The I Ching emerged in China as a fortune-telling manual at least three thousand years ago. It began, so the story goes, with eight three-lined symbols called trigrams, which represented all of the fundamental phenomena in the universe. You can see four of the eight—representing Heaven, Earth, Fire and Water—on the South Korean national flag. When doubled, the eight trigrams became sixty-four six-lined hexagrams (you do the math). This doubling process produced trigram relationships, such as Fire in the Lake, the symbolic elements of the hexagram for “Revolution” (and also the title of a famous book on the Vietnam War).
The theory of the I Ching is that the sixty-four hexagrams represent the basic circumstances of change in the cosmos, and by consulting the document reverently (this means burning incense, if you’re really serious about it), a person can select a hexagram or hexagrams that will provide guidance for the present and the future. The hexagram names, all of which indicate their symbolic significance, include ideas such as “Juvenile Ignorance,” “Waiting,” “Contention,” “Closeness,” “Peace,” “Obstruction,” “Radical Change,” “Fellowship,” “Modesty,” “Observation,” Elegance,” “Compliance” and “Joy.” Several hexagrams have strong sexual connotations; this should come as a surprise to no one.
Over time, not only in China but also in other parts of East Asia, and eventually the West, the symbolism of the I Ching, explained by thousands of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist commentaries (as well as a few Jewish, Christian and Islamic ones), provoked an avalanche of creative work in realms such as philosophy, religion, art, literature, science, technology and medicine. Its symbols even inspired the theory behind fengshui. In short, the Classic of Changes became, in the words of a Chinese commentator, “a mirror of the mind.”
Richard J Smith from HUFFPOST
26th June 2012