CONFERENCIA EN LA ESCUELA DE ESTUDIOS ORIENTALES DE LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LONDRES, UK

por Osvaldo Loisi

6-5-2012

Lamentablemente este texto se encuentra solamente en inglés.

 

Ladies and gentlemen:
I am happy to be here among you, having come from so far to talk to you about my book recently published in Spanish "I-CHING AS A METHOD FOR INNER SELF SEARCHING AND PERSONAL GUIDANCE", which refers to the ancient I-Ching, one of the oldest books in history to the study of which I have devoted myuself for more than twenty years.

The first question that arises naturally from the beginning, is about the reason for bringing into focus such a remote text nowadays, about its importance for our world today, to a technological civilization where we are used to looking ahead and not behind in search for scientific truth and progress.

Notwithstanding the above, this remote and cryptic text has decidedly proven to be related to the nature of our subjective life, and, thus, it could be considered an excellent method for inner exploration. The more we advance into the knowledge of the physical nature of things, the more we need to know ourselves, it is important to try to rescue that old book from the shade of mantic practices to study it systematically.

"I-Ching", whose Chinese pronunciation is "yi-ying" and is generally translated as "The Book of Changes", is an oracle standing at the base of all Chinese culture and has been used for centuries as a method for practical divination.

In the Western hemisphere, it began to achieve popularity since the middle of this Century, when it deserved the attention of Sigmund Freud's disciple Carl G. Jung. The famous founder of Analytical Psychology declared in a renowned prologue that he himself had been consulting it for thirty years, as he considered worth while studying it from a scientific point of view.

Basically, besides its divinatory uses, this oracle makes it possible for us to maintain a dialogue with our inner selves, which, in a world like ours, where it is so hard to find someone willing to listen, should not seem too weird an idea. Perhaps these are the reasons for the unusual popularity enjoyed by the book in the Western world for the past half century or so, where it is unfailingly found on the shelves of most bookstores.

I was first led to consult the oracle for economic reasons, something which still makes me feel somewhat embarrassed. Several years ago, I was about to set off on my holidays when I bought a copy of the I-Ching in the same spirit as one buys a novel to read on the beach. And it was on one of those lazy summer days when I first set to consult it. The query was about a real estate transaction someone had proposed to me, about which I had to make up my mind.

I asked the oracle a straightforward question: whether I had to go along or not with the deal, and the answer was in the negative. At least that is the way I read it at the time.

Unfortunately I do not remember exactly which the hexagram was and the line responsible for that direct answer. At that time I thought the whole thing was hocus-pocus, or at most a parlor game.

Upon my return to town after my holidays, I considered the business deal in detail. I owned a tiny plot of land in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, from which I thought I could make no profit. All of a sudden, someone had spontaneously come up to me, expressing a wish to purchase it. The whole thing seemed above board, and the price was alluring. Why should I feel any doubt about the transaction's profitability?

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A few days later, my country was hit by one of the gravest economic crises in its whole history. Overnight, currency lost fifty percent of its value, and real estate increased just as much. Fortunately I had not sold my property, for the sale would have obviously made me lose money. After this, I began seeing the I-Ching under a different light.

I began now and then to consult the puzzling book, always about subjects of greater relevance. Once, for instance, I asked of what consisted human happiness. The direct, simple answer was "Enthusiasm". The very name of hexagram 16 was the answer for me. I don't know to what an extent such answer was correct from a philosophical point of view, but I was pleased with the simplicity of the response.

I went on putting all kind of questions and the answers went on shedding light on some aspects yet unknown to me about my own causes for concern. Till one day, giving in to some atavistic temptation, I addressed the oracle in a different way. Overcoming all scruples one after the other, setting aside my legal background and ready to ignore what my colleagues would say should they find out, I asked the oracle the following question:

-"And who are you?"

As I handled the coins and saw the hexagram being formed, I shuddered. What could the answer be? One by one the thin lines began shaping the hexagram "K'an", "The Abysm" and also "Water": Number 29 in the series. There was a significant line in it: the fourth one.

That line conveys the image of somebody receiving through a window the gifts of a bowl of rice and a jug of wine, in plain earthenware. In a plastic way, the oracle was defining itself as food. Food coming from a window, just as light does. Served in plain earthenware, too, meaning that the important thing about such offering is food itself and not its container.

All the images and ideas offered by I-Ching are like plain containers of spiritual food which we must learn to find out. All its answers are filled with wisdom, and, in some cases, with deep poetry. For I-Ching is, also, a long poem as well.

