Fire Below, Fire Above
Fire is beneficial if correct; then there is success. Raising a cow brings good fortune.
Fire has no nature of its own; it only appears cleaving to fuel—therefore it is called clinging…In Buddhism, when demons cause a disturbance, it is necessary to cleave to correct observation to dissolve obscurity. Therefore, in each case the benefit is in being correct; therein lies success. A cow is gentle and docile, yet very strong; it can also give birth to calves. This symbolizes correct concentration being able to produce subtle insight.
~ The Book of Changes (Yi Jing), Hexagram number 30 (Cleary)
Illumination: Fire below, fire above. As we investigate the shamanic influences on Chan-Zen, this week we read the Book of Changes (Yi Jing), a book of divination. It is the oldest of the ancient Chinese wisdom texts, predating Confucius and Laozi by a millennium, and Buddhism by even longer. Yet it has garnered commentary from all. For many centuries the Yi Jing hexagrams have described the “inner dynamics of both spiritual life and social life” and is a “basic guide for conscious living,” writes translator Thomas Cleary.
Synchronicity. In his foreword to the Wilhelm translation of the Book of Changes, C.G. Jung suggests that generating a hexagram is a form of synchronicity, which “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.” In other words, the diviner believes that the hexagrams reflect a natural resonance between in the inner mind and the outer society at a certain point in time.
Dongshan’s Yi Jing. The Chan school, always closely identified with the Daoists, from early days embraced elements of the Yi Jing that they believed expressed Chan’s fundamental message of awakening. Within the Record of Dongshan, the poem, “Jewel Mirror Samadhi”, contains the lines:
In the six lines of the Li [Illumination hexagram], Phenomena and the Real interact;
Piled up to become three [trigrams], each transformed makes five [hexagrams];
Like the taste of the [five-flavored] chih grass, or the five-pronged vajra scepter;
Secretly held within the Real, rhythm and song arise together.
Penetration to the source, penetration of the byways,
Grasping the connecting link, grasping the route.
Acting with circumspection is auspicious, there is no contradiction.
Innately pure, moreover subtle, no connection with delusion or enlightenment.
According to rime and circumstance, it quietly illuminates.
~ transl. Powell
Yi Jing of the Five Ranks. Followers of Dongshan have closely linked “Illumination,” hexagram number 30, to his famous Five Ranks. The trigrams of fire below, and fire above can be re-configured into a grouping of five linked hexagrams: Gentle, Penetrating (57), Joyous (58), Preponderance of the Great (28), Inner Truth (61), and the original IIlumination (30). Scholars believe these five hexagrams align closely with corresponding lines in Dongshan’s Five Ranks, a 9th c. text that is still widely used today by both Caodong (Soto) and Linji (Rinzai) Zen teachers. The Illumination hexagram is said to represent a mirror, with both upper and lower hexagrams reflecting fire below and fire above. Leighton has found relevant lines from these five re-configured hexagrams resonating in each of the Five Ranks, including:
Rank One: In the darkest night, it is perfectly, truly clear.
Rank Two: You are not it, but the truth is in you.
Rank Three: In the end it says nothing, for the words are not yet right, or true.
Rank Four: Inclined and upright (form and emptiness) interact.
Rank Five: Wondrously embraced within the real, drumming and singing begin together.
The Buddhist Yi Jing. Though some key phrases and symbols were adopted by various Buddhist schools, it was not until Chan-Pure Land monk Chih-hsu Ou-i composed commentaries on the Yi Jing in the 17th century that a comprehensive Buddhist Book of Changes emerged, Cleary believes. Essentially reading the Book through Buddhist eyes and sensibilities, “Ou-i speaks of the natural qualities of buddha-nature, the complete potential of awareness,” and cultivation of inherent sensibilities, bringing them to “full maturity and appropriate use.”
Buddhist read of “Illumination.” Below are the Buddhist monk Ou’i’s edited commentaries (in italics), on Illumination, hexagram number 30:
The Overall Judgement: Fire is clinging—the sun and moon cling to the sky, plants cling to the earth. Clinging to what is correct with two-fold illumination transforms and perfects the world.
The Image: Illumination doubled makes fire. Great people illuminate the four quarters with continuing light.
Bottom line (yang): The steps are awry; be heedful and there will be no fault. Even with insight, the practice is not yet purified.
Second line (yin): Yellow fire is very auspicious, attaining the middle way. Subtle concentration in harmony with essence is used to illumine all things.
Third Line (yang): In the fire of the afternoon sun, you either drum on a jug and sing, or lament as in old age. When you use insight too much without concentration to balance it, sometimes you will be extremely joyful, drumming and singing, and sometimes you will be extremely anxious, lamenting as in old age.
Fourth Line (yang): Coming forth abruptly, there is no accommodation. Here, even though it seems that one has insight and concentration. In reality, one is not balanced and not correct, unable to harmonize the elements of the path of enlightenment.
Fifth Line (yin): Weeping and lamenting, there is good fortune. This represents concentration in balance, which can bring forth genuine insight; therefore progress is certain.
Top Line (yang): The king goes on an expedition, has good luck, and overcomes the leader, taking captives, but not because they are repugnant. No fault. Strong without excess, at the peak of illumination, self-help has already been completed, so there is a way to transform others.
Interpretations of this oldest shamanic text shift and change with people, time and place. Even so, we may read the hexagrams as showing a progression from the first (bottom line) to the sixth (top line); from self-discipline, to tolerance, energy, meditation, and finally wisdom, writes Cleary, who sees the Yi Jing as the “inexhaustible classic of ancient China.”
The I Ching, or Book of Changes, Wilhelm (1950)
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, The Buddhist I Ching, Cleary (1983)
The Record of Tung-shan, Powell (1986)
Just This Is It, Leighton, (2015)