The Chinese Laws of Creativity

By: R.C.L.

The infinite, formless place just before all meaning and form.

From recent advances in biology we know that the basis of evolution is self organization. There is no outside force orchestrating evolution. There is no master plan. We do it ourselves. Conversely, evolution does not happen by random chance, by stupid mutations. God is not playing dice with the Universe, but we do make a good deal of it up as we go along. We do it. It does not happen to us. Self organization develops without predetermination. There is free will.

Still, there are constraints. The self organization is structured and shaped by basic laws. As shown in the prior chapters it is shaped by the four dimensions and other numerical building blocks of nature. From this perspective self organization can be understood as the capacity to create information based on the Mandelbrot vector 0 -> : z -> z² + c considered as a continuous creative process. As we have seen the key to this process is spontaneous improvisation in the moment. This means returning to Zero, to pure awareness, and acting from there.

This whole field of spontaneous creativity and returning to zero was thoroughly explored for millennia by Chinese thinkers. In Chinese, pure awareness is called Wu Chi. It is the infinite, formless place just before all meaning and form. The place from which all creativity springs. When you are connected with Wu Chi you are in the Tao. When you are in the Tao creativity naturally happens.

Creativity is used here in the largest sense of the word. It refers to a free and spontaneous state where life itself is created and self organized in new and intelligent ways. It does not just refer to the creation of objects of art. The Chinese understood the whole of life as the proper field of creativity, not just ceramics, music, books and paintings, but also drinking tea and archery. Everything we do can be an art. Everything can be infused with creativity and beauty.

One of the applications of this kind of creativity which we have come to know in the west is martial arts. Martial arts originated in China and then spread to all of the other Eastern countries such as Japan and Korea. Martial arts ñ such as Kung Fu, Tai Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, etc. ñ apply the creative flow to the field of self defense. The creative process has been applied by the Chinese in many other fields as well, including medicine, religion, psychology and even politics.

The psychological and political applications of the creative process can be seen in the ancient Chinese book, the I Ching, or as it is sometimes called, The Book of Changes. According to many scholars this is the oldest book on Earth. The I Ching is made of 64 hexagrams, which are combinations of six yin or yang lines. The sixty four possible yin-yang combinations ñ the hexagrams ñ represent the basic situations of creative time. In my opinion, the best translation of the I Ching is by Richard Wilhelm, the friend of Carl Jung and Joseph Hauer mentioned before. Confucius is purported to have said that by following the counsels of the book, and studying it continuously, a person could attain creative awareness in every situation. Understanding the Book of Changes is the key to comprehension of the Chinese laws of creativity.


The basic component of the I Ching is a three lined symbol called the Trigram. Each of the three lines in a trigram can either be straight or broken. A straight line symbolizes Yang: ññ. A broken line stands for Yin: ñ ñ. Meaning much more than just female/male, Yin-Yang are the Chinese terms for the basic polarities of the Universe. Yang is time, light, strong. Yin is space, dark, weak. Yang is the direction upwards, Yin downwards. Yang is the closed circle, Yin is the open angle. Yang is clockwise, Yin counter-clockwise. Yang is hard, resistant and tense, Yin is soft, yielding and relaxed.

By the use of the two kinds of lines each trigram also has yin and yang. Eight Yin-Yang combinations are possible with three components. The trigrams thereby depict the eight types of consciousness (actually 7 consciousness + 1 Awareness). The eight trigrams are basic symbols of Eastern philosophy. They are found everywhere throughout the Orient. They are even depicted on the flag of South Korea. Each of the eight trigrams has an inner structure, image, motivation and essence as shown in the following chart:

1. Sense Soft/Pentrating Grass/Wind Yin Sensing Sun
2. Think Attaching Wood/Fire Yin Thinking Li
3. Feel Serene Lake Yin Feeling Tui
4. Will Receptive Earth/Cave Yin Willing Kun
5. Body Keeping Still Mountain Yang Feeling Ken
6. Soul Danger, Abyss River Yang Thinking Kan
7. Spirit Exciting Thunder/Lightening Yang Sensing Chen
8. Awareness Creative Heaven Yang Willing Chien


The eight trigrams can be considered spatially, all together as a whole, or temporally, one after the other. The spatial image of the trigrams requires reference to The Wheel because The Wheel follows the structure of space. The eight trigrams follow the eight directions shown on The Wheel.

sun.gifSUN. Sensing. The sensing is defined by the weak yin line, outside, at the bottom. The motivation is to be soft and penetrating. The image is grass and wind; the wind does not harm the rooted grass.

li.gifLI. Thinking. Thinking links up sense data with words, following the wishes or motivations and impulses. Thinking has a beginning and end, visualized in the image of burning wood. You should not think beyond the solution of the problem. The motivation is to attain clarity, unattached to the thought. Thinking, like dialogue, is not an end in itself.

tui.gifTUI. Feeling. Feelings experience the inner signals, as opposed to the outer signals of senses. The image is the clear lake which you can look through. The motivation is serenity, to be joyous together, and not to be together in pity or sympathy, which means emphatic suffering with the another.

kun.gifKUN. Earth. The image is the vastness of our planet. The motivation is the receptive, to receive the germ and let it grow.

