(The Dazhuan Sixth Wing 1 & 2)
What always comes back to us is the question “from where are we doing it – as if needing to find a starting point, or even a continuation, needing to be reminded of who we have always been”. As if the sage is eternally waiting for the “circle of Life, i.e., others” who are trying to catch up. Maybe only here to help others find their way. In assisting others, he can’t help but help himself.
From the I Ching and our Sage Mind we are guided to move beyond both symbols and words to the shaman and sage of ancient China – to rediscover where is it that divine ideas and virtue originate? In doing so we must become the light they are teaching us to be. To find joy in the stillness, to find and know the joy and comfort in knowing we will always be enough.
From the East it’s the consensus choice of Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu (for me it was also Chuang Tzu and his quest for the Perfected Man and Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom), and the West, I look back to ancient Greece and several philosophers, to Jesus and the New Testament of the Bible, and more recently to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many more. Their words and actions serve to take us there too. Even the singer/poet Bob Dillon and our asking “what and who inspired them”. Conversely, what inspires us to find within ourselves what I also think of “activism”, as to how we put our essence in motion to reflect our innate selves and our actions that reflect our own transcendence. To reflect the essence of who we have always been and follow what we truly believe we are yet to become.
While every man is the hero of his own songs… or in this case words – I am often asked who and what inspires me? In my writing, I often look for parallels between past and present and who inspires others in a traditional sense of what may be called virtue and what it is that took them there. It has always been the uncertainty of what comes next, where our own next step should lead into our own arena. And importantly, what takes us there. It opens us to the most essential truth of our lives: the truth of impermanence, alternation and change, the causes of suffering, and the illusion of separateness. We have choices to make and it will be by that our own virtue will be defined.
One of the keys to understanding the I Ching is our first impression of the title the author gives to each of the sixty-four entries. Many authors come up with various titles. Four examples would be:
The I Ching by Kerson and Rosemary Huang… Number 55 entitled – Abundance
The Classic of Changes, A new translation of the I Ching as interpreted by Wang Bi (Pi) and translated by Richard John Lynn… Number 55 – Abundance
Total I Ching by Stephen Karcher… Number 55 – Abounding/Receiving the Mandate
Rediscovering the I Ching by Gregory Whincup… Number 55 entitled Abundance
Below is Number 55 from my own version, An American journey through the I Ching and Beyond that was published in China in 2004.
Finding Mirror Images
The weight of wealth and possessions can be as light as a goose down pillow. If things are given freely and shared with others one is allowed to sleep at night.
However, if one is driven by the need for more than what is required to lead a simple unassuming life the pillow can in turn be suffocating. Ultimately leading to one’s demise.
Trappings become necessities for those who have no sense of purpose and sense of self. Knowing and keeping to one’s inner voice and chi gives a sense of space and distance between oneself and things of material value which in truth have no real value to the journey at all.
Accumulating wealth and worldly possessions only serves to mask the inner self, reflecting in the mirror the distance still to be traveled. Strive to find the proper balance and harmony that mirrors the peace within oneself. Practicing perspective with the ever present I Ching.
Yellow Dragons Sichuan Museum
Keeping to the mirror image of one’s own reality is the key to learning true value. Discard yesterday’s things and find today’s. Learn that value is in finding the nothingness needed to understand tomorrow. There is strength to be found in character, sense of purpose and knowing the ultimate value of the balance to be found in all things.
Find this and be rewarded forever. Coming down to earth you recognize those who represent power and authority and the shadows in which they travel. Stay close and lead by example as you are counted on to lead the way. (3/21/1994)
With the two described at the beginning here, Theodore Roosevelt and Thich Nhat Hanh, we look to thoughts of remaining in the arena and doing so with compassion and discernment. Leading us to seeing a transcendent universe within our own innate nature, as we look upwards beyond the clouds to all we encounter.
That there is a symbiotic, interdependent relationship, or reciprocal connection between all things found in nature. Its who we have always been.
For ancient China though, what and who was it that inspired them to reflect on their beginnings and give account to this going forward that served as the benchmark that would serve to define them and much later us? Ultimately, it becomes moving beyond words and symbols that matter and who and what we look to for directions. For the sage however, it is often felt we are born into a world where we don’t fit in – but it is because we are here to create a new one.
Gaining an understanding of relationships and how everything comes back to recognizing a single universal source (either expressed as God, the Tao, or another source as our divine nature), we see as transcendental, and how we find ourselves going forward. As if the wisdom and virtue we simply are here to build on becomes the key to our growth and longevity.
From a purely historical perspective a famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt has always served as inspiration. What always comes back to me is the question “where are we doing it from”. Where is it that divine ideas originate? And what should our own contribution be?
To the right is the historical house of the former University of Paris-Sorbonne and main university building of the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter in Paris. I stayed nearby in one of my visits to Paris in 2009.
Citizenship in a Republic is the title of a speech given by the former President of the United States, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. One notable passage on page seven of the 35-page speech is referred to as “The Man in the Arena” as follows:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Someone who is heavily involved in a situation that requires courage, skill, or tenacity (as opposed to someone sitting on the sidelines and watching), is sometimes referred to as “the man in the arena”.
Ten years ago, in 2009, I made three trips to Paris and walked past the Sorbonne many times. I was intrigued by its history and most of all thoughts of what Roosevelt may have been thinking when he wrote the above. Where was he doing it from? What was it he aspired to that serves to inspire the rest of us with thoughts of being in the arena and what that really means?
My own thoughts always returned Lao Tzu, Confucius, and to virtue. From where does the man begin as the starting point and where does it lead? What becomes of the content of his character and context of his actions and for whom they are meant? What becomes of the ultimate benefactor.
Finding Character Chengdu Wuhan Museum
At this point in 2009, I had been going to China for almost twelve years (our first trip to China was in 1997 to adopt our daughter Katie), and been published with thoughts of my own as to what it meant to lay the foundation of “being in the arena” as a writer, historian, and storyteller. Where are we doing “it” from and what is it we leave behind when we’re gone? How is it we are to be remembered if at all? How do we transcend our limitations to become the person that reflects our highest endeavor? To become as my own mentor Chuang Tzu would call “the Perfected Man”. The answer lies in asking ourselves if our words and actions are worthy of remembering by others once we are gone.
So much depends on understanding the motivation of our heart and mind; how they work, how attachment and desire arise and fall, how ignorance arises, and knowing where our emotions come from.
Far horizons Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province
And how our innate wisdom and nature can bring us joy and happiness, as Roosevelt conveys we should be the one “who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement – and daring greatly” by always bringing our endeavors back to the center through our consciousness, compassion, and actions, for ourselves and others. In other words, where are we doing it from? Or as some would say… living in our joy and finding contentment.
I saw this so often in China with the simple act of drinking tea among friends. It was a must that tea be presented first. As if all that followed in conversation was a symbol, or even common ritual, to the appreciation of nature and our own. As if setting the tone for what may follow.
Like many others, I follow the teachings and words of – Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, who stated the following relating to compassion:
“Compassion is knowing that we All hold the same emotional propensities, to some degree. ‘There but for the Grace of God go I.’ He continues:
“Practice until you see yourself in the cruelest person on Earth, in the child starving, in the political prisoner. Continue until you recognize yourself in everyone in the supermarket, on the street corner, in a concentration camp, on a leaf, in a dewdrop. Meditate until you see yourself in a speck of dust in a distant galaxy. See and listen with the whole of your being. If you are fully present, the rain of Dharma will water the deepest seeds in your consciousness, and tomorrow, while you are washing the dishes or looking at the blue sky, that seed will spring forth, and love and understanding will appear as a beautiful flower.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Even something I wrote back in a high school journalism class… “Sorrowful feelings mean nothing if there’s no compassion felt”.
