Meaning of Taoism


The mythological origins of Taoism have added to its spiritual and universal appeal.
The mythological origins of Taoism have added to its spiritual and universal appeal.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The meaning of Taoism is more subtle than most religions, arising mostly from mythology. It has been said that mythology is the language of the human soul. A myth speaks to us in ways ordinary language cannot, touching us subtly, almost imperceptibly. Myths speak directly to our hearts. As a result, these stories are empowering. Sometimes they enable us to perceive fundamental truths about our world and those who inhabit it. At other times, they help illuminate people's inner qualities.

The Meaning of Myth

Myths have another special quality. If we read deeply enough into their messages, we find that they sometimes describe our ancestral heritage. As well as telling a simple story, myths often have several layers of meaning. It is not unusual for these deeper layers to be concealed. Like any good secret, this quality provokes our curiosity and leads us gently into reflection on their inner meaning. The great beauty of myths, though, is that these ancient stories speak eloquently for themselves, and their meaning very often unfolds naturally over time.

This happens because myths are vehicles used to recount the common archetypal experiences of our ancestral past. The deep connection with human experience is one reason mythology is universal in its appeal. In this sense, myth is a higher language that enables the wisdom of past generations to survive the ravages of time. Myths endure for two reasons. Firstly, they entertain us. Secondly, they are accessible to all of us, regardless of our age or cultural heritage.

Essentially, though, myths provide a framework that helps us organize our thoughts on difficult matters. While these structures often appear simple enough, their content can be rich in suggestion and hidden meaning. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chinese mythology. With a tenacity that is sometimes overwhelming, the original ideas expressed by the ancient sages in myths and legends have been preserved, clarified, and organized into entire philosophical systems.

The endless discussion, meticulous research, and absolute devotion of several thousand years of Chinese scholarship has ensured their timelessness. As a result, they now lie at the heart of many Chinese disciplines such as poetry, painting, calligraphy, the martial arts, and architecture. They are even the basis of military strategy and board games.

The Living Myths of Tai Chi Chuan

In the West, we most often hear myths as stories told through the spoken or written word. But the Chinese have found other ways to pass on the core ideas from their stories and traditions. Tai chi chuan, for example, is a practice that is especially dependent upon the language of movement to transmit its ideas. A particular series of movements, called a form or set, is used to encode and preserve most of the technical information associated with this art.

Although to the casual observer a form appears much like a dance, each carries within its framework all of the core philosophy passed on through myth, legend, and the secret traditions of the ages. If students learn the movements of tai chi chuan, they also unavoidably "learn" something about its underlying philosophy.

In the next section, learn about one of the most essential myths in Taoism, the mythology of creation.

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The Taoist Story of Creation

When we hear a myth about the creation of the world for the first time, it helps to reflect on a period when our earliest ancestors were searching for answers about things they could not explain. The explanations they came up with, about the soul and about nature, originate in similar kinds of meditations, regardless of the geographical region or historical era. Eventually these ideas were expressed in myths and legends. By studying them, we can reveal the common roots of our humanity.

Long before contemporary scientific and psychological thought, there was aboriginal thought, a mode of thinking that was, and still is, comfortable, even intimate, with myth. Such thinking proceeds from the original, natural mind. It is an outcome of a special, nearly extinct, way of life. In one sense, this type of thinking may be considered unsophisticated and even primitive. In another sense, though, aboriginal thought is a powerful tool. It is a way of deriving conclusions that is simple, direct, and uncluttered by systems of logic and vast vocabularies.

Knowing something about the way of life that gives rise to original thought is important because this knowledge allows us to rediscover facets of ourselves that have been neglected and forgotten.

When the Chinese creation myth is heard for the first time, we see in it a story similar to that told in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. We also see a tendency in Chinese thought to express concepts in terms of essential components. The primal forces of the masculine and feminine, of the yang and the yin and their permutations, are emphasized. This ability to express abstract ideas in a direct manner is never really abandoned throughout the entire history of Chinese philosophical thought.

