Monday, March 3, 2014

I Ching For Beginners, A Modern Interpretation of the Ancient Oracle - Mark McElroy

The first thing I learned is that its not pronounced as 'I Ching' but 'Eee Ching'. The book is an interpretation of all the wise sayings of the Chinese Classic of Changes or Book of Changes in three contexts - life, corporate and love. Origins of I Ching date back to 2 millennium BCE. Considered a divinity, the text of the I Ching is in hexagrams, sixty four sets of six lines each. It got my mind all boggled just looking at those hexagrams and trigrams and their interpretations. So I will stick to what I saw in the book written in simple English. I will reproduce my notes from what I understood of Mark McElroy's version (with my interpretations in brackets)..

I loved a few especially the one that says - make music that makes everyone get up and dance. Reminded me of Mike Brearley saying that a captain's job is to make things interesting. Music, or the common factor, the path of least resistance, like music, can get them all to get up and dance. Fantastic example. Another one is the one about using traditional rivals fire and water to make steam and hot water and not to extinguish one another. And then the ones about potential - a blade of grass, small streams, winds carving out stone.

As the sky changes, always work to become stronger. 
(My interpretation: Look for constant growth in periods of change. Prepare for the new challenges.)

Submit to leadership when appropriate. 
(The team is bigger always and in the interests of the team it might require one to submit to another leader when the demands are so.)

Even a tiny blade of grass is strong enough to break through. 
(There's potential in the weakest. Look for it.)

Small springs carve out valleys, and become great rivers. 
(As above.)

When clouds approach prepare for rain. 
(Read the signs and prepare early.)

Like sea and sky, conflict is inevitable. 
(Seek the middle path because conflict is a fact of life, don't throw it all away, seek shared values and move on together.)

Valuable water hidden underground can be tapped into. 
(Tap into potential, it runs deep and must be found. When it is found, it has great value.)

Rivers to seas, small contributions can join and become a great force. 
(Together, more can be achieved.)

Light breezes steer mighty clouds. 
(Start with a small step, you never know what it can achieve.)

Lakes and skies, each knows the value of the other. 
(Seemingly so far away, but they feed each other.)

Withdraw, reserve strength, wait.
(When under stress, wait)

Unite flames and reach higher.
(When there are many little embers, unite and you can make a great flame)

It's the light that matters, not who carries it.
(Be open to inputs, to knowledge. Anyone can offer it.)

Sun rises and sets. 
(Success and defeat are inevitable.)

Music unites in dance. Law of least resistance, look for what's common. 
(Loved this. Look for the music that gets everyone to dance.)

Adapt to seasons. Throw out spoiled food but investigate the reasons for it. 
(Take the hit, but know what went wrong.)

Like an ant saves for winter, use sunshine to make hay.
(Speed up on good roads.)

The wind touches every point on earth. 
(A holistic vision of whats going on helps.)

Qualities that appeal to the spirit, go by acts and not looks.

When living in old houses, evaluate, move out. 
(Clear old habits, traditions. There's a time to build, a time to break.)

Winter will give way to spring. 
(There's light at the end of the tunnel, hang on.)

Understand a larger plan, live in harmony.
(It may not be as bad as it seems, there is a bigger plan we cannot see so hang on.)

When you discipline a habit, the strength of character remains. 
(Make goals, stick to schedule, you will be a winner. Discipline will build character.)

Care for both body and spirit. 
(To take care of others, take care of yourself first.)

Be aware of your limits, don't break. 
(Ask for help, revise, relook. Take a break and come back.)

Water changes its shape. 
(To survive, be flexible. Go with the flow.)

Your actions set the standard for others, be the light. 
(Be aware of your actions.)

Remain humble, ask for advise, take action. Listen, receive. 
(There's much to be gained by being humble and asking questions even if you know. You never know what else you can find.)

Fluctuating cycles of nature. Look for rhythms, patterns.

Wait for a favorable time.

