Taoscopy: Tao and I Ching study

Welcome to Taoscopy’s website. here you can consult the I Ching, also called ‘Yi-Jing’, ‘Book of Changes’ or ‘Zhou Yi’.

Before consulting the oracle, take some time to reflect: what is your goal and what question would you like to ask.

Ask for an advice, an explanation or a description rather than a result. For example: “What shall I do to pass my exam?” rather than “Will I pass my exam?”. This will help you to progress in the right direction.

To consult the I Ching, simply click the ‘Oracle’ button. Entering a question is optional.

If you are looking for software, you can look at this page.

If you want to join the forum, follow this link.

If you want to read the comments, you can follow this link or download the PDF: Taoscopy’s comments

You will find advices and tutorials on this section.

The informations to contact me are available here.

Asking the I Ching once again?

I’ve discovered the I Ching with a book, it was one of those books with complicated sentences, but it was quite exotic and I found it entertaining for a while. Of course I didn’t understand much about the I Ching and I thought it would take a lifetime of studying with a teacher to get what it was about. At this point, I had almost lost interest.

Then it happened that a friend went missing and while we were waiting anxiously  for news, I’ve stumbled upon a chapter of that book describing the hexagram 5. The text was saying that nothing was to be done, but there was hope because something would happen. And, I said to myself: “This is the exact situation.”.

So, suddenly it all made sense: The I Ching describes situations, the comments describe the best approach to follow. So my interest growing rapidly, I bought Richard Wilhelm’s book which helped me understand a lot of situations. At that time, I was confident that I would soon understand most of it.

But, there was a difficulty, the hexagram 4 was standing in my way:

YOUTHFUL FOLLY has success.
It is not I who seek the young fool;
The young fool seeks me.
At the first oracle I inform him.
If he asks two or three times, it is importunity.
If he importunes, I give him no information.
Perseverance furthers.

How did I understand that comment? Ask your question, receive the answer and leave. That principle was difficult to apply because I was still a beginner, only able to understand a few lines.

So, I’ve followed the rule, reluctantly, for about 10 years. But each time I was receiving the hexagram 8 I felt committed to break it because of this comment:

Inquire of the oracle once again
Whether you possess sublimity, constancy, and perseverance;
Then there is no blame.

So, isn’t it strange that one comment tells you “One oracle is enough!” and the other tells you “Consult the oracle again!”? Isn’t there a lack of consistency?

Progressively I released my attention toward the rule of hexagram 4 and I’ve started asking more and more questions related to the same topic. Sometimes the answer would be the hexagram 4 and I was considering that this last question could have been avoided. Also, oftentimes, it happened that I consulted once, decided that I could not understand and then figured out the meaning while I was throwing the coins for the second time.

Of course, I was not feeling very comfortable with this way of doing, the hexagram 4 was still pointing an accusing finger at me: “You shall ask only once!”.  The solution came from a communications course where I’ve been taught that when a dialogue partner has said something, reword the sentence as to make sure that it was understood right.  So my new strategy was to ask a question then ask if my interpretation was correct. Those are two different questions and they solve the apparent contradiction between hexagram 4 and hexagram 8. Sublimity, constancy and perseverance represent your will to solve to the question. So, after pondering, inquire of the oracle once again: if your interpretation happens to be wrong, who better than the Yi is able to tell you?

Now are we done? Not yet, what is described here only applies to competent people. It does not apply to the incompetent. Competence and incompetence are relative notions.

If you speak Chinese fluently then you are competent in Chinese, and if you don’t know a single word of Gaelic then you are incompetent in Gaelic.

Someone competent in Chinese can ask questions such as the meaning of a special word, or about an ideogram. Once given, the information is supposed to be acquired, or this person didn’t pay really attention.

Someone incompetent in Gaelic will ask questions such as “How do you say hello?” or “How to say thank you?”. This person may have difficulties and it may take a lot of repetitions until the word can be pronounced correctly. It wouldn’t be right to tell this person that once the answer has been given, there is no more to ask, would it? This situation is naturally covered by the hexagram 18, line 2:

One helps the weakest gently.

So, are we competent or incompetent in respect with the I Ching? As beginners we are incompetent, and as we progress we are treated as competent. Sometimes we are able to understand, and sometimes we are not. So, how to proceed when we don’t understand immediately, shall we declare our incompetence or ponder about it until we grasp the meaning?

When I was consulting the I Ching about the hexagram 4, I naturally asked if it was right that a question shall only be asked once. Here is the answer that I got:

Give references to the student which asks oneself questions, but delay before answering to thoughtless questions. That way the student will trust their judgment.

Delay! It’s about delay, we need to take some time to ponder about it. The comment for the line 57.1 also confirms this:

One gives the youngest ones a time frame to finish the preparation. Then, one shows them their weaknesses and answers their requests for explanation.