For me, its life expressed as not only what we do, but who we are… It’s developing what we have acknowledged and learned through knowing our own Sage Mind. What is it that inspires us to see beyond what might be seen as simply ourselves to what may be seen as our becoming universal and assisting others to do the same? Ultimately, it has always been the one who tells the story that history knows as truth in the long run, provides context, or perhaps immortalizing for the rest of us. It is having a sense of history that counts. It is said history cannot be written for at least fifty years after events have occurred. Outcomes related sooner may be clouded by ego and personal intent of participants at the time and may not reflect natures response. That truth lies somewhere in the middle for us to find.
It would be best illustrated in the I Ching, and specifically, the 5th and 6th Wings of the Dazhuan, I have been covering here over the last few months. We have completed the 5th Wing… and with this entry begin to move on to the 6th Wing of the Dazhuan where we learn who inspired the great sage and shaman of the day. As we move beyond symbols and words to what can possibly define us and our purpose through our actions today. To an active participation defining our own arena to create the world they and we would want to live and leave behind. Nothing could be truer than the saying “Home is where the heart is”. Returning home, in effect to our own source – our destination and be able to say I did my best.
We begin with history and seeing how things began and progressed over time. As if asking the age-old question “Does man create the times… or do the times create the man”. And who picks up the torch from the fading embers of institutional memory, i.e., past wisdom to carry forward to light the way?
Part II The Dazhuan
The 5th and 6th Wings originally entitled Hsi Tz’u (the Dazhuan) appears in the ancient book of Chinese history, the Ssuma Ch’ien, and were said to be judgments written by King Wen and Ji Dan, the Duke of Chou who appended them to the hexagrams and their lines. They were the lines of the present text that were modified as commentaries by Confucius and explained as “appended judgments”. Part II is the attempts by later “Confucians” to re-define the I Ching (Yijing) to fit into their vision as to how the I Ching should be interpreted that fit their own vision of the scheme of things. The 5th Wing has been completed in the narrative preceding this entry. The twelve segments described up to this point have tried to detail beginnings of the I Ching with universal context relating to people and events to demonstrate how we are all connected. How do we move from both symbols and words to universal activism… putting our feet to what some what would call our actions? To find ourselves through the spontaneity of our everyday presence. We begin by looking to our mentors who we want to emulate and remember. It’s why the I Ching has stood for thousands of years of finding the way forward, by looking first to our past.
The 6th Wing of the Dazhuan Part II Number 1
The eight trigrams are arranged in such a way that the lines, and oracle, may become complete and tell the story of things to come. It is when the lines are doubled that the hexagrams emerge and become transformed. It is here, given a place to reside, that the sage begins to emerge as he moves within the flow of nature furthering the cause of the Tao.
What was to become known as the I Ching but his instrument foretelling his own claim to immortality and furthering the knowledge of what is known and can never be known except by one who speaks for the universe. As the alternation of whole and broken lines emerge what is firm and yielding moves constantly in ebb and flow displacing each other as change occurs and is recorded with explanations soon to follow. What the sage learned over eons of time was that movement gives way to judgment and judgments give their counsel through the oracle, or vessel, conveying either good or bad that was surely to follow.
The shaman and later sage learned that knowing the way of the Tao, of both heaven and earth, would bear the fruit of divination, i.e., the practice of foretelling future events or to discover hidden knowledge by prophecy, perception by intuition; or instinctive foresight found in the Yijing. It was through the perseverance of those that would later read the lines and put them into the context of the current situation that the sense of the oracle and divination was to gain true meaning. This perseverance became the byword for following the natural laws that sustains and gives support to everything in the cosmos.
The shaman knew that in order to be transformative, the lines would need definition and names. Therefore, opposites that served to complement each other had to be defined. Hundreds, even thousands of years, would be needed to refine through trial and error man’s efforts to follow the natural course of events and how man was to mirror this universal truth.
Staying in the middle of thing avoiding extremes was the beginning of things, as if like the ridgepole holding everything together but generally hidden from view. It would be the complementary aspect of the opposites that would define the essence of the true understanding of the Yijing (I Ching) and the one who could interpret that meaning would be the one who got to tell the story. The straight line would be known as yang, or ch’ien, and considered as creative, full of spontaneity and able to show what was easy. Complementing yang, its opposite would be yin, or Kun. Kun is receptive in nature, yielding, and thrives in simplicity. Doing what becomes simple. It would be through these lines and their symbols that the way ahead could be determined as either open or closed.
As the lines and symbols move accomplishments and tasks subsequently appear as alternations, or acts or processes of alternating, or moving by succession or repeated rotation. It was to be the shaman, the conveyor or precursor of the one who could foretell events through his innate intuition who could convey the great power and virtue of heaven and earth. It is in this way the sage learned to gain standing among men. It is through our own transformation and regeneration that this virtue of heaven and earth bestows life and it is within the power of the sage to stand and receive it. As we move to become the convener for others.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 2.1
From Shaman to Sage
It was the holy man of the clan, the shaman whose task it was from the beginning to try to make sense of it all that connected heaven and earth. By observing nature and seeing how everything is connected – the sun, moon, the constellations, heaven, the earth, thunder, wind, fire and water… everything – one and the same to later be referred to as the ten thousand things. Every occurrence a result of cause and effect and patterns that could be followed from their beginning to end that along the way tell a foreseeable future.
It would be Fuxi, who discovered the bagua or “eight trigrams” in about 2800 BC that became the symbolic basis for medical, philosophical, and astrological thinking, who after hundreds of years of oral tradition “prehistory” would be the one credited for putting it all together.
Looking upward in contemplation he wondered how one could change himself from one who saw things in a philosophical light as the shaman all depended on, to practical discovery of the movement of the sun, moon and stars and his own origin and to be able to tell the story as lines on a rock and later a tortoise shell.
The images of “everything under the sun” could now be depicted by the trigrams, three lines, he had devised along with an innate power to communicate with others and the spirit world.
Fuxi was more than a great shaman; he was an innovator and championed the tasks and fate of other men and women who followed him. He connected the spirit world with the eight trigrams and categorized the myriad things. He is said to have twined cords into nets that helped with fishing and hunting and to have partnered with Nüwa a goddess in ancient Chinese mythology who best known for creating mankind and repairing the pillar of heaven.
Fuxi, also known as Paoxi, is a culture hero in Chinese legend and mythology, credited along with his sister Nüwa with creating humanity and the invention of hunting, fishing, domestication, and cooking as well as the system of writing Chinese characters around 2,000 BC.
Depiction of dragon/horse found at the Confucius Temple in Qufu.
He is a culture hero in Chinese legend and mythology, It is said that the I Ching was revealed to him in the markings on the back of a mythical dragon horse (sometimes said to be a tortoise) that emerged from the Luo River.
Next was Shennong, considered the founder of Chinese medicine, who was known as the Divine Husbandman. He was also known as the “Red Emperor” because his patron element was fire; the first King to be called as Yan Di, meaning the “Emperor of Fire.”
Depiction of Shennong found at the Confucius College of Qufu
Shennong came forward shaping wood to make plowshares and plow handles teaching the benefit of plowing and tilling. He brought people together as a community in markets and assembled commodities to be bartered thereby making exchange become easy. Shennong the man, according to Chinese mythology, was the second of the ancient legendary Chinese emperors. Said to have been born in the 28th century BC, his mother a princess and his father a heavenly dragon. His name literally means “Divine Farmer”.
