Calling crane in the shade
A website dedicated to reviews of books on the Yijing or I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle known as the Book of Changes, but also containing a complete 'Introduction to Yijing' for beginners, an accurate transcription of the 1935 Harvard-Yenching Zhouyi, animations of hexagram sequences, articles, and scans of Chinese diagrams.
I have always enjoyed reading book reviews, finding they often provide nuggets of information in passing from the reviewer's experience of the subject that clear up misunderstandings or bridge gaps in one's knowledge, not to mention saving you time in separating the wheat from the chaff.
I originally made this website to make available once more the many useful reviews of Yijing books that appeared in 'The Oracle', a journal of Yijing studies published in London. 'The Oracle' began in 1995 as 'The Journal of the I Ching Society', edited by William Fancourt. After the demise of the Society in 1998, the publication's subtitle became 'The Journal of Yijing Studies', editorship passing to Steve Moore. 'The Oracle' itself folded in January 2002, after its 12th issue. After putting the Journal's reviews online, I decided to continue adding reviews here.
While the initial impetus for creating the site was to present criticism and discussion of Yijing books, some of it at a fairly advanced level, my plans inevitably expanded. Such that for those just starting out on studying the Changes I've now written a simple introduction covering the essentials. And for those already deeply immersed in the book I have created an accurate transcription of the 1935 Harvard-Yenching Zhouyi in Unicode Chinese. This text is searchable and so acts as an electronic concordance.
Ming he zai yin – 'calling crane in the shade' – are the four vertical characters on the left, from the second line of hexagram 61, forming the subtitle of the Yijing Dao site. These words have long summed up for me the essence of the Changes. I found an oil painting by a Chinese artist (Chen Mao) at an antique fair a couple of decades ago of a crane calling to another crane in the mist-topped mountains. It immediately called to mind hexagram 61 and has been on my wall ever since. The character 'yin' in fact implies a mountain, on the shady side. I originally intended to use the picture here, but it didn't scan very well so I used a detail from a Japanese woodcut by Koei Hashimoto instead (complete picture).
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After considering lines of the Book of Changes, I show them to Zheng Dongqing:
Clear thought lodges in the Yi,
But in some lines no-one can find it.
If you don't understand a line,
You interpret it in vain;
May as well paint a picture of the wind.
– Qiu Cheng (12th century)
For the basics on how to go about consulting the Yijing, forming the hexagrams, and reading the moving lines, particularly when more than one changes, as well as ruling lines, coin/yarrow probabilities, and typical mistakes to avoid, see these pages, for which a continuation link is also provided at the end of this page:
- How to consult the Yijing
- Ruling lines
- Probabilities with coins and yarrow stalks
- Things to try to avoid in your Yijing practice
Though perhaps a little complex for those new to the Yijing, my article Yijing hexagram sequences forms a succinct introduction to the subject. The web has a distinct advantage over print here, in that animations can be used to illustrate some of the concepts. I haven't dealt with the history associated with the Yijing in this introduction, see my book where I go into some detail.
What’s the difference between Yijing and I Ching?
'Yijing' is the more modern pinyin transliteration of the two Chinese characters, 'yi' (change) and 'jing' (book or classic) that used to be represented in the old Wade-Giles system as 'I Ching'. Mandarin (putonghua) pronunciation of both – since they are merely alphabetic variants of the same Chinese characters – is 'ee jing' rather than 'eye ching'. Some diehards still refer to the text as 'Yi King', which often reflects that their interest stems from the works of Aleister Crowley, who used the James Legge translation.
Similarly, 'dao' is the pinyin equivalent of 'tao' and more accurately reflects how it is pronounced. The Daodejing for instance is the Tao Te Ching. Dao is the same character as the Japanese 'do' in judo, kendo, meaning 'way'. The Japanese Samurai code of bushido for example means 'way of the warrior' – in Chinese bushido is wushi dao, a 'wushi' these days being a person good at martial arts (wu as in King Wu, the martial king, and shi as in 'army', the tag of hexagram 7). 'Dao' is the character on the right of the three at the top of this page, the other two being 'yi' and 'jing'. By 'Yijing Dao' I do indeed intend to imply a martial arts approach to Yijing.
On this website pinyin is favoured, but where Wade-Giles was used in the original reviews and book titles this has been retained.
