Almost forty-six years ago I began studying martial arts, which is both mimetic praxis and guided didacticism of master/pupil; yet, with the truth that the pupil becomes only the master of herself rather than enslaved to the form within which she moves. She moves in the way of things, is guided by change rather than stasis. She lives timelessly in time to the movement of process without return. Between the diamond body and the void she seeks the path of wind and stability, change and order. The river flows, the mountain appears; in-between (in)existence.
During the formative process of learning both the outward forms and the inner consistency of this traditional way I began reading texts on Taoism, Confucianism, and other ancient texts of that vast referential world of Chinese Culture. I still have my old tattered copy of Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching or Book of Changes. Other newer versions more accurate are now available, but I’ll rely on his for the moment since it is more familiar and available. No need to go into the divinatory aspects of this ancient book, which has been covered by all those obscurantists seeking some quick path into the future for profit or fun. This book was never intended for such purposes. The Book of Changes was always more about the transformation both within and without as being one and the same flowing into and out of Being, Time and Event.
Image of Wei Chi / Before Completion
Instead the obvious parallel is to our own current age of unrest and transition which is as yet incomplete and chaotic. The Hexagram Wei Chi indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed. The change is indeed prepared for, since all the lines in the upper trigram are in relation to those in the lower. However, they are not yet in their places. While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.
In the commentaries provided by Wilhelm and others we learn several fascinating things about transition, incompleteness, and chaos. The conditions are difficult for such an undertaking as ours during this transitional process. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is nothing less than that of leading the world out of confusion back to order. But it is a task that promises success, because there is a goal that can unite the forces now tending in different directions. At first, however, one must move warily, like an old fox walking over ice. The caution of a fox walking over ice is proverbial in China. His ears are constantly alert to the cracking of the ice, as he carefully and circumspectly searches out the safest spots. A young fox who as yet has not acquired this caution goes ahead boldly, and it may happen that he falls in and gets his tail wet when he is almost across the water. Then of course his effort has been all in vain. Accordingly, in times ‘before completion,’ deliberation and caution are the prerequisites of success.
The image above of Wei Chi that we see is of Fire over Water: image of the condition before transition. Thus the superior man is careful in the differentiation of things so that each finds its place.
Image Commentary from Wilhelm
When fire, which by nature flames upward, is above, and water, which flows downward, is below, their effects take opposite directions and remain unrelated. If we wish to achieve an effect, we must first investigate the nature of the forces in question and ascertain their proper place. If we can bring these forces to bear in the right place, they will have the desired effect and completion will be achieved. But in order to handle external forces properly, we must above all arrive at the correct standpoint ourselves, for only from this vantage can we work correctly.
In our time we see the external sciences moving into the extremities of the macro and micro aspects of the Universe. We also see the notion of the human: Nature, Life, Culture, Civilization, Economics, Art, etc. all moving into knowledges that will make or break our world. The so called posthumanist move toward transformation, metamorphosis, AI Intelligence, Robotics, Genetics, Nanotechnologies, etc. are all manifestations of this move toward completion of a process begun two-thousand years ago with Greece and Levant cultural matrix. Until the 19th Century the cultures of China, India, Africa and other continents had little impact on this vision at least for the West. Now they do. And we should learn from them.
As Wilhelm correctly observes we need a corrected standpoint, a new framework of reference that moves us beyond all our traditional linguistic, social, cultural, and parochial philosophic and religious ideologies and knowledge systems. We need a more universal linguistic and cultural milieu that brings the best of all cultures into alignment without sacrificing the one to the other. This means exiting or subtracting our subjectivations from any singular sociocultural matrix and opening ourselves up to the conditions of truth beyond such parochialism.
As we learn from the commentary.
Six at the beginning means: He gets his tail in the water. Humiliating.
In times of disorder there is a temptation to advance oneself as rapidly as possible in order to accomplish something tangible. But this enthusiasm leads only to failure and humiliation if the time for achievement has not yet arrived. In such time it is wise to spare ourselves the opprobrium of failure by holding back.
Our global capitalist cultural hegemony has tried to push the limits of earth to the point of collapse in its overreach to bring about a change of the cultural and global forces. It has tried to impose its hegemony upon the planetary culture and in so doing has brought neither transformation nor metamorphosis, but rather war, strife, and chaos which leads to death and destruction.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 38 – K’uei / Opposition. This line rushes in where angels fear to tread and gets trodden on. Bad luck! Be more careful and you won’t be so embarrassed. Legge seems to say that this line merely attempts what it can’t do rather than fail through haste “Its subject attempts to be doing, but finds cause to regret his course.” The result is hexagram 38, Opposition, that implies this line will face resistance to its activities because “…people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge too widely.” To be successful consider why people would resist you at all.
This is the age old battle of alienation against which the peoples of the earth struggle against those who would seek to rule over others by way of force or economics. Resistance is the path out of such imposition.
Nine in the second place means: He brakes his wheels. Perseverance brings good fortune.
