The Way is Good
The I Ching is one of the oldest works of literature and while it is used for divination, it is actually a profound work of spiritual philosophy, based on the observed behavior of the natural world.
The Master said: “When great responsibility is about to befall one, life appears to confound all undertakings. Thereby it stimulates the mind, toughens the nature and improves all deficiencies.”
We are like the seedling presented in the I Ching principle of (3) Difficult Beginnings, where the outer covering of the past must be removed so that our real nature can emerge. Those on a spiritual path may often face difficulty when encountering crisis because they assume that walking a path of unconditional love offers some type of spiritual reward. In some ways we may hide behind the idea of unconditional love without realizing the projections of pity we place upon others. In Taoism, there is a clear difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. Serving those who are suffering in the belief that they are suffering brings forward many dynamics that will need to be solved by understanding the workings of the 'mysterious mirror.'
To achieve 'tranquility in disturbance' is the highest work of the Sage. In Buddhism, suffering is transcended by negating experience. In Taoism, we look within to find the internal strings (inner eye) of our own misunderstanding that has brought the situation forward as 'work.' In many ways, Taoism is not unlike the perspective of dreams where everything is a reflection of our inner world. Through (20) Contemplation, we look for the patterns and cycles unique to our path. Ultimately, we are releasing ourselves of attachment, judgment and a sense of separation from all we experience to achieve a state of (25) Innocence, "like the child who has not yet learned to smile." Our most natural state resurfaces as we look at life with wonder and celebrate the vicissitudes that lead to further enlightenment. Nothing in nature comes to a (12) Standstill and we make peace with the idea that every challenge is a reminder of our attachments. Polishing the mysterious mirror is how we release any residue of the past and keep observation without blemish.
The Master said: "When meeting contention in another, one would do well to look within." This is the lesson taught in (21) Biting Through. Without friction or the natural tension of life observed in (23) Splitting Apart, the unnecessary cannot be carved away. Being whittled to perfection demonstrates how “great fullness seems empty." In (36) Brightness Hiding, we need only stoke the light of our spiritual fire and open to the teaching.
Believing that life is working against us always leads to (47) Exhaustion. Success comes when we approach experience without prejudice. Hovering at the doorway of perception: “With gentle compassion, I can be brave. With economy, I can be liberal. Not presuming to claim precedence in the world I can make myself a vessel fit for the most distinguished service.” Through (61) Inner Truth, we remove any lines separating ourselves from the seamless unity of how life ripples in waves from the center of our beliefs.
The principle of (6) Conflict comes to challenge the outworn beliefs or 'red dust' of the pathway. This is where (52) Keeping Still, owning our condition and not embroiling like a (56) Wanderer without a home returns us to a sense of (22) Grace. Nature shows us how it brings (38) Opposition or opposite energy together to achieve equilibrium. The way of the Sage teaches the enlightened soul that through relationships we can test our power of (33) Retreat to keep our sense of (52) Keeping Still intact so that we are not judging, projecting or enabling anything other than a reflection of the purposefulness all things. Often those who are suffering want only to convince others of their reflection of pain. It is the work of the Sage to polish the mysterious mirror in a way that we reflect neutrality by observing 'what is.' It is neither right or wrong, it transcends good and bad and it is 'just so.' We must remember that we are the means by which the unseen takes manifestation so all of experience is propitious. We polish the mysterious mirror daily so that each moment is indeed, a work of perfection.
An excerpt From "The Challenge of the Heart"
Love, Sex and Intimacy in Changing Times, Carol Anthony, edited by John Wellwood (Shambhala 1985)
"Anyone who works with the I Ching, whether for purposes of self-development or for the most mundane- seeming things, is being taught "the way of the Sage,"' for no matter what our concern, to achieve progress requires a realignment in our attitude to the cosmic point of view. This realignment moves us toward understanding the higher realities. Ultimately we are working on our spiritual nature.
If we are already involved in defective relationships, these become the means by which we learn the "way of the Sage." In correcting them we learn the true power of modesty as a shield and sword. Modesty alone arouses the Creative Power. Through modesty, that is, through doing nothing at all, we achieve everything.
In using the I Ching for guidance in difficult situations over a period of years, we come to understand not only how (15) Modesty brings about our defense and furtherance, but how it also acts as a tool for rectifying our relationships.
Modesty in the I Ching has several meanings:
First, it is the humility of knowing we need help from the Sage, and asking for it.
Second, it is will-power as reticence, restraining our clamoring inferiors.
Third, it is patience, holding firm when the pressures of the moment are intense, and when yielding to them in the slightest degree would cause us to lose our path.
