It is reported that the Bible and Tao Te Ching are the most read and followed books in all of history. So, whose version are we reading and what was their authors personal intent? Two examples would be the continual never-ending circle of life in Buddhism and symbols identified with the Christ and Christianity and other religions.
Symbols providing universal understanding, while words can confuse us with personal intent used to sway their meaning. This is why over eons of time symbols became something more important than words because they represented and created universal context and intent everyone could see as one. This was illustrated over the centuries in China through painting landscapes of mountains depicting serenity and tranquility as symbols that denoted the artist “had it”. Gaining an appreciation for this art form became an important way to show one’s own affinity for “the Way of Virtue, i.e., the Tao”. This is illustrated below.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage – The Guidebook to leading a virtuous Life
Verse 21 – Forever Replenishing our Virtue
What is this thing called virtue and value placed on emptiness and how can they be so inter-related?
Remaining Hidden from View Confucius Temple in Qufu
That virtue cannot be found unless we are willing to remain empty, that the Tao remains hidden from view except as virtue found through emptiness. Following the Tao, we are continually subject to change and are redefined as our virtue waxes and wanes.
As if guided by the phases of the moon I find structure through tending my garden just as Shen-ming, the divine husbandman, who discovered agriculture along with the healing properties of plants and a calendar to be followed by the sages of long ago. Could it be that virtue is the manifestation of the Tao, or Way, that should guide us? That the Way is what virtue contains and without it could have no meaning or power. That without virtue, the Way would have no appearance or ability to come forward.
Replenishing our Virtue Confucius Temple in Qufu
Taking no form, the Tao takes expression only when it changes into virtue. It is when the sage truly mirrors the Tao that virtue can be given an opportunity to manifest and grow and the natural course, or scheme of things, becomes apparent for all to see.
The Tao by itself neither existing or not existing. As if coming and going as the essence of one’s heart and soul – simply by maintaining its presence as… virtue. Everything in the universe held accountable to the Tao. Continually changing – with our identity the first to go. What was once true becomes false and what was once false slips into becoming true. It is only our essence expressed as virtue that is kept and continually replenished by the Tao. (May 2000)
Longevity and Virtue Completed – Confucius Mansion in Qufu
We often define ourselves by who we think we are and are free to choose rather we follow our highest endeavor and destiny. But we are not free of the consequences of our actions when we don’t. How we fit what we see that comes before us to interpret how we live is key to living in harmony and love, become transcendent, and truly finding our way. As if we are re-living history and adapting as our own from an historical perspective to what takes us to our inner self that guides our outer actions.
In practical terms, when we practice mindfulness, meditation, and prayer, we are making an attempt to go there first. It is always our universal connection that helps to take us there and defines where are we doing it from. This has always been the I Ching’s emphasis as the way forward… showing us the way of universal spirit.
When someone asks me “What is the I Ching?” This is always my answer. “It is simply a tool that guides our spirit to where it belongs and shows us the way in getting there”. What becomes important is how we use symbols and words that take us there.
Ultimately it becomes the great leap of faith we each must take as the circle of life. What we are given to learn with only our virtue intact. With this our divinity and bliss become one with the only nature we have ever known.
The benefit of history and the path others have taken allows us to see and follow in their footsteps and not re-invent something that benefits us so we don’t have to start from scratch, as they say…or re-invent again. We are never alone unless we have chosen to be. The divine presence within each of us is simply waiting to show us the way by understanding the purpose found in following the lead of our natural surroundings.
I think every great storyteller, teacher, and writer through the ages, starts from the point of getting us to question what we think we know as a “given”. With their knowledge we can incorporate this as understanding – that lifts us into wisdom in what can be seen or viewed as their ultimate purpose. In effect, adding context to what is both real and imagined. There are so many examples of how words of those we admire we think we know, may not actually be what was originally said or written by them, but are taken as truth. But someone else’s version of what they intended or meant to say. Over hundreds even thousands of years, it becomes what we want attributed to them that gives meaning to both symbols and words we choose to follow.
The Council of Nicaea was the first council in the history of the Christian church that was intended to address the entire body of believers. It was convened by the emperor Constantine to resolve the controversy of Arianism, a doctrine that held that Christ was not divine but was a created being. Over time, others have tried to interpret the real meaning that they wanted to convey as “what was said and what was really meant”. How many versions of the Bible are there for example?
