Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fountain and the Cauldron

“May you consider all religions the instruments of God and regard all races as channels of divine manifestation.”

Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.420

“The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of God; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbor any secret opposition to the will of God. Thus reverence is the foundation of true culture.”

The I Ching, p.198 (Wilhelm/Baynes translation)

A fundamental Baha’i belief is that the religious teachings and ethical traditions of every culture should be regarded as part of one spiritual heritage to be treasured by the whole human race. Moreover, the Baha’i Faith seeks to build bridges of understanding with all the peoples of the world.

Given this context, far be it from any fair-minded Baha’i to disparage or dismiss the venerable work of the ancient Chinese sages known as the I Ching or The Book of Changes. This repository of wisdom has for centuries provided spiritual underpinning for Chinese thought – the I Ching’s origins are traditionally believed to extend back to prehistory. According to Carl Gustav Jung, its insights inspired the philosophies of perhaps China’s two greatest teachers: Lao Tzu and Confucius.

It is true that the I Ching has been abused by careless people; the superstitious have had a party and used it as a plaything. It is one of the most famous oracles of antiquity and is widely used as an oracle even today. The seeming magic of its consistently sound and relevant counsel has been subverted into fortune telling, its rich symbolism and archetypal imagery used for low purposes.

Nonetheless, through the grace and insight of the Wilhelm/Baynes translation, many parallel values are seen to exist between the teachings central to the Baha’i Faith and those which lie at the heart of the I Ching. The shared emphasis on character development and the acquisition of virtues is striking. Courtesy, humility, service, sincerity, moderation, perseverance, wisdom, reverence, forbearance, and universal fellowship are taught in both sources, sometimes using the same analogies from nature. Both worldviews look to the development of society through empowering the individual, fostering the family, and emphasizing consultation. Both are based in an awareness of fate and are concerned with the conscious shaping of the destinies of individuals and nations. Moreover, both systems delight in the synchronicity of events while being grounded in the steady process thinking that prizes systematization.

The universality and timelessness of the I Ching are centered in its exploration of the human response to change. Its explanations of eternal truths -- its insights into cycles and attitudes, goals and motives, situations and choices -- are fresh and useful, a source of wonder.

Writing of the I Ching in 1949, Jung said: “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.”

[Excerpt from] #51. Chên / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)

"The shock that comes from the manifestation of God within the depths of the earth makes man afraid, but this fear of God is good, for joy and merriment can follow upon it. When a man has learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences…"

[Excerpt from] #64. Wei Chi / Before Completion

“The conditions are difficult. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is nothing less than that of leading the world out of confusion back to order. But it is a task that promises success, because there is a goal that can unite the forces now tending in different directions…"

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