There are also a few other comments related to this question, I’ll let you discover them by yourself if you happen to ask the Yi about it.


Understanding the oracle’s answer

To understand the oracle’s answer, it is necessary to be modest, to not have preconceived ideas, and to recall what we know about the I Ching. Like a musician uses scales and notes, the oracle will speak through hexagrams and lines, sometimes in a way that we could not imagine, but will take our knowledge into account.

Then, when we want to learn, we let the oracle guide us. We can ask the oracle about various subjects, such as the movie you are watching or the news. It allows you to study the oracle’s answers with detachment and that will be useful when you will approach your personal problems.

You have to make efforts to understand. The answers often require further thought, sometimes meditation and in some cases personal research. It still have times when I understand a line at the very moment when I ask the oracle about it, this is the reason why a reflexion time is always useful.

A correct text is also necessary. If you don’t understand some answers, it can be perhaps because of the text. In this case we give up if we don’t find a better text. The text proposed here is unfortunately not finished, but continues to evolve, and the improvements mentioned on Tweeter (@Taoscopy) and on the forum.

You can also ask more details to the oracle by asking questions such as Why is this line in the answer? It is something that I do very often myself.

Asking the right questions

Before asking the oracle, we can ask ourselves how could we answer for the oracle, by using only hexagrams and lines. It can also be useful to ask ourself why we question the oracle.

For example, if I ask you What is the day today?, can you answer me with an hexagram and lines? If I ask you Have you practiced bicycle or football?, can you answer? If I ask you again When do you plan to go on vacation? can you answer with hexagrams and lines? If you can’t, then when you ask similar questions to the oracle, your chances to understand the answer are diminished. However, the oracle masters perfectly the I Ching’s art and can sometimes find unexpected answers.

But if I ask you Are we Monday?, you can find an hexagram and lines to answer me. If I ask you Have you practiced bicycle? then Have you practiced football?, you can also find answers. Finally if I ask you Are you going on vacation this month?, you can still answer me with an hexagram and lines (you could for example tell me that you are going later with the line 4 of the hexagram 54 and if you are coming back from vacation with the hexagram 24 without lines) . It is thus necessary to make an effort of concentration, not because the oracle would not understand our question, but because we want to be able to understand the answer.

Some specialists will recommend only asking personal questions. This is a well-intentioned approach, because we don’t interfere in other’s business by doing that. I have consulted the oracle about this, which has answered( 14,5): All are accepted but one will move away from those who claim too much. When you receive advices about the best way to practice the I Ching, if you have a doubt, consult the oracle, and nobody else, about it.

The Taoscopy project

Having noted problems with the I Ching text, and wishing to realize a web site and softwares around this theme, I have decided to write my own comments, initially to simply illustrate and comment Richard Wilhelm’s text and after those became an independent project.

At the beginning, I only wanted to comment the few lines that I had understood and illustrate them with examples found in books and movies. Then, when I have abandoned the idea to include the texts from Richard Wilhelm, I have consulted a number of sources to realize the first version of Taoscopy’s text. Later, I have asked the oracle to validate these texts, twice and even thrice for the hexagrams 1 to 14. It was when the oracle has criticized my method and had me remove the quotes i had prepared, because they would have complicated the understanding, this is what I realized later. From critics to advices, I could refine the textes, line after line, hexagram after hexagram, in order to understand better the I Ching’s philosophy and thus, the oracle’s answers. My current method consists of identifying the comments which result in problems of interpretation problems, specially with the public questions of this site, and to correct these texts by asking the oracle.

Taoscopy’s text is mainly intended for an uninformed public, but can also be of interest to an informed public for the comments whose meaning has been lost. This is one of the reasons why some strong images have not been retained (Such as The man with the scarlet knees, The carriage or The axe). It was also important to differentiate from Richard Wilhem’s version, because when I started, I have paraphrased a number of comments from his book, and the oracle called me to order with the second line of the hexagram 6: One should not claim what belongs to someone stronger, they will find comfort within their neighbourhood. Because the competition between Taoscopy’s text and the classical version is not necessary, as one of the classical comments of the hexagram 41 says: one can be increased without depriving other.

The process is unfortunately not achieved, many texts are still to be corrected (from which more than fifty are causing serious understanding issues in August 2012). You can follow their evolution with Twitter (@Taoscopy) or on the forum. And if you have published hexagrams and you didn’t get the answer, you can come back from time to time to see if the text has improved.

The oracle

The paradox that often occurs amongst I Ching students, is the little, and sometimes the total lack of trust placed into the oracle who give us the answers. Some think that answers come from the subconscious mind, others have mentioned theories like synchronicity, but generally the experts focus on studying the classical Chinese text.