We use myth, symbols, and words to define our way forward in deciding who we are and more importantly deciding how we proceed. The one doing the interpreting putting what they think is being said through the context of their own understanding of what the original meaning might have been and interpreting this for themselves and others.
Another example, would be that there are probably well over one hundred books translating the Tao Te Ching attributed to Lao Tzu that people have published in English where a straight translation from Chinese to English makes little sense to them as to what was meant. Especially if you don’t read or understand the Chinese language. So, the translator incorporates his own meaning from the attempts at understanding the straight translation into their own writing as to the meaning. So that whatever Lao Tzu may have said may become lost in translation. It took me seven years of study (1993 -2000), from my introduction to Taoism and the Tao Te Ching before being comfortable in writing my own version. It’s like life – getting it right internally before expressing yourself externally. It’s what every teacher will tell you… you must thoroughly know your subject, prior to teaching it to others.
For myself, this seeming paradox, is what led to my attempts to follow my innate endeavor as the storyteller. Becoming one with what lies beyond the words, going to China almost fifty times now, and waiting more than twenty years to write what I am writing now about the I Ching. My own need for maturity on the subject and the universe relaying I wasn’t ready yet. As if moving beyond pretext to capture meaning through a better-defined lens.
That everything is context, must return to where it began, and finding, i.e., learning, what can be behind both symbols and words. Moving forward grounded in the auspices of both Heaven and Earth. Symbols serving to remind us of our origins and helping to take us there. It is the intent and power of the I Ching that moves us beyond words with an understanding of how the lines we will learn about here, match the will of both Heaven and Earth, that serve as a guide in returning to our divine self. With such a knowable beginning a reachable ending can be achieved.
As if directed by virtue and resulting relationships, we then give each other permission to do the right thing by all based on what we perceive as our own eternal best interests. This idea of “giving ourselves permission to go there” is important in relinquishing thoughts and actions tied to only self-interest, opening our consciousness to transcendence and becoming truly universal. It is when we get lost in what we think it all means tied to a specific outcome or what may become lost in translation that we lose our way and follow someone else’s path different from our own.
So many examples of how our words and symbols get lost in translation. Looking to and for the divine expression from within and resulting action as if asking ourselves… “who are we, but our virtue we depart with and what we leave behind?” As if we live in a constant seeming struggle to live up to who we think we should be, but can’t measure up to expectations of who we innately know we are, based solely on limitations that don’t measure up to our highest endeavor.
Eventually settling for the status quo life brings to our doorstep, we seem to welcome and decide to stay. Once here, it becomes more difficult to leave with our virtue intact and for us to change… and to see beyond what we think we know. What all great writers and artists know – it has always been that the status quo can never reflect who we are or want to be. It’s what calligraphy and landscape painting has been for thousands of years in China as a means to take us there. Its like taking a class in college in Art Appreciation or Literature, or going to a museum simply so we can see ourselves in what the artist or writer is saying… going there and saying yes – me too! Enabling us to find a way to connect with our inner most self – and to express it as demonstrated below.
All the prelude, or foreplay here if you like, is for those reading this to see a different way of seeing themselves play out to the end and to view the I Ching as only a guide, or simply as an extension of discovering who they have always been.
I am reminded of the book, play, and movie “A Streetcar named Desire”. A book by Tennessee Williams we all had to read back in high school. What stood out to me was a line by Stanley… played by Marlon Brando in the movie where in frustration he said, “A hour isn’t an hour, it’s just a piece of eternity” and depiction of hope portrayed by Blanche and Stella discussing Sister Rita, the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and where it all might lead. Trying to do the best they could with what they had and knew at the time, but never getting there from where they were at the moment.
Great writing that encourages you to look within to see what may be missing. Reminding us we may be looking for the wrong thing. Where is it that great artists and writers get their inspiration and where do our own “personal translations” originate and come from? Whose words do we try to emulate or model our lives after and make our own – who is it that becomes our role model, if anyone? What words and symbols symbolizing ourselves do we find comfort from within and become enmeshed? What defines us as we attempt to find our own patron saint of impossible dreams… but ultimately only our virtue.
