Wen Wang Blah Blah
Three books on najia Yijing fortune-telling – a review article
I don't think it has anything to do with it, but since I wrote my article about the Eight Palaces of Jing Fang [PDF] there has been a sudden eruption of books which deal with the practical side of this najia system. Perhaps the site by Alex Chiu has had some influence here – his arrogant attitude and clashes with so-called experts in the field can give a strong motivation to writers who feel that Alex isn't the right prophet to proclaim the dogma.
Whatever the reasons, we, the readers, suddenly have easier access to a field of Yi study that was virtually closed off before to the English-speaking world. Most westerners think that the Yi can only be used by throwing coins, dividing the yarrow, or some other random token generator, to receive an answer which gives guidance in their situation or addresses their question. We have to thank the missionaries for this. Legge and his predecessors, and Wilhelm, meticulously followed the Confucian doctrine which demanded that the Yi should only be used for matters concerning the past. In the view of Confucianism the here and now is a part of the past; nothing new exists or is allowed to exist, and everything has to be approved or disapproved by the ancient ones who wrote or compiled the books that form the root of the Confucian doctrine.
If you wanted to become a bureaucrat in the multi-layered system of the Chinese state apparatus you had to sit several exams, and each exam dealt mostly with the same subject: knowledge of the Confucian books. Memorise them and give answers according to their contents, cite them at proper places, but never criticize them or propose new thoughts. If it's old, it's good, and if it's older it's even better, as long as it doesn't give a glimpse of new and future things which could contradict the sayings of the sages. You were allowed to ask the Yi about your current situation, and if the spirits were willing they would show you what principal cause brought you there.
The missionaries mainly had contact with Confucians, and they learned a fairly limited use of the Yi because they only concerned themselves with the Confucian commentary. But on the street corners another kind of practice was available that showed a completely different side of the Yi: fortune-telling. Ignored by Confucianism but (therefore) embraced by Daoism, the najia (lit. 'inserted jia', jia being the first of the Ten Stems) system and its derivatives were largely applied by the magicians and diviners, who often also held a degree in longevity training and other life-prolonging services.
The najia system – also known as 'Wen Wang (ba) gua' – uses the Five Phases (wuxing), Stems & Branches (ganzhi) and other structures, which are linked to the Eight Palaces of Jing Fang. Najia does not use the text of the Yi, nor any other kind of literature. How Daoist! How divine! No need for books! This also meant that a great part of the system was transmitted orally, the intricacies of the method were revealed only to those who proved worthy. I am told that Shao Weihua, one of the najia experts in China and direct descendant of Shao Yong, was kicked out of a Daoist society because he revealed secrets in his books it was forbidden to share with outsiders – as secrets often are.
But in these modern times almost everything is transmitted by the written word. There is hardly anything left which hasn't been put on paper or in a computer. The najia system too, or the basics of it, is available in books, but mainly Chinese books. Sherrill & Chu were the first to write about it in English in their 'An Anthology of I Ching', and now, after more than twenty years, we have three more books about the subject. Which probably shows what a delicate subject it is.
So what is this najia system anyway? Its true origin is unclear, but it appears to have been created during the Han dynasty as a system for explaining the meaning of hexagrams; in the following centuries it was expanded into a method for predicting the future. That is the sole purpose of najia: to predict the future. No lofty questions, no insights are sought, just: 'will I win the lottery tomorrow?', or 'will Manchester United win tomorrow's game?'.
To divine such things you cast a hexagram as you normally do when you ask a question, and after that you decorate the hexagram with all kinds of labels, as if it were a Christmas tree. You attach the Five Phases, the Stems & Branches, the Six Relationships, the 'Self' and 'Other' etc to the lines of the hexagram, and see how they interact. From this interaction you draw your conclusions, ignoring what it says in the Yijing text itself. That's all there is to it. Simple, isn't it? Let's see how the books cover this.
Wang Yang's 'The Authentic I Ching'
The Authentic I Ching – The Three Classic Methods of Prediction, Dr Wang Yang & Jon Sandifer (editor), Watkins Publishing, London, 2003. xviii + 278 pp, £14.99/$19.95. ISBN 1-84293-052-4.
Personally I think you have to have some nerve to call your book 'The Authentic I Ching', as the real authentic Yi is most probably lost forever in the mists of time. And it isn't even original, Henry Wei has already done it. Wang Yang's book (with Jon Sandifer as co-writer and editor) not only covers the najia system, it also deals with the meihua method, more widely known as 'plum blossom numerology'.
