An introduction to the I Ching
Posted by Fredsvenn on April 8, 2015
The I Ching, also known as the Classic of Changes or Book of Changes in English, is an ancient divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics, refering to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the “Four Books and Five Classics” of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the “Thirteen Classics”.
The I Ching was originally a divination manual in the Western Zhou period (1046–771 BC), but over the course of the Warring States period and early imperial period was transformed into a cosmological text with a series of philosophical commentaries known as the “Ten Wings.”
The Western Zhou period (1046–771 BC) was the first half of the Zhou dynasty of ancient China. It began when King Wu of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye. The dynasty was successful for about seventy-five years and then slowly lost power.
The former Shang lands were divided into hereditary fiefs which became increasingly independent of the king. In 771 the Zhou were driven out of the Wei River valley; afterwards that real power was in the hands of the king’s nominal vassals.
The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history from approximately 771 to 476 BC (or according to some authorities until 403 BC), which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty.
The Warring States period was a period following the Spring and Autumn period and concluding with the victory of the state of Qin in 221 BC, creating a unified China under the Qin dynasty.
Different scholars use dates for the beginning of the period ranging between 481 BC and 403 BC, but Sima Qian’s date of 475 BC is most often cited. Most of this period coincides with the second half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, although the Chinese sovereign (king of Zhou) was merely a figurehead.
After becoming part of the Five Classics in the 2nd century BC, the I Ching was the subject of scholarly commentary and the basis for divination practice for centuries across the Far East, and eventually took on an influential role in Western understanding of Eastern thought.
The I Ching uses a type of divination called cleromancy, which produces apparently random numbers. Four numbers between 6 and 9 are turned into a hexagram, which can then be looked up in the I Ching book, arranged in an order known as the King Wen sequence.
The interpretation of the readings found in the I Ching is a matter of centuries of debate, and many commentators have used the book symbolically, often to provide guidance for moral decision making as informed by Confucianism.
The hexagrams themselves have often acquired cosmological significance and paralleled with many other traditional names for the processes of change such as yin and yang and Wu Xing.
The I Ching is an influential text that is read throughout the world. Several sovereign states have employed I Ching hexagrams in their flags, and the text has provided inspiration to the worlds of religion, psychoanalysis, business, literature, and art.