Bob Schwartz

Tag: I Ching

Thunder in the Lake/Following (Hexagram 17)

The thunder rises in the east
The lake sets in the west.
Miles and eons between
Originating in thunder
Maturing on an island in the lake.
All along
Sublime, smooth
Favorable, steadfast.
Follow when the time is right
Follow when the time has come.

“According to King Wen’s arrangement of the eight primary gua (trigrams of the I Ching), Thunder symbolizes the sun rising in the east, and Lake the sun setting in the west. ‘Thunder in the midst of Lake’ symbolizes that sunrise will surely follow sunset, that time continues in the proper order.

“This gua (hexagram) is very special, for it possesses the four virtues, as do the first and the second gua: yuan, heng, li, zhen….the four attributes of Heaven, symbolizing the virtues of an emperor, a leader, or a superior person. Yuan means sublime and initiative. Heng means prosperous and smooth. Li means favorable and beneficial. Zhen means steadfast and upright. Throughout the I Ching you will find these four phrases attributed to certain gua, though few are so auspicious as to have all four. These four Chinese characters also indicate the functions of the four seasons of a year: originating, developing, maturing, and declining, referring to spring, summer, autumn, and winter.” (Alfred Huang)

World Series I Ching


The rope fails to raise
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
From Hexagram 48 – Jing/The Well

The World Series begins tonight. I am consulting the I Ching about it, and I will explain my purpose carefully.

As I’ve written before, in my view the I Ching is not a predictive oracle, a divining tool, a crystal ball, though it began that way thousands of years ago and is still used that way around the world. It is an insight tool, and an unsurpassed one, offering vision into circumstances and situations so that we may act more knowingly.

Which itself would be useful, if I was Manager of the Indians or Cubs. I could use it to help determine the lineup, or to decide when to pull the starting pitcher. And if I was a pitcher, I could use it to help figure out which pitches to throw, or as a batter which pitches to expect. I’m none of those.

The point here is to look into the attitude a fan might have as the Series proceeds on its roller coaster.

My lifelong love of baseball necessarily includes these ups and downs, measured in innings, in games, in seasons. Or in the case of the Cubs, who have been waiting 108 years to win a World Series, in centuries.

The I Ching is all about ups and downs. It is by title and essence The Classic of Changes. So why not ask it about the changes we are about to experience, as the Indians, this season’s little engine that could, defy the odds. Starting tonight on a very cold but still green fall field in Cleveland.

Some brief excerpts from I Ching commentaries on the received hexagram follow. As for interpretation, feel free to consider it all as the Series plays out.


Hexagram 48
Jing/The Well

The structure of the gua is Water above, Wood below. This image gave the ancient sage the picture of a well. The water in a well was practically an inexhaustible resource. It was in constant use yet continually refilled. It was the source of life. The image also suggests that the roots of a plant draw water from the soil to nourish the stalk and leaves.


Neither loses nor gains.
Coming and going, drawing, drawing.
Nearly out of the well,
Break one’s bucket—misfortune.

Commentary on the Decision

Nearly out of the well,
The achievement has not yet been fulfilled.
Break one’s bucket;
There is misfortune.

Commentary on the Symbol

In correspondence with this,
The superior person encourages the people at their work
And urges them to help one another.


At the Well.
The rope fails to raise
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Water above Wood,
The True Gentleman
Comforts the Folk;
He gives encouragement.

Days of Awesome: Day 1 (Rosh Hashanah)


I brought them out of the land of Egypt and I led them into the wilderness. I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live. Moreover, I gave them My sabbaths to serve as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that it is I the Lord who sanctify them.
Ezekiel 20:10-12 (New Jewish Publication Society translation)

Note from The Jewish Study Bible:

The Sabbath is the foundational sign of the covenant (Exod. 20.8–11; 31.12–17). Scholars have suggested that the Sabbath became particularly significant in the exile, as holy time replaced the vacuum of holy space (the Temple); this might explain why the Sabbath plays such a significant role here. As in Exod. 31.13, 17 (from the Priestly tradition), it is viewed as a sign, namely a symbol acknowledging God as Creator.