The first four trigrams are Yin, they result in emptiness of the functions. In Sun, after receiving an impression, the senses are free for a new one. In Li, thinking, once you have understood a problem, the solution is in memory, you cannot understand it twice. In Tui, feeling, a satisfied need disappears. Once you have eaten, you have no more hunger. In Kun, willing, once a choice, resolution, or decision is made, it is done and you are transported to a higher level of responsibility. The next four trigrams, the three realms, plus Awareness, are Yang. They have a certain significance. You have a body, a soul, and a spirit, you cannot ignore them. In Awareness, as Keyserling says, "you face the voice of revelation".

ken.gifKEN. Body. The body has a certain gestalt. You are unable to change it, and have to accept it as it is. The image is the mountain, the motivation is keeping still. Only in the tranquility of silence, of deep sleep or illness, can your body talk to you about his/her motivations.

kan.gifKAN. Soul. The soul is between heaven and earth, spirit and body. It is always in danger of stagnation, based on the six primary relations of the family: Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Daughter, Son. The Soul, like the river, has to flow from the source in the mountain to the sea, then be transformed, die, into clouds, and finally be reincarnated again as rain in the mountains. The motivation is danger and the abyss.

chen.gifCHEN. The Spirit, attained only in the waking state, is always sacred spirit; it is defined by the images of thunder and lightning, and the motivation is the inciting. First you experience awe and anxiety, then laughter, because you understand the game and the rules.

chien.gifCHIEN. Awareness here means living in tune with the spirit of the time, the East. The image is the night heaven. The motivation is creativity. The purpose of the I Ching is to merge with cosmic creativity.


Study of the trigrams can help you to understand Awareness and your states of consciousness. But the trigrams alone can not help you with existential decisions and choices. This requires the doubling of the trigrams into inner and outer worlds wherein six lines are used to create the Hexagram. The I Ching book is made up of the 64 possible Hexagrams and commentary on each Hexagram.

The first three lines of the Hexagram, from the bottom up, constitute the lower trigram and symbolizes the inner world. The fourth, fifth and sixth lines constitute the upper trigram and symbolizes the outer world. The lower trigram of the Hexagram represents the attitude towards motivation, the upper towards intention. There are sixty four possible combinations of six yin or yang lines. For example, one possible combination is a hexagram known as PEACE where the top three lines are all yin, and the bottom three all yang, Heaven below the Earth:

                          ___   ___  6
                          ___   ___  5  Outer Trigram
                          ___   ___  4
                          ________ 3
    Inner Trigram ________ 2
                          ________ 1

The I Ching is more than a book to be understood. It is a tool invented by the Chinese to help a person reach their creative state by proper alignment of their inner and outer attitude. A person can read the I Ching like a book, but its highest purpose is to be consulted or used like an introspective tool. You consult the I Ching by using a random selection process to choose one of the sixty four hexagrams to answer a question.

Each Hexagram selected can also change into another by means of changing lines, whereby a yin line can change into a yang, or a yang to a yin. The random selection of the hexagram is traditionally accomplished either by a complicated process of using 50 yarrow sticks, or by throwing three coins. Heads is three, heaven-yang. Tails is two, earth-yin. With this chance system of coin tossing the following possibilities of change emerge:

3 tails 2+2+2=6 ___ X ___ Yin line that changes to Yan
2 tails, 1 head 2+2+3=7 _________ Yang line that does not change
1 head, 2 tails 2+3+3=8 ___ ___ Yin line that does not change
3 heads 3+3+3=9 ____ O __ Yang line that changes to Yin

The consultation process begins by your formulation of a real-life question, a significant question involving a problem you are facing or a decision you must make. The hexagram or hexagrams then selected allows the Self in the Right brain to communicate with and send messages to the Ego in the left brain.

