The Law of Impermanence is one of the primary tenets of Buddhism. It describes how all forms change and come to an end…unavoidably and sometimes marvelously so. The story of the Buddha’s enlightenment included recognizing that everything is temporary and impermanent, that every relationship transforms at some point. It is a function of everything that exists to constantly be going through the process of changing.
Paradoxically, change is the only constant in life, but we have trouble with this fact. The ancient Taoist wisdom system known as the I Ching, or Book of Changes — which has been a large part of my life’s work — is one of the world’s greatest spiritual tools for accepting and skillfully relating to change.
Our natural resistance to aging and death makes the ego try to hold on to things. We either want to keep the things we like from changing or to make things change for the better. This general lack of acceptance is a basic cause of the suffering referenced by the Four Noble Truths, the suffering that is endemic to the human ego’s predicament. No matter the circumstances, they are always changing, and we are never going to be fully satisfied.
The I Ching provides an antidote for our craving of control and is a channel for new insights and for sparking new thoughts through alternate ways of viewing things in life. If you become stuck, or too attached, to a certain outcome, the I Ching will correct that way of thinking to bring you more into alignment with the essence of impermanence, which is change.
Richard Wilhelm, the renowned Western I Ching scholar, frequently lectured about the I Ching in the early 20th century. His book Lectures on the I Ching: Constancy and Change specifically addressed the concept of impermanence, and it includes lectures given by Wilhelm from 1926-1929 — a period of great change and upheaval. Now, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic that is changing every aspect of modern life, so this wisdom is once again much needed.
“All of us,” Wilhelm said, “are living now in a period of opposition: it is important that we may hope for the transformation of opposition into fellowship. In fact, this is precisely the importance of the world view described in the Book of Changes: there is no situation without a way out. All situations are stages of change. Therefore, even when things are most difficult, we can plant the seed for a new situation that will preserve within itself the present situation, though we must be capable of adapting and finding the proper attitude.”
The Law of Impermanence is one of the hardest aspects of Buddhist teaching for the ego to feel comfortable with, as it so strongly prefers to control and resist. Throughout history, sages and emperors, military leaders and heads of state have all sought out the wisdom from divination systems to help guide their decisions when faced with life’s unruly river of change. Their goals may have been to hold on to power by making the right decisions and anticipating the change, or simply to find a way to cooperate with the rhythms of the time. Thankfully, the I Ching can help us accept current circumstances, while riding the waves of change for the most personal benefit and for the greater good.
Before cultivating a divination practice, it is important to get clear about what you hope to gain. Put serious thought and energy into how you frame your inquiry, as well as how you will approach and interpret the reading you get. Let yourself be open to the wisdom of the reading that you receive. Many people consult the I Ching as a daily meditation in order to tap into the energies of the day, inquiring about no particular subject at all. When approaching the I Ching, it helps to begin with a meditation to create a calm state of receptivity to the wisdom you seek and to let go of attachment to receiving any particular answer.
Given the pressure of decision-making in modern times, in addition to the extra anxiety of an uncertain pandemic, is it any wonder people are feeling overwhelmed right now? It’s hard enough to manage all the small details in life, but when you are faced with critical personal choices, the challenge of making the right decision can be intimidating. In cases like these, the I Ching experience can stimulate your intuition and provide refreshing new ways of looking at things to help you maintain your balance and your sanity.