Here we are confronted with the phenomenon at the heart of this holiday. At the heart of every holiday. At the heart of religion and reality itself. We are concerned with space. We are concerned with being. We are concerned with time too. But we may not be properly concerned, in a balanced way that accounts for time, space and being.

We can rule space, or at least pretend to. If you visit New York or other great cities, you see how people have shaped space to their liking and purposes. But where in New York or elsewhere have even the richest and most powerful ultimately shaped time? We can mark time, but do we understand? To help us understand, time is set aside. It may be by God, it may be by our society or community, it may be by and for those close to us.

The Sabbath each week, and the Days of Awe each year, are set aside to be different than the other days of the week or of the year. Different in fact than any other days of eternity. In part to remind us of present eternity.

For more, see The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel and The Time-Being by Zen Master Dogen, which can be found in Enlightenment Unfolds.

This is the first post in a very small project/experiment in random wisdom I call The Days of Awesome. In addition to the standard and traditional forms of worship and contemplation associated with the Jewish High Holy Days (also known as Days of Awe), each day of the holiday I will be studying a randomly selected chapter of the Tanakh (also known as the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament), which has 39 books containing a total of 929 chapters.

Among other things, this is inspired by the I Ching and by social theorist and philosopher Gregory Bateson, who is quoted as saying “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.”

Poem: Between the Waters

Hexagram 29 - Theresa Blanding

Between the Waters

Let there be an expanse that it may separate water from water.
Genesis 1:6

It is a bottomless pit
The waters above
The waters below.
An abyss
A sea without boats.
No ground to stand.
Just falling.

If there is space between
How vast must it be
To contain hope?
Could it be so small
And still be heaven?

Why We Should Teach and Learn Ancient History First

Children in America who attend some sort of religious school, even before going to secular school, may learn some limited sort of ancient history. Ancient in that it concerns purported people and events from millennia ago. Limited in that some number of those people and events, however instructional and enlightening, may be of some historical question.

There is other ancient history worth teaching our kids early, and catching up with ourselves, just in case we missed it in our own education. There are continuous civilizations all around the world that have been ongoing, in the same place, also for millennia.

China, for example. Or India. Or the native populations in the Americas. This is where education should start, before we start talking about admittedly important people arriving on these North American shores and establishing an admittedly important nation just a few centuries ago.

Why? Because it would give us a sense of perspective on what we have, or have not, achieved so far. And because it would give us a missing sense of the scope of history, in that everything comes and goes. Which you could learn from the history of China. Or you could learn from reading the I Ching, the book about things changing, written in China millennia ago. Or if you prefer something more Western and familiar, from reading the Bible itself. A time for every purpose, it says. And so it goes.

Balls of Power


She had a dream.

I played my first Powerball lottery yesterday. In fact, it was the first lottery I’d ever played, though I’d been given tickets before.

I played because someone had a dream, not just that I had played, but had used the I Ching to determine the winning numbers.

I didn’t mind using the I Ching for the purpose. After three thousand years, it has been used for purposes profound (war and statecraft) and frivolous. Like all great scriptures and texts, it stands ready to be put to work as the user sees fit. The wisdom and efficacy of doing that is a different matter, but there it is. I am positive that some very faithful people who hold the Bible sacred were nonetheless happy to use it to pick their Powerball numbers. A billion dollars is a billion dollars.

I faced three challenges.

First, I had no idea how Powerball worked. It didn’t take long to study up. The current version asks players for five white ball numbers between 1 and 69, another red ball number between 1 and 26, and an optional choice of the Power Play, which multiplies your winnings—if any.

Second, and this one was confounding, the I Ching generates hexagrams numbered 1 to 64. A real problem, since Powerball asks for numbers 1 to 69. Rewriting the I Ching to include 69 hexagrams seemed an act of hubris beyond anyone, let alone me. So I devised a scheme to extend the I Ching, just for this purpose. I cannot reveal the method at the moment, but you can be sure that if it results in winning a billion dollars, I will comfortably share that secret with the world, being then as comfortable as a billion dollars can make me.