Feeling dazzled by the encounter with the marvelous and the inexplicable, man in all ages has always given in to the temptation of raising an altar to it, even today, an epoch of intelligent machines and space achievements. But we should avoid that inclination, reject it. For on that very same altar raised to honor the unapproachable, where man will place all his hopes and kneel down before it, he will also place his own responsibility before life.
He will give up his role as the sole protagonist in the task of being himself. For undoubtedly there is no any other heavier burden, than the weight of one's own destiny.

I decided not to give in to such temptation when writing my book. I am not a worshipper of the Book of Changes nor is my idea to turn others into "devotees" of it.

Though feeling the highest respect for the Chinese culture and people, for whom the ancient oracle was in fact a sacred book, I deal with it only as a tool of the mind. Without neglecting other powers, which everyone can discover by themselves throughout his or her oracular experience, my approach to the oracle is limited to a way for enlighten consciousness.

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It goes without saying that this approach does not mean to "restrict" the mystery of the oracle workings to simplistic explanations. Our purpose is only to pave the way for those who are interested in this curious, remarkable instrument for inner enlighten, helping them use it advantageously. We have a lot to learn about approaching the realities of our inner life -a subject not dealt with by any conventional discipline. We should think them over, learn to deal with them, to individuate and identify them. The oracular experience provides a way to approach such realities, letting them emerge from our foggy subjectivity.

I was to approach the subject in that way in order to stick strictly to human standards: that is to say, without ever departing from men’s sphere. In his memoirs, André Gide remembers the well known myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx. Oedipus is going through a narrow mountain path watched over by the Sphinx, a maker of puzzles. When he faces the fabulous beast, it put to him the old question:
"Which is the animal that walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon and three feet in the evening?

Oedipus hesitates for a brief moment, perplexed. He is aware that all travelers who did not come up with the correct answer were torn to pieces by the Sphinx. Then he gives a straightforward reply: Man. For man is the one who walks on all fours as a toddler, stands on his two feet as he grows, and helps himself with a cane -a third foot- in his old age. Upon hearing the correct answer, the monster jumped into the abysm and Oedipus' way was free. Mankind's way became free.
Gide makes a comment on that ancient myth saying that the only right answer is that given by Oedipus. In fact all human puzzles have the same answer: "the human being". The human being is always the true reply. For, when facing any obstacle in life, we shall always find the answer and the right solution within ourselves.

That is also the reason why, as we read in the Bible, the Lord forbade His people to raise images representing Him, and forbids us to utter His name -and it must be so; for if there is a God, He can only dwell in human heart. Jorge Luis Borges once said: "I don't know if there is anything divine in human being or there is in the world anything that isn't divine".

In my book I put forward several hypothesis about the nature of oracular consultation, for I-Ching is a source of endless inspiration. But we mainly conceive of it as a mental technique shedding light on some hidden aspects of perceived reality.

"I-Ching" is a compound name which, translated into English means something like "The Book of Changes" ("I" means "changes" and "Ching" means "Book" or "treatise"). The word "oracle" etymologically derives from the Latin "orare", meaning "to talk". Hence its briefest definition could be "the talking book", one with the odd quality of answering queries.

Its origins are lost in times long gone by, and that is why we know nothing about its author or authors. Supposedly written some three thousand years BC, it is one of the oldest books in history. What we do know is that the Chinese have resorted to it, ever since the dawn of their history, as a tool for divination, and that it has certainly been at the heart of Chinese culture and those civilizations influenced by it, to the present day.

I-Ching can be historically related to the need of all peoples in the world to scan their future and foresee ominous events in order to prevent them. Our own scientific and technological culture is not alien to that need, so much so that one of the goals of scientific

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work can be said to be just that: "forecasting". Statistics and probability estimates somehow stand for those ancient techniques used to forecast future events by scanning the course of present ones.

The fact is that oracles are to be found all along the history of mankind, at all times and in every culture. But what makes I-Ching stand out from other oracles, though, is that it is entirely devoid of religious meanings, and alien to dogmas and ideologies. It is not the vehicle of any given creed or philosophy but a sort of tool to be used for guidance and inner enlightment.

It should also be pointed out that I-Ching is both a cause and a source of permanent inspiration. Lao-Tse and Confucius were imbibed in their wisdom. The latter, according to James Legge, the first English translator, went as far as owning that, could he live fifty years longer, he would devote them entirely to the study of the Book of Changes.

At all times this oracle has been to Chinese people, throughout their long history, their main source of inspiration -both at the spiritual and the moral, as well as the military, scientific, technical and other levels. Possibly that universal character and its long lasting influence in all aspects of Chinese life were the elements arousing curiosity among a group of Jesuit priests who introduced I-Ching to the Western world in the 17th Century.