Understanding, requires us to clear away or try to translate intent by pre-determined thoughts we or others, may come into it with. Having a clear mindset and imagination is key with everything as context to what is made current for the times. As you learn to follow your own divinity and nature you already possess – you live and act accordingly as we go there in silence to what we have always known,
The Dazhuan is composed of the 5th and 6th Wings of what is known as the Ten Essential Commentaries with each having twelve entries that total twenty-four altogether. Below are numbers nine and ten of the 5th Wing.
All told, they convey the history of the I Ching and how each of us should live our lives in such a way that conveys our own innate virtue and are considered the benchmark to all essential wisdom. I wrote my own version of the Dazhuan in 2014. Below are segments I wrote that appear here on my website. This all sounds complicated. But it’s really like learning to drive. It’s simply knowing the rules of the road, staying on course (our life), and following them. It’s like the universe asking you not to be anyone but who you are already are, building on, and going there.
The Dazhuan 5th Wing Part 1 Number 9
Wand counting (Yarrow Sticks) and Symbolism
The initial question is what and how did the ancient shaman and later sage teach in imparting or conveying wisdom in regards to powers that remain unseen in the universe? How do we relate to this universe, the stars, sun, moon and nature and what is the purpose of divination except to reach out to the spirit world to learn how to relate with and sometimes try to control this power? What is the process of studying change and how do we incorporate change into who we are now and who we are yet to become?
How do we live a life of harmony with one another and the cosmos other than through our innate commonality and virtue and where did this come from? And most importantly who gets to decide this once we know and how is this knowledge and wisdom to be related to others?
All of these questions occurred in pre-history before written or common language existed as well. But it was the shaman, the holy man of antiquity, whose responsibility it was to make these connections to work with the unknown, with what was to become known as the Tao. To sort these things out and explain to everyone what this all meant. Before there were lines, there was numbers that were seen to correlate with what could be seen and known and what could not.
That everything has its opposite and relates to either Heaven (ch’ien) or Earth (kun). Heaven could be seen as odd numbers (1,3,5,7 and 9) and earth as even numbers (2,4,6,8 and 10).
Each has five numbers and is interlocked together as divine order. Each number in one series has its partner in the other. The sum of heaven’s number is 25 and the sum of earth’s numbers is 30, the total sum of the numbers of heaven and earth in 55. It is the process in which these numbers come together that stimulates alternation and transformation that animates or energizes the spirit world. Dividing into two parts as even and odd creates the yin/yang phenomena representing the duality of the universe.
It was in the counting of the yarrow sticks that a method could be devised to obtain the appropriate calculation for a particular situation. This process is not done halfheartedly, or in some cavalier fashion. Popular culture, or those trying to lessen its true meaning, may try to portray this as having no real meaning as if simply fortune-telling. But the method used here has been refined over thousands of years and is meant to relay what lies in one’s heart as if in mediation or prayer, bringing forth your highest endeavor that matches your fate or destiny as a method in doing so. There is no specific religious context here, only seeing yourself as transcendental, as you match your actions with what is best for both you, others, and all you find in nature and your surroundings. Where most difficulties lie is when the true meaning of the I Ching gets lost in translation… Just as with many things when we try to define or make something into something it never was intended to be.
The wands (yarrow sticks) counted out for heaven or ch’ien number 216 and the wands counted out for kun number 144. Together they total 360, or the number of days in the lunar New Year. When the yarrow sticks are counted out for both parts, they total the ten thousand entities or things under heaven. Nothing is left out. In this way the four-fold operation fulfills change, or the I Ching. This in essence is how the process of change is to manifest and work.
In determining what action a person should take without yarrow sticks one uses three coins in the tradition known as throwing the three and the five which means throwing three coins five times to get a reading of heads or tails which equate to either even or odd.
With this process comes a transformation and we model our desires and actions on them. Just as the shaman before him, the sage learned how to create change through the divination process by shaping his desires through the mirror of change. It was through the sixty-four diagrams that any situation could be understood and where you fit in with it and identify and acquire this “helping spirit”. Elaborate rituals were designed in antiquity to speak to the spirits in which tortoise shells and then animal bones became the common medium where symbols could be written and interpreted.