The third challenge was mundane and ridiculous. I arrived at the supermarket service desk, only to find a display of ten different computer cards to fill in for different lotteries, including Powerball. I felt like an alien, stupid and stupefied. Thankfully, the very nice lady behind the counter patiently answered all my questions:

Q: Why are there five sections marked A to E?
A: Each one is a different play. If you want to play five times, you fill in all five.

Q: What about this box next to Pick 5?
A: That’s if you want the computer to pick your numbers. (Which I didn’t.)

Q: Does the Power Play box mean the bonus multiplier?
A: Yes. It costs an extra dollar. (With $2 for the basic play, it cost me $3.)

The result: I matched one of the five white ball numbers. You don’t win anything unless you match three of them.

The Powerball jackpot has again rolled over. The next time it will be up to something between one billion and two billion dollars. I will probably play again and use the I Ching again. And if it rolls over yet again, I might add the Bible as a lottery oracle.

After all, I would love to make someone’s dream come true.

The I Ching of Paris

Hexagrams 44 and 29

Question for the I Ching (using the coin method of consultation): How do we deal with the events in Paris?

The I Ching replies:

Hexagram 44 – Gou (Encountering, Coming to Meet)
Heaven above, Wind below.
Changing lines in the third, fourth and top place.

Changes to:

Hexagram 29 – Kan (Water, Darkness, The Abysmal)
Water above, Water below.

Excerpts from two leading translations:

The Complete I Ching
Alfred Huang

Hexagram 44 – Gou

The structure of the gua [hexagram] is Heaven above, Wind below. The wind blows everywhere under Heaven, encountering every being. It should be an auspicious gua. However, there is only one yielding line beneath five solid lines, symbolizing that the yin element is advancing and approaching the yang elements. When King Wen saw this happening, he heightened his vigilance. He realized that an unworthy person was worming his way into favor at the court. The growing negative influences would displace good people one after another. Darkness and difficulties had been eliminated, but their negative influences had not totally faded. These influences were permeating different areas. One must beware of this tendency and take prompt precautions against possible misfortune. Thus King Wen’s Decision and the Duke of Zhou’s Yao Text are full of warnings. But Confucius’s commentaries still shed light on the positive side.

This gua discusses the principle of encountering. In Chinese, meeting a person (or anything) unexpectedly is defined as encountering. When people encounter each other, either they are attracted, making adjustment for a harmonious relationship, or they reject each other, creating conflict between them. In human life sometimes one cannot refrain from misunderstanding and conflict. But one should not indulge in it and think that conflict is unavoidable and cannot be resolved. The ancient sages advocated adopting a conciliatory attitude. Here one yin element approaches five yang elements. She dares to come forward because her strength grows stronger. In this situation, one should not overlook taking preventive measures.

King Wen’s strategy of eliminating evil forces was to show no animosity but to act without tolerance. His administration constrained evil elements like tying up rams. But evil elements still wormed themselves into the favor of the court. King Wen realized that the evil forces had been eliminated, yet their influence had not totally faded. His analogy was that the maiden was too strong; it was not good to marry such a woman. The Duke of Zhou describes the evil forces as waiting to move forward like a lean pig. They should be stopped as if fastened with a metal brake. It is wise to restrain their influence by not letting them influence other people, but it was wiser to influence people with positive virtue.

[Changes to:]

Hexagram 29 – Kan

The central theme of this gua is: falling but not drowned; in danger but not lost. Maintain your confidence: soothe your mind. With assurance and faith, caution and trust, you can pass through any difficult situation. Both Abysmal and Abyss carry the sense of being bottomless. Kan is a pit, but it is not bottomless. There is hope.

Darkness represents not only a pit but also a situation of difficulty or danger. The structure of this gua is a doubling of the primary gua, Water. The image of Water is a yang line plunging between two yin lines, like running water flowing along and between the banks of a river. In ancient times, crossing a river represented a great danger. Thus, the attribute of Water was designated a situation of difficulty or danger. Here, Water is doubled, suggesting that one is plunging into a situation fraught with difficulties or danger. However, the ancient Chinese believed that no matter how dangerous or dark a situation was, if one was able to follow the way of Heaven, one could pass through it as safely as water passes through a ravine.

Water flows on twice over,
Darkness is doubled.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person cultivates and practices virtue constantly
And responds through teaching.

