By Adam Dietz
The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a guide to understanding the principle of change. Confucius transformed the I Ching into a philosophical and ethical guidebook, showing superior people cultivating virtue within change.
Confucius’ commentary on the I Ching,the Great Commentary, the Ta Chuan, gives the superior person instructions on how to understand “i” -the principle of change. This understanding enhances, enriches, and opens their lives up to become greater, truer, more harmonious, deeper, more meaningful, and more beneficial to society. This opening up is an opening up of the superior person’s truer spiritual life. This true life comes from seeing their immediate position, their immediate circumstance, in all its depth.
Heaven is a key term in the Ta Chuan. Heaven means “sky,” but it also means “metaphysical,” “transcendent,” “beyond,” “above,” and most importantly “the seed of life,” “the life-giving principle”. The term Heaven can encompass the summation of all things beyond our comprehension. That is because Heaven initiates the movement, the continued unfolding, the interplay of all things. This origination is the life-giving power of Heaven. It originates, initiates, and remains at the root of all things. Superior people work to understand the movement of Heaven because it is the key to truly understanding all things.
The movement of Heaven shapes the events of life, both in the sense of the sky moving, from clear, to cloudy and rainy, and in the sense of Chinese astrology, but most importantly as the metaphysical root of all things. Rain and sun give life to plants on earth in their position just as following the Way of Heaven gives spiritual life and destiny to human beings in theirs. The Ta Chuan gives the superior person instructions on observing, understanding, and following the principle of Heaven and understanding its pattern of unfolding on Earth.
Superior people practice virtue and unite Heaven and humanity in oneness. Anyone can be a superior person any time they practice virtue. Superior people achieve oneness with Heaven, achieve their true humanity when they wait, in their position, for egotistical obscuration, impositions of self that can cover true understanding, to clear. As they clear, Ch’ien, the light of ‘Heaven’, can shine into their understanding-itopens, nourishes, and gives spiritual life, understanding, and oneness to their humanity. When the superior people embody this oneness in their position, they bring oneness with Heaven to K’un, the Earth (the phenomenal), illuminating existence at a higher level. The I Ching gives the superior person instructions on how to cultivate from their position, ‘spiritualizing’, giving this higher meaning to their ordinary life, to daily affairs and relationships.
Confucius knew when to use and emphasize softness (yin energy) in the I Ching, and when to use more direct methods (yang energy). When we look at his influence on the Ta Chuan, we can see that Confucius understood the importance of maintaining harmony between hardness and softness. The I Ching, through the philosophy of Confucius, instructs superior people on how to maintain harmony and enlarge the Way in their lives.
The superior person unites Heaven and humanity into oneness through understanding. Understanding Heaven in the physical world, the superior person is like a metaphysical scientist. When superior people deeply contemplate the pattern of the Earth, they see the very subtle beginning of change. Superior people allow preconceptions to dissipate and thus return to clear mind that naturally connects with the Heavenly principle in oneness with their humanity, with others, and with the spiritual life of all things. This clear mind responds to and unites with the Heavenly principle in all things. This resonant response is called perfect communication, or connecting with Heaven. Superior people thus work to open the Way for Heaven to emerge into peoples’ consciousness of daily life.
The wisdom that grows from maintaining a connection to the metaphysical, enlivening understanding of the world, inspires superior people and motivates them to harmonize the world, thus opening the Way for the benefit of Heaven to enter and expand. With wisdom they become able to understand ‘the proper way’ to proceed. Practicing the proper way means knowing how and when to act. Practicing the proper way is practicing to maximize their potential, from within their position by enlarging the Way. This ‘proper way,’ means bringing the wisdom of the metaphysical into the world, opening the Way for its beneficial qualities to emerge into prominence in peoples’ understanding and practice. That is how superior people harmoniously benefit the world, by practicing the proper way from their unique position. By practicing the proper way, superior people are truly of harmonious benefit and help unite Heaven and Earth into oneness.
These key ideas from the Ta Chuan are meant to show us and help us practice the two sides of oneness, the two sides of the Way in the phenomenal, the yin side and the yang side. The moving, Heavenly, the metaphysical, the subtle, the sincere, the easy, the transformative the bright, the spiritual, the vast aspect of change, heave-these give life to all things. The resting, Earthly, phenomenal, accomplished, humble, simple, changing, dark, physical, specific aspect of change, Earth; these give shape and substance to all things. To gain wisdom and insight into the workings of change, we can study the Book of Changes and observe its principle at work all around us. Observing these changes around us means remaining aware of, attentive to, open to, flexible with the movement of change through the phenomenal world. Observation is the key to experiencing these two principles and their dynamic interaction. The better we learn how these two principles complement and harmonize each other through observation, the better able to use, practice and cultivate them we will become. When we see their timely response around us, we can imitate and emulate them.
