Taiji and the Yijing (I-Ching)


The I-Ching (Yijing) is an ancient book of Chinese wisdom (sometimes said to be the oldest book in the world — over 2,500 years old). But it is not a book in the conventional sense. It is a collection of 64 hexagrams (an image made up of six lines). Each line of the hexagrams is either unbroken (yang) or broken (yin). Each hexagram was given a name and, in time, a judgment was written about each one. Commentaries grew about the judgments and images, and about the relationships of one hexagram to another. Each line was also given a particular meaning. What we now know as the I-Ching is this collection of lines making images, and judgments about the images and commentaries. The process continues, as many new commentaries have been written over the years.

The I-Ching has often been used as a means of divination and their are many popular ways of using the I-Ching as "fortune telling." However, another tradition (favored by Carl Jung, for example) has seen the I-Ching as an ancient deposit of wisdom that, when taken seriously, becomes a means for a personal inner journey of self-discovery and learning the Tao—the universal Way.

However, the I-Ching does not produce easy results and a careless or casual reading of the I-Ching will be fruitless. Nonetheless, the I-Ching (or perhaps better, the wisdom buried in the I-Ching) is also foundational to taijiquan. Though taiji is often practiced at the level of gentle exercise to promote health and well-being, a serious student will want to delve into its underlying philosophy. Here the I-Ching is helpful for meditation and reflection.

The I-Ching may be studied at many different levels and interpretations. To help students of taiji who follow the grading plan I suggest for Way of Peace Taijiquan, I have given hexagrams for each grading level. Students in each level of practice will do well to meditate and reflect on the hexagram for that level.

How did I determine each hexagram? Each grade is named after the four significant animals of Chinese mythology beginning in spring and moving through the seasons. Each animal is traditionally given a direction. That direction corresponds to one of the eight trigrams (a symbol of three lines). To find the hexagram for each level the primary trigram is the inner trigram of the hexagram. The outer trigram is taken from the next direction, moving clockwise around the compass. In this way, each of the sixteen grading levels has its own hexagram that corresponds to one of the 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching. Any book on the I-Ching will give explanations and commentary on the hexagrams.

Green Dragon Level 1 Lake over Fire: Revolution (49)
Green Dragon Level 2 Heaven over Fire: Association With Others (13)
Green Dragon Level 3 Wind over Fire: People in the Home (37)
Green Dragon Level 4 Water over Fire: Settled (63)
Red Phoenix Level 5 Wind over Heaven: Small Development (9)
Red Phoenix Level 6 Water over Heaven: Waiting (5)
Red Phoenix Level 7 Mountain over Heaven: Great Accumulation (26)
Red Phoenix Level 8 Earth over Heaven: Tranquility (11)
White Tiger Level 9 Mountain over Water: Immaturity (4)
White Tiger Level 10 Earth over Water: The Army (7)
White Tiger Level 11 Thunder over Water: Solution (40)
White Tiger Level 12 Fire over Water: Unsettled (64)
Black Tortoise Level 13 Thunder over Earth: Delight (16)
Black Tortoise Level 14 Fire over Earth: Advance (35)
Black Tortoise Level 15 Lake over Earth: Gathering (45)
Black Tortoise Level 16 Heaven over Earth: Obstruction (12)

The Hexagrams for the Grades

Green Dragon

Level 1 Great Change (49)

The beginning of taiji is the beginning of change. The juxtaposed elements of this hexagram are fire under water. Fire evaporates water, and water puts out fire. Change can cause conflict; conflict can bring about great change. Yet, great change is only believed in after it has happened. By staying the course, you will find great progress and success. Occasions for turning back will evaporate.

Level 2 Connection (13)

You have been connected to the worldwide community of taiji. When communal bonds unite people, great success is possible. Yet, such bonds can develop only when personal interests are subordinated to goals that serve the greater good of all. A spirit of cooperation steadies the boat, but it helps to have a beautiful island to row toward. Connection with others indicates progress and success. Connection must be based entirely on relational considerations, without taint or selfishness. Be rooted, then cross the great stream.

Level 3 Community (37)

A community that works is one where healthy interdependence is appreciated and supported. Good direction is essential, but strong kinship is dependent upon every one in the community. Trust, shared responsibilities and good communication are essential. Each member must be encouraged to find his or her appropriate expression and contribution. Harmony in community comes mainly by cooperation. Order your words according to the truth of things. Be uniformly consistent in the way you act.

Level 4 Settled (63)

After completing a project there is much still left to do. Completion is merely a pause in the cycle of creation and decay, a momentary still point for the swinging pendulum of life. Though being settled implies a period of restful pause—one that you have well earned—it is not an actual end. It is rather a single point in the constancy of change and movement. There is progress and succession in little things. Remain rooted. You have made a good start. There are challenges still to come. Think about those challenges and prepare to meet them.

