The I Ching Speaks to the World on September 11: A New Ethic

As many were doing on Tuesday September 11, 2001 my family watched in shock as a second plane slammed into the Trade Center Towers. Our 4-year-old daughter Annah said “it looks like a waterfall daddy”. We stayed close as a family throughout the day and when the children’s prayers were said and they were safely tucked into bed, it was time to reflect on what had happened. In times past, like witnessing the Tianamen Square June 4, 1989 tragedy, I turned for some guidance to the Chinese I Ching – Book of Changes. Its responses were meaningful. In this paper, I will briefly describe three concepts underlying the I Ching, its response to three question asked in the year following 9/11, and finally address the implications of this ancient Chinese Book to our Western ways – in particular President Bush’s way in the year after 9/11.

The I Ching’s history dates back over 4000 years and is the foundation of Chinese Daoist and Confucian thought. Also called The Book of Wisdom, it was consulted by emperors, generals and mandarins for guidance as they crafted responses to the problems they faced. The I Ching has three basic concepts. First, the I Ching’s underlying concept is change. Richard Wilhelm’s (1968) translation of the Chinese text states that, He who has perceived the meaning of change fixes his attention no longer on transitory individual things, but on the immutable, eternal laws at work in all change. The concept of change is represented by the tai chi symbol of the circle divided into the light & dark, good & evil, female & male, or what the Chinese call the yin & yang. The principles of yin & yang are in constant intertwining flow represented here at the center and surround by the eight I Ching trigrams.

The second concept is the I Ching’s theory of ideas. The possible eight trigrams are not to be seen as objects but as states of change. The events in our visible world are the effect of an “image” or and “idea” in the unseen world. In his forward to Wilhelm’s English I Ching translation, Carl Jung suggests that emperors’ consulting the oracle were convinced that its response coincided with the certain moment in quality and time. The hexagram, which is seen as an “exponent of the moment in which it was cast” is Jung’s concept of synchronicity in motion (Wilhelm, 1968: xxiv). What is important for us to understand is that holy men and sages have a direct intuitive link with these higher spheres and so are able to decisively intervene in worldly events. For us ordinary men and women, the I Ching provides a direct link to the unseen world affecting our visible world.

The I Ching

With this intuitive link, we can apply the theory of ideas in two ways. A hexagram shows us the image of an event and also its unfolding conditions. By discerning these unfolding conditions, we are able to foresee a future, however, it is a future that demands proper action on the questioner’s part. In every situation there is a right and a wrong course of action and the hexagram image serves as a pattern of understanding for timely action to the situation of concern. The hexagram also provides a means of understanding the past.

Wilhelm says this about the third fundamental concept – THE JUDGEMENTS:

They indicate whether a given action will bring good fortune or misfortune, remorse or humiliation. The judgments make it possible for a man to make a decision to desist from a course of action indicated by the situation of the moment but harmful in the long run. In this way he makes himself independent of the tyranny of events. In its judgments, and in the interpretations attached to it,…the Book of Changes opens to the reader the richest treasure of Chinese wisdom; at the same time it affords him a comprehensive view of the varieties of human experience, enabling him thereby to shape his life of his own sovereign will into an organic whole and so to direct it that it comes into accord with the ultimate tao lying at the root of all that exists.

The only criterion for validity, Jung suggests, is the “observer’s opinion that the text of the hexagram amounts to a true reading of his psychic conditions”. …only if it is possible to read the pattern and to verify its interpretation, partly by the observer’s knowledge of the subjective and objective situation, partly by the character of subsequent events” (Wilhelm, 1968: xxv). I am following Jung’s lead and am personifying the Book when I asked its judgment about situations the world faces as a result of 9/11. As an American my reaction to the oracle is on one level, however, when read by President Bush and his Cabinet, it will speak deeper and be much more verifiable. Since the I Ching demands proper action on the part of the questioner, it is President Bush being advised by these hexagrams. Taking proper action is what sets the I Ching apart from fortune telling and thus justifies calling it The Book of Wisdom.