Later a language of lines developed to speak with what was to be known as divine communication, otherwise known as the oracle. This spirit helper or medium was known as wu. Fu Shi was the greatest of these early shamans and a teacher, a transmitter, the first oracle of the unknown. Much later others would attempt to transpose their own image onto who Fu Shi was – claiming themselves as heir apparent and to convey or translate what he “really” meant that was to become the I Ching.
Reading and understanding the oracle was a method that took hundreds of years to perfect and thousands of years to fully appreciate. It’s here that one can begin to understand the meaning of change, the spirit world and man’s connection with cosmology and the universe.
It began with tortoise shells, yarrow sticks, and eventually three coins that would create the images and symbols connecting with numbers and development of a method to consult their meaning. You then ask a question; initially this was simply a response that only required a yes or no answer. What followed was to become a common teaching. It’s not simply a matter of understanding; for the shaman and then people in general, it is the act of becoming innately connected with what defines what is being proposed and said and done according to “the will of Heaven”. It is taking the next step beyond you as the key to transformation and self-realization. First as simply symbols represented as lines and then later words that were meant to define what the lines meant.
Aligning oneself with the intent of the spirit world you become the essence of change. Aligning change with the Tao is what keeps the world in divine order. It is by aligning ourselves with this through cultivating stillness that our spirit is set free to roam the universe once more as our virtue comes forward to know itself and immortality once again.
The Dazhuan, the Great Treatise we are following here, goes into great detail using yarrow sticks to illustrate the connections between numbers that correspond to the four kinds of lines that make up a diagram seen as either transforming or stable yin and yang lines. What is produced is called a bagua, or diagram that gives you access to the words and symbols.
With this you form two of the eight diagrams that have three lines; by doubling them you create one of the sixty-four diagrams. By carrying out and extending the process of extrapolation (instance of inferring an unknown from something that is known), the ten thousand things and every matter under heaven can be covered, Tao made manifest, and spirit powers activated. This process brings the power and spirit of the Way, or Tao to light within you. You can then serve that spirit by being in harmony with your inner virtue through your activities. When you understand this, you can begin to know how the spirit moves and what the shaman and what would come to be known as Sage Mind understood as well. While it was the shaman who stayed within the confines of religious Taoism, it would be in following the philosophical aspects of the Tao that the sage would play his vital role and where Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and others would define Taoism in the realm of history.
It was the beginning of how to use this process that the Chou used to defeat the Shang dynasty in roughly 1100 BC. The Shang had come to know some of the basic tenets of change described above, but used them for their own self-interest to the detriment of the world around them. It was this misuse of the wisdom and knowledge of what it meant to follow divine order that Ji Dan, the Duke of Chou used to write the basics of the “Book of Rites”, one of the major classics edited by Confucius five hundred years later.
Depiction of Ji Dan at the Temple of Ji Dan, the Duke of Chou in Qufu. He is known in China at the first true sage.
It would be his father King Wen of the Chou clan who had been imprisoned by the Shang that wrote the initial lines that would be associated with the symbols of change, the I Ching. They had seen how with the Shang dynasty that by not following what was seen as remaining within the will of nature and mandate of heaven what the consequences could be. They had learned that to know the Tao of alternation and transformation is to know how spirits act and that man should act accordingly.
The Dazhuan 5th Wing Part 1 Number 10
The four-fold Way of the I Ching, Tao, and Sage Mind
Knowing through change focuses on the Sage Mind with the intent of connecting with the divine energy of the universe.
Change exemplifies the four-fold way of the Sage Mind. The sage spoke in the light of its statements; he acts in the light of its figures, and used divination in the light of its omens. He honors its speech through his words so that you can model your thoughts on them and honors its movements through transformation so that you can model your actions on them.
Change reflects its creative power through symbols so that you can model your imagination on them. Then uses its insight into living through these divine signs found in nature so that you can shape your desires through them. It is through this Sage Mind that the sage comes into being. As you shape your own insight gained from the I Ching you learn to live through the signs that have followed you through eternity as you shape your desires through the mirror of change. As all your actions simply come through this image of your true identity, or self, you gain the vision to see the outcome of coming events so that you can model your behavior accordingly. It is for this reason living in the moment in total virtue that Cultivating Stillness becomes as important as it is through Sage Mind that a person becomes transformed or re-born.