In Chinese mythology and culture, Shennong was the second of the legendary three emperors referred to as the “Three Sovereigns” namely: Fuxi, Shennong, and Hungdi, also known as The Yellow Emperor who then was followed by Yao and Shun.
The Yellow Emperor, also known by his Chinese name Huangdi, is a deity in Chinese religion, one of the legendary Chinese sovereigns and culture heroes included among the mytho-historical Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors and cosmological Five Forms of the Highest Deity.
Over the centuries of early China, they developed a simple continuity as to how people should live. They illustrated the power of the divine spirit that resides in each of us. The myths of their living are what made them immortal. These ancients served to illustrate the power of the spirit creating positive change. When change was affected there was alternation, alternation gave development which led to lasting progress. The connection between heaven and earth permeated throughout the ancient culture of China and came explicitly from Ch’ien and Kun.
The Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun wore draped upper and nether garments and all under heaven was well ordered. It is said in wearing these clothes this way that these three sat quietly without stirring and as a result of their inaction things automatically righted themselves. A sense of blessing grew out of this and this quiet meditation led to the axiom of cultivating stillness.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 2.2
The first Practical application of the wisdom of the I Ching and Tao
It is in the silence that the ancients found was to become meditation called cultivating stillness that was to lead to associating the hexagrams of the I Ching to specific actions. By emulating and following the symbols representing the trigrams, what was considered either as myth or actual occurrences or actions, led people to carry out actual reforms. This would be a re-occurring theme throughout Chinese history – what came be called innate pragmatism, or as the Taoists would later refer to as cause and effect.
Re-making the past to fit the aspirations of the current generation would become an art form. To the left is the giant urn at the entrance of Wangcheng Park in Luoyang. Where the parks lies was the center of government for over a thousand years, the beginning of the Silk Road, and ten dynasties of ancient China. Not far away in the city is the Duke of Zhou Temple, which commemorates the author of The Rites of Zhou, a book of bureaucratic theory outlining atrocities the previous five hundred years of the Shang dynasty.
To the left is The Duke of Zhou, Ji Dan at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu.
The Rites of Zhou became the basis for one the The Five Classics updated by Confucius five hundred years later.The thread of his ideas can be traced through Chinese history to the present day. He was considered China’a first sage. His name was Dan…
Much later in the Han dynasty, modifying the intent of the I Ching was done with great effect. But in the period of pre-history when written records were not prevalent, following the shaman was essential. It would be the reforms they instituted that had the most lasting effect of Chinese civilization. They could begin to see beyond mere subsistence using the natural world around them to weave together what would combine innate wisdom with practical application of the world they lived in.
Always looking to the earth and sky for symbols to guide them through the seasons and to the shaman and sage, the superior person to show the way, but it would be the underlying Tao and intervening I Ching that was to give the appropriate answer and show the way.
They learned to:
- Hollow out tree trunks to make boats and shaved wood to make oars. The rivers next to where they lived provided transportation and enabled them to travel to distant places so they could communicate with others. The trigram wood over water would illustrate or show this.
- Tame the ox and yoke the horse so that heavy loads could be transported over long distances. An indication of the value in movement behind a superior force as the horse and ox could move ahead as they now could travel to distant places both by water on boats and on land as well.
- Protecting themselves using outer walls and double gates of their settlements that was seen as necessary in protection against robbers. The use of symbols and the trigrams is illustrative here with the trigram Chen, movement above and k’un, the earth below. The trigrams are K’an meaning danger and Ken meaning mountain. K’un symbolizes the closed door; hence the double gates. K’an means thief. Beyond the gates, movement with wood (Ch’en) in the hand (Ken), serves as the preparation against the thief. It would be the oral tradition of interpreting the lines that gave root to establishing a common written language.
- Next came splitting wood and making a pestle, a tool for pounding and grinding and a bowl shaped hole in the ground for a mortar. With this they could grind grain for baking bread. The mortar was a primitive mill that advanced the growing of grain in their diet.
- They strung a piece of wood for a bow and hardened pieces of wood in the fire and cut stone for arrows. This enhanced their power and awe in the opponents and added greatly to their hunting abilities.
- As more people lived longer lives they moved out of caves and into houses with a ridgepole for eaves to ward off wind and rain. It was the shaman and sage who now guided people to safety of communities and collective living arrangements.
- Dealing with death and the spirit world, i.e., the unknown, was always the realm of the shaman or holy man. In earliest time burial was performed by covering the corpse with brush with neither mound or grave with no set time for mourning. The shaman changed this to reflect the sense of the eternal spirit through the institution of rituals and ancestor worship which carries on even today in modern China. This connection to the eternal was essential the continuity of all things under heaven that manifested here on earth.
- Finally comes the knotting of cords to try to bring a sense of order to give a sense of what was right as a means of governing. In much later generations, once writing was more fully introduced, written documents would serve to regulate officials and supervising the people. Writing in the earliest of times was scratched on tablets of smoothed bamboo when the ability to govern the larger community became essential.
All of the above has been laid out continuously in various commentaries over the intervening centuries and can be identified as the period of history leading up to the beginning of the Shang dynasty and a written language in approximately 1600 BC and describes this early period. It was the Sage Mind that provided the even keel to furthering through trial and error that which gave structure to human life. Along with the power and virtue of heaven and earth that provided the essential principles of the natural world following what was to become essential philosophical Taoism.
This is the first two entries (for a total of twelve) of the Sixth Wing of the Dazhuan. The story continues as our journey in cultivating stillness. Knowing and using this induces a spiritual transformation. The lines of the I Ching, the Book of Changes becomes shorthand for transforming change that attracts the lights and energy of heaven, i.e., getting their attention thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to become again who we are meant to be.
(The Dazhuan Sixth Wing Number 3)
I’ve seen too many places in my life and time for the story to have simply one entry / Continuing the I Ching – Images, Structure, Judgments and Commentaries.
It begins with becoming one with contentment and discernment. Identifying with our source as the common thread followed and traced throughout time and history to the present day.
For me… exemplified as a tour of sacred mountains in China. Teaching us to not just watch with our eyes, but to listen with our minds. Simply to learn detachment, enlightenment, and along the way inner peace. To be content – within what my writing – and to what our own highest endeavor tells us. As if looking beyond the clouds to far vistas, to what takes us there… as if we are above it all once again. To join and be with ancestors and forever friends once again as we get glimpses of our ultimate destiny.
As if getting to decide for ourselves where the journey begins again, or maybe continues… to self-discovery and to where it leads with the stars that eternally define us and light our way. It’s why we go there; we might even call it a travelogue tracing our own sense of immortality. It was here on the mountains of China where the famous elixirs and pills of immortality (and gunpowder) were said to have been formulated. With Lao Tzu’s furnace on Huashan Mountain producing the most famous pill we should take defining what was to become the ultimate in self-awareness, inner development, the Tao and eventually Taoism.
Mountains allow us a physically unimpeded bond, that for some acts as an umbilical cord, to and with the divinity from within, to who we are and have forever been. It’s as close to God as we can get while here on earth. To be seen as having been to the mountaintop and seeing the other side… often even above the clouds, is as if we have made the ultimate connection with our own divinity. The mountain becoming our ultimate sanctuary.