Work at the School of Wisdom since the 1920s has shown that the best form for any question asked of the I Ching, particularly for the inexperienced, is "What should my attitude be towards ... such and such an action". You fill in the particular action you have in mind, the course of conduct which you are considering to solve a particular problem, the decision you want to make. With the question focused like that, the response is typically much more meaningful and easy to understand. An unfocused question which has no particular action in mind, like "What should I do", will usually not have good results. You have to formulate the proposed choice yourself. Then the hexagrams will give you an idea as to whether you should go forward with the action, and if so, how, with what inner attitude.

After you formulate the question and pick a hexagram(s) through chance, you then refer to the hexagram in the I Ching which you have selected. Most of the text of the I Ching is comprised of explanations and commentary concerning each of the sixty four hexagrams. They are written in very general terms and images. The Book of Changes appears to have been slowly compiled over thousands of years by hundreds of different sages and scholars. However, the legendary Chinese rulers King Wen and the Duke of Chou, along with the ever-popular Confucius, are usually given credit for most of the writings. The explanations and commentary of the hexagrams can be mystifying unless the structure is understood. Until recently few people have understood the structure and so the I Ching has been widely misunderstood outside of China.

The six lines of the Hexagram relate to the seven states of consciousness (four functions and three realms) by deletion of the middle function - willing. In the I Ching you yourself provide the will by forming the question and then by making a decision based upon the hexagram. The first line is sensing, the second line is thinking, the third is feeling, the fourth is body, the fifth is soul and the sixth is spirit.

Using Confucian terminology the first line at the bottom of the hexagram, the sensing line, is called the "cause outside of you". The sixth line at the top of the hexagram, the spirit line, is the "result". Like the first line, the sixth does not depend on your consciousness, it represents a cause outside of you. The second line from the bottom, the thinking line, is known as the "official". The fifth soul line is the place of the "prince". The third feeling line shows your motivation which will lead to the fourth body line of karma. There is no willing line on the hexagram - this comes from you, and from the random process itself, the Strange Attractor.

Result 6 ____ ____ Spirit
Prince 5 ____ ____ Soul
Karma 4 ____ ____ Body
Motivation 3 ____ ____ Feeling
Official 2 ____ ____ Thinking
Outside Cause 1 ____ ____ Sensing

The consultation process is really very ingenious, and as most people who use it with understanding soon find, extremely powerful and effective. In Chinese terms the Wu Chi ñ here evoked by random chance ñ is used to tune you into the Tao. The hexagram randomly selected provides guidance as to what a person's attitude should be to the particular life situation they find themselves in.

Again, the basic structure of the trigram begins with the polarity stated by Jung as introversive and extroversive. The lower Trigram stands for a person's attitude to their inner world, the upper trigram stands for their attitude to the outer world. The basic law of this system of Chinese thinking is that by changing your attitude to life, both inner and outer, you can effectuate a change in your fate. It is a pragmatic philosophy of taking responsibility for your life and creating your own reality.

Unlike western scientific laws which are based on causality, where everything has physical cause and effect, the I Ching is based on a non-linear law which Carl Jung called "synchronicity". The Law of Synchronicity is an a-causal connecting principle. Much has been written about this by Jung and his followers. Synchronicity recognizes the relationship between physical reality and the unconscious, and provides an explanation for how seemingly chance events in physical reality can reveal a hidden order in the psyche.

The principles of the I Ching and the law of synchonicity are in accord with the natural Laws of Chaos and Self Organization. Life is based on Self Organization, the fractal reality of the fourth dimension. At the human stage of evolution we try to base our Self Organization on the infinity beyond the left-right symmetry of the animal kingdom. So it is appropriate to make our choices out of chance, out of chaos, so long as the chance is constrained by mathematical structure in consonance with the Universe. This is exactly what the I Ching does. It uses chance, constrained by the basic numeric structure of life, to bridge Wu Chi and Tao ñ the infinite and the finite This is how the book is able to provide such remarkably-accurate answers to questions put to it.

The system works and creates synchronicity because the mathematics are correct. Mere tossing of coins, for instance, heads I do this and tails I don't, cannot create synchronous effects because the mathematics are wrong. The I Ching "constrains chance" as Mandelbrot says, by ordering the random process with a mathematical structure which correctly mirrors the Universe. It works because of the mathematical structure of the hexagrams themselves. This structure is the "base two" number system to the sixth power, the six yin or yang lines in the hexagram. One of the first Europeans to see the hexagram structure when it was first brought out of China in the early 1700s was Gottfried Leibniz. He is the German philosopher and mathematician who first developed base two mathematics in the West. Today the base two number system has become the cornerstone of all modern technical culture. All computers operate on a machine level using a base two binary code of off or on, 0 or 1, or as the Chinese would say, Yin and Yang.


richard-willhelm-sitting.jpgRichard Wilhelm is the Marco Polo of the inner world of China. He, more than any other, is responsible for opening up to the West the vast spiritual heritage of China, and thus all of Asia. He translated the great philosophical works from Chinese into German, where they have in turn been translated into the other major languages of the world, including English. To this day, among the dozens of translations of the I Ching now available, his 1923 translation stands head and shoulders above the rest.