As an actualized person, you do not study change – you use it by understanding the I Ching and its connection to the Tao.
You become affixed to its universal meaning and experience it through the context of your own life. We then shape our desires and our lives through the words that speak to transformation. Self-expression through one’s art and in particular what became known as the “three perfections” became the norm. I especially like the landscape painters in the Song dynasty (960–1279), landscape painters such as Fan Kuan (范寬), Guo Xi (郭熙) and Li Tang (李唐) created new manners based on previous traditions.
Travelers among Mountains and Streams, a large hanging scroll, is Fan Kuan’s best known work and a seminal painting of the Northern Song school. It establishes an ideal in monumental landscape painting to which later painters were to return time and again for inspiration. The classic Chinese perspective of three planes is evident – near, middle (represented by water and mist), and far.
Guided by the taste of the emperors, especially Zhao Ji (趙佶), painters at the court academy focused on observing nature combined with “poetic sentiment” to reinforce the expression of both subject and artist.
Guo Xi developed a strategy of depicting multiple perspectives called “the angle of totality.” Because a painting is not a window, there is no need to imitate the mechanics of vision and view a scene from only one spot.
The focus on poetic sentiment led to the combination of painting, poetry, and calligraphy. Scholars earlier in the Northern Song (960–1126) thought that painting as an art had to go beyond just the “appearance of forms” in order to express the ideas and cultivation of the artist. This became the foundation of the movement known as literati or scholarly painting.
Li Tang was among the most influential of the early Southern Song landscape artists and had many followers. He developed and perfected the technique of the so-called “ax-cut” brushstrokes, which gave rocks and mountains a particularly fine quality.
Another painter, Zhu Da, also known as Bada Shanren (1626–1705), used the symbols, lines, and yin and yang philosophy, i.e., the I Ching in such a way that demonstrated how the Sage Mind could penetrate the depth of all intentions, showing what is hidden and profound so that the sage can understand the infinitely subtle beginnings (ji) of change. His perception of the first signs of development is as with your own association with the diagrams that produces your connection to a web of images you relate to in the world as all your actions merely come through it. When the Master says, “The I Ching holds the four-fold Tao of the sages”; this is what he meant.
Ravens and Rocks, Pair, Ink on Silk, Bada Shanren, Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri USA
Carrying a step further that supports and augments the Great Treatise, the influence of two Chinese scholars, Lu Xianshan (1139-1192) and Mencius (372- 289 BC) contributed greatly to this philosophy of the mind, in particular the Sage Mind.
In Unity of the Mind and the Way, Lu says, “The universe is my mind and my mind is the universe.” Lu brought forward the concept of the heart/mind as the ultimate one or source that encompasses everything in the universe and the principle of the Tao.
What this meant was that the mind of humanity and the mind of the Way, or Tao, are the same things. Together these define that we call divine order. He emphasized that everything is connected and originated from the heart/mind. This along with Mencius concept of original mind that was further developed by Lu means that all human beings are born with innate moral knowledge and virtue. This original mind is fourfold as Mencius called them “four roots of the heart”, they are:
- Compassion – The root of humaneness (ren)
- Shame – The root of righteousness (yi)
- Respect – The root of propriety and ritual observation (li)
- Knowledge of right and wrong – The root of wisdom (zhi).
These four correlate together like real roots in nature and must be nurtured first before branches are formed and flowers can bloom. This concept is very similar to that found in Cultivating Stillness.
These four roots are said to be tendencies of the mind and require proper nurturing to grow strong and healthy to manifest their true nature, which is virtue. It is felt this original mind is shared by all human beings, both the sage and common people and that its truths are ageless and eternal.
Acquiring this helping spirit helps us to settle into a routine of living in the moment, of being able to arrive at our destination without really trying. We simply arrive by doing nothing as our spirit finds its equilibrium just where it is. It is as the ancients say… we are living in the middle of things, as if in balance, in what is known as wu wei.
Change is universal and without conscious intention seems still and unmoving. As if inert and motionless, but when activated it penetrates every cause under Heaven and the mysteries of everything in the universe.
(This is the fifth of twelve entries, each containing two of the 5th and 6th Wings outlining the origins and purpose of the I Ching, the Dazhuan. Please stay tuned as there is more to the story).