As the follow-up to Theodore Roosevelt and Thich Nhat Hanh from the previous post, we continue with thoughts of actions in the arena of life we take that are consistent with our eternal source. Finding a benchmark, the proper segue from within. As if making a smooth, uninterrupted transition from one thing to another as we move closer to the contentment that ultimately defines us. The advantage of focusing on China is that there is over five thousand years of uninterrupted history to draw conclusions and to see clearly from.
Traditions not only in China, but that described in the story of the burning bush as an object described in the Book of Exodus as being on Mount Horeb, and the story of Black Elk, a Sioux holy man who much later became a catechist (a person appointed to instruct others in the principles of religion as a preparation for Baptism). His fame was due to his conversing with his ancestors on what is now known as Black Elk Peak of the Black Hills of South Dakota and conveying what was to occur to his people. When our actions simply reflect our own transcendence to reconcile with who we have always been. To where tradition has always taken us.
When we think about a starting point to find context as to why climbing mountains became so important in China, it comes first to what we are connecting too when we get there. First, if you’ve been following here is the importance of symbols. As if the stars and the constellations are to be seen as the guardians of Heaven. With nature’s response always to be seen as determining how everything comes together and remains universal. It is from mountains we can speak from our own divine nature without distractions and directly to them – to the stars above.
Our guides to the stars are the “Four Guardians.” They are the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise (also called “Black Warrior”) of the North.
Each of the creatures is most closely associated with a cardinal direction and a color, but also additionally represents other aspects, including a season of the year, a virtue, and one of the Chinese “five elements” (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water)… as well as the I Ching. Each has been given its own individual traits and origin story.
Understanding this basic premise is central to what each person looks for from the sky at night. Not only from mountains, but what we can see every night regardless of where we are. Bringing it all back down to earth as our own endeavors and destiny. Knowing that our own constellation, i.e., from the month and most importantly, the year you were born, will return each year in the sky as a beginning, or starting point again, again, and again. Thereby defining our own nature, and showing us that we are innately connected to something much bigger than ourselves.
As your tour guide, I have been to all the mountains described below. While the mountains generally have a Taoist bent, many described below are connected with Buddhism, or maybe to both.
First would be Lhasa, Tibet. Lhasa, the holy city of Tibetan Buddhism, north of the Himalaya Mountains and second south of Chengdu with the Leshan Giant Buddha where there is a local saying: “The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”. This is partially because Linyun Mountain in which the Leshan Giant Buddha depicting Maitreya is located, is thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when seen from the river, with the Leshan Giant Buddha as its heart.
According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on earth in the future. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Buddha – Gautama Buddha (also known as Sakyamuni Buddha).
What caught my attention in addition to the Giant Buddha was the adjacent Taoist Cave depicting the eight characters of the I Ching, Lao Tzu with I Ching, and a dragon depicted in the stars shown here in the beginning.
For those who knew what they were seeing, you could confirm the synthesis of all three (Buddhism, Taoism, and the I Ching) at the top of Linyun Mountain.
Since ancient times communing with God in the stillness found above the clouds is said to have “been to the mountaintop and seeing the other side” from a spiritual context denotes being one with, or knowing the intent of Heaven. Holy men and women, spending time in solitude for eons of time have felt the presence, the spirit of eternity and returned. The other side referring to our own divinity and eternal divine nature.
For myself, the list of mountains below can easily be expanded depending on personal preference. Once I began outlining the mountains and their significance, I decided simply reviewing my time there and their significance would need more than one entry. It is the spiritual connection we see once there – that seems to enter our soul, as if a reminder, that pulls us back to our ultimate source. As if connecting to our innermost sense of well-being. It is through use of the I Ching as a tool, that we continue to outline here, i.e., coming forward to connect with our source through prayer and meditation we can become one with it all again.
All of the mountains described here I have been up and down, and if we each want to define for ourselves the meaning of “what is sacred, spiritual, or revered”… for myself, it’s what takes us there. Albeit words, symbols, or in this case mountains – as in the I Ching commonly referred to below as “The Traveler”.
The Death of the Chamois
Buckskins tanning in the bright sun light brown almost white from the ram captured on the mountain’s rim only for the delicacy of its tender loins and its superior skin.
No matter the benefits, it is not the capture of game pursued over a long distance that is important. But simply the ultimate pursuit itself. As the hunter respects his prey by only taking what is necessary for his own survival, fulfillment comes with the understanding of one’s place in the universe. Not the lethal release of the arrow.
Pursuing the chamois on the sheer outcropping near the mountain’s top is as difficult as capturing the pheasant in the valley below. Both represent the ultimate challenge and losing against such an able foe is not losing, but gaining the respect found to be in nature’s way. The ram only captured because its time has come.
The Challenge Sichuan Museum
Having overcome the chamois there is a satisfaction in knowing the ram as an equal or better in his own territory. Fully aware of his stature in his environment and what it takes to survive on top of mountains. Always to be looking down at panoramas in every direction. An innate sense that each step on the craggy outcropping could be his last if improperly placed. However surefooted, he adeptly and safely bounds from rock to rock unconcerned and unafraid.
As a seasoned traveler coming across hunters coming down from higher elevations with their prize, you sense both elation and sadness accompanying the death of the chamois. All is well and as it should be.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese classic the I Ching (56 THE TRAVELER / Fire over Mountain). 3/22/1994
Seven Mountains stand out for myself as having great historical and spiritual significance. (The eighth would be Wudang Mountain mentioned earlier that I have not been to).
Because I want to go in some detail with each one, I will focus on three this time Laoshan, Taishan, and Huangshan in this entry and on the next entry will focus on Songshan, Huashan, and Qingcheng. Plus, possibly more on Lhasa in the Himalayas. Geographically, that’s basically going from east to west.
Sacred mountains of China – Part 1:
Mount Lao, or Laoshan is a mountain located near the East China Sea along the southeastern coastline of the Shandong Peninsula China northeast of Qingdao. The mountain is culturally significant due to its long affiliation with Taoism and is often regarded as one of the “cradles of Taoism”. At the peak of Taoism, there were nine palaces, eight Taoist Temples, and 72 nunneries and housed nearly a thousand Taoist priests and nuns on the mountain. It is the place where the Complete Perfection School of Taoism developed. At present, the Taiqing Palace is the oldest among the preserved Taoist establishments. In ancient times, the emperors of the Qin and Han dynasties climbed the mountain seeking the wisdom of immortals.
Today the Shenshui (Immortal Water) Spring in the Taiqing Palace and the Shengshuiyang (Ocean of Holy Water) Spring in the Shangqing Palace are said to be the source of Tsingtao Beer. The Tsingtao brewery is less than an hour to the south in Qingdao. I have been to Qingdao and the brewery many times over the years and had dozens of students from Qingdao while I was teaching in Qufu. I visited Laoshan Mountain in 2017. Highlights of the mountain trek were Taoist temples, the statute of Lao Tzu and unusual rock formations.
TaiShan Mountain in Shandong. Mount TaiShan is the one I am most familiar with having been there many times. It is one of the most famous Taoist mountains in China because of its being furthest to the east. It is where from its summit you can be the first to see the sunrise. According to historical records, Mount Tai became a sacred place visited by emperors to offer sacrifices and meditate in the Zhou dynasty before one thousand BC. A total of seventy-two emperors were recorded as visiting it. For over two thousand years, tradition required the emperor to make a pilgrimage to TaiShan on his return to Beijing after visiting Qufu and paying homage to Confucius to see the sunrise from the summit. Spending the night on top of the mountain is a must.
