I Ching: Foreword by Carl Gustav Jung
C. G. JUNG
© Copyright Dan Baruth 1999.
Since I am not a sinologue, a foreword to the Book of
Changes from my hand must be a testimonial of my
individual experience with this great and singular book. It
also affords me a welcome opportunity to pay tribute again
to the memory of my late friend, Richard Wilhelm. He
himself was profoundly aware of the cultural significance of
his translation of the I Ching, a version unrivaled in the
If the meaning of the Book of Changes were easy to
grasp, the work would need no foreword. But this is far
from being the case, for there is so much that is obscure
about it that Western scholars have tended to dispose of it as
a collection of ”magic spells„, either too abstruse to be
intelligible, or of no value whatsoever. Legge's translation
of the I Ching, up to now the only version available in
English, has done little to make the work accessible to
Western minds1. Wilhelm, however, has made every effort
to open the way to an understanding of the symbolism of the
text. He was in a position to do this because he himself was
taught the philosophy and the use of the I Ching by the
venerable sage Lao Nai-hsuan; moreover, he had over a
period of many years put the peculiar technique of the oracle
into practice. His grasp of the living meaning of the text
gives his version of the I Ching a depth of perspective that
an exclusively academic knowledge of Chinese philosophy
could never provide.
I am greatly indebted to Wilhelm for the light he has
thrown upon the complicated problem of the I Ching, and
for insight as regards its practical application as well. For
more than thirty years I have interested myself in this oracle
technique, or method of exploring the unconscious, for it
has seemed to me of uncommon significance. I was already
fairly familiar with the I Ching when I first met Wilhelm in
the early nineteen twenties; he confirmed for me then what I
already knew, and taught me many things more.
I do not know Chinese and have never been in China. I
can assure my reader that it is not altogether easy to find the
right access to this monument of Chinese thought, which
departs so completely from our ways of thinking. In order to
understand what such a book is all about, it is imperative to
cast off certain prejudices of the Western mind. it is a
curious fact that such a gifted and intelligent people as the
Chinese has never developed what we call science. Our
science, however, is based upon the principle of causality,
and causality is considered to be an axiomatic truth. But a
great change in our standpoint is setting in. What Kant's
Critique of Pure Reason failed to do, is being accomplished
by modern physics. The axioms of causality are being
shaken to their foundations: we know now that what we
term natural laws are merely statistical truths and thus must
necessarily allow for exceptions. We have not sufficiently
taken into account as yet that we need the laboratory with its
incisive restrictions in order to demonstrate the invariable
validity of natural law. If we leave things to nature, we see a
very different picture: every process is partially or totally
interfered with by chance, so much so that under natural
circumstances a course of events absolutely conforming to
specific laws is almost an exception.
The Chinese mind, as I see it at work in the I Ching,
seems to be exclusively preoccupied with the chance aspect
of events. What we call coincidence seems to be the chief
concern of this peculiar mind, and what we worship as
causality passes almost unnoticed. We must admit that there
is something to be said for the immense importance of
chance. An incalculable amount of human effort is directed
to combating and restricting the nuisance or danger
represented by chance. Theoretical considerations of cause
and effect often look pale and dusty in comparison to the
practical results of chance. It is all very well to say that the
crystal of quartz is a hexagonal prism. The statement is quite
true in so far as an ideal crystal is envisaged. But in nature
one finds no two crystals exactly alike, although all are
unmistakably hexagonal. The actual form, however, seems
to appeal more to the Chinese sage than the ideal one. The
jumble of natural laws constituting empirical reality holds
more significance for him than a causal explanation of
events that, moreover, must usually be separated from one
another in order to be properly dealt with.
The manner in which the I Ching tends to look upon
reality seems to disfavor our causalistic procedures. The
moment under actual observation appears to the ancient
Chinese view more of a chance hit than a clearly defined
result of concurring causal chain processes. The matter of
interest seems to be the configuration formed by chance
events in the moment of observation, and not at all the
hypothetical reasons that seemingly account for the
coincidence. While the Western mind carefully sifts,
weighs, selects, classifies, isolates, the Chinese picture of
the moment encompasses everything down to the minutest
nonsensical detail, because all of the ingredients make up
the observed moment.
Thus it happens that when one throws the three coins, or
counts through the forty-nine yarrow stalks, these chance
details enter into the picture of the moment of observation
and form a part of it — a part that is insiguificant to us, yet
most meaningful to the Chinese mind. With us it would be a
banal and almost meaningless statement (at least on the face
of it) to say that whatever happens in a given moment
possesses inevitably the quality peculiar to that moment.