The meihua method of prediction isn't new in the west, a few authors have covered this method already (Da Liu, Jou Tsung-hwa, Hacker, Sherrill & Chu). Wang Yang presents this method in its original form (as did Sherrill & Chu): by using the Chinese calendar for the calculations (the book contains a chapter about the Chinese calendar). This is how the method should be used. Most other books take a Western date and start juggling with the numbers of it, but by doing this the system loses its connection with the fundamentals of Chinese metaphysics. The Chinese calendar, with its Stems & Branches, is linked to all elements of the Chinese view of the universe: the Phases, the planets, yin and yang, the 'bazi' of a Chinese horoscope – the only right way to use the meihua method is with the Chinese calendar.
Wang Yang chooses to use the lunar calendar; he doesn't explain why the lunar calendar is favoured over the solar calendar (Sherrill & Chu used the solar calendar). Personally I would never choose to use the lunar calendar: in my view it is too artificial and unreliable with its intercalary months, and it underwent many changes over the centuries. The solar calendar is fixed to the position of the sun and is therefore more consistent. But when you ask Chinese people about their Four Pillars (bazi), they usually tell you them according to the lunar calendar.
It hardly seems possible these days to publish an Yijing book without errors. Wang Yang's book also contains blunders which will make it hard for the novice to understand what he actually means and intends. Let's take step 2 in 'The five steps of meihua analysis' (p 76):
Find out the element of the Subject trigram and Object trigram by checking figure 32 on page 63.
Figure 32 is 'The main symbols of the eight basic trigrams', and indeed it contains the familiar attributes for the trigrams – but not the elements. You are stuck in your analysis. If you scrutinize the book more carefully, you will see that there is another table of the eight trigrams (p 17), which does give the elements. In chapter five, which covers the 'Classical method' of throwing coins, a moving yin line is indicated by X and a moving yang line by X (p 58). As if this wasn't confusing enough, he goes on to depict hexagrams containing moving yin and yang lines of equal length, so they are identical (pp 59–60). On p 121 he writes:
I calculated the telephone number based on the procedure as in case 12 (page 113) …
What he actually means is case 8 on page 104. If you are familiar with the material that is covered by the book, you have no trouble correcting the faults. But if you are a beginner, you will have a hard time to do things right.
It seems Mr Wang is mostly familiar with the meihua method, as he gives 19 examples of this system. Compared with the Classical method (6 examples), the najia method (4 examples), and the 'integrated method' (9 examples), meihua forms the main subject of the book.
In the najia chapter the basics of the system are covered in a few paragraphs. After that you will have to rely on the four examples that Wang gives to show how the interpretation is done. This is bad, Mr Wang. It is like someone teaching you to write but not teaching you how to read what you wrote. I know it is difficult to give rules for the interpretation of najia because there are so many things to take into account, but you can't expect a beginner in najia to be able to deduce the necessary information from the examples. Some general guidelines about what to consider when you start the interpretation would be very welcome. Although chapter nine, 'Questions and Answers', does cover this to some extent, it isn't enough to start fortune-telling with confidence.
Sometimes it seems Wang Yang isn't confident himself with the methods he gives. He even writes on p 186:
Seek help from other reliable prediction methods available to confirm your first judgement. The suggested methods are western astrology, face-reading, palm-reading, the Four Pillars method etc.
A quote from p 141 shows that Wang never relies on methods alone:
It is important to use your intuition when you are conducting the analysis. Although the Na Jia method is very much more rational than the Classical method and the Mei Hua method, it is still an I Ching method of prediction so it is still necessary to use your intuition.
Personally I disagree with this. Najia is about fixed rules. These rules decide whether the outcome is favourable or not. If you apply the rules correctly, there is no need for intuition. In fact, if you want to use intuition, it is best to stick to the 'Classical method'. But even with that method some knowledge and experience will be necessary. After all, whatever method you use, making true predictions is difficult. Wang shows this in an example in the chapter about the Classical method (case 6). Here a client of Wang asks if there is any good news for him in the coming new year. The received hexagram is 1, with 3rd and 4th lines moving. Wang interprets this as:
… it was possible that Professor Liu would transfer to another department and work under a new supervisor and with new colleagues. (…) I suggested that the best attitude for Professor Liu was not just to wait passively but actively make the necessary preparations. When the time came, he should submit an application to transfer to a new department. Six months later, I received good news from Professor Liu, and his situation had changed just as I predicted.' (pp 69–70).
'Predicted'?! Mr Wang didn't make a prediction. He only saw that the time was right to take steps for a transfer, but the client still had to take action to 'fulfil the hexagram'. That is not a prediction, and it wasn't an answer to the question 'if there is any good news for him in the coming new year'. If it was a prediction, then the client shouldn't have to do anything. Predictions never carry a 'only if… then…' clause.
But back to najia. Let's draw some conclusions. Wang's book reads fine, but it is very hard to learn the najia method from it. He covers the material, but the examples don't easily show how the material should be applied. Chapter ten, which is a very terse – and often weak – interpretation of the text of the Yijing, could have been omitted. It doesn't add value to the book. In all: good to learn the basics, but you will quickly need more information to be able to use najia.