At the base of the mountain is the Daimiao Temple built in the Han dynasty (206-220). One of my favorite points of interest is the ‘Peitian Gate’. It is an excellent example of how Confucian and Taoist thought combined with nature have resided and complemented each other over the centuries.
The stele, or entryway had a saying with the theme, “The virtues match the heaven and earth”. It further is highlighted with the ‘Azure Dragon’ and ‘White Tiger’, two of the principal symbols of the Chinese constellation that were enshrined in the hall to the left. Two of the constellations described here in the beginning.
Communing with nature, staying overnight watching the stars overhead on top of the mountain – up early to see the sunrise… you can sense the universal connection and know you are a part of something much bigger than yourself. Tradition says many Taoist poets would carve their own words on the mountain as a symbol tying themselves to the mountain’s history. Imagining emperors making a pilgrimage here after visiting Qufu and Confucius adds to the majesty of the mountain.
Next is Huangshan Mountain, originally known as Yishan (Mount Yi) in Anhui Province also known as Yellow Mountain. The name was coined to honor Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor). I came here in October 2016 and became part of a tour group (Something I usually avoid). Busy taking pictures I got left behind. The tour guide was upset, but I was eventually found. The pictures I took here were awesome. I may not have complained that much had I remained lost.
Legend states that Huangshan was the location from which the Yellow Emperor ascended to Heaven. Another legend states that the Yellow Emperor “cultivated moral character and refined Pills of Immortality” in the mountains, and in so doing gave the mountains his name.
The first use of this name “Huangshan” is often attributed to Chinese poet Li Bai. I wanted to include Li Bai because writing was illustrative of man’s connection to nature, how he relates to it, and especially, how symbols (the essence of Chinese writing, i.e., words), and the I Ching, are symbolic of how we are to live and die. He was one of the most famous and well-respected poets of the era. Huangshan Mountain was fairly inaccessible in ancient times until 747 AD when many Taoist temples began being built.
Li Bai (701-762) was one of the greatest poets of the Tang dynasty and Chinese history. As a historian and writer myself, I am very appreciative of his talent and influence. The Tang era was a golden age of Chinese poetry, and Li Bai’s works made up a large part of this. I plan to include some of his poetry in the future. He was known also for his drinking. Popular legend says that he drowned when, sitting drunk in a boat, he tried to seize the moon’s reflection in the water.
An ink painting depicting Huangshan by Shitao, 1670
Reminding us that legends are meant to convey meaning, not factual accuracy. Li Bai’s contributions to history and poetry have stood the test of time, regardless of his love for plum wine.
To the right is Xiantao Feng Peak commonly referred to as “Fairy Peach Peak”, or “Flying Rock”; also known as “Old Man watching the Sea” on Yellow Mountain in Huangshan, Anhui Province.
Much of the mountain’s reputation derives from its significance in Chinese arts and literature. In addition to inspiring poets such as Li Bai, Huangshan and its scenery has been the frequent subject of poetry and artwork, especially Chinese ink painting and, more recently, photography. From the Tang dynasty (618 to 907) to the end of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911), more than twenty thousand poems were written about Huangshan Mountain.
Here in the Dazhuan, in the 5th and 6th Wings, it is assumed that they are not written in a vacuum and the earlier Wings, The Commentary of the Decision Wings 1 and 2, are already known and understood, and as with the remaining Wings (3 through 12), the materials from which the hexagrams have been constructed are explained. It is essential that we don’t try to interpret the I Ching and change – only by what we think – by modern standards – with what we know today.
To be guided by nature and resulting cause and effect and the spirit we seek within ourselves is an essential element to connecting to the stars above and who we are yet to become. As today will always simply pass us by. Knowing that our lives are but a flash of lightening in eternity.
Taken as a whole, this means we are describing change as it evolves through Confucius or others who wrote their own commentary of the Dazhuan later and conveyed its importance by attributing to him. Confucius, in his later years did spend his time trying to grasp the meaning of the I Ching to determine how it fit with his own vision and bringing it in keeping with his take on history transforming it from a manual for divination into a text about philosophy and morality. This was to become his greatest contribution and enduring legacy.
The works of Ji Dan, the fourth son of King Wen of Zhou, five hundred years earlier were essential in making this connection to Chinese antiquity. All three, the Yellow Emperor, Ji Dan, and Confucius hailed from the city of Lu, or Qufu. Others would later use this as a pathway for their own “interpretation” of the I Ching, Lao Tzu, and Confucius who had ties to all the loose endings of history that preceded him… myself included.
In the end, it is the hexagrams that give meaning to the underlying line statements that follow all the actions under heaven. The lines are the imitations of heaven as movements on earth. It is that simple. In the case of the Book of Changes, the I Ching – the lines are the equivalent to the judgments appended to them.
In this way both good and bad auspices appear as judgments and apply themselves to the lines that move. They can then reflect the changes within the individual situation. This basic understanding must be made and accounted for before proceeding further. If you don’t know or understand the underlying precepts then it is impossible to obtain an accurate reading.
Remember, this is only the third of a total of twelve entries to be discussed here in the 6th Wing. Context is everything to knowledge, wisdom and understanding that follows us throughout our lives.
Unfortunately, with popular culture over the centuries, people became enamored with the reading of the lines more as simple “fortune-telling”. Not taking into account the seriousness of the underlying premise of the true essence or meaning of the I Ching. It is the changes that reflect an individual situation in which either good or auspices things occur, or bad, i.e., misfortune arise, along with remorse and humiliation, or trouble and distress appears. It is our own movement, illustrated by our actions, that reveal the direction that events are taking and with that warnings or confirmations are added.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 3
Images, Structure, Judgments and Commentaries
What the shaman discovered over the millennia was that the natural order of things followed images and a certain structure that foretold future events. That when man could attune himself to this, what would one day be referred to as the Tao, then all would be right in the world. Conversely, when man’s actions did not follow the natural order of things, disaster occurs. This basic premise was underlying everything from not only man himself, but every aspect he could observe in his environment as well.
It was the Yijing, Book of Changes, i.e., the trigrams, and then much later the hexagrams, that reflects and consists of images that are reproductions of conditions in heaven and on earth and that when they are applied productively they have enormous creative power in the realm of those who know how to use them. Fuxi, Shennong, and the Yellow Emperor knew this and they had done their best to impart this wisdom to those who would follow them for the benefit of all things under heaven as previously described.
The paradox had always been from the earliest clan gatherings of Fuxi and even hundreds of years earlier, was how to use what was later to become the hexagrams (the three lines of the eight trigrams when doubled) and their essential eternal teachings to unleash the creative power in the realm of ideas within each individual. Over the centuries leading up to the Shang dynasty when written history could be recorded and followed, (a period from Fuxi 2900 BC to 1700 BC), this excess of personal aggrandizement would come to the forefront with the Shang. It would be when the pendulum swung back the other way with King Wen in 1100 BC and the following Zhou dynasty that the true meaning of the lines, now referred to as statements, could begin to go forward.
Again, it is worth repeating, it is in the knowing of how to use the statements within the hexagrams properly that unleashes our creative power to influence events yet to come that becomes essential. With this knowledge, it is as though we become like the wind passing through time.
The challenge of the shaman had always been imparting this eternal wisdom to people who did not understand the true meaning of the lines and how to read and use them. This tempering of the personal ego led to the focus on cultivating stillness within oneself and was enhanced even further with the arrival of the Buddhist influence from SW China and India in 300-400 AD. This was to serve to cement the eternal connection between man and the universe so our focus would remain empowering our internal energies with the outer world we find ourselves.
