I Change

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-10-27 11:11:00

Photos: Courtesy of Michael Hurn

By Matthew Jukes

It's a book that changed the face of the world. Even today, artists, philosophers and historians still make use of it as a tool for the type of questions that you can't find answers to in textbooks. It has been so popular among the people that it even survived many spates of China's imperial book burning. But a British computer engineer has decided to reform its use and sell it back to the Chinese.

The I Ching: The book to turn to for Wisdom and Guidance is Michael Hurn's very own take on the ancient text and how to use it.

"It's still early days," says Hurn, who visited Beijing seeking a Chinese publisher recently. "I was really nervous about coming to China in case someone said 'oy you cheeky beggar!' But no, it was well received," he adds. The book went on general release Tuesday, although not yet in a Chinese-language version. 

Smashing shells

The I Ching, one of the oldest recorded Chinese books, believed to be between 3,000-5,000 years old, seeks to provide a system for budding fortunetellers to find the answer to a specific question or problem. Older methods involved the creative smashing of tortoise shells.

The modern usage invites the reader to hold a question in their mind, then throw a number of objects, most commonly yarrow stalks into the air, the positions of which are interpreted into a hexagram (six lines, either broken or unbroken) which can be put into a lookup table to get the poetic or cryptic answer to the question. It's actually a lot simpler than it sounds.

Evolving the process further, Hurn has done away with the antiquated need for killing off rare flora and fauna, relying on the more common randomizer of coins or dice. He's also cut out the need for the lookup table first formulated by King Wen (founder of the Zhou Dynasty, 1046-221 BC). Hurn has been a passionate follower of the book for three decades.

"I was doing an electrician apprenticeship. I was living in a hostel at the time and one of my friends who was a bit more intellectual got me into it," says Hurn. That was in 1976. But after practicing the divination method, it grew on him.

"I think it was down to the logic of it that I got used to it over the next few years. I've had striking readings that I have given to people," says Hurn. "I was sharing a house with a guy who was concerned about the health of his father. I did one reading that said 'you will be more at peace with your father next time you see him.' His father died afterwards…I guess he was more at peace."

The new system, outlined in the book, was developed from binary code, a result of Hurn's field of expertise, and aims to provide a purely numerical answer, which in turn leads you to the page with your numbered hexagram or trigram. It's considerably less of a process to go through, but you'll have to spend a while staring at the book to properly work it out. It's just a simple pattern recognition he claims, but admits even in the foreword to the book that it gives many non-computer geeks a headache when they first see it.


New interpretation

While a long-term user of the spiritual I Ching, it was Hurn's background in hard logic and computers that led him to develop it.

"When I was living in Abingdon, [Oxfordshire, UK] one of my friends used to be a computer operator working on a mainframe overnight. He didn't have a lot to do, so I used to join him and he would teach me," he says. "I learned programs from a few months of his night shift."

That experience saw Hurn go on to several other major computer companies before moving to Canada with his family. This was 2001, with fate coinciding with 9/11 which floored the tech market and leaving Hurn stranded without a job. These were hard times, and Hurn frequently found solace in his trusty book.

"If you're asking questions then you are working through your problems," he says. When you're all alone sitting down reading it can be a bridge and help you to find yourself again," he adds.

It's a dangerous path for many, who can become reliant on the I Ching or similar philosophies (like astrology) as a crutch to supplement their normal life. 

"Like a lot of things, if you do it too much you can read between the lines and get lost, it's easy to get swept away with wishful thinking," says Hurn. "I've learnt to guard against it, but people do get addicted to it and use it every day. People are like that, they latch on to something and ask it every question possible and then it takes over their life."

Interestingly enough, Hurn points out that the I Ching has its own fail-safe against being used and abused too much.

"I've been very aware of that; it's an active resistance to the opportunity to keep asking the same question. If you keep asking the same time and time again it will quite often give you the answer to go away and stop bothering it. It's Hexagram 21 [which basically suggests you need to think for yourself]."

When it came to writing the book, Hurn had to turn to his wife Claire for help. Unknown to him until relatively late in his life, he is dyslexic, a bit of a drawback for an enthusiastic author. Once diagnosed, he has worked on it, and thanks to careful copy-editing and writing by his spouse, they've put together the definitive I Ching system for users. Since the draft was printed, he's been testing it out on friends and neighbors to make sure the system works properly.

Consulting the future, Hurn is considering using the I Ching to help others work through the troubles they face. As the author points out, if you're using the I Ching, you're already asking questions.

"There's one quite special thing that I'm hoping to develop…working with psychiatrists," he says. "When we get a patient to set to start asking questions using I Ching, they're moving forward. But that's still a long- term plan at the moment."

To find out more check out www.theichingbook.com


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