And yet, by trusting the oracles we can verify the correctness of our interpretations. One of the causes of this problem is the judgment of the hexagram 4 which strictly prohibits (once again, in the original text) asking more than one question or else the oracle will not answer us. The second cause comes from the fact that we don’t understand all the oracle’s answers. Both linking together perfectly to build a great misunderstanding: if the oracle is misunderstood, it is because we have asked too many questions and the oracle does not want to answer us anymore.

It is a misunderstanding because the oracle has more subtle ways to set us back on the right track, when we make such a mistake. For example by indicating us that we don’t listen with the line 6 of the hexagram 21 (or in other cases the 37,1). Without going into the text
details, many hexagrams (such as 19 and 8) and lines (such 45,1 and 20,2) are here to remind us that the oracle is not here to punish but to help.

The truth is that each oracle answer makes sense, even if it is not always obvious at the first look. When a reading is not understood, it is possible to ask another question under the condition that it is thoughtful. What must be avoided, is to ask the same question twice in a row. This will be discussed further on.

That is how, when I have decided to write my own version of the I Ching text, I have asked the oracle to validate every text that I wrote.

To conclude, I will say that the oracle is a spiritual guide, able to evaluate our progress. You can ask the oracle for various reasons but it is when you won’t be able to find a solution that you will receive the best help.

Difficulties of the classical study

The original texts, which are many thousands years old, can embarrass a modern reader for several reasons.

  • Sexism

    In the ancient texts, the woman is presented as inferior to the man. It is not only false but can also prevent understanding, because the readings are not related to the gender.

  • Rejection

    Confucius liked to speak about the superior man, which works on himself in order to improve. In the classical I Ching, there are several references to the superior man and to the inferior man. But if these notions are useful in order to reform oneself, they become really harmful when they are applied to others. Vulgarity and nobility match situations and are not labels that can be sticked onto other people. One of our friends which was acting like a common man can prove to be a noble man a moment later.

  • Fortune and Misfortune

    The signal words Fortune and Misfortune which are often found in the classical text are exaggerated. The harsher judgments can prove to be very useful if their unfavorable aspect is abandoned. Furthermore, Fortune contradicts the first line of the hexagram 16 and Misfortune the fifth line of the hexagram 58 (see further for the coherence).

  • The subject

    The I Ching classical text sometimes uses the singular first person and sometimes the second or the third person. But the objective situation will determine who or what the hexagram or the line matches.

  • Coherence

    The advices from the I Ching should apply to the comments themselves. As we have already seen, speaking about misfortune contradicts the comment of the fifth line of the hexagram 58 which says (in the original text) that sincerity toward disintegrating influences is dangerous. Therefore the difficulty of understanding the hexagrams and the lines is raised.

  • Lost meaning

    Some line comments are unclear because their meaning has been lost. The name of some hexagrams is also poorly understood (for example the hexagram 61 is called in Richard Wilhelm’s book Inner Truth and really means Immobilized). This is the reason why the oracle is sometimes perfectly understood, and sometimes totally misunderstood, which has unfortunately led to many dropouts amongst the I Ching students.

I Ching’s translations

These translations are based on the ancient Chinese text and give their interpretation of the comments. The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm (translated by Cary F Baynes, Princeton University Press) has been for a long time the first choice when starting the study of the I Ching, because Wilhelm’s explanations allow to understand the meaning of many lines and hexagrams. However the classical study raises a number of questions that we are going to examine.

The philosophy

The I Ching’s philosophy relies on the Yin (receptivity) and Yang (activity) and their transformations, also called changes or mutations. In the I Ching, the Yin and the Yang are represented by lines which are combined into groups of six to obtain 64 figures called hexagrams. In an hexagram, the transformation of one or many lines gives a new hexagram. We have 6 lines per hexagram thus 386 possibilities of transformation, which can combine into 4096 hexagrams pairs.

These 64 hexagrams and 384 lines found in the I Ching, can describe real life. They come with texts which allow us to grasp the meaning of the line or the hexagram.

By studying the I Ching texts, we first notice that some of the concepts outlined are obvious, others seem magicals and others totally obscure. What is amusing, is that two people will not always have the same vision of the texts. What can appear obvious to you, will appear magical or obscure to someone else, and vice-versa. Studying the I Ching’s philosophy is to seek the meaning of the 64 hexagrams and the 384 lines, and for this we need guidance.

The I Ching

The I Ching, also called Yi Jing, is a Chinese book which describes a philosophy used to consult an oracle. These two elements (the philosophy and the oracle) make it appealing and original. Originating from ancient China, it has been studied by numerous scholars, especially by Confucius, and has helped to the government of China for more than 2,000 years. As the Classic of Mutations, the I Ching was one of the Five Classics, that every scholar had to study in order to succeed at the exams which would allow them to obtain a government job.