The first question I posed to the I Ching was: What of the September 11, 2001 tragedy? I held three Chinese coins with this question in mind and tossed them six times to generate one of the 64 possible hexagram responses. The I Ching’s answer was hexagram 38, Kuie/Opposition, with no changing lines. This hexagram is made up of two trigrams and looks like this:

38. Kuie / Opposition
____  ____      above  LI        The Clinging, Flame                                                  _________
____  ____
_________      below   Tui       The Joyous, Lake                                                      _________ 

Hexagram responses are divided into several sections. The introduction to Kuie/Opposition says:

This hexagram is composed of the trigram Li above, i.e., flame, which burns upward, and Tui Below, i.e., the lake, which seeps downward. These two movements are in direct contrast.

As I read this, the image of the flaming towers and the waterfall my daughter saw reappeared. The introduction continues:

Furthermore, Li is the second daughter and Tui the youngest daughter, and although they live in the same house they belong to different men; hence their wills are not the same but are divergently directed.

When you read a response, you are to let your thoughts flow freely and note down the associations regarding what is being said. The daughters could represent Christians and Muslims living in the same worldly house and, married to Christ and Mohammad with “seemly” different wills and directions.

The next section is THE JUDGMENT and represents the outcome for the question.

OPPOSITION. In small matters, good fortune.When people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge  too widely. In such circumstances one should above all not proceed brusquely, for that would only increase the existing opposition; instead, one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters. Here success can still be expected, because the situation is such that the opposition does not preclude all agreement.

After 9/11 we anxiously waited the United States’ reaction and witnessed a very “brusque” military response – a reaction the I Ching cautioned against. We should have expected and of this writing are witnessing not only rising Muslim but also American and world opposition to unfolding events.

The Judgment continues:

In general, opposition appears as an abstraction, but when it represents polarity within a comprehensive whole, it has also its useful and important functions. The oppositions of heaven and earth, spirit and nature, man and woman, when reconciled bring about the creation and reproduction of life.  In the world of visible things, the principles of opposites makes possible the differentiation by categories through which order is brought into the world.

What flows from this response is that “we” are not all good and “they” all evil. We all are a polarity within a comprehensive whole and this polarity is useful and very important to understand. Here I am reminded former President Reagan’s calling the former USSR the “evil empire”. Depth psychology through its important projection concept instructs that when we say someone is evil, we ought to immediately stop and reflect on our own evil just projected outward. This is the first step to understanding. Does the United States have evil? –  Yes it certainly does! Do we clearly see our evil? –  Probably not! We certainly are baffled over the Middle East’s Satan image of the United States and our news channels were slow to address Muslim views. The Christian guides, “first take the beam out of your own eye” and “let he who has no sin cast the first stone” are speaking to us.

The third section is THE IMAGE and presents the visible world we see and also offers a suggestion for the superior man’s response. This was speaking directly to President Bush, as he contemplated his response to 9/11 and it says, preserve the moral high ground.

Above, fire; below, the lake:
The image of OPPOSITION.
Thus amid all fellowship
The superior man retains his individuality.

The two elements, fire and water, never mingle but even when in contact retain their own natures. So the cultured man is never led into baseness or vulgarity through intercourse or community of interest with persons of another sort; regardless of all commingling, he will always preserve his individuality.

Lao Zi, author of the book Dao De Ching (The Way and Its Power), suggests that the superior man – a man-of-calling – sees good men as important teachers and evil men as those who are to be taught. His guide is to respond to both “life and anger with life” because, he cautions, “if great anger is resolved there still remains a residue of anger”. As soon as anger is avenged, the burden of quilt “shifts” from the shoulders of the offender to those of the offended. Therefore, a person or, let us say, a country-of-calling “knowing life” will take upon itself the whole burden of duty and demand nothing of the other. This is Lao Zi’s concept of “wuwei” – one wins over the world through non-action, which is not the same as no-action. This is the same underlining dynamic as the Christian practices of “turning the other cheek” and “loving thy enemy as thy self” – not easy to do (Wilhelm, 1990)

The Old Covenant  “an eye for an eye” is inappropriate advises the I Ching:

We must not try to shake off these evil men by force; this would give rise to real hostility. We must simply endure them. They will eventually withdraw of their own accord. The I Ching cautions that when evil men force themselves upon us,… the important thing is to avoid mistakes.