Fourth, it is conscientiousness, reflecting to see if we have overlooked any evil in ourselves, and keeping on guard against the entrance of any doubt. This conscientiousness amounts to an unflagging awareness so that one is not deceived by self-flattery or false enthusiasm brought on by the pressure to find "solutions."
Fifth, modesty is enduring firmly through perseverance.
Sixth, it is the will to accept things as they come, ever seeking clarity through acceptance and docility; for one realizes that clarity gives one the strength to see things through to completion.
Finally, modesty is expressed as devotion to the path of the good for its own sake, for one sees clearly that staying on the path is the goal, and that everything good comes out of that. For a long time we must be content to wait and work without expectation. Then support comes. We need to realize that it can come only when we prove reliable--devoted to being led. Much of the work of self-development is to correct our relationship with the Sage by allowing ourselves to be led.
"Coming to Meet" (Hexagram 44) describes a correct relationship as one in which two people come to meet each other halfway. Halfway means that both are open and receptive to each other. Coming to meet halfway also must be mutually voluntary, based on the principle of spontaneous attraction described in "The Marrying Maiden" (54) as the "essential principle of relatedness." We must maintain reserve in our relationships until the coming to meet is mutual. Maintaining reserve is the correct action (or non action). Coming to meet halfway is possible only between people who are mutually honest and sincere in their way of life. It is the great joy of such relationships that they are full of mutual trust and sensitivity.
We understand "coming to meet" better if we compare it to a contract made between two people. If one is indolent in performing his part, or has mental reservations about what he is willing to do, the contract may fail. Although such a person may have entered the contract without any immediate objections, his attitude may contain objections which arise only at the time his obligations are to be performed. Such a person may secretly feel that contracts are not to be taken seriously, or, on seeing how difficult it is to fulfill his part, he may hedge on doing it because of some idea that all contracts are subject to fitting into his concept of what is reasonable. In any case, it is impossible to come to meet such a person halfway, and the I Ching repeatedly advises us that it is better for us to go on our way alone and to wait until the fundamentals of unity are firmly established before we commit ourselves to other people. When we cater to another person's ego because it is uncomfortable to go on our way alone, we choose the high road of comfort rather than the low road of modesty and loneliness. Withdrawal from the high road is the action often counseled by the I Ching.
If a person is treating us presumptuously, and if we remind him of this, he may correct his habits for a few days, but gradually revert to the same pattern of neglect. This he does from egotistical indolence-some- thing in his point of view makes him feel he has the right to be indifferent. Likewise, we must withdraw from the indolent person, "cutting our inner strings" of attachment to him, and no longer look at his wrongdoings with our inner eye. This enables the person to see what he is doing in the mirror created by the void. By dispersing any alienation we may feel, we also lend strength to his superior self. Momentarily, his ego is overcome. We need to realize that this change is short-lived, but it is an essential beginning. The change does not last because it is only founded on his response to feeling the void. It becomes a permanent change when he sees clearly that unity with others depends upon his devoting himself to correcting his mistakes. Only then can we abandon a more formal way of relating to him.
The sense of loss, loneliness, or poverty of self a person feels on our withdrawing from him is what, in "Biting Through" (21), is called "punishment." The punishment works only if it is applied in the way described in the lines of this hexagram. These lines make clear that on encountering the ego of another person, we must consistently and immediately withdraw, neither contending with him nor trying to force progress by leverage. We withdraw, accepting his state of mind, letting him go. We must take care not to withdraw with any other attitude than that required to maintain inner serenity, and to keep from giving up on him. If we withdraw with feelings of alienation, or of self-righteousness, our ego is involved as the punisher. The ego, as the third line of this hexagram says, "lacks the power and authority" to punish. The culprits not only do not submit, but "by taking up the problem the punisher arouses poisonous hatred against himself." One person's ego may not punish another person's ego.
When a person returns to the path of responding correctly, we likewise go to meet him halfway, rather than tell him he is doing things correctly. In this way he comes to relating correctly from his own need to relate correctly and we do not force it on him. Our consistency and discipline in feeling out each moment and responding to it does the work. It is unnecessary to watch a person's behavior to see if he is becoming worse or better; we need only be in tune with ourselves. Our inner voice warns us precisely when to withdraw and when to relate. We need only listen within.
