Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Form and Meaning" vs. "Image and Number"

Since early in the history of the I Ching, there has been a division among I Ching thinkers and practitioners between two ways to approach the system: there is the "image and number" aspect, and the "form and meaning" aspect.

"Image and number" refers to looking at the I Ching as an esoteric teaching based on numerology, sacred mathematics, predictive systems and a method of structural analysis of ourselves and cosmology.  On the other hand, in the "form and meaning" aspect, the emphasis is placed on the philosophical and allegorical value of the I Ching; in how it functions as a life-teaching, as a guide to a variety of human functions.  So the "image and number" school looks at how the I Ching teaches us the esoteric mysteries of the universe, and the prediction of the future; while the "form and meaning" school emphasized how the I Ching teaches us everything from self-improvement, to leadership, to how to relate to others, and the development of personal and social virtue.

 Both perspectives are imperfect.  The "image and number" perspective is often prone to getting lost in numerological nonsense, and does not focus on Virtue.  But the "form and meaning" perspective tends to be ungrounded, ignoring the cosmological basis of the I Ching that justifies not just what to do, but why it is legitimate to do do these things.  Also, the "form and meaning" teachings often end up being based on speculation or on projecting outside interpretations onto the I Ching: expressing a Taoist understanding of I Ching, or a Buddhist understanding of I Ching, or a Confucian understanding of I Ching, or a psychological understanding of I Ching, or a new age understanding of I Ching, etc.  But in doing so they lose sight of the primacy of the I Ching itself.

The real answer is to use the aim of the Form & Meaning school, while using some of the methods of the Image & Number school.  The I Ching itself must be in the center of any interpretation of the I Ching! And it must be understood as a teaching system for attaining the Superior Individual.

It does so through a set of images and mathematical structures, which demonstrate a solid quality of the nature of change and time. This is the very Real foundation of the I Ching; not in projection but in operative Truth.  The lines and messages of the I Ching in turn teach the philosophical processes necessary to use those symbols to distance one's self from the Inferior Person and approach the Superior Individual.

In many ways, the core concept of the Image and Number school was to treat the I Ching as a system of divination; and the core concept of the Form and Meaning school was to treat the I Ching as a philosophy and guide to Enlightenment.   But a divination system that doesn't serve as a system for self-transformation and guide to enlightenment just goes around in circles; and a philosophical teaching about Enlightenment that has no practical construct of cosmological understanding cannot begin to change the person (that is, if you do not have a METHOD by which to 'do' the teaching, the teaching is left to be only an intellectual distraction).  So we need to apply the method of divination to the aim of enlightenment.

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