BOOK (4th cent BC)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


I Ching
Unknown author

Change is inevitable. It often happens without warning or notice, an unavoidable factor in everyone's life that defies prediction. But the ancient Chinese believed differently: with three simple coins and a single book of 64 answers, one could find true divination.

The book is known as the I Ching (pronounced yee jing), more commonly known in the West as The Book of Changes. Few books - if any - command such whole-hearted devotion. The Bible might strongly recommend the way of Christian living, but to the I Ching obsessive, there is no life without the book.

The I Ching doesn't claim to solve the big questions of God and the meaning of life, but questions relating to your most pressing personal interests - such as career, relationships and health - can be forecast.

You ask a question, write it down and - in a precursor to the common heads/tails solution - throw three coins. Based on the majority result of the three coins, you then draw a line: a positive result (all or mostly heads) means a straight line; a negative result (all or mostly tails) means a broken line. You keep doing this until six straight or broken lines are stacked on top of each other to form a 'hexagram' - the book is then consulted, with one of its 64 hexagrams offering an answer to your conundrum.

The hexagrams are vague and ambiguous, more like encrypted horoscopes than definitive answers. Each is translated to a single word, such as 'correcting' or 'ascending', which can be further extrapolated into such phrases as 'work on what has been spoiled' or 'pushing upward'.

Through these, one is offered a path to follow based on one's own understanding. If that course is abided by, true divination is meant to be found.

However, there are drawbacks to this kind of living. People become reliant on the book, reading what they want from its indefinite text and inevitably becoming bound to its so-called answers.

A popular example of its failure is cult science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. For most of the 1960s he put his faith and trust into its words, and even using it as a plotting device for one of his novels. But when faced with a decision of great importance, the I Ching failed him. In the end, he called it an 'evil book', taking the reader up a 'garden path' of reasonable advice before failing them with 'malicious, wrong information'.

Some see the I Ching as a system for those too weak to make decisions; others praise its ancient philosophy as being the only tried-and-tested way of living. The only certainty, as mentioned, is change. It is inevitable, but how you deal with it is really what's important.