Rather than beginning this book with a hefty philosophical account, it is more appropriate to extend an invitation. In a sense, a myth is a kind of invitation. A myth is like a greeting, and it contains a message from the past, offered to the present. Myths introduce us to a particular part, however small, of the prehistory of a civilization.

The Myth of Pan Ku: Creation and the Universal Egg

In the beginning of time, there was only chaos. The elements and gases of the heavens and earth freely mingled, and the organizing principle was dormant. It lay dormant somewhere inside this elemental cosmos, awaiting the right moment to begin the transformation. The shape of this primeval mass was something like an egg.

For 18,000 years the universe remained in this state, until the incubation was finally complete, and the egg hatched. Then the heavens and the earth came into existence. The lighter, most pure substances floated upward and became the heavens. These elements were named yang. The heavier, more impure substances descended and became the earth. These were named yin.

From the same forces, a third, the giant Pan Ku, was born as well. As he grew, his sheer size divided the heavens and the earth. The giant lived for another 18,000 years. With the assistance of four creatures, a tortoise, a phoenix, a dragon, and a unicorn, he labored daily to mold the earth. Together they created the world as we know it today.

When Pan Ku finally died, his body was transformed. His left eye became the sun and his right eye became the moon. His blood became the rivers and oceans, his breath became the wind, his sweat became the rain, and his voice became the thunder. His flesh became the soil, and from the fleas living on his body, the human race sprang into being. In this way, the stage was set for the pageant of history to unfold.

The story of Pan Ku is the Chinese myth of creation. The ancient myths of creation from virtually all cultures show that at the root of human experience is the belief that our world has an organizing principle. After this creative force appears, everything else takes the form of opposing forces: heaven and earth, black and white, day and night, good and evil. These are the ideas of the yang and the yin, of the masculine and feminine. These opposing qualities are, by their fundamental natures, equal in all respects but forever separate entities.

Here we see the theme of the One giving rise to the two in the order of creation, and of a creator who, like Pan Ku, works with primordial substances to bring an entire world into being. This theme will expanded upon in the next section as we discuss the connection between Taoism and nature.

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Taoism and Nature

Simple observation of nature shows us an abundant display of forces in opposition. It is difficult to find more convincing examples of dual­ity than those offered by the natural world. Winter and summer, spring and fall, life and death, hard and soft, high and low tide are all signs that clearly point to the hidden processes of nature.

Even if we cannot actually see duality and opposition as fundamental forces, our observations reveal their dramatic consequences. We see that beyond any doubt the yang and the yin, far from being simply abstract concepts, actually represent a dynamic force central to both the animate and inanimate worlds. As the myth of Pan Ku tells us, this universe and everything in it is created, through the grace of the organizing principle, from the interaction of the forces of the yang and the yin.

With deeper study it becomes apparent that, as part of nature, human beings are subject to these basic laws as well. In each of our lives there is a steady rhythmic swing, and we continuously move from one pole to the other. Like a pendulum in its inexorable movement from side to side, the central events in our lives come and go and then return again. Just as certainly as the tide rises and falls, the vigor of youth will turn to the weakness of age. We also know that all things pass; in time, sorrow fades, making room for joy. Ignorance, with effort and persistence, can be transformed into wisdom.

The forces at play in the world take from the one side and give to the other. As we observe the endless ebb and flow of the tides, the constant cycle of day and night, and the movement through life from youth to old age, life displays for us the world and all of its interactions in terms of these relationships.

Understanding this basic concept, we can search out clues to help us to make accurate judgments about ourselves and others, about relationships, and about possibilities and limitations. The sign of health and prosperity, for example, is a well-balanced life. In a similar way, the sign of wisdom is the ability to balance both the pleasures and demands of life. There is a wise saying, "you cannot take blood from a stone," which suggests that before every attempt, it would be advantageous to consider the inherent limitations of every act as well as its possibilities.