Going forward we either further our good or don’t. We decide this solely by our actions and it is by following the I Ching we can know what comes in advance, when to proceed and when not to with answers usually a simple yes or no.
Over the times and centuries of judgments and commentaries however, it became clear and evident that when one compares the Judgments with the Images, different “readings” can be determined that serve to justify what direction this powerful oracle, or tool, was to take. At one point, Confucius became the fulcrum, or pivot, as to how this was to occur. In almost every instance it was not Confucius himself, but others who used his name to solidify through “commentary” what the real interpretation should be. For now, leave it to say that it should be the original intent of the shaman and Taoist sage who have the final say not the political whim of the moment.
Thanks to Wang Bi and other Confucians during the Han dynasty who were bent on the “Confucian interpretation” of the I Ching, his version became required study for the rigorous examination system after the Later Han in roughly 200AD. The Confucian ideal became a permanent fixture in China for almost two thousand years until the fall of the last emperor in 1912. This paradox of the real intent of the Book of Changes will always be in contention due to man’s attempts to control events that leads to a “politically correct manageable outcome” verses the Taoist understanding of letting nature decide for itself.
This is the third entry (for a total of twelve) of the Sixth Wing of the Dazhuan. The story continues as our journey in cultivating stillness. Knowing and using this induces a spiritual transformation. The lines of the I Ching, the Book of Changes becomes shorthand for transforming change that attracts the lights and energy of heaven, i.e., getting their attention thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to become again who we are meant to be.
(The Dazhuan Sixth Wing Number 4)
The I Ching – On the Nature of the Trigrams (tortoise shells, yarrow sticks, and coins)
Sometimes it seems knowledge and wisdom are in your blood giving you a sense of purpose, just as your consciousness is reflective of all you have ever seen and done. Often equated to one’s eternal chi (your breath) that connects you to the eternal. More on chi on a future entry. Understanding our role is sometimes as if our lives are only a chapter in a book. With our mind or soul having no beginning or end and we find ourselves somewhere in the middle. What will we write this time that will ultimately help to define our final entry? Why worry? If we don’t do it now – maybe next time. If we get too far afield, or are at too great a distance from our beginnings, we can often mistake ignorance for perspective.
In a later entry I want to talk about the mystic, the power of myth, and the reclusive sage and holy man, who lived in the caves that dot the mountains of China. Where they found that it is in the silence that our divinity is most revealed. In Plato’s Platonic dialogues and The Republic, every time Socrates discusses a myth, the parable of the cave emerges that tells us that we have arrived at something we can see as universal. As central to our core being. The challenge for the sage throughout history has been the paradox of remaining hidden from view verses exposed to the vagaries, the unpredictable of the world. Looking to the contentment and peace we all seek, but few of us ever find. Just as in life, there is much to read here. You don’t have to do all at once… only to be pointed in the right direction. Comforted in knowing that you can return as many times as you like.
With our only task to perceive our true identity and to experience what we find as mystical. Perhaps even as Carl Sagan in his book, Intelligent Life in the Universe said, ‘Man is the matter of the universe contemplating itself.’
I would add – why not do so with a similar sense of discovery and yearning from the mountaintop looking beyond what we think we know. With vibrations and ultimately mindfulness reflecting us as a mirror with the stars above? It becomes learning to innately proceed with the discernment that I spoke earlier and about staying above our human frailties that seems to take us there. Finding our niche, exemplified by the ever-prevailing love that is to consume us. In doing so, we become a magnet for divine ideas and wisdom defined only as our highest endeavor. What the earliest shaman always was the first to know and convey to others. Why else could we be here?
It was always the intent of the I Ching to reveal to us how to use these ideas to our best advantage. When we can see our origins in the stars, divine creation becomes us. When this presence that resides within us becomes manifest through our actions, we make universal life-affirming choices for all we do, see, and touch. We become simply an extension of the divine we define as our consciousness as our next step.
Forever looking for contentment that can only be found by looking within and identifying with what takes us there.
After my last entry, one of my readers from Greece, brought to my attention the historic Panagia Soumela Monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary and located in Trabzon on the Black sea that re-opened its doors to the public in May after three years of restoration. Literally carved into the side of a mountain in the Pontic mountain range near the Black Sea, the monastery is not only an important cultural and religious landmark, but also a tourist destination as well because of its natural beauty.
I plan to return to the mountains of China, Tibet and the I Ching, but this was a reminder that our divinity is shared by those who seek the closeness we contribute with all in nature and the divine presence, as if our mutual debt to the cosmos and transcendence – but first…
The great significance of the Sumela Monastery – also referred to as “Panagia Sumala” by Greeks – lies in the seventeen-hundred-year-old icon of the Virgin Mary, which according to the Orthodox Church was the handwork of the Apostle Luke, the Evangelist.
Ultimately, our challenge is taking care of ourselves with compassionate “self-care” that sometimes seems so vague to us and allusive. We do this by spending time with people and images of what takes us there. Thereby creating situations, even maybe remembrances, that propel us to bring out the best from within us and all we encounter.
The pinnacle for myself is Wudang Mountain – as if on the road yet to be traveled. One of the mountains I still have to climb lies in the northwestern part of Hubei, China, just south of Shiyan. It is home to a famous complex of Taoist temples and monasteries and renowned for the practice of tai chi and Taoism as the counterpart to the Shaolin monastery, that is affiliated with Chinese Chan Buddhism.
The Purple Cloud monastery at Wudang Mountain
There seems always in our lives another mountain, another pinnacle to climb that defines us that brings clarity and purpose. In practical terms, the question becomes… what are people looking at or for when they arise above the clouds to associate with deities?
To the right is the Sanhuang Basilica on Songshan Shaoshi Mountain. It was constructed in honor of the three sovereigns Fu Xi(伏羲), Shennong (神農), and the Yellow Emperor (黃帝).
Think of the ancient shaman and storyteller who could connect people to their origins – to the stars and their own divinity – rather seen as connected to one God or many and seeing ourselves in and even as the stars above.
The key has always been every person is tied intrinsically to the constellation (astrological sign) in which they are born so you can see yourself in the stars. By climbing mountains, you could connect much better with Heaven and nature that you are (as one of the ten thousand things) already connected with or to from within. In effect, viewing the world as a complete and complex “organism”.
What the I Ching did/and does is to provide the method for finding a beginning point within ourselves that connects our heart as in prayer or meditation with our essence, our soul, with our mind and the metaphysical world to what forms the basis of mysticism. The shaman was the first mystic. As we too become mystical when we attach ourselves with the light of the world. When I think of Emerson and his essays on Nature, it is easy to see him as transcendental – moving us beyond what we think we know to becoming transcendental ourselves – this is not a New Thought… except maybe for ourselves.
“om mani padme hūṃ”, mani stone carved in Tibetan script outside the Potala Palace in Llasa in the Himalaya Mountains
The Sacred Mountains of China are associated with the supreme God of Heaven and the five main cosmic deities of Chinese traditional religion. The group associated with Buddhism is referred to as the Sacred Mountains of Buddhism and those associated with Taoism are referred to as the Sacred Mountains of Taoism. Although those making the list seems to depend on the author. It is the closeness to the eternal spirit one finds on heights of mountains that people find a spiritual connection. For many, myself included, it becomes finding jewels like the Longman Grottoes near Luoyang carved in a hillside depicting the love of something unseen, but understood.