We certainly realize this now in light of our poor anticipation and preparation for this attack. Without strong, broad, cross-carrying, full-of-life shoulders, WE keep up appearances and put the blame on others!

After 9/11 there were several occasions that I felt it important to ask questions about unfolding events. On 2/24/02 I asked this question: What of President Bush’s Axis Of Evil statement? The resulting hexagram is 39. Chien / Obstruction, with no changing lines and reported here is full for the reader to read and reflect upon as previously suggested.

39. Chien / Obstruction
____     ____
__________    above  Kan     The Abysmal, Water
____    ____
____    ____      below   Ken     Keeping Still, Mountain
____    ____ 

The hexagram pictures a dangerous abyss lying before us and a steep, inaccessible mountain rising behind us. We are surrounded by obstacles; at the same time, since the mountain has the attribute of keeping still, there is implicit a hint as to how we can extricate ourselves. The hexagram represents obstruction that appear in the course of time but that can and should be overcome. Therefore all the instruction given is directed to overcoming them.

Obstruction. The southwest furthers

The northeast does not further.
It furthers one to see the great man.
Perseverance brings good fortune.

The southwest is the region of retreat, the northeast that of advance. Here an individual is confronted by obstacles that cannot be overcome directly. In such a situation it is wise to pause in view of the danger and to retreat. However, this is merely a preparation for overcoming the obstructions. One must join forces with friends of like mind and put himself under the leadership of a man equal to the situation: then one will succeed in removing the obstacles. This requires the will to persevere just when one apparently must do something that leads away from this goal. This unswerving inner purpose brings good fortune in the end. An obstruction that lasts only for a time is useful for self-development. This is the value of adversity.

Water on the mountain:
The image of obstruction.
Thus the superior man turns his attention to himself
And molds his character.

Difficulties and obstruction throw a man back upon himself. While the inferior man seeks to put the blame on others persons, bewailing his fate, the superior man seeks the error within himself, and through this introspection the external obstacle becomes for him an occasion for inner enrichment and education.

We very obviously see that the Oracle’s response addressed our current crisis with North Korea and the U.S. approach now unfolding. What is very interesting here is what the superior man facing this obstruction needs to be doing – turning his attention to himself and molding his character. The key and first developmental step in depth psychology, understanding Shadow projection, is required – the superior man seeks the error within himself, and through this introspection the external obstacle becomes for him an occasion for inner enrichment and education.

On the anniversary of 9/11 between 8:46 and 9:03 the times planes one and two struck the World Trade Towers, again sitting with my family, I asked this question: What of 9/11/01 for the world community? The resulting hexagram is 21. Shih Ho / Biting Through with a changing line 6 (yin) in the third position and a changing line 9 (yang) in the fourth position counting from the hexagram’s bottom line. A changing line         has a tension and can easily change into its opposite and, as such, is emphasized and important in interpretation. Again the reader is asked to read and reflect upon this response.

21. Shih Ho / Biting Through
____    ____    above  Li  The Clinging, Fire

____    ____
____    ____     below  Chen  The Arousing, Thunder

This hexagram represents an open mouth (cf. hexagram 27) with an obstruction (in the fourth place) between the teeth. As a result the lips cannot meet. To bring them together one must bite energetically through the obstacle. Since the hexagram is made up of the trigrams for thunder and for lightning, it indicates how obstacles are forcibly removed in nature. Energetic biting through overcomes the obstacle that prevents joining of the lips; the storm with its thunder and lightning overcomes the disturbing tension in nature. Recourse to law and penalties overcomes the disturbances of harmonious social life causes by criminal and slanderers. The theme of this hexagram is criminal lawsuit, in contradistinction to that of Sung, Conflict (6), which refers to civil suits.

Biting through has success.
It is favorable to let justice be administered.