Tai Chi: Symbol of The Great Ultimate

This theme of opposing forces became particularly important in Taoist thought, where it is represented in symbolic form. The illustration on the facing page depicts the creation myth just described. Pan Ku is shown holding an egg-shaped shield representing the universe before creation. Engraved on the shield is a symbol often used in Taoism. It is that of the Tai Chi, The Great Ultimate, which represents the primal, creative forces of yin and yang in a state of perfect balance. The forces are represented by the black (yin) and the white (yang) halves. But the line that separates the two halves is not straight.

Instead, it is curved, symbolizing the potential for dynamic interaction between the polarized forces. In the center of each half is a small, empty circle. In the dark half, the circle is light, and in the light half, it is dark. These small dots denote the seeds of change impregnating the wombs. Mastering these forces, the giant is able to create the world and everything in it. Symbolically, Pan Ku represents the giant in each of us who is capable of mastering the powerful, natural forces of which we are made.

Learn more about Taoist symbols on the next page.

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Taoism Symbols

The most important myths have, over time, all been transformed into icons. These icons are symbols that tell stories without words. As such, they may contain many layers of meaning. Most of the time, the symbols and their deeper meanings remain hidden from our conscious mind. We may unconsciously understand the veiled meanings of the symbols, or we may not. In either case, they most certainly exert a powerful influence on us.

Imagine, for example, a group of people entering a very large cathedral. First they see the windows, stained glass that has darkened with age, depicting dramatic biblical scenes. There may be statues here and there and other religious artifacts. Even the architecture of the cathedral itself has been designed to evoke a religious feeling. Whether or not individuals in the group are conscious of this, the effect will be the same. Upon entering the cathedral, they will likely all fall silent. Some will become emotional. Everyone will experience a change in mood. Such is the power of symbol.

Taoist Symbols and their Messages

What makes a symbol powerful is the body of knowledge behind it. Taken out of context, a symbol is essentially without meaning. This can be seen even today in our modern world. Each year, patent offices worldwide process countless requests to patent particular symbols. Once society recognizes a symbol, it becomes a powerful tool in the world of marketing and advertising.

Graphic artists are highly paid to conceive of symbols that will resonate with people and gain the attention of the buying public. This only happens because that symbol brings to mind the whole idea of the product -- what it can do for us, how it tastes, or why we need it. Around this symbol, a product or line of products is marketed.

In the past, though, symbols were created for another reason. They were used as a means of encoding information in a way that could be conveniently remembered and recorded. In fact, this is exactly how both spoken and written language developed. Words represent objects as well as ideas. At first words were only spoken. Later, pictorial images were used to represent these words. In some cases, such as the English language, the images have become so abstracted from their original meaning that it is no longer possible to see the relationship. This is not true of the Chinese language. Its symbols can still be traced to original meanings.

The Chinese have proven themselves adept at creating highly abstract systems of symbols that encompass large bodies of knowledge. History also attests to their remarkable ability to integrate new symbols and new ideas into an existing system of thought. The Chinese system of traditional medicine, for example, is based not only on concepts and techniques arising from within their own culture, but also on ideas from many foreign lands, including India and Tibet.

The long-term effect of this tendency is the formation of a worldview that is comprehensive, systematic, and rigorous. This progressive development is apparent in many Chinese disciplines including acupuncture, herbal lore, philosophy, literature, painting, calligraphy, and the martial arts. Many of the fundamental ideas supporting this worldview are described in the book known as the I Ching. Learn more about the I Ching in the next section.

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Taoism and The I Ching

A very early system of symbols is found in the I Ching, considered to be an ancient text even among the Chinese themselves, who boast a very long recorded history. Among other things, the "I," as it is known, is a treatise on the practice of divination, or foretelling the future. When discussing Chinese philosophy it is difficult to avoid turning to the I Ching. In the same way that mythology sparks both the imagination and the intellect, so, too, does the "I."

