I Ching: A Tao Babe’s Illustrated Primer

This is in response to a question about a passage in the Tao Te Ching:  The Tao that can be spoken  is not the eternal Tao.

So why do we even bother to read the Tao books?  Why even bother to consult the I Ching?  Surely, if the Tao that can be spoken and written about is not the eternal Tao, then the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching are bookshelf decorations and door stoppers.

Confucius seemed to think that the words of the I Ching were important.  He wore out the leather straps of his I Ching and had to replace them three times.  But it does not negate the passage in the Tao Te Ching that says the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.  So how does one get around this quagmire?

The answer lies in images.

Ta Chuan – The Great Treatise, Chapter 12 – Wilhelm translation.
2. The Master said: Writing cannot express words completely. Words cannot express thoughts completely.
Are we then unable to see the thoughts of the holy sages?
The Master said: The holy sages set up the images in order to express their thoughts completely; they devised the hexagrams in order to express the true and the false completely. Then they appended judgments and so could expres their words completely. (They created change and continuity, to show the advantage completely; they urged on, they set in motion, to set forth the spirit completely.)

7. The transformation of things and the fitting together of them depend upon the changes. Stimulation of them and setting them in motion depend upon continuity. The spirituality and clarity depend upon the right man. Silent fulfillment, confidence that needs no words, depend upon virtuous conduct.

Here in conclusion, the intermeshing of the Book of Changes and man is set forth. It is only through a living personality that the words of the book ever come fully to life and then exert their influence upon the world.

So, from the I Ching, we see the other side of the meaning of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching. I read it and understand it to mean that although the Tao that can be spoken (or in this case, written) is not the eternal Tao, it can still be understood by studying the images, because the Masters have completely expressed their thoughts via the images.

This chapter of the Ta Chuan also makes it very clear that, far from the book being the fulcrum by which all great things occur, it is actually the other way around. It is the human spirit that allows the words and images of the book to fully come to life and give them the needed power to exert their influence upon the world.

And finally: The Creative and the Receptive are the real secret of the Changes. Inasmuch as the Creative and the Receptive present themselves as complete, the changes between them are also posited. If the Creative and the Receptive were destroyed, there would be nothing by which the changes could be perceived. If there were no more changes to be seen, the effects of the Creative and the Receptive would also gradually cease.

This is very important. The universe is crying out for expression! We need to continue to express ourselves to keep the progressive entropy from creeping in and slowing down the rhythm of the universe. If we stop listening to the universe and stop trying to create, eventually, this will result in the death of the universe.

2 thoughts on “I Ching: A Tao Babe’s Illustrated Primer

Add yours

  1. I think words and letters include symbols, thus images are symbols and don’t capture the ineffable. I suppose you are thinking about what beauty or truth that art _represents_.


  2. Hi, I had an afterthought but couldn’t figure out how to combine or edit and add the additional material into the first post, sorry. I think this quote bears on your interpretation, since the Ten Wings are interspersed throughout Wilhelm. The Tao is nondual, and I don’t think that can be completely expressed in a dualistic medium. I think the 7 or 8 centuries later writing contains magical thinking; nothing is perfect, which paradoxically constrains complete expression.
    Guidance from the I Ching will be limited by the human ability to interpret. At least until one becomes a Sage, who can foresee your footprint from a grain of sand arising on a beach that one has not yet walked. Oops, too much poetic license!

    “Many people who have been using Wilhelm for a good number of years still seem uncertain what exactly they are consulting, not realising, for instance, that the text termed ‘The Image’ in Wilhelm is not a part of the original Chou I at all but was written seven or eight centuries later. …
    Rutt makes a good point when he says that a study of the Ten Wings, though they cast little light on the original meaning of the Chou I, is necessary ‘because they illustrate, as nothing else can, the climactic changes in the Chinese approach to the Zhouyi after the Bronze Age, changes that need to be understood if the Bronze Age document is to be rediscovered’.”


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