Raymond Lo's 'I Ching – Divination for Feng Shui and Destiny'
I Ching, Divination for Feng Shui and Destiny, Raymond Lo, Feng Shui Lo, Hong Kong, 2003. v + 151 pp, $48. ISBN 962-85578-2-3.
The first thing you notice about this book is its price. $48 for 150 pages is extortionate, especially when you consider the quality of the contents. Mr Lo published the book himself, not through a mainstream publisher. He probably couldn't find a publisher interested in such a mediocre work – the content just has too little to appeal to a large audience. Because the book has not been through an editorial process there are many typographical errors – some paragraphs are repeated (pp 1–3) and the typeface is not consistent throughout the book. The text reads awkwardly, it is clear that English is not Mr Lo's native language, which alone would have been reason enough to use an editor.
Mr Lo starts his book with a preface, and immediately after that follows with a case study in which he shows the application of najia. The case is about the death of JonBenet Ramsey, a six-year-old girl who was murdered in 1996. The murderer has never been found. In other words, Mr Lo takes a very easy, not to say unconvincing, route to demonstrate the value of najia: a lot has been reported in the media about the murder, and although at first the parents were the main suspects, the general view is now that an intruder killed the poor girl.
What is Mr Lo's conclusion? Lo says that by the use of najia he can tell that an intruder, possibly a thief, killed JonBenet. This also happens to be the conclusion of District Attorney Keenan. But he looked at the evidence, he didn't use najia. And the use of najia doesn't add anything useful in this case. It is hard to believe that Mr Lo took an objective stand in this matter. He says:
The wood power line is active and changing into metal which is [labelled with the Six Relationships as] 'I' also meaning the child, and metal conquers wood, so it seems the child had put up a struggle.
Excuse me? It was reported in the media that the girl was found beaten, strangled to death, with duct tape on her mouth. 'Is this resistance successful?' Mr Lo dares to ask, as if a six-year-old girl can defend herself against an adult. How can you take yourself seriously when you ask questions like this? Taking a murder that has never been solved as a case for proving the validity of najia is cheap and easy.
After this case a brief introduction follows about the history of the Yijing, in which Lo clings to the traditional view of Fuxi, Wen Wang etc; after that a chapter about the trigrams. In his chapter 'Ancient application of I Ching' he gives a variant form of the yarrow stalk method, where you remove eight stalks instead of four. The number of remaining stalks – eight or fewer – corresponds to a trigram. The first sort gives the lower trigram, the second gives the upper trigram. To get a moving line you divide a bundle by six.
Like Wang Yang, Raymond Lo also has a chapter about the plum blossom method. He gives the classical cases attributed to Shao Yong, and uses the Western calendar for the calculations, which as I have mentioned is wrong. In any case there isn't anything new here.
The following chapters deal with the Chinese calendar, the twelve Earthly Branches, and the Five Elements. From this point on it gets interesting, because now we get to the najia material. The process of tossing coins is mentioned, and then we enter the field of labelling the received hexagram. This is done step by step, taking a better approach than Wang Yang. Each chapter deals with a specific set of labels – Subject & Object, Earthly Branches, Six Relationships, Six Animals. This keeps the material comprehensible.
The nice thing about the chapter 'Labeling [sic] a hexagram with earthly branches' is that Mr Lo not only gives the labels for each line, but also gives some rules you can use to memorise the labels. He does the same in the chapter 'Labeling [sic] a hexagram with 5 aspects of life', by explaining how these aspects are derived. The chapters 'How to retrieve your answer from a hexagram', 'Ten golden rules for interpretation', and 'Anatomy of a hexagram' are the ones that are missing from Wang Yang's book. They highlight things to take into account when making the interpretation. However, they do not tell you what to do when certain rules contradict each other. More often than not there are contradictions in the labels – the Six Relationships say one thing, the Six Animals say the opposite. Nowhere is it explained how you're supposed to deal with this.
Following is a chapter about 'I Ching & Feng Shui', which in three pages tells how the system should be used with fengshui, which of course is hardly enough to adequately cover such a complex system as fengshui. There are 13 case studies, and a Chinese calendar for the years 2003–2010, which you need when you want to work with the Six Animals.
In all, 60 pages give you solid information about the najia system, which is 40% of the book. One third of the book, 50 pages, is taken up by the case studies and the Chinese calendar. This leaves 40 pages you can rip out because they add nothing of value.
Raymond Lo presents the najia system as something easy to learn and apply. Maybe it is easy to learn, but it is hard to apply. As I have said, one rule can say that the hexagram is fortunate but another rule can say that the hexagram is dire. When you use the system you have to know how to deal with all possible exceptions to the rules – and there are a lot of exceptions. As a beginner you will not know what to do with all the information you gather when you label the hexagrams, you do not know how to prioritise the various bits of data. Although Mr Lo takes a more systematic approach than Wang Yang, he still doesn't provide enough information to enable a beginner to learn the system, and it is surely not enough to satisfy an advanced Yi student. No one should pay $48 for a book that tells you only the very basics and nothing more.