Books have been written for each of the mountains described here. What is given here is only a snapshot – or picture – describing the spiritual significance of each. All telling a story to show the connection over the centuries to our ultimate beginning, why we are here, and to convey that there is nothing to fear in taking the next step in our eternal journey above the clouds. Even said, there’s too much to talk about in this brief tour. It seems setting the stage transcends going forward and is never-ending… so I’ve decided to go to a third entry (Part 3) discussing the mountains of China and Tibet that will follow. Below are Songshan, Huashan, and the Longman Grottoes, others will follow next time.
Sacred mountains of China – Part 2:
Songshan Mountain – Mount Song is a mountain in central China’s Henan Province, along the southern bank of the Yellow River. It is known as the central mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. This mountain has so much important history as to the development of both Buddhism and Taoism (tradition says Lao Tzu stayed here – as well as the next mountain HuaShan – sometimes I think every mountain in China seems to have been visited by the spirit of Lao Tzu…).
It is here, south of Luoyang, where Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucian ideologies came together. Symbols of this tradition are the Buddhist Shaolin Temple and Songyang Temple that has honored both Taoism and Confucius over the centuries. Another example of how we have climbed mountains to get closer to our divine selves over the centuries as we look both within and outside to become one with the nature around us.
Between the two – Songshan and Huashan Mountains to the south of Luoyang lies the Longman Grottoes I visited in September 2018.
As I looked at the side of the mountain and thought of those who might have carved out of stone these caves and statutes south of Luoyang all those centuries ago, quite possibly after a long trek covering several months or even years to get here over the Silk Road or from the southwest and Chengdu where the tour continues next time.
I can only marvel at their work and their religious veracity. And what was in all likelihood their mantra – repeated over and over again with every strike of the hammer and chisel as they did their life’s work as over one hundred thousand images of the Buddha were carved here. As they repeated those four magic words over and over again with every strike of the hammer.
OM MANI PODME HUM
These words can be translated and have a universal meaning:
OM – The Jewel in the Heart of the LOTUS! The deep resonate OM is all sound and silence throughout time, the roar of eternity and also the great stillness of pure being; when intoned with the prescribed vibrations, it evokes the ALL that is otherwise inexpressible.
The MANI is the “adamantine diamond” of the Void – the primordial, pure and indestructible essence of existence beyond all matter or even antimatter, all change, and all becoming.
PADME – In the lotus (the lotus is a symbol signifying purity due to its ability to emerge unstained from the mud) and spiritual fruition (and thus, awakening) in the world of phenomena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart.
HUM has no literal meaning, and is variously interpreted perhaps simply as a rhythmic exhortation, completing the mantra inspiring the chanter as a declaration of being (like the stone carvers here at Longman Grottoes), symbolizing the Buddha’s gesture of touching the earth at a moment of enlightenment.
As if saying all that is or was or will ever be is right here in this moment.
For myself, I am especially attracted to the mythical embodiment of the Buddha, called a Bodhisattva known as Avalokita Ishuara – who is seen as “The Lord that looked down in compassion”. He represents “the divine within” sought by mystics and has been called “The Lord that is seen within”. Maybe this is the answer as to why the Buddha is always seen smiling. Could it be as though reaching the ultimate state of heart and mind within ourselves? Perhaps living within one’s own “true nature”, the Avalokita and the Presence within each of us.
Further to the west of Luoyang is Huashan Mountain and its major peaks, that are capped with ancient temples that have been the site of prayer and sacrifice since at least the period of emperor Qin Shi Huang in 200 B.C. Famous because Lao Tzu was supposed to have resided there for a while. The top of this mountain is amazing. It’s like a plateau with five peaks. I went last year (2018) and spent two nights on top of the mountain to see the sunrise from East Peak, also called Morning Sun Peak. So much more to experience I am anxious to return.
Once called the West Mountain in ancient times it is noted for very steep and narrow trails. West Peak (also called the Lotus Flower Peak), because of the large flower shaped rock which stands in front of Cuiyun Temple; the central Peak (also called the Jade Lady Peak).
Dan at West Peak of Huashan Mountain
Legend has it that the daughter of the King Mu lived here; South Peak (also called the Wild Goose-resting Peak), towers over all other peaks on the mountains and is covered by pines and cypresses; and North Peak (also called the Cloudy Terrace Peak). From a distance, these five peaks look like a lotus flower among the mountains, hence the name of Huashan. Three highlights here for me were the Immortals (Lao Tzu in particular) Pill Furnace made famous from the Monkey King story, the shrine referred to as Heaven’s Gate (to the right), and the Zhenyue Taoist Palace. This historic location between Xian and Luoyang played a substantial role in the popularity of the mountain. There are over seventy caves dedicated to those who came to live in seclusion over the centuries and twenty Taoist Temples here.
Here in the Dazhuan, in the 5th and 6th Wings, it is assumed that they are not written in a vacuum and the earlier Wings especially The Commentary of the Decision, Wings 1 and 2, are already known and understood, and as with the remaining Wings (3 through 10), the materials from which the hexagrams have been constructed are explained.
Continuing the story is the 6th Wing Number 4… 5 through 12 that will follow with later entries describes in greater detail the central meaning of the I Ching as cultivating stillness, our chi, feng shui, and much more.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 4
On the Nature of the Trigrams (tortoise shells, yarrow sticks, and coins)
It is here that we go from narrative to numbers. The numbers are what make the I Ching work. Using tradition would say that you cannot get a reading without tortoise shells, yarrow sticks or coins and the only way to do it is to go through the process. However, common practice today is using three quarters…
In looking where this chapter of the Dazhuan fits with its companion in the book, Cultivating Stillness, this is a good place to cite references to all three divination techniques, tortoise shell, yarrow sticks, and coins.
Cultivating Stillness, written by Eva Wong, will be described in my next entry here so that we can pull together the Taoist concepts and I Ching that are centuries old that guide and help to take us there.
There is not space here in Number 4 of the 6th Wing, nor the intent to focus yet on the numbers. To do so would pull away from the philosophical updating of the Great Treatise. However, some descriptions to understand intent, are needed and references in other entries of the Ten Wings can do this much better. My interest has always been to return to the ways of the shaman. To see things in the light as they might have. It’s hard to image the use of how the I Ching could have been formulated all those eons ago using what we might call “today’s thinking”. They could only look to the stars and nature and how we connected to it all.
We tend to see things with what we know and understand today that may have been “beyond reasoning” of the times all those centuries ago. Wisdom has always been gained by trial and error, the times we live, cause and effect, and how man uses pragmatism to find the middle.
Since ancient times the approach has always been twofold. First, the process of connecting to the spirit world (through our heart), and second understanding man’s relationship with universal law (through our mind). What we know now through quantum physics, is that science tells us what the shaman always knew. Always guided by what we call prayer… as positive thinking and that we can change the direction of our lives as if midstream.
That energy can be two places at the same time, (how yin and yang interact, more importantly alternate, and create change) from within us. That we have one specific task – that we are to connect with and let the divine flow through us as us. Then the ability to predict what steps are to be taken so that a certain understanding occurs as to how to live and to know how to connect with and anticipate the outcome of future events. What could be defined and can be illustrated as an inner structure, image, motivation and essence that defines us.
A brief overview would be that it was the trigrams that provided the path, or way, to do this. From the earliest time of antiquity, it was the lines and how they reflected change and what was obvious if you were paying attention. They could associate change with light and dark. The sun came up and daylight came and at night it went down and it became dark. They then decided light trigrams have three sons, Ch’en, K’an, and Ken, each of which consists of two dark lines and one light line. The dark trigrams are the three daughters, Sun, Li, and Tui each of which consists of two light lines and one dark line. A yang trigram contains more yin lines while a yin trigram contains more yang lines. The difference is that a yang trigram has an odd number of strokes and a yin trigram has an even number of strokes. Why is this? How did the shaman come to this way of thinking of current events? It may sound confusing, but taken a little at a time, once seen as universal you can fit the pieces together and it makes sense. (Much more detail to follow in later entries here on the website).
