could ever say about any of these four versions of the I Ching (which is only a tiny scratching of the surface of the many versions that have been created), I could never say in words what is felt by just reading them…

Here is this ancient text… thousands of years old.

They don’t really even know when it was created because most of the original works that describe the first Early Heaven hexagrams were lost. (See The Living I Ching, by Deng Ming-Dao for details on this.) All that remained of the original hexagrams were the characters and their original 64 hexagrams displayed in an order much different from the one more commonly used (known as King Wen’s Later Heaven hexagrams).

And here are all these amazing people, who have each spent years of their lives painstakingly transcribing it. Wilhelm was my hero. He not only gave the I Ching justice at a time in the Western world that could have possibly caused him physical danger, but he dedicated his life to it. It is to his spirit (and that of Carl Jung, who wrote the forward to the edition that I am currently reading) that I dedicate my own study of this great work.  I hope that my own biases from my own perspective in life will be broken down and recycled into something grand and wonderful, as fodder for generations to come.

What’s Next?

I was talking on the phone to my sister the other day. She and I are both challenging ourselves to reading exclusively on a topic that we love during the entire year, 2014. Me on the I Ching and her on A Course in Miracles.  So I called her to commizerate and to see if she was also finding that she was tired of reading on the same topic? (She wasn’t.) She suggested that I just stop reading the introductions. I got pretty excited as she suggested that I just start reading the hexagrams and skip reading introductions from the rest of the versions for now. (I tend to sometimes be a bit obsessive about doing things in a certain order and she often frees me of this self-imposed limitations. Sisters are good like that.)

So that is what I am going to do next. I even dug out an obscure version of the I Ching called The Portable Dragon (have you heard of it?), where a group of collaborators (not sure what else one would call them), got together and combined various pieces of literature from a great span of time to explain each of the various hexagrams. I just love that version. It’s like walking through an art museum and letting each piece give you its own feeling and matching up that feeling with a hexagram. Not an easy project! I will say that I have been tempted to recreate that book with new collaborators and new excerpts, but then I remember that my first book is still sitting unpublished (my own version of the Tao Te Ching). If my first book were printed out in paper, there would be about an inch of dust on it since I haven’t touched it in quite some time. So certainly any writing project on the I Ching would have to wait. lol…

So what do YOU think? Have you read the initial chapters of any versions of the I Ching? I invite you to explore them with me. Grab a copy, read it and let me know what you think of it. I would love to read your thoughts. 


  1. Wow, wow, wow. I just found your blog. Your passion inspires me greatly and I am just starting to deeply engage with all of this at a deeper level. Alot of reading and understanding to do!
    I am a Process Oriented Psychologist (started by Dr Arnold Mindell, originally a Jungian Training analyst among other things) and it is based on Taoism. I have also been deeply engaged in Tibetan Buddhism for 30 years and even written a book about Buddhism!
    I realise (yet again) from your writing that I have much to learn.That’s so good.
    Thank you and for all your links and information.

    • We all have a lot to learn, don’t we? Thanks for your sweet note, Sherry. I love getting comments like that. (It feeds my ego tremendously! 😉 )

  2. Pingback: CHAPTER 40 – RETURN

  3. I love your new perspective on not reading the introductions and look forward to seeing how it goes for you. It sounds like you are really taking a deeper look at this topic and it will be interesting to see how the year goes and what shifts internally.

    • So far, so good, Michele. It has been way more fun diving into the actual hexagram chapters. Haven’t decided yet how I am going to talk about them, though. Time will tell.

  4. Thank you for reminding me about one of my favorite things I learned in fifth grade — the Dymaxion Map of Buckminster Fuller! This is a map with no “right way up,” where the globe is treated as round, not flat, where the dimensions are not up and down, but out and in. Here’s the Wikipedia page on it:

    I once tried to read Jung’s introduction to the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching. It exhausted me. At the time, I was diving deep into divination systems, and could not wait to get to the hexagrams. Unfortunately, the hexagrams baffled me as well. Maybe what I need, to understand the I Ching as you do, is not just to read, but to turn my whole projection of the world on its head.
    Harmony Harrison recently posted…I’m Grateful Just to be Well: On illness, intuition, color hunger and more (and most definitely not about corgis… well, not much anyway)My Profile

    • Thanks for sharing that map, Harmony! I had not heard of that one. The introductions exhausted me too, after a time. It is the hexagrams and the comparisons of them that really are the win for me. I take exception for Master Ni’s and Deng Ming Dao’s introductions, though. Those two are extremely helpful and enlightening.

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