More than just a linguist and scholar, Wilhelm was a spiritual seeker who penetrated to the very depths of Chinese spirituality without losing his European frame of reference. Living in China for over twenty years he saw first hand the great cultural and spiritual differences between East and West. At the time, the Europeans were conquering colonial powers in China and had little or no respect for Chinese culture. The Chinese in turn considered the Europeans to be barbarians and closed their spiritual traditions to Westerners. Richard Wilhelm was one of the first to realize the value of Chinese thinking, to bridge the great divide between the two cultures.

This division was internalized in his own soul after he moved to China in 1899 and began to penetrate its spiritual secrets. As he integrated Chinese thinking and world views into his own life, the gap between Western and Oriental culture split his very being in two. The new Chinese part of himself did not take over, he did not lose his European identity. He was able to translate the Chinese ideas back into the European gestalt. But the effort required was tremendous and he struggled his whole life to try to merge the two divergent spiritual traditions in his soul.

This struggle manifested itself physically in 1910 when Wilhelm contracted amoebic dysentery from Chinese food and lay seriously ill for months. The next year, at age thirty eight, Wilhelm met Lao Nai-hsuan, a Chinese sage who became his mentor. Lao helped him through the internal conflict and Wilhelm recovered. With Lao's help he bridged the gap and found inner tranquility, at least for a time.

Many years later upon his final return to Germany in 1924, the tranquility lapsed, and the fight between the European and Chinese sides of Wilhelm renewed. After only four years in Europe, at age fifty five, Wilhelm suffered a relapse of his amoebic dysentery. The long-dormant microscopic organism that had invaded his system and triggered his illness in China in 1910, led to his premature death in 1930. Carl Jung saw in his relapse and early death an inability to integrate the two sides of himself. Although not completely successful in this personal struggle to merge the two cultures in his psyche. His writings, especially his translations of the I Ching: the Book of Changes and the Secret of the Golden Flower, succeed where his life did not. They create a strong bridge for people in the West to approach and understand the unique spiritual and cultural insights of the East.

Richard Wilhelm was born far from China, in Germany, in 1873. As a student in a prestigious school, Tubinger Slift, he had broad cultural interests with a special love for the works of the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He was by nature a deeply spiritual person and his studies naturally turned to theology. In 1895 at the age of 22 he was ordained as a protestant minister and served briefly as a parish minister. Young Richard was idealistic and yearned for broader horizons and adventure. At age 26 he joined the Allgemein Protestantischer Missionsverein and agreed to serve as a missionary in China in the German colonial city of Tsingtao.

Shortly after Wilhelm arrived in China in 1899 the Boxer Rebellion erupted. A large faction of radical Chinese began a violent revolution against European colonialism. All Westerners were targeted for attack, especially missionaries. Although the Boxer Rebellion was eventually crushed, the Europeans were sensitized to the need for better communication with their Chinese subjects.

Against this background, Richard Wilhelm began studying the Chinese language as soon as he arrived in China. He quickly discovered that he had a natural gift for the language. Chinese, and the other languages of the East which are derived from it, such as Japanese and Korean, are completely different from the languages of the West. They are based on thousands of characters or ideograms, rather than letters. Translation from Eastern languages into Western languages is extremely difficult. The few who can do it are highly prized, especially in missionary work. Recognizing the exceptional aptitude for translation, the missionary group allowed Richard Wilhelm to spend all of his time studying the language. In 1905, the year his son Helmut was born, he began to translate his first Chinese book into German. His study and translation of Chinese religious life continued until the day he died.

As Wilhelm learned the language he became intrigued with the Chinese religious texts he was studying. Wilhelm quickly developed a passion for Chinese culture, particularly their religious texts. In Tsingtao and in Peking where he studied at the University, he encountered many of the cultural leaders of China at the time. Described by his wife as a warm and gregarious person, Wilhelm was able to befriend many Chinese and learn their way of life.

This association with the Chinese language and culture began to transform him. He began to see the world through the perspective of the Chinese. He was very impressed by the deep spirituality which he found. He came to China intending to convert the heathens to Christianity. But almost without realizing it, the missionary had himself become converted. Many years later Wilhelm would boast to Carl Jung that during his entire twenty-year stay in China he never baptized a single Chinese. He discovered instead that his true mission was to create a translation bridge between Western and Eastern spirituality.