The I Ching

Hexagram 44 – Kou

This hexagram indicates a situation in which the principle of darkness, after having been eliminated, furtively and unexpectedly obtrudes again from within and below. Of its own accord the female principle comes to meet the male. It is an unfavorable and dangerous situation, and we must understand and promptly prevent the possible consequences.

The inferior man rises only because the superior man does not regard him as dangerous and so lends him power. If he were resisted from the first, he could never gain influence.
The time of COMING TO MEET is important in still another way. Although as a general rule the weak should not come to meet the strong, there are times when this has great significance. When heaven and earth come to meet each other, all creatures prosper; when a prince and his official come to meet each other, the world is put in order. It is necessary for elements predestined to be joined and mutually dependent to come to meet one another halfway. But the coming together must be free of dishonest ulterior motives, otherwise harm will result.

[Changes to:]

Hexagram 29 – K’an

In man’s world K’an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark—that is, reason. The name of the hexagram, because the trigram is doubled, has the additional meaning, “repetition of danger.” Thus the hexagram is intended to designate an objective situation to which one must become accustomed, not a subjective attitude. For danger due to a subjective attitude means either foolhardiness or guile. Hence too a ravine is used to symbolize danger; it is a situation in which a man is in the same pass as the water in a ravine, and, like the water, he can escape if he behaves correctly.

Through repetition of danger we grow accustomed to it. Water sets the example for the right conduct under such circumstances. It flows on and on, and merely fills up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions. Thus likewise, if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties, the heart can penetrate the meaning of the situation. And once we have gained inner mastery of a problem, it will come about naturally that the action we take will succeed. In danger all that counts is really carrying out all that has to be done—thoroughness—and going forward, in order not to perish through tarrying in the danger.

Properly used, danger can have an important meaning as a protective measure. Thus heaven has its perilous height protecting it against every attempt at invasion, and earth has its mountains and bodies of water, separating countries by their dangers. Thus also rulers make use of danger to protect themselves against attacks from without and against turmoil within.

New Beginnings: The Torah and the I Ching


In Jewish congregations, the annual Torah reading cycle begins again this week with the first chapters of the Bible. In Hebrew it begins with the word b’reishit, and in its best-known translation, the first verse goes like this:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And with that comes a puzzle.

If B’reishit is the beginning of a very big and consequential story, and if the creators of the Torah were sensitive to the mystical meanings of the Hebrew alphabet and language, why does the Torah begin with the second letter bet (B) rather than the first letter alef (A)?

Looking at a bigger picture, this connects to a related puzzle and an unlikely source: the I Ching.

The I Ching is a classic of Chinese literature and philosophy, a text as ancient as the Torah and just as influential.

Richard J. Smith writes in The I Ching: A Biography:

The Changes first took shape about three thousand years ago as a divination manual, consisting of sixty-four six-line symbols known as hexagrams. Each hexagram was uniquely constructed, distinguished from all the others by its combination of solid (——) and/or broken (— —) lines. The first two hexagrams in the conventional order are Qian and Kun; the remaining sixty-two hexagrams represent permutations of these two paradigmatic symbols….

The operating assumption of the Changes, as it developed over time, was that these hexagrams represented the basic circumstances of change in the universe, and that by selecting a particular hexagram or hexagrams and correctly interpreting the various symbolic elements of each, a person could gain insight into the patterns of cosmic change and devise a strategy for dealing with problems or uncertainties concerning the present and the future.

The first intriguing note is that the I Ching (pronounced Yi Jing) begins with those hexagrams Qian and Kun—known generally in English as Heaven and Earth. The cosmos of change and the I Ching begin then with Heaven and Earth.

It is at the close of the 64 hexagrams that the conundrum appears. Hexagram 63, the penultimate one, is Ji Ji—After Completion. This should be the end of the story. But it isn’t. The final hexagram, Hexagram 64, is Wei Jei—Before Completion. In the end, it doesn’t stop. It begins again. The Book of Changes emphasizes that the changes never end.