Right action, right intentions, right time.

When you see the sun rise, it is time for confident action.

In times of darkness, get protection, limit movement and wait.

From fire and water, make hot water and steam instead of letting both extinguish one another. (In every potentially lost situation, there could be a way for great gains.)

Every obstacle is a challenge, a lesson. Learn from difficulties, they are opportunities.
(Obstacles are the key to growth.)

Celebrate initial progress, but be focused on good.

Don't repair the roof with foundation stones.
(Don't use up your biggest reserve, the key on which your structure stands, to finance a short term comfort or whim. Don't be lazy. Don't ever touch the key assets.)

In rare and unique opportunities, go beyond your limits to take advantage. When the road is clear, speed up.

Pursue the goal but be open to options.
(The route can always throw up new ways to get there. Be open and consider them.)

Strong character can be manipulated. Be aware.
(There is a chink in being rigid. That can be manipulated.)

In great adversity, control what you can. One step at a time.
(When under pressure, safeguard the essentials first.)

Find what you are meant to do. What is your calling.

(The clarity gives you purpose. What can you do best and what it it that you enjoy.)

Gradual progress, acorn to oak. Take the long term approach.
(Whatever you do, think long term, forever. It helps build commitment and clarity.)

Protect affectionate relationships.
(They serve you the best, take care of them.)

In unfamiliar situations, learn and observe.
(Step back, wait and watch.)

Constant input is the key to consistent healthy growth.
 (Seek the counsel of the wise, of the teachers and coaches, and constantly seek to improve.)

Ego creates barriers and divides.Bring together. 

Celebrate achievements of milestones, but revise goals. Keep aiming higher.
(An achievement should spur you on to the next goal. Not complacence and arrogance.)

Continue progress carefully. 
(Always be on the growth path, always seek to build. Evaluate carefully the decisions that can undo all the good work.)

Thanks Suresh for lending it to me. I can always dip into this blog to refresh my  mind.


Anonymous said...


want to hear your interpretation of this line " Don't repair the roof with foundation stones."

There is intrigue in that line.


Harimohan said...

Oh yes, Suresh, this is another of my favorites. I'd interpret it as not taking foolish shortcuts to achieve temporary reprieve/comfort and disturb solid foundations. It's probably akin to using long term funds to finance working capital needs in banking parlance. It is better to take the long term route of searching for the ideal roofing material (though it may be uncomfortable for a short while) and then building your roof than to sacrifice your safety by pulling out the foundations for short term comfort. And short term it will be! I was thinking of putting in my interpretations for all those lines just today. Will do it over the weekend and we can discuss again.

Anonymous said...

very interesting view; My take was similar in that, do not shake up the foundations (values) for any urgent need or emergency that comes along.

Anonymous said...


My interpretation is that "You cannot have same fix for different problems". The reasoning being foundation stones can never repair roof.

Foundation stones could be a metaphor for having best solution for solidity (while we know it is only at the structure stage). We may start to believe that it is a cure-all for all solidity related problems. I feel, the statement is less to do with what happens when the foundation stones are removed as opposed to roof not getting repaired using foundation stones.

In essence, we try to solve new problems with old techniques. Foundation stones worked well during structure preparation. But at the roof level, it is a new problem. We cannot use old solutions.

Am open to understand whether my interpretation makes sense.

AP Srinivas

Harimohan said...

AP, that could be one interpretation. Don't get bogged down by perceived uses / solutions and think creatively each time. And valid too.
However I'd still like to think that since the roof is more about comfort and the foundation stone is about solidity or roots, it is about not pulling out the roots to decorate your house or indulge in passing comforts at the risk of bringing it all down.

Anonymous said...

I like the point of view.
The best thing is that this summarization of Iching is a great repository for me to reach out to.

Harimohan said...

Thanks AP. Same here. And it is these kind of discussions that can add so many more perspectives and deepen/widen the thought process. Thanks to Suresh for starting the thread.