It was with the tortoise shell when the wisdom of the shaman first came to light to his clan. The tortoise shell oracle is the earliest record of foretelling events and just as importantly why they occur. Also guided by nature and the sense of complimentary opposites – looking to the middle being essential as to why things happen and contradictions that lead to knowable conclusions.
With the tortoise shell the shaman would apply heat to a point on the outer shell and interpret the resulting cracks. Needing a record of the cracks, a written language soon took hold and characters representing certain fixtures found in nature soon appeared. The resulting structure could be seen and understood and an “institutional memory” of events was created and could be followed. Cause and effect were always the greatest precursor that showed the way forward. The resulting road map became what was to become the I Ching.
Later in the Shang dynasty the shell would be cut into strips after heating in the fire and symbols and common inscriptions would be added. The shaman would then interpret the will of heaven and their natural environment. The cracks in the tortoise shell would soon be seen as the intent of heaven itself. I have always wondered if the shaman (the person doing the reading) was giving advise based on institutional memory of the circumstances that would be the best decision for all involved… the cracks in the tortoise shell notwithstanding – simply the cover for doing or saying so. Even on the battlefield, decisions to go forward or retreat were often made by interpreting a reading of the tortoise shell. Readings from yarrow sticks and later coins could be much more definitive and not so open to question.
Divination techniques in early China took thousands of years of trial and error. It was a serious endeavor. Getting positive or negative readings by the diviner could lead to good or bad decisions and the deaths of thousands if the wrong reading of the tortoise shell was given. Later in the Zhou dynasty it was not uncommon for both the tortoise shell and the yarrow stalks to be used in consulting the oracle and a book kept of readings and interpretations for future reference.
When tortoise shells and the tortoise itself became endangered another more plentiful source of divination and calling the oracle was needed to read the intent of the trigrams. It was discovered that the hexagrams may be manipulated through the use of yarrow stalks. The following directions may be found in the Ten Wings. (Remember that this ancient way is over two thousand years old). Through trial and error, the method has been perfected over the centuries. Numbers don’t lie and are more difficult to dispute.
One takes fifty yarrow stalks, of which only forth nine are used. These forty-nine are then divided into two heaps (at random), and then a stalk from the right-hand heap is inserted between the ring finger and the little finger of the left hand. The left heap is counted through by fours, and the remainder (four or less) is inserted between the ring finger and the middle finger. This constitutes one change. Now one is holding in one’s hand either five or nine stalks in all. The two remaining heaps are put together, and the same process is repeated twice. These second and third times, one obtains either four or eight stalks. The five stalks of the first counting and the four of each of the succeeding counting are regarded as a unit having the numerical value three; the nine stalks of the first counting and the eight of the succeeding counting’s have the numerical value two. When three successive produce the sum 3+3+3=9, this makes the old yang, i.e., a firm line that moves. The sum 2+2+2=6 makes old yin, a yielding line that moves. Seven is the young yang, and eight is the young yin; they are not taken into account as individual lines.
Note that only the remainders after counting through fours are kept and laid upon the single stalk that was removed at the start. The piles of four are re-used for each change. The numbers of piles of four is not used in calculation; it’s the remainders that are used. The removing of all the fours is a way of calculating the remainder; those four are then re-used for the next change, so that the total number of stalks in use remains high, to keep all remainders equally probable. In terms of chances out of sixteen, the three-coin method yields 2,2,6,6 instead of 1,3,5,7 for old-yin, old yang, young-yang, young yin respectively. That is,
Traditional Probability Three Coin Probability Yin/Yang Signification Number Symbol
p=1/16 p=2/16 old yin changing into yang 6 __x__
p=/16 p=2/16 old yang yang changing into yin 9 __o__
p=5/16 p=6/16 young yang yang unchanging 7 ____
p=7/16 p=6/16 young yin yin unchanging 8 __ __
It was not uncommon for experienced practitioners to ignore the text, building the oracle from the pictures created by the lines, trigrams, and final hexagram. Each line of a hexagram determined with these methods is either stable (young) or changing (old); thus, there are four possibilities for each line, corresponding to the cycle of change from yin to yang and back again. Once a hexagram is determined, each line has been determined as either changing (old) or unchanging (young). Old yin is seen as more powerful than young yin, and old yang is more powerful than young yang. Any line in a hexagram that is old (changing) adds additional meaning to that hexagram. Taoist philosophy holds that powerful yin will eventually turn to yang (and vice versa), so a new hexagram is formed by transposing each changing yin line with a yang line, and vice versa. Thus, further insight into the process of change is gained by reading the text of this new hexagram and studying it as the result of the current change.
How the coins are tossed… First, use three coins with distinct “heads” or “tails” sides. For each of the six lines of the hexagram, beginning with the first (bottom) line and ending with the sixth (top) line. Then toss all three coins and write down the resulting line. Once six lines have been determined, the hexagram is formed.
How to determine the line from the coin toss… Following the numerical method, you assign the value three to each “heads” result, and two to each “tails” result. Odd numbered totals are represented by a solid line (yang), while even numbered totals are designated by a broken line (yin). Next total all the coin values (they will be six, seven, eight or nine). Finally determine the current line of the hexagram of the hexagram from this number: 6 = old yin, 7 = young yang, 8 = young yin and 9 = old yang.
The above helped to identify both the light and the dark. What is their nature or what defines their power and actions? The light trigrams have one ruler, or prince and two subjects or commoners. They show the way of the Tao, or superior man. The dark trigrams, or yin, have two rulers or princes, and one subject or commoner. This is the Tao, or way, of the inferior man. It was this dichotomy, or difference that over hundreds of years after Confucius, the powers that be used the State, especially in the Later Han to fuse the moral superiority of the Confucian standards into everyday life in China.
Thusly, a “superior man” followed a destiny in keeping with what was good for the “powers that be” and fitting in would be to his benefit. Although for the sage “fitting in” would never be adequate in expressing his direct connection with the universe. He was often at odds with the status quo, finding contentment with what could be as what was best for all and not simply the few.
Taoism and Chuang Tzu’s ideal of the Perfected Man would be molded in the Han dynasty to mean the superior man who followed the Mandate of Heaven, the emperor and the strict moral code of the Confucians. If one did not adhere to this strict moral code then he was in turn an inferior man and could be not in turn follow his “true nature” i.e., the Tao. This meant for the pure of heart retreating to the peace and quiet of mountains would reign instead. To the place where “cultivating stillness and the pill of immortality” could be made secure.
Also, important here was the Imperial Examination System that determined how high one could achieve merit in the Chinese bureaucracy. Chuang Tzu made fun of Confucian thought. He was famous partially for saying this idea of imperial authority… the status quo was not in keeping with the Tao or the wishes of the Perfected Man. Confucianism was the opposite. Ultimately, it would be who wrote the commentaries that would have the final say… or so they thought.
This is the fourth entry (for a total of twelve) of the Sixth Wing of the Dazhuan. The story continues as our journey in cultivating stillness. Knowing and using this induces a spiritual transformation. The lines of the I Ching, the Book of Changes becomes shorthand for transforming change that attracts the lights and energy of Heaven thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to build on who we are meant to become.