Note: For a review by Michael Winn of Stephen Karcher’s Total I Ching, see the Amazon.com book reviews. This version of the I Ching is the most suitable for Healing Tao adepts, combining the ancient shamanic Jou I Ching with the later Confucian I Ching.
A New Method of Tossing I Ching Hexagrams
by Stuart Harrop (U.K.)
Which version of the I Ching is best?
When I began using the I Ching some 37 years ago the only significant version available was the renowned Richard Wilhelm translation. This translation served me well for years. I would not recommend it now. There are some far better, more accurate and comprehensive translations available. However, the forward to this edition by Carl Gustav Jung, in which he asks the I Ching to analyse the effect of its arrival in the West, is interesting and indeed a lesson in interpreting the oracle.
Until very recently the best technical translation, giving a flavour of the directness of the original Chinese and drawing on the known key source documents, was the translation by Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher (Element 1994). As soon as this book appeared I dropped the Wilhelm version and didn?t look back. However, this is bulky and esoteric in the extreme. Karcher has since produced many small texts based on his translation work. Even though these books look like every-day versions, such is Karcher?s scholarship (as a sinologist) and depth of understanding and true relationship with the oracle, that they are all useful and reliable.
They go by many names: Elements of the I Ching, How to Use the I Ching etc. and he keeps reprinting them with new names presumably pursuant to his publisher?s policy to encourage sales. He has even produced a version called Love Symbols (with added relationship meditations produced by two other authors). I have not used this version but his rationale for producing it is that most of the questions asked of the I Ching have something to do with human relationships.
I mention these subsidiary books because if you are hiking across mountains or trekking in the jungle you may want to carry a small text!
The best of the I Ching editions by an immeasurable gulf is Karcher?s latest work: Total I Ching -Myths for Change (Time Warner Books 2003, also available from Capitol Books). This deploys the best of the text translations and adds in the ancient mythical and magical roots of the I Ching taking it back to all of our ancestors. (That isn?t too far back according to scientists in a recent Nature paper where it is suggested that we all share common ancestors who lived at about BC 1500 or even in the AD years if we discount outlying islands! So if Lao Tzu had kids???..)
The only problem with this version is that it is a little heavy for a rucksack.There is a rumour that a smaller more portable version by Time?Warner books is on its way.. (Note: it now available in smaller pocketbook size, soon to be available on this site – we may also put a digital version of it online).
Finally, there are many other versions of the I Ching and some are useful for cross-referencing or for cosmological introductions. One or two are very badly translated or too coloured by the author?s own prejudices to allow the oracle through. The safe bet is to stick to Karcher?s translations and for oracular use; the Total I Ching is all you need!
Using the Oracle
The I Ching does not require pomp and circumstance. Some say that the long, slow yarrow process is best in order to reach the right meditative state. I don?t entirely agree. If the questioner (the adept or Chun Tzu) has already set foot in the Kan and Li?s he or she has already learned to focus rapidly and effectively enough to work with the I Ching as if in a conversation with Michael Winn at breakfast. Karcher gives very clear instructions on the process in all of his books.
Essentially: ask a question when you have a real need. In so doing: focus and centre your shen, write the question down and then consult the oracle. In my experience, I usually get the answer to my real question. This is not always the same as the question reduced to writing. The I Ching is particularly capable of cutting through all of our personal nonsense and trappings. On many occasions it has seen through my superficially new question and scolded me as a ?Young Fool? for repeating one of the questions it has already clearly and unequivocally answered. So be prepared for the guidance that you truly need!!
For years I used the coin method, predominantly. However, when I had the time I preferred to use the yarrow stalk method. (See most of Karcher?s books for instructions.) I felt that the latter method produced clearer answers and that it contributed to developing my relationship with the oracle. The downside is that yarrow stalks are bulky and take up too much space in a rucksack. Worse still, if you are in a hurry, asking the I Ching a question can take a long time.
Karcher recommends a new method (again all mentioned in most of his books) concerning the use of 16 coloured beads or similar objects. This proposed method is portable, as rapid as the coins and yet it replicates the odds of the yarrow stalk oracle. I now use something like this almost exclusively. However, instead of basing the system on colours, I use a depiction of the actual line that will make up the hexagram. This ?dowel? method has brought me increasingly closer to understanding the ramifications of change as they affect my life.