Anyone who has walked down the shady side of a street on a summer's day, found it a bit chilly, and thought to themselves to cross over to the sunny side of the street to enjoy the warmth of the sun has, whether they realise it or not, made a transition from yin to yang. Similarly anyone who has found the sun too intense, too glaring, too sweltering and no longer pleasant to be in and has sought the shade has seen the benefit of a change to yin when yang has become too overbearing.
Yin and yang are polar opposites used in Chinese philosophy as an overlay on the world, two pigeon holes into which are sorted, respectively, dark and light, cold and warm, shady and sunny, wet and dry, empty and full, female and male, passive and active, and numerous other divisions. Originally the character yin referred to the shady side of a mountain and yang to the sunny side. In my view the yin and yang sides are best seen as changing with the position of the sun, rather than as fixed attributes of specific sides. However, just so as I don't confuse you when you read books on this that trot out the standard definitions, let me add that yin was originally regarded as the north side of a mountain and yang the south side. This of course says nothing about the relative sunniness and shadiness of the eastern and western slopes as the sun moves east to west during the day, and takes little account of the angle of declination of the 'south' side, i.e. how many degrees east or west of due south it actually is. But any gardener knows the benefits of a south-facing wall and unless they want a wall-mounted sundial on it 'roughly south' is good enough. This is the same kind of rule of thumb being applied when seeing the yang side of a mountain as the south side. It is important to remember though what makes the south side of the mountain yang, its relative sunniness, and so a more fluid appreciation is that the sunny side at any particular time is the yang side, regardless of direction. This appreciation preserves a sense of yin and yang changing into each other. As I write this, in the afternoon, the eastern side of my street is sunny and the western side in shade. But early in the morning it was the other way around.
Things are yin or yang depending on the criteria you apply. We can't say that something is yin or yang in itself, only in relation to something else. And something can be both yin and yang, depending on the criterion of comparison being used. A black ball, for instance, is yin in colour (relative to white, yang) but yang in shape (a sphere relative to a cube, a circle being yang and a square yin).
The chill of the valley when the sun is no longer overhead is a dynamic representation of the bright sunny midday yang energy changing later in the day to a cold yin energy and preparation for nightfall. Similarly, night is yin, day is yang, moon is yin, sun is yang. Yin and yang change into each other when they have grown 'tired' and 'old', essentially when they have reached an extremity of themselves and can no longer go on being themselves. So the system of yin and yang is one of constant change and relativity of states. The waxing and waning of the moon dynamically represents the advance of yang (and decline of yin) followed by the advance of yin (and decline of yang), which is illustrated in my notes on the bigua sequence of hexagrams.
Yin and yang are characterisations of changing states to highlight different natures and what causes one thing to change into another. Earth itself is yin and heaven yang. This is represented on a Chinese coin, the square hole in the middle is seen as yin and earth, the round circumference of the coin is yang and heaven. At first, it is best to simply accept these ideas rather than try to 'understand' them. After all, this system is not the world itself but an arbitrary overlay to understand certain things about it in simple terms. When you think of things being either 'woody' or 'tinny', 'antique' or 'reproduction', you are doing much the same thing, discerning qualities.
And we have learnt also to expect change as a result of judging atmospheres; after a long period of sunny weather has grown tired and flowers are wilting we easily sense in a build-up of humidity that there will be a tremendous thunderstorm that will render everything fresh and clean again. This is yang becoming old and tired and discharging itself to become young and fresh yin. Yin becoming old and tired can be seen in the long drawn-out winter days suddenly greeting the first sunshine, not quite spring, there is still a chill in the air, but the insects are awakening, flowers beginning to bloom, and this feeling is young and vibrant yang being aroused. The dragon (very yang) indeed begins his ascent in the spring, coming out of winter hibernation. And in the span of a single day the cycle of yin and yang can be witnessed, perhaps the morning will start off dour, the sun swathed in clouds, but by afternoon the clouds have dispersed and the sun is out. As it says in Daodejing 23: 'Gusts of wind do not blow all morning. The downpour will not last all day.'
Wuwei, 'not doing', is generally poorly appreciated in the west. 'Not doing' is not quietism but a force of being that gets done without seeking to get done. Wuwei is doing without striving. Although literally wuwei is 'not doing', that doesn't mean things don't get done. It is ease and intuitive understanding of openings and closings, retreats and advances, approaches and returns. Daodejing 40 notes, for instance: 'Turning back moves to the Dao.' Practically, this can be understood by study and application of Yijing more than Daodejing.
