Asking the right question
Consulting the I Ching requires us first to frame a question. We then employ a randomness-generating mechanism (such as flipping coins) to find which hexagram will answer our question. The commentaries on the hexagrams use imagery from nature, mythology and society to provide gnomic advice:
- "The dragon that goes too high has regrets."
- "When there is hoarfrost underfoot solid ice is not far off."
- "Whoever hunts deer without the forester only loses his way in the forest."
We then have to apply these answers to our original question by translating the metaphors. So, if I am hunting a deer, who (or what) is the forester who can guide me through the forest? Perhaps I need to call off the chase until I have found a verderer.
Friends would occasionally ask me to "do" the I Ching for them, because they misunderstood the nature of the book. Although it is often described as a book of divination it is not a fortune telling device like horoscopes or tarot cards. It does not violate the principle of causality; its predictions can only come true if we behave in the way it suggests. A dragon who knows when to stop ascending will have no regrets. So I always told my friends they needed to have a question in mind before they flipped the coins (they didn't have to tell me the question, by the way). If there is no question there can be no answer.
So does it work? Well, the meaning of the answer derives from the interpretation of it in the light of the original question. A focused request such as "Should I take this new job?" is more likely to produce illumination than something vague like "Why am I unhappy?". But meaning is in the mind of the questioner. Sometimes the hexagrams seemed spookily appropriate to the question. Other times they seemed to have no relevance at all. On one occasion my interpretation of the chosen text differed sharply from the questioner's interpretation.
The I Ching has a world view and a specific definition of correct behaviour. But I don't think somebody has to be a practicing Taoist or believe in the literal existence of Yin and Yang in order to gain benefit from the book. Finding harmony between contending forces is a common idea. For example, here is an article by WTF's Alex Papadimoulis on striking the balance between hard coding and soft coding.
I don't do I Ching consultations any more. Now I just spend my time in the OTN forums instructing herberts like this and this in the art of asking questions properly. Different oracle, same old stuff.