For this reason, it is one of the most consulted and commented on books ever written. To those who understand it, it is certainly one of the most cherished. Although it presents the concept of an orderly, structured universe, the writings are puzzling because of their extensive reliance on very old images and metaphors. This quality not only indicates its considerable age, but is, perhaps, the source of its greatness, since these writings demand that its readers use both intuition and open-minded thinking. The writings require us to reflect on the meaning of a very basic and ancient set of ideas.

In the context of the book itself, the Chinese word "I" refers to "change." For this reason, the text is known in the English language as The Book of Changes. The word "I" also refers to the notions of "simplicity" and "ease." This suggests a deep connection with the natural world. What could be easier or more simple than a life guided by instinct?

Even though scholars believe this book to be one of the oldest in existence, it is used even today as both a tool to investigate the permutations of life and as an oracle. Research in this century has arrived at a number of conclusions about the I Ching's history, about its uses in the past, and also about its meaning.

One of the most interesting features of the book is that its creation has been something of a community effort. With the passage of centuries, devotees have added extensive commentary. The most famous of all commentators was the sage Confucius, whose writings, together with those of his contemporary Lao Tsu, formed the backbone of subsequent Chinese philosophical thought.

Confucius is believed to have added at least some of the commentaries known as the Ten Wings. These masterworks were written as supplements to the older parts of the book. The older chapters, consolidated with the newer commentaries, form a single, cohesive work that is the basis of The Book of Changes we read today.

The I Ching and Its Symbols

The I Ching and Its Symbols

We have seen how the shape of Pan Ku's shield represents the cosmic egg and how the interplay of the two cosmic forces, the yin and the yang, are represented by the black and the white halves of the Tai Chi symbol. But there are still deeper levels of meaning. The small dots, or seeds of change, which inhabit the yang and the yin portions of the Tai Chi, symbolize the dynamics of growth, development, and change. These are the ideas which preceded and encouraged the first attempts at prediction and divination.

On the next page, you will learn how to use the I Ching and its methods.

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How to Use the I Ching

It is very likely that before the I Ching, sets of bones were cast in an attempt to know the future. These oracle bones, unearthed by archaeologists, were precursors to the divination system that is now used in the "I," either a set of 50 yarrow sticks or a set of three coins.

Essentially, the I Ching is a system that has always been used to predict the future. More importantly, though, is its use as a book of wisdom. Because the readings it gives are simple, yet elegant, profound, and intuitive, it is often consulted for its advice and insight into human nature. It is also read simply as an account of human affairs. In many circles, the book is no less influential today than it was hundreds of years ago.

Just like the Judeo-Christian Bible, there is no certainty as to who actually wrote much of the I Ching. Sometime close to the dawn of recorded history, the main text itself came into being. About 3,000 years ago, during the Zhou dynasty, the first records of its existence appear.

Even then, the philosophers of the time recognized the fundamental principles already touched upon -- that in the beginning exists Tai Chi, The Great Ultimate, and from it springs the yin and the yang. The yin is symbolized in The Book of Changes by a broken line ( - - ) and the yang, by a solid line ( - ). How better to indicate a yielding, nurturing force than with a broken line and an active, aggressive force with a solid line?

Yin, Yang, and the Forces of Change

As has been suggested, yin is regarded as the feminine principle -- nurturing, reflective, and yielding in character. Yang is considered the masculine force -- active, intellectual, and dominant. Although they are opposites, the two forces complement each other. In their permutations and interactions, they are the forces responsible for the constant change we see in the world.

In terms of making predictions about the future, we can use our knowledge of yang and yin to come to some conclusions. We know, for example, that everything in this world is subject to change. Day will give way to night in the same way that summer will yield to winter. At the same time, we can see patterns and cycles within this framework of change. These patterns, for example, often repeat themselves with mathematical precision. We have also determined that the patterns, such as the 24-hour cycle of a day or the 12-month cycle of a year, will exhibit extremes of both yang and yin at different times. Knowing this, we can easily make simple projections about the future.

