Heaven is far from the things of earth, but it sets them in motion by means of the wind.
– Wilhelm, hexagram 44
A crane calling in the shade.
Its young answers it.
I have a good goblet.
I will share it with you.
– Wilhelm, hexagram 61
One of the differences between religious writings and what Carl Jung called “psychological phenomenology” concerns evidence and belief. They are not the same thing. Lao Tsu said the Tao that can be told is not the real Tao, which is similar.
Jung used logic in his work, saying you can’t solve a problem at the level where it occurs. It becomes triangulated, which is something Nietzsche describes when people meet. Two minds generate greater wisdom. In addition to mythology and symbolism, Jung was influenced by Kant and Nietzsche. He described his therapy as alchemy, where both he and the client were transformed.
A third force is needed, and arises, as a consequence of two different factors. One person believes in a deity, other people do not; apparently different but it’s the same thing. Positive or negative ideas prove nothing about an unalterable other. “Psychological phenomenology” is how Jung described the I Ching. Two forces, and a possible third, are an important part of it.
Most I Ching writing is self referential not explanatory. We read about yin and yang, trigrams and hexagrams within the system. The philosophy is implicit but unclear. Richard Wilhelm didn’t give serious attention to the Ten Wings (Confucian commentary) although could have given his training, and possibly if he’d had more time.
The Ten Wings are propositional and basic but important. Helmut Wilhelm, son of Richard, referred to them metaphysically where “The vitality of the myths and symbols is still pristine” and different from “secondary mythology” (Change: Eight Lectures on the I Ching). He makes an interesting claim, that early “religious intuition” is more authentic. It also means the I Ching is more than simple divination.
The basis of the I Ching is what Chung-Ying Cheng calls “generative ontology and dialectical methodology” as the structure of reality. We see there are opposing and harmonising factors in a situation, and varying category outcomes. Good, bad, indifferent; the same, novel, either contracting or expanding the field of influence. In a basic sense that could mean monetary gain. In a greater sense, the field one discovers could mean higher consciousness not material concerns. The first is having, the second is being, the dialectic of Erich Fromm in his book To Have or to Be.
In The Primary Way Chung-Ying Cheng describes the “psychological phenomenology” with careful detail. This is contrary to Chinese culture fixated on the past, as something purer and superior, which commonly occurs. Martial art schools proclaim themselves “traditional kung fu” with a lineage tracing back to founders, which is essentially meaningless. That doesn’t happen for example in academia. Your teacher’s teacher is irrelevant, not a sign of inherited competence. It is true founding practitioners were notably accomplished (and Helmut Wilhelm makes his remark about the Ten Wings) but learning is not a matter of history or superstition. In early I Ching culture, people thought reading the symbols was speaking with spirits of the dead. This confuses knowledge with backward orientation, past for the present and future.
Ten people could study the same I Ching books and have different levels of ability for a reading. There are variable methods, not superior or inferior, but suitable for a particular situation or reader. The five element system adds another layer of interpretation which is sometimes useful. It wasn’t part of the original I Ching but functions as a compatible layer corresponding to hexagram lines and trigrams. As with physics and psychology, varied information is found at different levels. There could be an unconscious conflict, or conscious structure of thinking, which is more relevant for a human question. The five elements are a variation on yin and yang, different in terms of description but not the premise of change, movement, and relationship.
In The Primary Way Chung-Ying Cheng clarifies the I Ching as a system of six ideas:
Taoism and the I Ching describe a wu chi origin of nothingness from which the tai chi polarity derives. Yang and yin interact, one changing to the other, becoming bigrams, trigrams, hexagrams, then the “ten thousand things.” It’s a complexity model, where simplicity also exists.
This describes categories of being where trigrams for example are primarily yang or yin according to structure and influence. Trigrams with two yin lines, and one yang line, are designated as yang. Trigrams with two yang lines, and one yin line, are designated as yin. Trigrams share a polarity, but are also separately different in their expression and movement. Man and woman are categories, within which variations occur.
Infinity implies movement and differentiation, which is different from unity. Unity – one thing – means the latter don’t exist. The I Ching recognises both, as a metaphysical ultimate and practical reality. The eight trigrams are placed around a centre. As the Tao Te Ching advises (chapter 11) the emptiness at the centre of a wheel is what makes it useful. Trigrams correspond to emotions and feelings. We circle through them, none of them permanent, and flow is important.
Western philosophy asks the question what do we really know and does it have certainty. Bertrand Russell described this with reference to a table. Does “table” really exist or is it only the wooden breakfast construction. We say, with certainty, our kitchen will exist when we wake tomorrow morning. We can also say this is not ultimately true, or philosophically correct. This simultaneous reality is built into the I Ching. According to Richard Wilhelm the trigram Chen is a stage where we “permit only the approach of that which is suitable for us” (Lectures on the I Ching). We select positive concerns, from a multiplicity which includes the negative, reality changing accordingly.
This operates at multiple levels. Trigrams are singular, but exist as part of a functional eight. Hexagram lines correspond to different layers of society and psyche. The Path of Least Resistance, by Robert Fritz, describes a psychological system where structure is the important factor for change. Popular self development methods focus on a supposed problem to solve, which is a different and insufficient approach. The I Ching is structural and holistic, identifying separately functional but relating parts. Readings disassemble a situation, so you see it differently.
Since Darwin, Nietzsche, then Foucault, truth has become a contest to the extent that it supposedly doesn’t exist. Seeing truth as only power is a premise, however, subject to the same analysis. This returns to the first idea of Chung-Ying Cheng’s six, the opening line of the Tao Te Ching (what you say is not the Tao) and Bertrand Russell’s analysis of “table.” If thought and power is contingent, all thought and power is contingent: which doesn’t mean nothing else exists.
Meaning and truth are phenomenological not conceptual and this premise is part of the I Ching. Simultaneously, subjective understanding is something we need, like breakfast tomorrow, while knowing we do not know. Nietzsche is famous for remarks which collapse the conceit of civilisation and wrong philosophy. He also said “we are human, all too human.” His Superman compares to the “superior man” of the I Ching. It’s an ideal, where meaning and meaningless, clarity and uncertainty, weave together into fallible human existence: the two central lines of a hexagram with heaven above and earth below.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.