When an obstacle to union arises, energetic biting through brings success. This is true in all situations. Whenever unity cannot be established, the obstruction is due to a talebearer and traitor who is interfering and blocking the way. To prevent permanent injury, vigorous measures must be taken at once. Deliberate obstruction of this sort does not vanish of its own accord, Judgment and punishment are required to deter or obviate it.

However, it is important to proceed in the right way. The hexagram combines Li, clarity, and Chen, excitement. Li is yielding, Chen is hard. Unqualified hardness and excitement would be too violent in meting out punishment: unqualified clarity and gentleness would be too week. The Two together create the just measure. It is of moment that the man who makes the decision (represented by the fifth line) is gentle by nature, while he command respect by his conduct in his position.

Thunder and lightening:
The image of BITING THROUGH.
Thus the kings of former times made firm the laws
Through clearly defined penalties.

Penalties are the individual application of the law. The laws specify the penalties. Clarity prevails when mild and severe penalties are clearly differentiated, according to the nature of the crimes. This is symbolized by the clarity of lightening. The law is strengthened by a just application of penalties. This is symbolized by the terror of thunder. This clarity and severity have the effect of instilling respect: it is not that the penalties are ends in themselves. The obstructions in the social life of man increase when there is lack of clarity in the penal codes and slackness in executing them. The only way to strengthen the law is to make it clear and to make penalties certain and swift.

Six in the third place means:
Bites on old dried meat
And strikes on something poisonous.
Slight humiliation. No blame.

Punishment is to be carried out by someone who lacks the power and authority to do so. Therefore, the culprits do not submit. The matter at issue is an old one – as symbolized by salted game – and in dealing with it difficulties arise. This old meat is spoiled: by taking up the problem the punisher arouses poisonous hatred against himself, and in this way is put in a somewhat humiliating position. But since punishment was required by the time, he remains free of blame.

Nine in the fourth place means:
Bites on dried gristly meat,

Receives metal arrows.
It furthers one to be mindful of difficulties
And to be preserving.
Good fortune.

There are great obstacles to be overcome, powerful opponents to be punished. Though this is arduous, the effort succeeds. But it is necessary to be hard as metal and straight as an arrow to surmount the difficulties. If one knows these difficulties and remains persevering, he attains good fortune. The difficult task is achieved in the end.

The Oracle clearly indicates what the world through the United Nations is focused on – proceeding in the right way. The principles of yin and yang are here presented as Li, clarity, and Chen, excitement; Li is yielding, Chen is hard. We remember that a hexagram shows us the image of an event and also its unfolding conditions. By discerning these unfolding conditions, we are able to foresee a future, however, it is a future that demands proper action by the questioner. In every situation there is a right and a wrong course of action and so any country seeking to be superior must have a superior person as its leader.

When the changing lines in hexagram Shih Ho / Biting Through change into their opposite, they yield a second hexagram 22. Pi / Grace, which provides insight into the prognosis for the situation under question. Pi / Grace is our final Oracle response to ponder.

22. Pi / Grace
____    ____    above  Ken     Keeping Still, Mountain
____    ____  
____    ____     below   Li         The Clinging, Fire

This hexagram shows a fire that breaks out of the secret depths of the earth and, blazing up, illuminates and beautifies the mountain, the heavenly heights. Grace – beauty of form – is necessary in any union if it is to be well ordered and pleasing rather than disordered and chaotic.

Grace has success.
In small matters
It is favorable to undertake something.

Grace brings success. However, it is not the essential or fundamental thing; it is only the ornament and must therefore be used sparingly and only in little things. In the lower trigram of fire a yielding line comes between two strong lines and makes them beautiful, but the strong lines are the essential content and the weak line is the beautifying form. In the upper trigram of the mountain, the strong line takes the lead, so that here again the strong element must be regarded as the decisive factor. In nature we see in the sky the strong light of the sun; the life of the world depends on it. But this strong, essential thing is changed and given pleasing variety by the moon and the stars. In human affairs, aesthetic form comes into being when traditions exist that, strong and abiding like mountains are made pleasing by a lucid beauty. By contemplating the forms existing in the heavens we come to understand time and its changing demands. Through contemplation of the forms existing in human society it becomes possible to shape the world.