Events such as the moment of sunrise or the exact time and date of a high tide can now be predicted with relative ease. It was not always so. The first mathematicians who learned through their science to predict such events as a solar eclipse were regarded as wizards, and it is surprising that more of them were not executed as a result. These types of predictions, though, dealt largely with what we in the West consider to be the inanimate world.

By investigating more closely still, we can see that living things, including ourselves, are also subject to these same processes. Since these processes do not change and are always governing how we behave, they are considered to be universal laws. Once this idea is accepted, it is not so difficult to see how a system of divination with specifically human applications might be constructed.

The System

First, this system needs to organize the general categories of human experience. Then it must devise a method of evaluating which of these events would be most likely to happen at a particular time for a particular person. To their eternal credit, the authors of the I Ching have constructed just such a system.

By using the solid line ( - ) to represent yang and the broken line ( - - ) to represent yin, the I Ching can symbolically express a relationship between the two forces. The only drawback is that by using just these two symbols, only four relationships can be expressed, the relation of yang to itself (two solid lines), the relation of yin to itself (two sets of broken lines) and their relation to each other (two more cases with either a yin line on the bottom or a yang line on the bottom). The genius of the I Ching is that to create more categories, it organizes the two forces of yin and yang into sets of three separate lines, called the trigram. Now there are eight possibilities. Finally, each separate trigram is coupled with another trigram. From these two groups of three lines, one larger group of six lines is created. This is referred to as a hexagram.

The Trigrams and the Eight Forces of Nature

When grouped into threes, yin and yang now have eight possible combinations. In their wisdom, the ancient sages used these categories to symbolize the eight primeval forces of nature. When grouped into sixes, yin and yang have 64 possible combinations. The sages used these to describe the life situations common to all humanity.

The origins of the eight trigrams are traditionally ascribed to the mythic ruler Fu-Hsi (Fuxi), who, as a divine being, had the body of a snake. According to the story, Fu-Hsi gave several incomparable gifts to human­ity, including the skills of animal husbandry and fishing with nets. He also created musical instruments and a system of writing using knotted cords. Most importantly for the purpose at hand, he is credited with the development of the system of the eight trigrams.

His purpose in developing the trigrams was to organize all phenomena under heaven and earth and to place them within a simple and comprehensive framework. When arranged in a circular pattern around the Tai Chi symbol, the notation became known as Pa-Kua, the philosophical precursor of the I Ching. The symbols of Pa-Kua were likely devised as abstractions of the ancient myths. Given their original purpose, it is no wonder that the trigrams became the basis for the practice of divination.

One of the most appealing features about this system is its simplicity. According to its theory, all phenomena can be grouped according to one of eight principle trigrams, each of which becomes an icon in the process. The symbol identified as Heaven, for example, also encompasses such concepts as ruler, wealth, day, and father, to name just a few. Several thousand years ago, the world was very unlike our own. The world was then, it seems, much more straightforward and less complex. As the world changed, so did the system of Pa-Kua until it eventually developed into the comprehensive system of analysis known as the I Ching.

Learn more about I Ching hexagrams on the next page.

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I Ching Hexagrams

Not until the 12th century did the relatively complex system of 64 hexagrams come into being. The ruler Wen Wang, of the Hsi-Chou Dynasty, developed Pa-Kua until it became the sophisticated analytical tool we know today. As we have seen, the hexagram is formed by six lines, either broken or solid.

Surprising as it may seem, the rationale for using six lines for a successful divination, and not some other number, is still with us. In each of the lower and upper trigrams, one line is assigned to heaven, one to the earth, and one to humanity. The six lines are arranged in a stack that is separated into two parts, an upper half and a lower half. This stack forms the basis of the predictive readings given in the I Ching. The basic part of this text is simply 64 explanations, one for each of the hexagrams. When a hexagram is cast, the I Ching is then consulted for insight into its meaning.