This is not an abstract argument but a very practical one.
There are certain connoisseurs who can tell you merely from
the appearance, taste, and behavior of a wine the site of its
vineyard and the year of its origin. There are antiquarians
who with almost uncanny accuracy will name the time and
place of origin and the maker of an objet d'art or piece of
furniture on merely looking at it. And there are even
astrologers who can tell you, without any previous
knowledge of your nativity, what the position of sun and
moon was and what zodiacal sign rose above the horizon in
the moment of your birth. In the face of such facts, it must
be admitted that moments can leave long-lasting traces.
In other words, whoever invented the I Ching was
convinced that the hexagram worked out in a certain
moment coincided with the latter in quality no less than in
time. To him the hexagram was the exponent of the moment
in which it was cast — even more so than the hours of the
clock or the divisions of the calendar could be — inasmuch as
the hexagram was understood to be an indicator of the
essential situation prevailing in the moment of its origin.
This assumption involves a certain curious principle that
I have termed synchronicity2., a concept that formulates a
point of view diametrically opposed to that of causality.
Since the latter is a merely statistical truth and not absolute,
it is a sort of working hypothesis of how events evolve one
out of another, whereas synchronicity takes the coincidence
of events in space and time as meaning something more than
mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of
objective events among themselves as well as with the
subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.
The ancient Chinese mind contemplates the cosmos in a
way comparable to that of the modern physicist, who cannot
deny that his model of the world is a decidedly
psychophysical structure. The microphysical event includes
the observer just as much as the reality underlying the I Ching comprises subjective, i.e., psychic conditions in the
totality of the momentary situation. Just as causality
describes the sequence of events, so synchronicity to the
Chinese mind deals with the coincidence of events. The
causal point of view tells us a dramatic story about how D
came into existence: it took its origin from C, which existed
before D, and C in its turn had a father, B, etc. The
synchronistic view on the other hand tries to produce an
equally meaningful picture of coincidence. How does it
happen that A', B', C', D', etc., appear all in the same
moment and in the same place? It happens in the first place
because the physical events A' and B' are of the same quality
as the psychic events C' and D', and further because all are
the exponents of one and the same momentary situation. The
situation is assumed to represent a legible or understandable
Now the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching are the
instrument by which the meaning of sixty-four different yet
typical situations can be determined. These interpretations
are equivalent to causal explanations. Causal connection is
statistically necessary and can therefore be subjected to
experiment. Inasmuch as situations are unique and cannot be
repeated, experimenting with synchronicity seems to be
impossible under ordinary conditions3.. In the I Ching, the
only criterion of the validity of synchronicity is the
observer's opinion that the text of the hexagram amounts to
a true rendering of his psychic condition. It is assumed that
the fall of the coins or the result of the division of the bundle
of yarrow stalks is what it necessarily must be in a given
"situation," inasmuch as anything happening in that moment
belongs to it as an indispensable part of the picture. If a
handful of matches is thrown to the floor, they form the
pattern characteristic of that moment. But such an obvious
truth as this reveals its meaningful nature 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. It is obviously not a procedure that appeals to a
critical mind used to experimental verification of facts or to
factual evidence. But for someone who likes to look at the
world at the angle from which ancient China saw it, the I
Ching may have some attraction.
My argument as outlined above has of course never
entered a Chinese mind. On the contrary, according to the
old tradition, it is "spiritual agencies," acting in a mysterious
way, that make the yarrow stalks give a meaningful answer4..
These powers form, as it were, the living soul of the book.
As the latter is thus a sort of animated being, the tradition
assumes that one can put questions to the I Ching and expect
to receive intelligent answers. Thus it occurred to me that it
might interest the uninitiated reader to see the I Ching at
work. For this purpose I made an experiment strictly in
accordance with the Chinese conception: I personified the
book in a sense, asking its judgment about its present
situation, i.e., my intention to present it to the Western
Although this procedure is well within the premises of
Taoist philosophy, it appears exceedingly odd to us.
However, not even the strangeness of insane delusions or of
primitive superstition has ever shocked me. I have always
tried to remain unbiased and curious — rerum novarum
cupidus. Why not venture a dialogue with an ancient book
that purports to be animated? There can be no harm in it,
and the reader may watch a psychological procedure that
has been carried out time and again throughout the millennia
of Chinese civilization, representing to a Confucius or a
Lao-tse both a supreme expression of spiritual authority and
a philosophical enigma. I made use of the coin method, and
the answer obtained was hexagram 50, Ting, THE
In accordance with the way my question was phrased, the
text of the hexagram must be regarded as though the I Ching
itself were the speaking person. Thus it describes itself as a
caldron, that is, as a ritual vessel containing cooked food.
