English: A page from a Song Dynasty (960-1279) printed book of the I Ching (Yi Jing, Classic of Changes or Book of Changes). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A friend of mine, author Bonnie Cehovet, wrote an amazing piece of microfiction titled ‘Rhubarb pie’. I don’t know what’s rhubarb, it doesn’t grow here, but i kept reading.
In only 118 words, regardless of mine not knowing neither the taste nor the smell of rhubarb, Bonnie made me recall the early morning smell of my grandmother’s garden, the dew drops on the pansy flowers planted on its edges; the crowing of the neighbor’s roster who once again overslept the dawn, the bells of the Church across the street that rang and made the pigeons that had rested there fly away hastily…
My grandmother was from a prairie, where corn grows and the magic made from a scratch, kneaded of white flour and baked on a wood stove is something i grew up with.
My grandmother was a lot on my mind today – she often is, she comes to my dreams and is a part of my life, albeit it’s over two decades that she passed away.
A remembered all of it and it’s as if i felt the smell of rhubarb pie, and it’s as if i even tasted it – albeit i do not know what rhubarb is.
Later on, i searched rhubarb online and stumbled upon a blog by a chef from NYC, who is originally from the old country where my grandmother was from. I was moved to tears when i read the story of his mother who had passed him her love for the magic of cooking, who lost the battle with cancer and to whom he devoted his blog.
It’s past my bedtime, yet i decided to write down the thoughts i had today, related to the I Ching reading i casted earlier.
I wondered what would The Book of Changes say on the concept of identity and all the various labels we misuse thus risking further segmentation and separation of the humanity.
I’ve never heard of any kind of religious war between Daoists and Confucianists or their armed clashes with Buddhists – due to differences in doctrines, it seems to be a thing in which Abrahamic religions have sub-specialized.
What exactly prompts entire nations to go to war over deceptive concepts such as ethnicity or religious affiliation, is beyond my comprehension; geographical borders are an quite illusionary human invention and religion is most often just a matter of social conditioning. However, at age of 21, those have left me “orphaned” in terms of my own identity, the only one i had known. One day i was Yugoslav, belonging together with other 22 million people to a certain country and speaking a language i believed to be my mother tongue – next thing i know i was deprived of my nationality, my country and the language i spoke as well. Never mind that the land we called such and such did not go missing, it’s still here, never mind that i still speak the language i always spoke, never mind i still relate to all the same people. Regardless that meanwhile that poor land was cut in pieces, borders re-assigned and once-brethren proclaimed enemies.
Thus in one dimension everything changed, while in other everything had remained the same. Ever since then i am very careful with this tricky concept of identity – it turned out to be the ultimate slippery slope in my experience.
Identity comes from Latin identitas (“sameness”), and in philosophy is defined as “the relation each thing bears just to itself.”
Philosophers have been bashing their heads against the wall over the questions like:
f x and y are identical (are the same thing), must they always be identical? Are they necessarily identical?
What does it mean for an object to be the same, if it changes over time?
And i don’t think anyone came up with a definite answer, or at least an answer that would make sense to the most of us.
Myself, i could say i am an European. But then Balkans is not really Europe, except geographically – it’s a complex culture unto itself. If speaking in terms of continents i could say i belong to European continent, albeit that too is rather an arbitrary concept, as the physiographic definition “continent” can and often does incorporate cultural and political elements. On a personal level, i adhere to system of believes and values that was developed once upon a time in the Middle East; i am profoundly influenced by Eastern philosophy and that reflects in my work by which i personally identify myself the most. It’s been said long ago that studying a foreign language develops so-called secondary linguistic personality, a kind of substitute-self which presumably reasons in terms typical of the native speakers of that language; given that my Russian is on the level of a native speaker and given that i write in English, what does it make me? Everybody. And at the same time – nobody. I believe we all are – everybody and nobody at the same time.
I’ll quote Zion, whose amazing blog i discovered recently: “We are all humans. We all breathe the same air, have the same blood, require the same nourishment, are born with same flesh, and face the same fate as we grow older.”
And here is what I Ching has to say on the above: Hexagram 19.4 Approaching (Lin) changing to Hexagram 51.
