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The I Ching and the psyche-body connection



Abstract: Carl G. Jung's fateful meeting with Richard Wilhelm in 1929 has helped to build a bridge of depth psychological understanding between the East and the West. When Jung emerged from his ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, he felt validated by Wilhelm in his discovery of the healing power of medieval alchemical symbolism for the European psyche. Analytical psychology however offers a scientific, psychological understanding of Chinese wisdom as contained in the I Ching and Taoist alchemy.

The Taoist alchemical tradition (also known as the Inner Elixir tradition of which ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’ is a sample text) is based on the premise that psychological experience of the Tao can be achieved through mental and physiological means such as breathing and meditative techniques, gymnastics, dietary regimens such as fasting, consumption of medicinal herbs and minerals, and special sexual practices. This tradition incorporates the I Ching and traditional Chinese medicine in the alchemical opus.

Taoist alchemy assumes the primacy of the physical body in the process of self-realization. The psychological and cosmic forces of the trigrams of the I Ching are stored in the internal organs of the body and are the basic material for the experience of Tao. The internal organs are the foundation of the material and subtle bodies and through cultivation, the body becomes spiritualized as the spirits are embodied. The body as a reflection of the entire cosmos becomes the residence of the gods.

The realization of a new consciousness is symbolized by the hexagram Fu, meaning rebirth. The Chinese notion of Tao coincides with Jung's postulation of the unus mundus, the unity of existence which underlies the duality of psyche and matter, the psycho-physical background of existence. In this light, in the world of inner experience, East and West follow similar paths symbolically.