Here again the time to act has not yet come. But the patience needed is not that of idle waiting without thought of the morrow. Kept up indefinitely, this would not lead to any success. Instead, an individual must develop in himself the strength that will enable him to go forward. He must have a vehicle, as it were, to effect the crossing. But he must for the time being use the brakes. Patience in the highest sense means putting brakes on strength. Therefore he must not fall asleep and lose sight of the goal. If he remains strong and steadfast in his resolve, all goes well in the end.
Accelerationism or the notion of bringing the forces of economics, science, culture, etc. to a pitch of tension that would explode the current limits of planetary civilization is shown in this hexagram to be fatal. This is not the time to let the forces accelerate beyond recall, or be unleashed to the point of disaster. Instead patience and strength of insight and wisdom are called for. One must persevere in one’s path, remain strong and steadfast in one’s resolve then all will become known.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 35 – Chin / Progress. Forethought and patient planning foretells ultimate success but acting at the right time is key. This line knows now is not the right time. He will act when success is possible. Legge’s version of this line predicts a good outcome because it “…is able to repress himself, and keep back his carriage from advancing and there is good fortune.” The resultant hexagram 35, Progress, shows a rapid and easily achieved success is on the cards. The delayed start produces a good end.
Acting at the right time is key. This in ancient times was known as Kairos: the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens. Kairos is a concept of happening, movement. It portrays the courage to act and be heroic in one’s resolve to see things through the course of decision. Ours is an age when humans no longer trust themselves to act or to make decisions that will alter the destiny of things and themselves. Yet, underneath it all they know what must be done, but they do not act on that knowledge. The suffer themselves and let the external forces rule them like ancient necessity rather than taking the bull-by-the-horns and running with it. We must act at the opportune time. Progress is a faulty promise, and if let loose does not produce change but rather its opposite. One sometimes must apply the brakes, seek out that thought from the other ends of time and advance on its axiomatic truths.
Six in the third place means: Before completion, attack brings misfortune. It furthers one to cross the great water.
The time of transition has arrived, but one lacks the strength to complete the transition. If one should attempt to force it, disaster would result, because collapse would then be unavoidable. What is to be done? A new situation must be created; one must engage the energies of able helpers and in this fellowship take the decisive step across the great water. Then completion will become possible.
We must all act together in this planetary transformation; otherwise chaos, war, and destruction will ensue. We will need the wisdom of all nations acting in consort to end this period of chaotic indecision. It will not be easy. No one said it would be. We will have to make hard decisions and act on them, have the courage of our acts and a heroism to carry them out even if they on the surface seem utterly inhuman and horrendous. This will be an age of struggle and birth, not a peach filled age of decadence and indecisiveness. The age of bourgeoisie is at an end, the liberal traditions that spawned such an age are over now. Now begins the final movement in a world transformation the likes of which have only been dreamed of by poets and prophets. We are there.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 50 – Ting / The Caldron. This line is not prepared for its adventure and so should stay at home. There will be trouble if it does sail forth. Prepare, act then success. The explanation in Legge’s version is “…with the state of things not yet remedied, advancing on which will lead to evil.” The resultant hexagram 50, The Caldron indicates that notwithstanding the bad start, ultimate success will be achieved. “Supreme good fortune. Success.”
We are entering the Cauldron which will be a trial by fire in which we will have to make difficult decisions concerning the fate and course of nations. No one ever said it would be easy. It will not. Yet, if we persevere we will attain completion.
Nine in the fourth place means: Perseverance brings good fortune. Remorse disappears. Shock, thus to discipline the Devil’s Country. For three years, great realms are rewarded.
Now it is the time of struggle. The transition must be completed. We must make ourselves strong in resolution; this brings good fortune. All misgivings that might arise in such grave times of struggle must be silenced. It is a question of a fierce battle to break and to discipline the Devil’s Country, the forces of decadence. But the struggle also has its reward. Now is the time to lay the foundations of power and mastery for the future.
Strangely Nietzschean tones here. And truly we are in such a transition out of decadent indecisiveness and artistic, cultural, and political malfeasance and decay. Leaderless the world totters on the edge of total chaos and war even as I write these words. With refugees, migrants, the collapse of nations, ISIS, a world in turmoil, African genocide: all the known and unknown conflicts that seem to be leading us further into war. Climate change: debates on Left and Right not withstanding, is apparent; whether of human or natural cause or concern, we are in a sixth age of extinction. Resist if you can, but it is having an impact if you will or no. Now is the time of change and transformation, the time of Kairos and the opportunity to act on what little knowledge we have. Otherwise we go to our doom.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 4 – Meng / Youthful Folly. This line has embarked on its great adventure. Be aware that this adventure will take time and effort to bring to fruition but the rewards should be great indeed if success is gained. Legge’s version of this line “…shows its subject by firm correctness obtaining good fortune.” The outcome shown by hexagram 4, Youthful Folly, suggests that this line will need more than a little good advice to bring his activities to a successful end. “One may succeed in spite of it (youthful folly), provided one finds an experienced teacher and has the right attitude toward him.”
Six in the fifth place means: Perseverance brings good fortune. No remorse. The light of the superior man is true. Good fortune.