Each of the six lines is assigned a special meaning according to its relative position to the others in the stack. A broken line on the bottom of the stack, for example, might indicate some kind of fundamental weakness, whereas a solid line might suggest the opposite. So the I Ching explains the meaning of the hexagram as a whole and also discusses each of the six lines as separate entities. This in-depth analysis makes for a simple but logical system.

Each hexagram within the framework is of equal value. They are all neutral. They cannot be described as being either good or bad in themselves, but they do contain the seeds of either favorable or unfavorable possibilities. It is here that the commentaries in the Ten Wings reveal a wonderful secret. The commentaries show us that each of the hexagrams can be interpreted in two ways, known as the superior and the inferior outlooks. With a superior outlook, the reading will offer clues as to how best to deal with forthcoming situations.

It would be a simple matter to slip into the mistake of believing that one divination was superior to another. In a tarot card reading, for example, it is easy to think that drawing the Death card is a portent of misfortune. After all, the Death card often bears the illustration of a skeleton. But what is important in a hexagram reading, like the Tarot, is not the superficial appearance of the card, or the toss of the coins, but the information that the selection conveys, the interpretation that is rendered, and how the ideas can be applied in life.

So, as explained earlier, all hexagrams are inherently neutral. They indicate conditions in both the inner and outer worlds as they surround the diviner. If these indications are indeed correct, it is theoretically possible to prepare for events, regardless of what they might be, in an appropriate manner. In this way disaster may avoided, and favorable circumstances can be exploited to the maximum.

Casting the Hexagram

In the past, 50 yarrow sticks were used to perform an I Ching divination. These were selected from plants with tall, straight stalks. At that time, plants were believed to have a direct contact with the source of creation. The yarrow (Achillea millefolium), known also as milfoil or tansy, is well-known throughout the world. In ancient China, it was held in high regard as a particularly sacred plant. Its prominence may be the result of its special curative power -- it promotes blood clotting.

Since this method of divination is difficult to use, a modern method was devised that uses a set of three coins. In this system, the head of the coin represents yang and has a value of three. Tails represents yin and has a value of two. The three coins are tossed, and one of four possible combinations will result. When added together, the numbers on all three coins will total either six, seven, eight, or nine.

To cast a hexagram, toss three coins and add the values. Draw the first line according to the chart on the next page and place it at the bottom of the stack. Throw the coins five more times, making six lines in all. This is a hexagram.

To learn more about coin-casting, see the next page.

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The I Ching and Coin Casting

The system is further enhanced by adding the idea of "old" lines and "young" lines. An old line can be either yin or yang depending on its proximity to its opposite. We have discussed the idea of the eternal movement of energy and the constant change that this movement brings. Like an ocean tide at its height, an old yang line has reached its peak and is at the point of retreat. Soon it will begin its transformation back into yin. These special types of lines are referred to as "moving" because they are at the point of change.

A moving line is created when either three heads or three tails are thrown. A toss of three heads would yield a number value of nine. Three tails yield a value of six. Moving lines, after they are changed to their opposite, form a second hexagram that leads to an additional reading that is used in conjunction with the original divination.

The extra hexagram adds an entirely new dimension to the reading. With the original cast of the coins, there were 64 possible combinations. But if a second hexagram derives from the first, then there are 4,096 (64,364) possible combinations. Not every hexagram that is cast will contain a moving line. If it does, however, there is additional information to consider in the analysis.

A Reading from the Text

Here is an interpretation of the hexagram cast above. The reading is a compilation of ideas taken from a number of texts including The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm and I Ching by Kerson and Rosemary Huang.

The hexagram described above is number 49, meaning Ko or Revolution. Since it happens to be a hexagram with two moving lines, there is a derivative hexagram, number 37, to consider as well. By comparing the hexagram to the table of the eight primal forces, we find that in the original hexagram, the upper trigram refers to lake and the lower to fire. So, in its most elementary form, the meaning is simply, Lake over Fire.

