Friday, January 22, 2021

I Ching Hexagram Commentary #16 - Certainty

 Here is the latest in the I Ching public video series. 

Members of the Yi Fa Society get access to private videos and written teachings that elaborate further on each hexagram covered in this series. If you are interested in applying to the Yi Fa Society please get in touch.

Monday, January 4, 2021

On the Significance of Yuan Heng Li Zhen

 The opening words of the I Ching's core text are "Yuan Heng Li Zhen", which is typically translated as "Sublime celestial forces in motion". 

When you think of the "celestial force" that is Time itself, you can understand immediately that this first line, the main text description of Hexagram #1, is also an apt description of what the entire I Ching is all about, and it has been treated that way by many scholars and adepts of the I Ching throughout history. As more commentary has been made of Hexagrams 1 & 2 than any of the others, it can also be said that more commentary has been made on those four words than any other words in the entire I Ching.

 These words do not appear on in Hexagram 1, however. They are also spread out, often in pairs (Yuan heng, or li zhen) throughout the I Ching core text.  Separately, "Yuan heng" means a broad or easy path, or also, a ritual or sacrificial rite. While "Li zhen" means a favorable auspice, clearly a common phrase in the context of divination. 

A Chinese coin-shaped talisman inscribed with Yuan Heng Li Zhen


In the Yi Fa teaching, a great deal of emphasis is put on those words as representative of the four facets of Virtue: Union/Love, Discipline, Justness/Harmony, and Truth/Reality. 

The description of Yuan Heng Li Zhen as being these four virtue facets originates with the Wenyan Commentary, which dates back to before the Han Dynasty. Here is a quote of that commentary from one translation:

 "What is called "the great and originating" (yuan 元) is [in man] the first and chief quality of goodness; what is called "the penetrating" (heng 亨) is the assemblage of excellences; what is called "the advantageous" (li 利) is the harmony of all that is right; and what is called "the correct and firm" (zhen 貞) is the faculty of action."

Here "goodness" is Love/Union, "the Assemblage of excellences" is the process of Discipline, Li is already translated here as Harmony, and the "Faculty of Action" is Truth or Reality, that is to say the perceptual faculty that allows us to take action.

Yuan Heng Li Zhen is also a reference to cycles:

Yuan - sublime, the head. The beginning. Spring
Heng accomplishment, prosperous. Summer
Li beneficence, harvest, autumn.
Zhen determination, endurance, winter

Thus Yuan symbolizes the beginning of all things, Heng their growth, Li their further development, and Zhen their maturity.  This concept of the four words connecting to the cycles of growth and the four seasons was particularly elaborated by Cheng Yi, the Song dynasty sage and friend of Shao Yong. 

These words are also used in some esoteric contexts as a mantra, and also as words of invocation for ritual purposes. In fact, just as the four words can be used to describe the pattern or process of natural or seasonal cycles, they can also be used to describe the STEPS of a ritual.

In this sense, "Yuan" symbolizes the invocation, calling down what is above, for the sake of Union.

"Heng" symbolizes the correct performance of the ritual, with Discipline.

"Li" means receiving a response from the forces you have called upon; that is to say, your ritual bringing you into Harmony with the universe.

And "Zhen" means applying that response or change in yourself, embodying Truth in the real world.