Here the food is to be understood as spiritual nourishment.
Wilhelm says about this:
The ting, as a utensil pertaining to a refined
civilization, suggests the fostering and
nourishing of able men, which redounded to the
benefit of the state… Here we see civilization
as it reaches its culmination in religion. The ting
serves in offering sacrifice to God… The
supreme revelation of God appears in prophets
and holy men. To venerate them is true
veneration of God. The will of God, as revealed
through them, should he accepted in humility.
Keeping to our hypothesis, we must conclude that the I
Ching is here testifying concerning itself.
When any of the lines of a given hexagram have the
value of six or nine, it means that they are specially
emphasized and hence important in the interpretation5. In
my hexagram the "spiritual agencies" have given the
emphasis of a nine to the lines in the second and in the third
place. The text says:
Nine in the second place means:
There is food in the ting.
My comrades are envious,
But they cannot harm me.
Thus the I Ching says of itself:
I contain (spiritual)
nourishment. Since a share in something great always
arouses envy, the chorus of the envious6 is part of the
picture. The envious want to rob the I Ching of its great
possession, that is, they seek to rob it of meaning, or to
destroy its meaning. But their enmity is in vain. Its richness
of meaning is assured; that is, it is convinced of its positive
achievements, which no one can take away. The text
Nine in the third place means:
The handle of the ting is altered.
One is impeded in his way of life.
The fat of the pheasant is not eaten.
Once rain falls, remorse is spent.
Good fortune comes in the end.
The handle [German Griff] is the part by which the ting
can be grasped [gegriffen]. Thus it signifies the concept7
(Begriff) one has of the I Ching (the ting). In the course of
time this concept has apparently changed, so that today we
can no longer grasp (begreifen) the I Ching. Thus "one is
impeded in his way of life." We are no longer supported by
the wise counsel and deep insight of the oracle; therefore we
no longer find our way through the mazes of fate and the
obscurities of our own natures. The fat of the pheasant, that
is, the best and richest part of a good dish, is no longer
eaten. But when the thirsty earth finally receives rain again,
that is, when this state of want has been overcome,
"remorse," that is, sorrow over the loss of wisdom, is ended,
and then comes the longed-for opportunity. Wilhelm
This describes a man who, in a highly evolved
civilization, finds himself in a place where no one notices or
recognizes him. This is a severe block to his effectiveness.
The I Ching is complaining, as it were, that its excellent
qualities go unrecognized and hence lie fallow. It comforts
itself with the hope that it is about to regain recognition.
The answer given in these two salient lines to the
question I put to the I Ching requires no particular subtlety
of interpretation, no artifices, no unusual knowledge.
Anyone with a little common sense can understand the
meaning of the answer; it is the answer of one who has a
good opinion of himself, but whose value is neither
generally recognized nor even widely known. The
answering subject has an interesting notion of itself: it looks
upon itself as a vessel in which sacrificial offerings are
brought to the gods, ritual food for their nourishment. It
conceives of itself as a cult utensil serving to provide
spiritual nourishment for the unconscious elements or forces
("spiritual agencies") that have been projected as gods — in
other words, to give these forces the attention they need in
order to play their part in the life of the individual. Indeed,
this is the original meaning of the word religio — a careful
observation and taking account of (from relegere8) the
The method of the I Ching does indeed take into account
the hidden individual quality in things and men, and in one's
own unconscious self as well. I have questioned the I Ching
as one questions a person whom one is about to introduce to
friends: one asks whether or not it will be agreeable to him.
In answer the I Ching tells me of its religious significance,
of the fact that at present it is unknown and misjudged, of its
hope of being restored to a place of honor — this last
obviously with a sidelong glance at my as yet unwritten
foreword9, and above all at the English translation. This
seems a perfectly understandable reaction, such as one could
expect also from a person in a similar situation.
But how has this reaction come about? Because I threw
three small coins into the air and let them fall, roll, and
come to rest, heads up or tails up as the case might be. This
odd fact that a reaction that makes sense arises out of a
technique seemingly excluding all sense from the outset, is
the great achievement of the I Ching. The instance I have
just given is not unique; meaningful answers are the rule.
Western sinologues and distinguished Chinese scholars have
been at pains to inform me that the I Ching is a collection of
obsolete "magic spells." In the course of these conversations
my informant has sometimes admitted having consulted the
oracle through a fortune teller, usually a Taoist priest. This
could be "only nonsense" of course. But oddly enough, the
answer received apparently coincided with the questioner's
psychological blind spot remarkably well.