Red Phoenix

Level 5 Small development (9)

A gentle wind gathers the dense clouds, but still there is no rain.  Progress and success will come. The benefits of your practice have not yet been widely displayed. Softer influences predominate as the power of subtle forces grows. This is a time for smooth and friendly persuasion.  Attain your end and remain quiet.

Level 6 Waiting (5)

A farmer can sow the seed, but can only wait for the plant to grow. The plant will grow in its own time. You cannot hurry it along—not by working, nor by planning, nor by wishing. You may need to provide nourishment or support for others. In the meantime exercise patience between planting and harvest. Wait quietly and resolutely. Here is strength. Weakness grows agitated, and abandons the growing plant. Periods of waiting are most fruitful when used for quiet contemplation. With sincerity there will be brilliant success. With firmness there will be good fortune. It is advantageous to cross the stream. Go forward and you will achieve the goal.

Level 7 Great Accumulation (26)

Great energy increases as it is wisely stewarded. Like a river that has been dammed, or a boiling pot with a lid on, holding and containing produces enormous energy. During normal times, daily ritual and habit help keep life ordered and serene. In times of great opportunity, great courage is required. Mindfulness will be required to channel this great potential and achieve supreme success.

Level 8 Earth over Heaven: Tranquility (11)

In this hexagram earth is above heaven, and heaven seems to be under earth. The gravity of matter merges with the upward radiation of light to create deep harmony. This juxtaposition denotes a time of peace and blessing. Tranquility comes when the good and the strong show favor to those less fortunate. This marks an end to feuding. In such a state, it is best to let the energy ride high. The way is cleared, and the prospects for great success are outstanding.

White Tiger

Level 9 Mountain over Water: Immaturity (4)

Be on guard for careless or rebellious attitudes characteristic of youthful inexperience. Just as a youth requires instruction, this is a good time to focus on learning your lessons from a patient teacher. Is there some circumstance in your life that you failed to comprehend, perhaps because you could not appreciate its inherent complexities? Be respectful of anything or anyone who has something to teach you.

Level10 Earth over Water: The Army (7)

The most successful general is not the one that triumphs in battle, but the one who is able, through strength of a resolute discipline and the personal power that results from that, to achieve victory without spilling blood. This is why for the effective leadership of any organization the key virtues are clarity, decisiveness and conscientiousness. The most effective team or partnership marches with a single purpose — a dedication to a common goal that is held dear by all. Otherwise, even with an excess of external discipline, unpopular wars are seldom winnable.

Level 11 Thunder over Water: Solution (40)

After a thunderstorm a period of clarity and freshness follows. The storm has the effect of clearing the air and suddenly reducing tension in the atmosphere. Deliverance is at hand. In the wake of a storm on land, deliverance appears in the form of new color and life, which bursts forth in all the fields and flowers. In the wake of a storm at sea, deliverance takes the form of land itself.

Level 12 Fire over Water: Nearing Completion (64)

The situation is incomplete, but the chaos of the past is slowly giving way to order, and the goal is in sight. Nevertheless, you are still treading on thin ice. The way ahead is unobstructed, the goal is clear, but a cautious and careful attitude is essential, lest you slip and fall.

Black Tortoise

Level 13 Thunder over Earth: Delight (16)

Enormous creative energy is unleashed by enthusiasm. This energy is like powerful music that inspires people, loosening old constraints and generating new opportunities. Indeed, the power of enthusiasm is best symbolized by music and dance, for it is guided more by the heart than the head. Thus, great good fortune can follow someone who is able to guide this positive force toward victory and a joyous celebration

Level 14 Fire over Earth: Advance (35)

The general situation is one of easy, natural progress. That which had been weak is now steadily rising up, and by gaining a prominent position, becomes a stronger force. The image is the light of the rising sun, which at first appears dimly through the mists. This relatively weak light later radiates with powerful clarity once the sun has reached a high position in the sky.

Level 15 Lake over Earth: Gathering (45)

The power of gathering together is represented by a rally. Each person’s strength is magnified by the power of the community. History has shown that mass movements can bring about stable, ordered and durable conditions for the better. This hexagram may be pointing to an auspicious time for large undertakings. But the guiding force of your shared vision is essential to hold the forces of unity together, and keep them advancing toward a common goals and values.

Level 16 Heaven over Earth: Standstill (12)

A state of standstill is a state of decline. Confusion and disorder prevail. Inferior elements are on the rise, while the powers of clarity and creativity are waning. In such times, the wise take shelter in their own integrity and quietly remain faithful to their highest selves. Retreat from public activities until the time once again favors assertive action.

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