Questioning the question

In every Yi book that teaches you how to consult the oracle you read the same thing: you must ask a question, and the Yi answers that question. It is necessary to formulate that question as specific as possible – an accurate question gives an accurate answer, etc.

I don’t know where and when this practice of asking questions originated. All I know is that in all the old Chinese Yi books that I have read there is no mentioning of ‘asking a question’. In the old days you consulted the oracle not by asking a question, but by addressing a (potential) situation. You described in short what was going on, what elements were involved, how you got there, and then you consulted the oracle to find out how the spirits thought about all this, and if their judgment would help you to accomplish what you desired. If the spirits condemned the situation and the actions that lead to it you could try to change the course of the developments and/or gain approval by doing sacrifices. But you did not ask specific questions to the oracle; at the most you asked for approval – not by asking a question but by posing a situation you desired: “Would it be that I become king”. This reminds us of the charges that we find on the oracle bones: “The next ten day period there will be (no) harm”.

There is a lot to say for this method. A question that focuses on a specific part of the situation discards a lot of elements because of this focusing. Focusing is what you want, but the risk is that because of this (subjective) focusing you will not see other elements that might be important. A question like “is X the right man for me?” focuses on a person, but it is also possible that circumstances play an important role in the situation. But if you ask about a person you will see the answer of the Yi as saying something about that person. And you will not see everything else, like time and circumstances, means and matter, that are involved.

By addressing a situation to the Yi you allow every aspect of the situation to play an equally important role. The Yi will help you to find what you really need to focus on, it will point to the aspects that do deserve your attention. Without a question you will get the most objective answer possible.

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