Many inventions, as well as medical advice and military strategies, yoga practices, etc., were directly attributed to certain hexagrams. I-Ching not only had an influence on academic or official culture, but also on everyday life.

It was thanks to the open-minded spirits of Loyola's Order that this ancient, unique book has come down to us. Centuries later, it would decidedly make an inroad in the Western world, openly challenging our rationality.

Basically, I-Ching is a collection of graphic signs: a solid line and a broken or divided line drawn horizontally one upon the other in a variety of combinations. Each graphic sign is associated to certain phrases expressing ideas and conveying images related to an ideal subject: "The superior man". The oracle is not meant to be read fully through but to be "questioned" at random, through methods and procedures that have changed throughout the centuries.

Its constant reference to the "superior man" symbolizing the ideal of human perfection makes of this a book of knowledge, a treatise full of wisdom. But since it does not take the shape of a logical "discourse", it also reveals itself as an oracle, answering questions put at random. This latter characteristic places I-Ching in a rather particular sphere: that of our own subjectivity -the inner life of each person consulting it. For it so happens that the way the oracle is consulted is a very personal one, and so is the interpretation of its answers. The wisdom conveyed by I-Ching is not objective and open to everybody but, on the contrary, intimate, personal and peculiar to each. Its framework is not society, nor the community, but our own, unavoidable life. This is the same framework against which evolves our thoughts and feelings, wishes and fantasies, emotions and purposes.

That is why consulting the oracle means, in each and every case, beginning to discover ouselves -to start plotting and laying landmarks on the dunes of our inner geography; to get to know ourselves better in order to be better able to face our causes for concern.

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Permanence and change are two ideas around which two entirely different ways of thinking are built-namely, two different styles of "rationale". Our own rationale, the Western way of thinking is built up on the first of these ideas, that of "permanence" or "exchangeability" of things. One starts from the basis that everything is conceived in terms of permanence; of an ideal one.

The Western world has always strived to find out what things "are". The fact that in everyday reality they keep changing is considered to some extent extraordinary, or is said to be "due to such and such a cause for change" -something which is always considered alien to the thing itself. We envisage things as if, essentially, they should not change. We find it very hard to conceive things in terms of their constant change and mutation. That's why our culture relies entirely on the idea of cause.
When real things in fact change before our own eyes, the Western man feels disturbed and immediately seeks the causes for those changes. Every change always arises in him a feeling of irrationality or of anxiety hardly concealed.

Skakespeare, in a flash of genius, put in one of his character's lips a sentence summing up, in a way, the embarrassing situation of Western man in the face of change. Hamlet says "To be or not to be, that is the question". Of course that is, in fact, the "big question" of the Western mind. I-Ching, the Book of Changes, at every step, is inviting us to explain all realities in terms of the "rationality of changes".

In all aspects of life, when we seem to be about to find a safe place, a stable condition, always some change happens, and everything slowly changes sense. We had better learn to live with changes, learn to take them on our stride, perceive them and, if possible, become their protagonists, for otherwise we shall be hopelessly swept away by them. This is one of the hardest lessons Western man should learn: to accept what is new and to bury the old; to get rid of his own corpse as a child and enter manhood, and then part with man's corpse at the peak of his physical strength to become an old man. We have to learn to pack up and leave at the very moment we had settled down just as the sun does when it reaches the zenith.

We should approach oracular consultation upon the notion of change in real life, for the series of solid and broken lines making up the body of I-Ching are the expression of that constant change to which all events in this universe are subject.

Those old magicians who were supposedly the authors of I-Ching developed the oracle on the basis of change. But they did not resort to the written word to express it. And they did not even use ideograms. Everything happened in times so remote that perhaps they were even previous to any form of writing.

Its authors therefore expressed change by means of the two lines, the solid and the divided one, drawn horizontally, one on top of the other. Whatever they thought or felt about reality would be expressed only by means of those fundamental elements in the manner of a code. Therefore, the original body of I-Ching is not made of ideograms, but of those two lines, placed in succession, in groups of three and six, one above the other.

From then on, those sticks would be capable of conveying graphically whatever may reach our consciousness, whatever we can be aware of: whatever we think, feel, believe, wish, imagine, project, execute; any problem, joy, emotion and any perceived reality, any subjectively interpreted reality. For the world dealt with by the Book of Changes is none other than the world of the unique human being.