This is an explanation of why the Torah does not begin with the beginning of the alphabet. If it starts with A, that presumes a Z, A to Z, or in Hebrew, alef to tav. Creation would thus be represented as a finite element of a finite cosmos. In the text it starts instead, as the Latin phrase goes, in media res—in the middle of things. Just as the Torah will end in the middle of things, after completion of a journey, but with Moses never allowed to experience what is yet to happen, before the next completion. On and on, always beginning, never done. Just like the I Ching. Just like the Torah itself.

Hiroshima: The Year 70 AH and I Ching Heaven

Flag of Hiroshima City

How special is the atomic bomb? So special that many nations want one, many nations have more than one, and yet despite how crazy and desperate some nations have been in the past decades, only one nation has ever used one. A hoarded treasure so dark that it is displayed and demonstrated but not deployed.

So special that it should be the zero of a standard human calendar. Just as Jews measure time from the creation of the world, Christians from the birth of Jesus, Muslims from the hijra from Mecca to Medina, we might all measure time from August 6, 1945.

The U.S. did drop atomic bombs. Twice in three days (August 6 on Hiroshima, August 9 on Nagasaki). And divided history in half, before and after. Before, things might be brutal, tens of millions might be slaughtered, but it would take superhuman effort, and would be followed by an opportunity, however arduous, to rebuild and repopulate. After, in these times, our times, there is a theoretical prospect of erasing some, most, or all of the world and its people. Not easily, but not that hard either, leaving behind a wasteland the size of a city or country or continent.

Above is a picture of the Hiroshima municipal flag, adopted by the city in 1896, almost fifty years before the weapon that destroyed and damaged so many lives. Historians still debate the effect and necessity of the Bomb in hastening the end of the war with Japan, an argument heightened when talking about the second bomb.

On this 70th anniversary, 70 After Hiroshima, let us focus on the flag.

Brief research doesn’t reveal much about the flag’s design. But students of Asian culture might see in it one of the eight I Ching trigrams, since the Chinese oracle has been widely used across Asian nations for thousands of years.

This particular trigram, composed of three unbroken lines, is Qian. When doubled it forms Hexagram 1 of the I Ching, also known as Qian. Heaven. The Creative. Sublime success.

I Ching Hexagram 1

John Minford explains in his recent translation:

Heaven above Heaven. Pure Yang. This is the first of eight Hexagrams formed by doubling a Trigram of the same Name. The word chosen for the Trigram/Hexagram Name, Qian, whatever its original meaning may have been (and there are many understandings of this), came in later times to be used more and more as a shorthand for Heaven, emblem of Yang Energy and Creativity.

The classic Wilhelm/Baynes translation notes:

The first hexagram is made up of six unbroken lines. These unbroken lines stand for the primal power, which is lightgiving, active, strong, and of the spirit. The hexagram is consistently strong in character, and since it is without weakness, its essence is power or energy. Its image is heaven. Its energy is represented as unrestricted by any fixed conditions in space and is therefore conceived of as motion. Time is regarded as the basis of this motion. Thus the hexagram includes also the power of time and the power of persisting in time, that is, duration.

The power represented by the hexagram is to be interpreted in a dual sense—in terms of its action on the universe and of its action on the world of men. In relation to the universe, the hexagram expresses the strong, creative action of the Deity. In relation to the human world, it denotes the creative action of the holy man or sage, of the ruler or leader of men, who through his power awakens and develops their higher nature.


THE CREATIVE works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.

We have come a long way in 70 years, and whether or not that trajectory is to everyone’s liking, here we are. That we have managed not to drop any more nuclear bombs or fire any nuclear missiles might be a miracle, or might just be a sign of self-interest in survival coming before everything else.

That we did drop those bombs was a high price to pay for learning just how much damage the “good guys” were capable of and might feel compelled to perpetrate when dire circumstances seemed to call for it. It’s a lesson in self-awareness that we are still learning, more or less studiously. It’s a lesson that the traditions try to help us with. The devil, for example, is not an arm’s length third party who bargains and cajoles. The devil is in us, and handling it is one of our missions. The I Ching is clear on the fluid dynamics of our lives and the world, knowing that we and it flow this way and that, and heaven can be hell for a while, maybe deep and for a long while, but not forever.