I agree with Western thinking that any number of
answers to my question were possible, and I certainly cannot
assert that another answer would not have been equally
significant. However, the answer received was the first and
only one; we know nothing of other possible answers. It
pleased and satisfied me. To ask the same question a second
time would have been tactless and so I did not do it: "the
master speaks but once." The heavy-handed pedagogic
approach that attempts to fit irrational phenomena into a
preconceived rational pattern is anathema to me. Indeed,
such things as this answer should remain as they were when
they first emerged to view, for only then do we know what
nature does when left to herself undisturbed by the
meddlesomeness of man. One ought not to go to cadavers to
study life. Moreover, a repetition of the experiment is
impossible, for the simple reason that the original situation
cannot be reconstructed. Therefore in each instance there is
only a first and single answer.
To return to the hexagram itself. There is nothing strange
in the fact that all of Ting, THE CALDRON, amplifies the
themes announced by the two salient lines10. The first line of
the hexagram says:
A ting with legs upturned.
Furthers removal of stagnating stuff.
One takes a concubine
for the sake of her son.
A ting that is turned upside down is not in use. Hence the
I Ching is like an unused caldron. Turning it over serves to
remove stagnating matter, as the line says. Just as a man
takes a concubine when his wife has no son, so the I Ching
is called upon when one sees no other way out. Despite the
quasi-legal status of the concubine in China, she is in reality
only a somewhat awkward makeshift so likewise the magic
procedure of the oracle is an expedient that may be utilized
for a higher purpose. There is no blame, although it is an
The second and third lines have already been discussed.
The fourth line says:
The legs of the ting are broken.
The prince's meal is spilled
And his person is soiled.
Here the ting has been put to use, but evidently in a very
clumsy manner, that is, the oracle has been abused or
misinterpreted. In this way the divine food is lost, and one
puts oneself to shame. Legge translates as follows: "Its
subject will be made to blush for shame." Abuse of a cult
utensil such as the ting (i.e., the I Ching) is a gross
profanation. The I Ching is evidently insisting here on its
dignity as a ritual vessel and protesting against being
The fifth line says:
The ting has yellow handles,
golden carrying rings.
The I Ching has, it seems, met with a new, correct
(yellow) understanding, that is, a new concept (Begriff) by
which it can be grasped. This concept is valuable (golden).
There is indeed a new edition in English, making the book
more accessible to the Western world than before.
The sixth line says:
The ting has rings of jade.
Great good fortune.
Nothing that would not act to further.
Jade is distinguished for its beauty and soft sheen. If the
carrying rings are of jade, the whole vessel is enhanced in
beauty, honor, and value. The I Ching expresses itself here
as being not only well satisfied but indeed very optimistic.
One can only await further events and in the meantime
remain content with the pleasant conclusion that the I Ching
approves of the new edition.
This is the first part of "I Ching — Foreword by Carl Gustav Jung". Click here to read part 2 of this text.
1 ↑ Legge makes the following comment on the explanatory text for the
individual lines: "According to our notions, a framer of emblems should
be a good deal of a poet, but those of Yi only make us think of a
dryasdust. Out of more than three hundred and fifty, the greater numbers
are only grotesque" (The Sacred Books of the East, XVl: The Yi King,
2nd edn., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899, p.22). Of the "lessons"' of the
hexagrams, the same author says:
But why, it may be asked, why
should they be conveyed to us by such an array of lineal figures, and in
such a farrago of emblematic representations (ibid., p. 25). However,
we are nowhere told that Legge ever bothered to put the method to a
2 ↑ Cf. "Syndironicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle," The Structure
and Dynamics of the Psyche (Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, vol. 8).
Cf. J. B. Rhine, The Reach of the Mind (New York and London, 1928).
They are shen, that is "spirit-like." "Heaven produced the 'spirit-like
things' " (Legge, p.41).
See the explanation of the method in Wilhelm's text, p.721.
For example, the invidi ("the envious") are a constantly recurring
image in the old Latin books on alchemy, especially in the Turba
philosophorum (eleventh or twelfth century).
From the Latin concipere, "ito take together," e.g., in a vessel:
concipere derives from capere,"to take," "to grasp."
This is the classical etymology. The derivation of rehgio from religare,
"bind to," originated with the Church Fathers.
I made this experiment before I actually wrote the foreword.
The Chinese interpret only the changing lines in the hexagram
obtained by use of the oracle. I have found all the lines of the hexagram
to be relevant in most cases.