(By the way, it’s not true that when casting an I Ching reading the question should be worded meticulously and for what i know there is nothing in classical texts to support that claim; it suffices to focus on the situation on which the Book is consulted, more so – such unfocused focus predisposes the answer to be more comprehensive. We usually don’t see the big picture and by limiting the question the narrow the answer too.)
The Chinese word lin has a range of meanings that don’t have an equivalent of a single word in any other language. The ancient explanations in the Book of Changes give as its first meaning “becoming great.” Originally it meant overlooking and implies leadership and control. In The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by the Taoist Master Alfred Huang the parallels are made between Chinese character (ideograph) for Lin and that of gua 13, Tong Ren translated among else as Fellowship with Men and People in Harmony.
Taoist Thomas Cleary in his translation The Taoist I Ching adds meaning of joyfully following truth.
The changing line, Six in the fourth place says (Wilhelm): Complete approach. No blame.
Cleary explains it in terms of spiritual alchemy, where ‘being weak yet preserving rectitude, refining oneself and mastering the minds, thereby awaiting the newborn positive energy, is called consumate overseeing.”
The Judgement of Hexagram 51 is expectedly cryptic:
Shock brings success.
Shock comes – oh, oh!
Laughing words – ha, ha!
The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.
Its Image is dreary:
Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK.
Thus in fear and trembling
The superior man sets his life in order
And examines himself.
In my understanding, I Ching at the dawn of the humanity has predicted a phenomena to which we will come only by the end of 20th century: the grouping of people in so called “tribes”, according to their interests, hobbies and affiliations; for what i know, the phenomena for the first time was analyzed in depth in the book “Funky Business” (2000) and its sequel Karaoke Capitalism (2003) by genius Swedish neo-marxists of unpronounceable names: Kjell A. Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle.
Such “tribing” would be the ultimate empowering of people who “become great” by “joyfully following (their inner) truth” and gather together with other people “in harmony”.
The aspect of leadership is quite important and accentuated – and Wilhelm in detail explains the ideal attitude of the high ranking commander towards the capable people of lower class… Right, that would be the rule of democracy.
(As a side note: how timely, in view of US 2012 Presidential Elections which by default will impact the entire world for better or for worse.)
By Shock and Thunder oftentimes is depicted intervention of (for the lack of better term) Divine Will, when it has to correct something that got out of balance – quickly and most unexpectedly.
The people laughing is a bad omen – they heaven’t learned the lesson. The wise man withdraws and reexamines himself.
I think we should do this inner searches quite often, examine ourselves and check are we personally and our respective tribes on the right path; are we following the truth and are we happy. I think we should choose leaders who are capable of justly “overseeing” the progress of such ‘fellowship of men.”
I believe the shock of the wars fought in our lifetime is a warning not to take it carelessly and lightheartedly.
What prompted my musings on this topic? You see, when i started blogging some said i don’t stand a chance – a female author, from one of those teeny-weeny countries that best part of humanity has no idea where exactly it’s located; they told me no one really cared what was going on here, they told me ours was a marginal culture, they told me our language was of too limited diffusion… 4,231 hits on my blog in only six months proved them wrong. Yesterday i received the following notification from wordpress: “On Sunday June 24, 2012 you surpassed your previous record of most follows in one day for your blog moderndayruth…” Among them fellow bloggers – a kabbalist, a daoist, an atheist, a cat lover, an expert in embroidering and a sewess , people from all walks of life and from just about anywhere in the world. I’ll quote Zion once again as that’s the main identity i personally recognize:”We are all humans. We all breathe the same air, have the same blood, require the same nourishment, are born with same flesh, and face the same fate as we grow older.”
We are all in this together, so lets make our choices wisely.
Rhubarb pie, flash fiction by Bonnie Cehovet: http://theworldofflashfiction.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/rhubarb-pie/
Wiki article on I Ching: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching
Text of the Hex. 19, Wilhelm’s translation: http://theabysmal.wordpress.com/2006/10/27/i-ching-hexagram-19/
Hex. 51: http://theabysmal.wordpress.com/2006/10/28/i-ching-hexagram-51/
Zion’s blog, the essay on compassion http://iamzion.com/2012/06/22/an-aspect-of-compassion/
Chef Milan’s blog: http://www.izmojekuhinjice.com/p/o-meni.html