The victory has been won. The power of steadfastness has not been routed. Everything has gone well. All misgivings have been overcome. Success has justified the deed. The light of a superior personality shines forth anew and makes its influence felt among men who have faith in it and rally around it. The new time has arrived, and with it good fortune. And just as the sun shines forth in redoubled beauty after rain, or as a forest grows more freshly green from charred ruins after a fire, so the new era appears all the more glorious by contrast with the misery of the old.
Unlike the above idealism we have yet to win a victory. We are the children of doubt and indecision, leaderless and without a referential framework to bring cohesion and sanity to the nations of the world. It must arise from all nations and with one voice before such things are possible. We can no longer look to saviors or messiahs in the wilderness to redeem us from ourselves. No. That was the old way of children lost. Now we must accept the responsibility for our own decisions without leaning of symbolic or religious/philosophical metaphysical beings to save us. Now is the time for humans to act together in consort, not as collective mindless beings; but, rather as the singular and incisive, creative and innovative creatures we are: a multiplicity at once singular and multitude across the invariance of the world.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 6 – Sung / Conflict. This line gains the victory and enjoys the spoils thereof. Legge is equally complimentary about this line “…shows its subject by firm correctness obtaining good fortune, and having no occasion for repentance. We see in him the brightness of a superior man, and the possession of sincerity. There will be good fortune.” Yet the outcome is shown in hexagram 6, Conflict, is an augury of ongoing strife with no good end. “Conflict develops when one feels himself to be in the right and runs into opposition…a cautious halt halfway brings good fortune. Going through to the end brings misfortune.” This is clear, the long term outlook is grim despite the initial success.
One must know balance. The superior being does not insist on its egoist right to things. It puts a line across its goals and says just there at the border of my wants and needs I meet you and accept you rights to what we both share and need of life and earth. We meet as equals, but not as master and slave; not as victims, but as brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, lovers, friends, and shepherds of our desires, our passions.
Nine at the top means: There is drinking of wine in genuine confidence. No blame. But if one wets his head he loses it in truth.
Before completion, at the dawning of the new time, friends foregather in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and the time of waiting is passed in conviviality. Since the new era is hard on the threshold, there is no blame in this. But one must be careful in all this to keep within proper bounds. If in his exuberance a man gets drunk, he forfeits the favorableness of the situation through his intemperance.
Once again a culture of earth, of festival and joyous heroism. Not the heroism of male power to war, but of partnership to bring about the best in each and every citizen. Conflict is nature, yet it need not be the war of all against all. The creative strain brings change in our current passional nature to alter and be of an othering not known among us before. Something new and strange is coming.
Changing only this line creates Hexagram 40 – Hsieh / Deliverance. Celebration of success with friends is a good thing that helps bind groups of individuals together. Do not take celebration to extremes lest one alienate ones friends with bad behaviour. Legge also warn us not to go to far “If, on the contrary, he will go on to exert his powers, and play with the peril of the situation, the issue will be bad.” The outcome shown by hexagram 40, Deliverance indicates that even if we do overindulge in celebratory activities “…the superior man pardons mistakes and forgives misdeeds.” This is always good advice.
If we make it through this difficult time we must learn to forgive and forget. There can be no other way. To let the wounds that have festered in our hearts against power must come to and end, be healed once and for all. Otherwise we are doomed.
Yet, as we know the Book of Changes is never closed or completed, but is always moving back again into its opposite or completion. Which means that Wei Chi returns us to beginnings, to Chi Chi / After Completion:
The transition from the old to the new time is already accomplished. In principle, everything stands systematized, and it si only in regard to details that success is still to be achieved. In respect to this, however, we must be careful to maintain the right attitude. Everything proceeds as if of its own accord, and this can all too easily tempt us to relax and let thing take their course without troubling over details. Such indifference is the root of all evil. Symptoms of decay are bound to be the result. Here we have the rule indicating the usual course of history. But this rule is not an inescapable law. He who understands it is in position to avoid its effects by dint of unremitting perseverance and caution.
The billions of dollars being spent on the giant Hadron Colliders in various places is part of that project to reorder our world toward a greater systematization of our knowledge of the Cosmos. The Cosmos was an invention not of the Greeks alone, yet they gave us the word we now have and it originally conveyed a sense of “order, good order, orderly arrangement,” otherwise known as harmony from the verb kosmein meant generally “to dispose, prepare,” but especially “to order and arrange (troops for battle), to set (an army) in array;” also “to establish (a government or regime);” “to deck, adorn, equip, dress” (especially of women). Thus kosmos had an important secondary sense of “ornaments of a woman’s dress, decoration” (compare kosmokomes “dressing the hair”) as well as “the universe, the world.” In other words we need our fictions of the universe to give our lives beauty and the excess of that allure that keeps desire churning. Science without art and curiosity is dead in the water, a victim of its systematic accumulation of data without the creative capacity to turn it to power and change. The universe will remain incomplete till the moment of its death. After its completion something strange ends and begins.
*Note: These came from the Ichingfortune.com’s I Ching reading system which provides a summarized version of the Richard Wilhelm translation of the I Ching hexagrams and their moving lines. To see the fuller and more complete hexagram translations we have provided links to the individual hexagrams.