It's been a long time since my last Friday Yi Jing blogging. I return to it today with a local focus. In my tutorial on ancient Chinese philosophy today I was referring to the Yi Jing and decided to consult it to demonstrate to the students how we might apprend a particular moment in Way. To make it more relevant to the assembled students I asked the Yi if our college team, the Ephs, would win their first regular season game. The response was generally positive.
A bit of background: Williams College is a football powerhouse in the world of Division III athletics in the US. Last year the team went undefeated. Thus, there is every expectation that Williams should defeat Bowdoin in the opening game of the 2011 season. The Yi concurs, with some reservations.
The oracle returned Hexagram 30, "Fire," with a moving line in the third position, thus tending in the direction of Hexagram 21, "Biting Through."
"Fire" or "The Clinging" (as fire clings to wood) is a doubled trigram, suggeting a certain significance in this reading:
The Judgment points to a positive outcome and offers an apt analogy:
The Clinging. Perseverance furthers. It brings success. Care of the cow brings good fortune.
In the context of a football team, perseverance would suggest that focused training and practice will bring victory. But "care of the cow" tells us even more, especially when you know that the mascot of the Williams team is the Purple Cow:
Clearly, then, it would seem that "caring for the cow," in this regard, is a reminder to the players to focus on the team: if each member does his duty to the team and carries through conscientiously, a win will be secured. The commentary on the Judgment makes this point more starkly:
Human life on earth is conditioned and unfree, and when man recognizes this limitation and makes himself dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos, he achieves success.
Not quite a stirring half-time pep talk, but the point is pretty much what football coaches have been saying from time immemorial: the whole is greater than any one part; the team must come before the individual; and when the individuals understand this and subordinate themselves to the needs and purposes of the team, victory can be achieved.
So, it looks good for th Ephs. But wait... that moving line in the third place sounds a cautionary note:
In the light of the setting sun, men either beat the pot and sing or loudly bewail the approach of old age. Misfortune.
The commentary explains that the "setting sun" implies mortality and people, as they contemplate death, can lose their focus and fall into excessive recklessness (live wildly until death comes) or depression.
For our football players the "light of the setting sun" captures an image of their practices, down on Cole Field, ending in the evenings. The warning not to "beat the pot and sing" warns against overconfidence. They have defeated Bowdoin in nine out of the last ten meetings. This should be an easy one. And that is precisely the kind of attitude that can bring "misfortune."
The Yi is telling the team to take care of business. Do the hard work of practice. Don't underestimate the adversary. And then things will likely turn out for the better.
That message is echoed in Hexagram 21, "Biting Through:"
The description of the Hexagram reads:
This hexagram represents an open mouth with an obstruction (in the fourth place) between the teeth. As a result the lips cannot meet. To bring them together one must bite energetically through the obstacle. Since the hexagram is made up of the trigrams for thunder and lightening, it indicates how obstacles are forcibly removed in nature. Energetic biting through overcomes the obstacle that prevents joining of the lips; the storm with its thunder and lightening overcomes the disturbing tension in nature.
Sometimes, under certain circumstances, to prevail requires energetic activity, biting through. If sufficient effort is expended in the proper manner, success will follow - the Judgment reads: "Biting Through has success." So, if the football players do the hard work required of the task ahead of them, a Williams victory can be secured.