This hexagram is one of the eight that falls under the House of the Abysmal. Fire consumes and rises. Water extinguishes and falls. The interpretation notes that when water is found above fire, there may be conflict: The fire is extinguished by the fall of the water, and the water, in its turn, evaporates as the fire rises to consume it.

To the ancients, water over fire indicated Revolution, which is the title of the hexagram. The reading, or judgment, as it is called, is an interpretation of the specific meanings of each of the lines. Each line can be difficult to interpret since its original meaning was conceived of hundreds of years ago. As a result, the symbolism is often obscure. The first line, for example, located in the first place at the bottom of the hexagram, is made by three heads and so has a value of nine. At this particular location, nine means something like, "tied with the hide of a yellow ox."

This translates as follows: The hide is tough, strong, and resilient, and therefore suggests determination. As a color, yellow is traditionally associated with forces in balance. As an omen, the hint is to not act prematurely and to wait for an appropriate moment. The ox, or cow, signifies submission, and this confirms the meaning of the earlier clues. Submit, at least temporarily, but remain firm in your convictions.

In terms of a revolution, then, or some planned action against the existing state of affairs, the general message is one of remaining firm and of biding one's time until conditions are more favorable. The entire reading supports this theme. It says: "Justice will be handed down publicly so that all will be aware of the fate of transgressors. This is auspicious for those who have behaved with loyalty and virtue."

To learn more about interpreting casts from the I Ching, see the next section.

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Interpreting the I Ching

At the core of the I Ching is a method of interpretation that relies on intuition. While suggestions from the text are offered, the final meaning must be determined by those who cast the coins. This is only possible through deep reflection about our personal situation in life. Through the suggestions found in the I Ching, we have a tool to investigate areas in our lives that might otherwise be overlooked. Once we come face to face with these recommendations, it is much more difficult to deny, ignore, misidentify, or misunderstand situations that may require our attention.

We can depend on the I Ching to be thorough. Remember that its 64 hexagrams are grouped under eight houses, which themselves represent the eight primal forces of nature. As far as we are concerned, the houses represent the eight principle conditions of life. By virtue of our humanity, all of us are subject to the laws that govern those houses.

The hexagram we cast explains these laws to us in detail, so that we are encouraged to attend to the relevant matters in our lives. Whether or not there is any working relationship between the coins we toss to derive a hexagram and our actual life situation is not of paramount importance. What does matter is that we use the cues offered by the I Ching to study our own lives. The text would be valuable even if we studied hexagram readings randomly. If this text can be said to have a heart, then this simple idea must be it.

Because of its simplicity and directness, the information presented in the book has great power. It has an uncanny ability to put us in touch with the deeper layers of our minds and the vast storehouse of knowledge each of us possesses unconsciously.

Unless one has profound intuitive abilities, access to these levels is usually only possible through dream analysis, hypnosis, or in certain situations, by therapeutic analysis. Fortunately, the I Ching still exists. As a result, we have a simple, gentler method to probe the hidden regions of our minds. To use this system, one must understand the system of divination and recognize that the I Ching is a means to communicate with our innermost selves, not just an attempt at prediction or a commentary on life’s possibilities.

Centuries of research now accompany the original text. Of course, the additional commentaries are often very valuable and offer great insights into the meaning of the primary work. But they also have the dubious effect of obscuring the original intention. The purpose of the text is to put each of us in touch with the source of our own creativity and inspiration, not to lead us by the hand toward the visions of others.

Ideally, The Book of Changes is read with a fresh and open mind, leaving room for its archetypal images to work their own magic. Later, after we become well-versed in the I Ching and have formed our own conclusions, the commentaries offer great insight. This strategy allows the ideas of others to assume a place of secondary importance, as the original authors intended. The Book of Changes becomes a tool of great personal significance. For those who practice faithfully with the I Ching, this is exactly what happens.

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