Fire at the foot of the mountain:
The image of Grace.
Thus does the superior man proceed
When clearing up current affairs
But he dare not decide controversial issue in this way.

The fire, whose light illuminates the mountain and makes it pleasing, does not shine far; in the same way, beautiful form suffices to brighten and to throw light upon matters of lesser moment, but important questions cannot be decided in this way. They require greater earnestness.

The Oracle suggests that Biting Through needs Grace – beauty of form – if our union of nations is to be well ordered and pleasing rather than disordered and chaotic. The Oracle also outlines the way of Grace in saying: In human affairs, aesthetic form comes into being when traditions exist that, strong and abiding like mountains are made pleasing by a lucid beauty. By contemplating the forms existing in the heavens we come to understand time and its changing demands. Through contemplation of the forms existing in human society it becomes possible to shape the world.

The subject of the Oracle’s response in these three questions is how the world should respond to the event of 9/11. Some of the Oracle’s responses clearly describe unfolding situations, others suggest enlightened action by a superior leader, and still other aspects remain hidden waiting deeper reflection. Jung suggests that the method of the I Ching does indeed take into account the hidden individual quality in things and men, and in ones own unconscious self as well (Wilhelm, 1968: xxviii). It is here that Jung’s concept of synchronicity and the I Ching meet. Their meeting is clearly described in our last response, as the way of Grace, and is as clear a description of synchronicity as ever there was, By contemplating the forms existing in the heavens we come to understand time and its changing demands. Through contemplation of the forms existing in human society it becomes possible to shape the world.

So, what is the Oracle saying to the United Nations and President Bush and his cabinet as they craft their response to impending wars? It is quite obvious the Oracle is saying to carefully scrutinize ones’ own character, attitudes and motives – know thy self. The first step in a new ethic is to scrutinize one’s self to understand ones Shadow and to stop projecting one’s evil onto others (Neumann 1969). Aziz’s (1990:193) penetrating presentation on Jung’s psychology of religion and synchronicity takes Neumann’s new ethic to the I Ching level:

It is the moral challenge, with synchronicity in mind, of consciously bringing oneself into accord with the unique pattern of meaning that not only underlies one’s inner life, but one’s outer life as well. …for when one fails to do so it is not just one’s psychic equilibrium that is threatened, but the equilibrium of one’s environment as well.

It may be too much to ask the pillars of rationalism represented at the United Nations and in Bush and his cabinet to consult the I Ching. But is it too much to ask our leaders, as they contemplate the first war of this century, to apply to their decision-making processes western civilization’s equivalent to the I Ching – psychoanalysis?  Depth psychology with its important dream analysis, active-imagination and synchronicity components, if not part of the President’s cabinet deliberations, is leaving unattended a balancing source to their conscious energy – not the Way of a superior leader or country.

Jung closes his forward to Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching with this wisdom, which can also be applied to his books on the Individuation process.

The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom – if there be such – it seems to be the right book.

Terence McKenna on Time and the I-Ching

President Obama Addresses the Nation on the ISIL Threat


Aziz, Robert, 1990. C.G. Jung’s psychology of religion and synchronicity. Albany NY: State University New York Press.

Campbell, Joseph, Editor, 1976. The portable Jung. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Neumann, Erich, 1969. Depth psychology and a new ethic. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons.

Wilhelm, Helmut, 1968. The I Ching Book of Changes, 3rd Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wilhelm,  Richard, 1990. Lao Tzu Dao De Ching, London England: Arkana Penguin Books.

Author: Dr. Steven Arvid Scherling lived 16 years in China teaching international business. He now walks a “middle way” at his home in Fargo ND with his wife Fannie, and children Aaron and Annah.

Scherling, Steven A., Spring 2003. The Yi Jing Speaks to the World on September 11: A New Ethic. The Empty Vessel: A Journal of the Daoist Arts: pp 42-46. http://www.Daoist

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3 Responses to The I Ching Speaks to the World on September 11: A New Ethic

  1. 鞄 楽天 says:

    adidas 新作 スニーカー 鞄 楽天

  2. Pingback: Catch and Release | Dialectic Analytical Man

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