After Lao helped Wilhelm recover from amoebic dysentery in 1911, Wilhelm founded the Confucius Society in Tsing Tao, and Lao Nai-hsuan became its head. Their relationship grew close. Lao lived from 1843 to 1921. Wilhelm described him as an eminent scholar of the old school, one of the last of his kind, and always referred to him as his honored teacher. He was one of the few classic scholars then open to change. He realized that China's isolation from the rest of the world would finally have to end.

Lao was a true Chinese sage, related to the family of Confucius, and trained in Confucian government and traditions. He was also adept at Chinese yoga and psychological methods from the Taoist traditions. His special expertise and passion was the I Ching, and this love quickly spread to Wilhelm. Lao came to trust the extraordinary missionary, and took Wilhelm as his pupil. For the first time the deep spiritual traditions and insights of China were shared with a European.

In 1913 Lao and Wilhelm began the monumental task of translating the I Ching from Chinese to German. The task continued for ten years. At the same time Wilhelm was translating the book into German, Lao was creating a new Chinese edition of the book entitled the Book of Changes According To The Ch'eng School. Lao directly assisted Wilhelm in understanding all aspects of the text. In Wilhelm's words,

Lao first opened my mind to the wonders of the Book of Changes. Under his experienced guidance I wandered entranced through this strange yet familiar world. The translation of the text was made after detailed discussion. Then the German version was retranslated into Chinese and it was only after the meaning of the text had been fully brought out that we considered our version to be truly a translation.

In 1921, just as the last pages of the printer's proofs of the finished translation were coming back, Lao Nai-hsuan died, his life's work complete. Wilhelm continued to edit the work and to add his own comments over the next few years until he concluded the I Ching: Book of Changes, in 1923. The next year he was forced to return to Germany where he assumed a position as a Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Frankfurt. In 1925 he founded the China Institute and served as its director until his death.

Richard WilhelmFrom 1924, until his death in 1930, the focus of Wilhelmís work shifted from translation to lecturing and teaching. He tried to promote the great cultural and spiritual insights of China. To do so effectively he had to personally serve as a kind of bridge of the great cultural divide between China and Europe. At first he encountered opposition and hostility to his efforts on many fronts. Europe was nationalistic and chauvinistic. The academic community distrusted him because of his missionary background, and the religious community distrusted him because of his transcendence of Christianity. But a few listened, including Count Keyserling, who was also opposed to the nationalists, academics and orthodox religions. Wilhelm participated in Keyserling's book on marriage, writing the chapter on Chinese marriage and its spiritual significance. Wilhelm also participated in the School of Wisdom in Darmstadt. Due to his influence on Count Keyserling and his son, Arnold Keyserling, Chinese philosophy, particularly the I Ching, has always been a central part of the School of Wisdom.

At the School of Wisdom Richard Wilhelm met Carl Jung, who became his good friend. Jung also realized the great significance of Wilhelm's work, especially the I Ching. Jung helped Wilhelm gain respectability in the German academic community, and wrote lengthy introductions to Wilhelm's two most important translations, I Ching: Book of Changes and The Secret of the Golden Flower. These two books had a profound influence on Carl Jung.

With the help of Keyserling and Jung, Wilhelm's work in Germany eventually met with some success. Wilhelm's books were published, and he met and influenced other important cultural leaders, such as the writer Herman Hesse and the musician Joseph Hauer. But according to Jung, Wilhelm was not able to make a smooth psychological transition back to European life. Wilhelm began to cut himself off from his spiritual roots in China. In Jung's words, Wilhelm ìseemed to feel the pressure of the European spirit.ì

When Jung first met Wilhelm he seemed completely Chinese to Jung, in outward manner as well as way of writing and speaking. But a few years later this changed. Now Wilhelm's lectures on China began to sound more like Christian sermons to Jung. The two sides of himself ñ the Chinese and the German ñ began to split apart. The Chinese side went into the unconscious. As the Christian views and forms of thought moved into the foreground, his resistance to the Chinese bacteria living in his body weakened. Wilhelm relapsed into the amoebic dysentery he originally contracted in 1910. Carl Jung tried to treat him, but in the end the inner psychological conflict between East and West proved too strong, and Richard Wilhelm died at age 57. His great spiritual legacy, I Ching: Book of Changes and The Secret of the Golden Flower, and other books, will live forever. For more photos and information on Richard Wilhelm see the School of Wisdom web site on Richard Wilhelm.

Last Modified on August 3, 2010 4:59 PM | Edit

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