It is an important I Ching principle to work with a situation only so long as the other person is receptive and open, and to (33) Retreat the instant this receptivity wanes. When we understand that this represents a natural cycle of influence, we learn to "let go" when the moment of influence passes, and not to press our views. This gives other people the space they need to move away from us and return of their own accord. The Sage relates to us in precisely this manner, and the hexagram comments that the Sage is never sad, in view of our coming and going, but is always like the sun at midday. In the same way we must avoid egotistical enthusiasm when we think we are making progress, or discouragement when the dark period ensues. Throughout the cycle we learn to remain detached, holding steadily to the (36) light within us and within others. The instant we strive to influence, we "push upward blindly." If we insist on accomplishing the goal at all costs, our inner light is darkened and our will to see things through is damaged.
The strength of a person's ego corresponds to the amount of attention it can (31) Attract. On the most simple level this recognition is by eye-to-eye contact; on the more basic inner level we strengthen other people's egos by watching them with our inner eye. If we are annoyed with someone, we are watching him with our inner eye. Only when we withdraw both our eye-to-eye contact and our inner gaze do we deprive his ego of its power. An I Ching line says, "We cannot lead those whom we follow." By following others with our inner eye we do not walk our own path but attend to theirs. This gratifies their ego. It is as if we are attached to them by hidden underground cables, which must be cut. It is as if we are acting as a lifeguard who is watching to save them from themselves. As long as they recognize that someone is going to save them, they carelessly begin to swim with the sharks. They do this not only because they feel a false sense of security, but because it guarantees that we pay attention to them. As long as we play the role of lifeguard, the others we care about will not save themselves; for their own good it is necessary to withdraw, cut our inner strings and leave matters up to them; this is also to cease doubting them.
Inner withdrawal is an action of perseverance that has its own reward, but only when it is modest perseverance, not an attempt to impress others by getting them to notice our withdrawal. In many situations the problem is resolved, not through any external action that arises spontaneously on our part, but by simply "letting it happen," through letting go of the problem. Our "action" is to "let go."
In practicing disengagement from negative images and their offspring emotions, we train ourselves not to brand adverse situations as "bad." By not deciding the situation is "unfavorable," we remain open to learning something from it, and allow the hidden force to resolve the difficulties in a favorable way. From the I Ching point of view, adversity provides the opportunity for inner growth and development as we overcome the doubts, anxieties anti judgments that block our access to the Creative Power. It is also its view that all evil, either in us or in other people, arises from doubts and misunderstandings. Doubting that we, in and of ourselves, are sufficiently equipped to succeed in life, we develop a false self-image, or ego. Doubting that we have help from the Creative, we fear what life has to offer, therefore build defenses against the unknown. All these doubts and misunderstandings are at the root of how people relate incorrectly to each other.
In the foregoing examples we have seen that action tends to be expressed in terms of applying limits to our thoughts and actions. Accepting such self-imposed limits is the message of "Limitation" (60). One necessary limitation we must place on ourselves is that of restraining ourselves, through self-discipline, from expecting quick results. Our inferiors impatiently measure the other person's behavior to see if we are having an effect. The I Ching explains that we must learn to work with time as the vehicle of the Creative Force. Working with time, adapting to the fact that slow progress is the only progress that endures is part of the process of non-action. We need to withdraw from impatience and "flow," as with water that only runs downhill. We need to prohibit our inferiors from "watching the team horse," and from putting images of gloom and doom before our inner eye. Sometimes doing these things requires what can only be called "galling limitation," and "sublime perseverance," but it is only by such means that we can gain superiority over our recalcitrant inferiors. We also find that during such times we can overcome the assaults of our inferiors if we mount a resolute (43) Determination to withstand them. It is important to remember that they are but paper dragons and they do not have the invincible power they make us think they have. It is also important to remember that when we (30) Cling steadfastly to our path, we also get help from the Creative, but even more readily if we remember to ask for help.
Perfecting our inner nature in the ways described develops the power of (61) Inner Truth. The hexagram "Revolution" (49) stresses that what we ask of people must "correspond with a higher truth and not spring from arbitrary or petty motives." What we think of as justice may not be so from the cosmic point of view. We may have imagined, for example, that a person who has been unfair with us ought to go through a series of steps to re-establish their credibility and good will. In effect, we are saying that we require them to meet conditions of our specifications; otherwise the injustice cannot be erased. Such demands are the work of our self-righteous pride and ego. The way in which a person returns to the path is not properly our business; furthermore, when they have returned, we must meet them halfway. We also need to avoid using the moment to gain the recognition that we were "right."
The action described thus far - that of non-action, of keeping our inner attitude correct, works through the power of inner truth. Inner truth has to mount to great strength before it can break through obdurate situations. It mounts in strength in direct proportion to our inner perseverance to hold to the correct path, and it acts on the principle of gentle penetration described in "The Gentle" ("The Penetrating," Wind) (57). Just as roots penetrate rocks and break them apart, perseverance in the correct attitude breaks through closed minds.