Alex Chiu's 'Super I-Ching'
Super I-Ching, The most powerful language of GOD, Alexander Yuan-Chun Chiu, PO Box 16547, San Francisco, CA 94112, USA. 2003, paperback, 971 pp, $28.90 plus $5.95 shipping, no ISBN.
'The most powerful language of God' is the subtitle of this big book, written by one of the weirdest guys on the internet. Alex claims he has invented 'immortality rings' which will prevent you from dying, and thinks that teleportation will be invented because everyone will wear his rings, and therefore the planet will soon be crowded, and we need teleportation to transport these crowds to other planets. But that's enough laughs for today.
Alex Chiu's book differs from the other two because it deals only with the najia method, and Alex takes a good 971 pages to explain it. Of the three books mentioned in this review, Alex's book gives you the most information. The book is a direct copy of his Superiching.com website, unedited for publication, so you sometimes have sentences like 'click here to see the Chinese calendar', also page breaks often appear in tables, which makes reading it difficult. But the book is much easier to 'navigate' than his site, which seems devoid of any structure.
Alex chose to use his own symbols for all the subsystems of najia – he has given the Stems & Branches and the Six Relationships their own code. If you are used to the original Chinese symbols or simple letters and numbers (as in Wang Yang's and Raymond Lo's books), this is hard at first; it took me quite some time to find out that this book dealt with the same material as my Eight Houses article. Combined with the invented names for the Six Relationships (he calls them 'stars', but they have nothing to do with the stars in the sky) it almost seems like a different language. And if you don't know that language you will not understand the book. I still haven't learned his 12 Branches off by heart (t, c, y, m, cn, e, w, wa, s, yo, sh, and h in Alex's notation), and without that I can hardly comprehend the many examples that Alex gives in his book. On the other hand, with a few self-made conversion tables you can get along well with the book.
It is hard to find a topic that is not covered in this book. Every chapter deals with some part of the najia system, the material is brought to you in small portions. Chapters have names like 'The 5 elements', 'The 12 dates', 'Bounding and striking', 'The 8 guas', 'The 5 stars', 'The empty dates', 'The self line and the opponent line', 'The moving and quiet lines', etc. There is so much information in this book that you have enough material to read for months. There is not much explanation why the rules in the book are as they are; they are given and you just have to deal with them. This is very Chinese and quite acceptable; explanations just make room for arguments (and if you have read his online forum you'll know Alex isn't into that). The book is loaded with examples that show how the rules mentioned in each chapter must be applied, Alex carefully explains his analysis in every example.
However, the book reminds me of how I learned the rules of chess. There are just six different pieces (king, queen, rook, knight, bishop, and pawn), and I thought, gee, this is simple. But when they were put on the board I was lost. So many possibilities, so many choices to make. I have the same problem with Alex's book. Although the basics are quite simple to understand and learn, there are a lot of ways to deal with it, and Alex doesn't make it any easier by giving extra warnings you have to heed: 'If the U line K star is not in trouble, a moving B star is your worst nightmare!', or cryptic sentences like 'A strong R star still cannot win if a K star moves to strike with the R star', 'If the helper B m moves turning into a strong R yo which kills and strikes back at B m, the helper B m will be damaged'. It isn't quite a book for beginners.
Alex claims that 80% of the book are his own ideas, which makes you wonder whether the text corresponds with the original material written down since the Han dynasty. He often quotes a man by the name of 'Wild Crane' from a book he bought in a Chinatown bookstore, and has said on the internet that he has translated Wild Crane's book. Although he knows Shao Weihua's work, he doesn't speak highly of it ('I started learning I-Ching with Shao Wei-Hua's book. His book was very messy, and most of his laws are flawed. So anyone who learned Iching from his book can get no more than 60% accuracy', he writes on a forum).
As the subtitle of the book suggests, Alex is a religious man. He believes in God, and wants everyone to know it. His book therefore has chapters like 'Iching is related to God?', 'How to speak to God' and 'More on God'. Alex also gives away his Secret Technique: a glass ball with bubbles in it. The nice thing about these chapters is that you can rip them out cleanly without removing any text from the preceding or following chapters. Although the material can be interesting to read, I do not think it belongs in a book on najia.
If you want in-depth information about najia divination, Alex Chiu's book is the one to buy. If you are a novice to the material, start with either Wang Yang's book and/or Raymond Lo's book, but keep in mind that you will only learn the very basics. Many principles and rules of najia are also found in Four Pillars astrology. If you want to learn more about Five Phases and Stems & Branches you will often find detailed information in books on this subject.
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