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When we put a query about some specific problem, that problem is symbolized in some corner of that building of lines; that is, in a given line, either solid or broken. It will be sustained by things we effectively know and some others we don't know. We must "trace" it through the technique of oracular consultation. We must discover in what things it is sustained. These lines, representing our inner contents, strike a delicate balance unknown to us. Sometimes, when we believe we are upholding some given ideas or beliefs, or just assumptions on the basis of their inherent truth or falsehood, we are in fact upholding them in order to prevent the collapse of others in which we do take an interest. We try to prevent "the whole building from falling down" once some of its pillars are undermined.

Finally, we can say that the solid and the divided lines reveal to us a basic mechanism of our mind: that always, in all orders of life, what is different "sheds light", while the opposite defines. This is the concept of "truth" to which we are introduced by I-Ching. Such truth is no longer taken as information or data, as knowledge coming from outside, which we learn and then is stored up. This truth is meant as "inner enlightment" or "inner revelation".
The solid line is defined by confrontation with the divided line, and vice-versa. And the sense of both lines, coupled together and confronting each other in a series of combinations, helps shed light on our inner, subjective material, of which we are not always entirely conscious.

When I think about "happiness" for example, the idea or the sensation of unhappiness may be said to be present too, not conscious and even not unconscious -as Freudians would say- but "hidden", in an implicit, tacit way. As a sort of screen that produces contrast to the sense or idea of happiness. For whatever sense of happiness I may experience, it is experienced on the mold of its opposite. Every subjective element, when it turns conscious, acknowledges another, hidden element as its background, on which it leans and takes shape.
Both elements, the effectively experienced and the hidden one are expressed in the hexagrams, coupled the #1 to #2, the #3 to #4, the #5 to #6 and so on, from 1 to 64.
The oracular consultation as a tool for inner searching uses the 32 pairs of hexagrams to clarify those foggy, hardly defined phenomena what we call vaguely "what is happening to us". It is a sort of dark wood with conspicuous and hidden trees.

From another point of view, the oracular consultation helps us to see everything that happens to us not as simple ideas but as true incidents; I mean: not as "pictures of things" but as true things. Not as a photograph, but as a moving truck which we could jump on and eventually drive. A truck that has energy, direction, comes from the past and drives to the future.

Both solid and broken lines represent, therefore, the "saga of consciousness". They are an inseparable binomial, since the one means nothing without the other. The one makes sense only in terms of a contrast with the other, in the same way as a light color is such only when contrasted with a darker one. Or virtue takes on meaning when set off against vice, and so on.

Since Aristotle, we know that human mind only perceives contrasts between things and that our senses are dulled by the uniform and continuous. When man finds himself before the "whole", he always behaves the same way: he breaks it up. We are always looking at a broken-up reality, mere "profiles" of reality. That's what both lines mean.

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In Genesis we read that in the beginning there was chaos, and God divided light from darkness, and the earth from the seas. Further on, we read about the quarrel and tragic separation between Cain and Abel. From our point of view, these are metaphors of the saga of human consciousness. They show the birth and development of human awareness.

Every division we make on reality always leads us to a greater awareness resulting from the contrast we establish between the separate parts. The process of awareness requires us to divide reality and later to put them back together as portions of a jigsaw puzzle. That is how our mind works. The ancient Chinese perceived the principle of reality as being a fragmented whole depicted by the known symbol called T'ai-Chi, consisting in a circle divided in two.

This characteristic of human awareness, the particular way our mind has of dealing with reality, breaking it up, is also quite clearly seen in the so-called "reversible figures". They are ambiguous images before which our perception seems to hesitate.

In the year 1921, the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin drew the attention of the scientific community on the fact that certain figures would appear as reversible images to the eye of the observer. For him, it is very difficult to perceive at first glance these figures as a whole.

This phenomenon turns out to be extremely relevant, since it enables us to have a visual experience of how making something conscious involves breaking it up. How we always perceive things insofar as they are contrasted with other things. In other words: To see something clearly, it must be contrasted with the diverse serving as background. Like some comics who appear before the audience accompanied by another character whose sole role it is to act in a clumsy or naive way to make the comic stand out.

The ground is as important as the figure since, without the former, the latter would simply not be visible. Whatever we ignore about something holds as much importance as whatever we do know about it. Whatever we are fully aware of as far as reality is concerned is not the whole of reality but just a part of it. The other part we do keep at hand but just for backing the conscious portion.

An ancient Roman fable says that Jupiter gave us two bags to carry: the first one to be carried on our backs, loaded with all our defects. The second one, to be carried on our chest, filled with the defects of others. That way man easily became critical of his fellow men, while ignoring his own faults.

The more aware we are of a given problem, the more certain we should be of the existence of a missing portion of it. The oracular experience is extremely useful as a means of acquiring personal insight into those hidden aspects of our inward contents.

Lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies - University of London - April 11th, 1991
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