In some situations we should use soft, indirect methods. In others we should be firm and direct. Superior people use these methods, these principles according to the time and according to their position.
Superior people work to emulate Heaven, in its giving of life to the various positions. They observe the Way of Heaven, its virtue of giving life, and they bring it to their position. Through observation they catch deeper and more subtle beginnings. As they learn the principle of change they become better able to respond appropriately thus restoring and continuing the originally good, harmonious principle. They work to remove obstructions and become adept at opening the Way for this harmony to continue far into the future. Superior people observe, and then return to themselves, return to the original, to the source and connect with Heaven.
Superior people continuously return, reevaluate, and reexamine, themselves. They constantly rejuvenate their connection to the Way to avoid deviation and continue their work. Through practicing their own proper way superior people harmoniously benefit all things. They observe the phenomenal to understand and enlarge the Way for the metaphysical. In one example, we can understand the pattern of the Earth in the seasons. Everything comes out of winter into new life, working producing, moving at a greater and greater rate expanding into the peak of summer before returning again, slowing down and resting in the stillness of winter. We too need this rest, this stillness. We need to allow the old to fall away, to return to simplicity and contemplate the source of life before going out and gradually expanding again. Superior people are able to empty their thoughts. They decrease thought and decrease action, returning to the space ‘beyond thought’ and ‘beyond action’, allowing the original source to arise into prominence in their consciousness.
Just as superior people see the spiritual in the world, we should see Heaven in our destiny, the principle of change unfolding to spiritualize our lives. Our Heaven’s destiny is what is set before us in our true life. Just as superior people know and practice the easy and simple we too can avoid, the complications that arise from striving to flee from our responsibilities, from our position. This is the way to avoid exhausting our energy and living in fantasy. Avoiding this, returning to reality, we can instead observe the principle working in our daily life, the work of the spiritual in our position, destiny in our responsibilities. We can meet what is around us and respond well, respond in harmony. We can contemplate the metaphysical in and around us and act in the phenomenal. Repeating this over and over again we gradually go up. When Heaven dictates the time, we can move up in our position accordingly. Avoiding deviation, avoiding exhaustion takes a cautious mind. With caution we can avoid going to extremes. When we return to this true life we return our consciousness to our immediate surrounding and our immediate self. In this way our lives, our immediate surroundings and our immediate selves, through investigation, become spiritualized.
This constant Way in and through life, is true life. It is the easiest and the simplest. It is continuing the source, the life-giving principle. Each thing manifests this source in the phenomenal. All things grow through change enlarging the Way into new directions and new times bringing true life into being.
The philosophy of Confucius as outlined in these commentaries on the principle of change, emphasizes following our position and manifesting the Way of Heaven. In this way we maximize our potential for transformative work by using our energy to enliven and spiritualize our unique opportunities, our unique responsibilities, our unique time and space. When we accept our position and cultivate it we follow the principles of change and the principle of our true life. Through observing our position, we deepen our understanding. Through studying the principle of change we are always moving up in our knowledge. Through moving up in our understanding and knowledge our position becomes more and more enriched.
When we have perfect communication with the metaphysical we can observe the outside change with detachment. The comings and goings of outside change are just ripples on the surface of a spiritual ocean. When we can achieve this sort of objectivity we can see the world as it is without being swayed by desire for pleasure or aversion to pain. From this perspective we can feel free and confident to do what we must do, without attaching to the results. Our Heaven’s destiny, our frame, is the field of our action. When we take what we cannot or should not change as fate and act on what can or should transform as our destiny, we need not be perturbed by the comings and goings of change. When we can clear away attachments and live without deviating from our goal, our daily work, we return to our true life. We can continuously let go of all the aspects of life that we should not use and remain loyal to our destiny. We can let things go their own way so they will naturally move with the changes, moving towards what they are drawn towards without our obstructing them, moving towards what they have attracted into their lives. Superior people do this by allowing unwholesome influences to pass and moving closer to the good. This way they keep to the constancy of their true path.
Everyday people are coming and going, crossing paths. People are on the move. Different paths, different influences, different desires cross and re-cross each other. Superior people simply return their minds to the root of the principle of change, the same source that is the origin of all paths. Superior people follow the simple and easy, concentrating on their own path as the Way to bring about transformation. When we understand the principle of change and our position in it, then we will understand the value of practicing virtue, as superior people to deal with change.
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