A second type of action arises spontaneously out of a correct attitude. This action manifests as a response to what is happening. Although we realize we are acting, we do so with such detachment that the action happens through us, rather than by us. We are conduits for what arises in the hidden world. Sometimes this action is very forceful and abrupt, and takes us completely by surprise. It had the correct effect and was appropriate, and we could not have planned it. Sometimes the action taken is a very quiet, calming action, but again, we are detached. Such moments do not come often, but usually happen in difficult situations, in which the help of the Creative is greatly needed.
Such spontaneous action can only occur when we are in a (2) Receptive and open state of mind. It may take place after we have been misunderstood and challenged by other people's inferiors, and have strictly held to our limits. Suddenly we say or do the correct thing. Steadfastness has aroused the Creative Power to act through us. The state of mind in which such action can take place is that of emptiness. We have mentally disengaged from any intentions or plans, any feelings of urgency or alienation, of wanting to do or dreading to do anything about the situation at hand. We have also become free of any discouraging feelings of helplessness, and have allowed ourselves to (22) rely on the cosmos to let things work out as they will. In arriving at this "empty place," the place of no thought, or what in Zen is called "no mind," we are in tune with the Creative.
Inner correctness also activates what the I Ching calls “the helpers” -- those hidden and often suppressed great and good elements in other people that, once aroused, provide the necessary inner assent to accomplish needed changes. The lines in the I Ching that call for “seeing the great man” and “holding to the great man” mean that we need to hold to the possibility of these elements in others, even though the most unpleasant elements are visible. If it is impossible to conceive of the great man in others, it is sufficient to disengage from our negative feelings about them: to be neutral in attitude is to automatically remain open to their potential goodness.
Similar to this spontaneous action is a slow-building action that steadily mounts in intensity to a denouement that just happens by itself. Complex, unseen movements are taking place. During this time the external situation seems to demand our taking some action, but we don't know what action. As "Preponderance of the Small" (62) tells us, it is necessary to wait in the "ambiguous spot," doing nothing. Doing nothing and waiting is the correct attitude results in a build-up of inner power. The taming and holding onto this power is the subject of "The Taming Power of the Great" (26), which speaks of daily self-renewal through (52) Keeping Still as the only means of remaining at the peak of our inner powers. In "taming" this power by resisting the urge to act, we experience a sense of discomfort. Waiting in the ambiguous spot is galling to our inferiors who point to the (29) "threatening dangers of non action." The rush of desire to do something, pictured as a bull's horns and a rhinoceros's tusk, may be controlled through seeing with (30) Clarity that it is not yet time to act. Finally, with our being hardly aware of it, the inner power has its effect and the obstacles are overcome. When this happens we get the top line, which says, "He attains the way of heaven, success." Through waiting and controlling our energy, inner power grew and the victory was won. It was as if the root inside the boulder swelled and split the boulder apart. At this final moment those who were hostile or unreceptive change and become open to us. This change is dramatic and inexplicable, outside the boundaries of any logical process.
(5) Waiting in the ambiguous spot involves risks and dangers, which must be overcome if we are to succeed. This sort of patience described in the I Ching is a unique focusing of will to hold to what is good in our- selves, in other people, and in the life process, so that the inferior man, wherever he exists, is overthrown. First we retreat from any inferior impulses we have; then we disengage our attention from the other person, leaving it truly up to him to do or not do the right thing. This kind of (15) humble acceptance, in which we "cling to the power of truth," arouses the Creative Power. We do not need to like the person, or to believe in him, or to believe in our own power. Quite the opposite: truly, we are powerless. Without going from the extreme of disbelief to the extreme of belief, we simply relinquish, or sacrifice, our disbelief. In sacrificing it, we return to the empty place, the neutral place, the place of the Creative. In so doing we retain our inner dignity and we preserve his; by recognizing and accepting our own powerlessness we give him the space to find himself. This space acts as a kind of cosmic mirror in which the other person perceives and apprehends his inferior man. In this manner we make it possible for another person's superior man to regain control.
The build-up of inner power depends upon the self-limitation described. Inner power is maintained through daily self-renewal-letting go of everything and keeping still every day. At the same time, it is impossible to free ourselves from entrenched habits of mind all at once. We need to forgive ourselves for not always living up to our standards, and for frequently failing. It is unreasonable to expect too much, too soon, therefore the I Ching says we must put “limitation, even upon limitation”.
To explore how the I Ching principles lead to greater enlightenment see Nothing Bad Happens in Life.