It's easy to think that by 'not acting' nothing will get done, but this confuses something far simpler: acting when it is time to act, and not acting when it is not. Sometimes one of the greatest favours the Yijing can do for us is to spare us the burden of acting by telling us the time is not ripe, which intuitively we knew anyway, but it confirms it for us. Once the urge to act immediately, when the time is not ripe, has dissipated, a 'difficult situation' is no more, because what made it difficult was the pressure you placed on yourself to act when another part of you knew it was not time. This sets up an inner conflict, typical of the kind of scenario most frequently brought to the Book of Changes for resolution. Conditions in the outer world are created by our state of mind. If you are confused, your external situation will appear confused, and in this way the Yijing is frequently actually addressing your state of mind in the present moment as a key to mastering the external situation.
'Not doing' can also be regarded as spontaneous non-purposeful action, simply following an urge without any preconceived plan in mind and certainly without any agonising of the should I?/shouldn't I? variety. Such action maintains clarity from stillness to movement and does not become confused. Much confusion arises from the desire to act too soon, one fears opportunities are slipping away, chances being lost, and so the Yijing teaches how to recognise the nature of the moment, the closing and opening of possibilities. Far better is acting in wuwei, as then when you are acting still you are not particularly doing anything, it is simply that things are getting done. It is realising that constant conscious deliberation is not necessary. The antithesis of wuwei is trying to work out how to do it, worrying whether it might not succeed, racking one's brains, fretting about the task. Essentially, trying too hard. Better is to act unconsciously and naturally, without strain. There is a similar concept in Japanese Zen, 'mushotoku', which means 'no desire for gain, no goal', although I have even seen it translated as 'having a goal is a disease of the mind' (Taisen Deshimaru Roshi has written about mushotoku).
When you understand the Changes in a great deal of depth you can know that the advice the oracle is offering you is only what you know to be the truth yourself when you are unclouded. But when one first starts to use the Yijing one feels a need to overanalyse, just to be sure. In time what is actually obvious starts to seem so. This marks a transition to acting in the world in the manner the Book of Changes teaches, spontaneously, but not without caution. It is just that the caution is more second-nature.
An important point
Someone once asked me a question concerning something I consider to be one of the most important things to know about the Yijing, but which takes the longest to find out and really understand. Namely, is there an imperative informing the pronouncements of the Yijing, and if so what is it?
To answer this I drew a comparison with the Daodejing and said that the imperative informing that text is clearly the Dao, whereas in the Yijing it is Tianming, the Mandate of Heaven. What the Mandate is, beyond the power by which kings and emperors of China ruled, is harder to say, but it can be understood by (revealed to) the individual experientially after long study and practice of the Book of Changes. Bear in mind that Confucius, who may or may not have studied the Changes, famously said it took him until he was 50 before he grasped the Mandate of Heaven (Analects 2.4). The Yijing transmits the Mandate, which can be looked upon as Yijing Dao, the Way of Yijing.
Knowing the seeds
'Knowing the seeds' is a subtle method of observation whereby you see, enacted before you in the events of the present as plain as day, what the future of the situation will be like; it is so subtle it is easy to miss but it is a foretaste of the future in the present such that there is no doubt. It is nothing supernatural, simply observation. The day on which you start a new relationship, for instance, may contain elements exactly like a day some time in the future when the relationship is already established, close observation can show you both tangibly and quite mundanely what to expect with stupendous clarity.
The seeds of both good and bad fortune are contained in the present, and there can be no better warning than to know the seeds. There may come a time, if you are interested in the Yijing, when this spontaneously happens and you make such an observation. If so, you will see how subtle it is, but also how easy it is as well. The certainty of it will be self-evident. It is an ability that seems to come after a long time studying the Changes. (See ji, 'incipience', in the glossary.)
S J Marshall is a writer and artist, has studied the Yijing since 1982, and is the author of The Mandate of Heaven. Prof Stephen Field has reviewed this book on the Daoist Studies website (same review at the internet archive), as has Gyrus on Dreamflesh.
Latest work: Currently continuing his long-term research into the lost 'white pyramid' of China, undiscovered somewhere in an inaccessible valley in the Qinling mountains. His initial research on the pyramid and its likely location was published in the winter of 2002 in 'Fortean Times' 164. In 2003 a translation into French appeared in issue 98 of the journal 'KADATH: Chroniques des civilisations disparues'.
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