The dowel method
Cut 16 similar sized thin pieces of dowel. (Use a thickness of either 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch to retain a portable system.) Then sand them and draw a hexagram line on each of them in the following ratio:
— five (solid yang liine)
– – seven (broken yin line)
-O- three (solid yang line with 0 over it)
– X – one (broken yin line with X in center)
To consult the oracle place all of the pieces of dowel in a suitably sacred bag (or if you wish an old sock!), shake it and draw one piece out at random whilst visualising and using any technique you can to become fully immersed in your question. Draw the line revealed on each piece of dowel (from the bottom up), place the dowel back in the bag and repeat the process until you have drawn the six lines.
As long as there are 16 pieces of dowel in the bag prior to extraction the probability of drawing a particular aspect of change replicates the ancient yarrow stalk method.
Using the ratios described, there must be many other alternatives to this. A computer programme could be developed, by example, that generates specific musical tones attributed to each line.
Once the hexagram is generated Karcher details a number of ways in which it can be analysed and I recommend these are experimented with. Many of the methods he describes are new to the west and take the pronouncements of the I Ching much further and deeper. One particularly important process which should not be neglected is to let the images which are generated by the oracle permeate your imaginations, meditations and dreams. Total I Ching is particularly useful in supporting this process through the wonderful range of exquisitely rich images that are in the background descriptions to the hexagrams. I have found that these images ultimately give me the most guidance. They act directly on my shen and do not, like so many words, stick in my head. I also find that the guidance I receive acts on a number of levels, not only in my conscious approach to life, but also in the inner events within my alchemical meditations.
Probabilities and the nature of yin and yang
I have no doubt that the I Ching can reach beyond probability and speak to us direct. But we are dreaming in later heaven and are subject to the laws of mathematics aswell as physics. Therefore, I deploy an oracular method that replicates the probability ratio of the ancient yarrow oracle. I find that this approach deepens the relationship without forcing dependence on an impossibly impeccable level of focus.
There is an older method that uses tortoise shells (with weird probability ratios) but burning the carapaces of endangered species is not within my concept of the Dao?s flow.
The probability statistics of the coin, yarrow and ?dowel? methods are as follows:
Probability of drawing a line
3 Coin Method vs. Yarrow or Dowel Method
yang line 3 in 8 vs. 5 in 16
yin line 3 in 8 vs. 7 in 16
changing yang line O 1 in 8 vs. 3 in 16
changing yin line X 1 in 8 vs. 1 in 16
Karcher believes that the coin method is too symmetrical and does not penetrate as deeply into a situation as the older yarrow stalks oracle or the simpler dowel method that I have described. He says that yin and yang are asymmetrical in their qualities and the odds in the yarrow stalk oracle reflect the tendency of yin energy to stay in place and that of yang energy to move.
This is difficult to appreciate when we consider some aspects of the yin-yang flux. Thus the cycles of the moon are symmetrical (although its dark phase might appear to be longer than its full, bright phase). Similarly the seasons seem to depict a symmetry (but some believe that winter goes on far, far too long and summer is gone almost as soon as it begins). Time may not be relevant here.
The qualities of yin and yang described by Karcher are not necessarily time-based but may reflect the asymmetry of later heaven. For my part I have had consistent and direct communication with the I Ching using the dowel method and the only areas that have been difficult to understand have concerned questions about my internal alchemical practices. In retrospect it might be that we should consider using a coin oracle, with its symmetrical odds if we feel we are requesting information that might require an understanding of early rather than later heaven dynamics.
Ultimately, however, the I Ching is designed to give guidance for the human in his or her later heaven interactions. I suspect that when we can truly act from the centre then we transcend the dictates of change.
On that latter note we also have to be careful not to obsess and certainly we must avoid being ruled by the I Ching. Rather than relying on an oracle and being subject to the ramifications of change, the alchemical goals surely include transcendence through functioning more and more from the centre: from a state of wu-wei (not that I would know!!)
8 October 2004
Stuart Harrop holds a professorial Chair in the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, within the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kent, UK.
He has, over the last period of 20 years, learned a number of ?shamanic? dreaming and other practices deriving from various South American and Celtic traditions. Changing direction somewhat he has concentrated his path by studying the Taoist nei dan practices, during the last 10 years, mostly on a self-taught basis (although during the last three years he has been taught by both Mantak Chia and Michael Winn). He has recently taught elements of these practices to small groups in the UK and Africa. Mantak Chia awarded him the status of Honorary Senior Inner Alchemy Instructor in March 2003.