Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Divination Story

During the reign of Tang Tai Zong 唐太宗, there were two famous diviners - Yuan Tian Gang 袁天罡 and Li Chun Feng 李淳風. One day, the emperor strolled along the river side with these two diviners keeping him company. They saw one black horse and one red horse walking slowly towards the river.

The emperor asked, “Which horse do you think will enter the river first?”

Yuan said, “I got the hexagram Li. Since Li is fire, the red horse will enter the river first.”

Li said, “ Using your hexagram Li, I think the black horse will enter the river first.”

The emperor did not understand and asked him why.

“Well,” Li smiled, “We see smoke before we see fire. Smoke is black. Therefore it is the black horse that will enter the river first.”

Li was right. The black horse entered the river first.

Yuan said graciously to Li, “I admire your divination skill. It is definitely superior.”

Li said, “Without the hexagram Li you obtained correctly, I would not have the accurate prediction. Therefore, your skill is superior.”

The emperor said, “You both are superb.”

What do you think?



CaitanyaRupa said...


Real knowledge is subtle and has many dimensions. All things are related and built upon each other. Even if we become great "Masters", our mastery is built upon the endeavor of those who came before us.

The truly wise are also humble. I have found that the more really intelligent a person is, the more humble they are. They begin to realize how little they really know.

The less intelligent a person is, the more they are inclined to brag. They consider what little they know to be of immense value.

I like the "smoke coming before the fire". It is food for thought. There are so many subtleties in Metaphysics. Somewhat like the subtleties of color in a masterpiece of art.

My deep desire is to be able to develop such a level of subtle perception.

Caitanya Rupa

Jeannie said...

I think it would be good to look at the moon (your favorite saying of looking at the moon and not at your finger) and the stars around it.

Best regards.

Aida Beatriz Tito said...

What would have happened if both the diviners weren´t together?

Li would have think he was wrong...

Yuan wouldn´t have Li´s information in order to give the correct answer.

...the two parts were necessary to give that answer.


Monica said...

Reading the hexagram is only part of the answer. First there has to be a valid hexagram. That's not always easy.
I believe this is what happened here. One was good at concentration and getting the valid reading...the other was good at interpreting.
Partnership. One without the other was useless.
Monica said...

Here is my take on it.

Both Yuan and Li realised that animal behaviour cannot be predicted (unless it are trained animals).
But since the emperor asks they can't refuse.

The diviners are playing smart.
By taking the opposite bet it is guaranteed that one of them will
be right, no matter which horse enters the water first.
This way their art of divination will not lose face, and the emperor will be happy.
And later it is never a problem to find an explanation why one of the interpretations has gone wrong.

If the red horse had entered the water first, then Li would have constructed some other explanation.
For example he could have said that smoke can be white too, so a white horse must have come to the water
already before they arrived there. That's why he made the mistake.
Or he could have said that before there is smoke and fire, there must be wood to burn.
Since wood is brown it is therefore indeed the red(brown) horse that goes to water first.


We can always devise many different interpretations, no matter what is the question and what is the obtained hexagram.

In this story Yuan actually got the wrong hexagram, because Kan would have pointed to the black horse more directly.
And Li's interpretation is also wrong, because smoke can have all kind of colors.
But sometime a wrong interpretation of a wrong hexagram can lead to a correct prediction, especially when there are only two possible outcomes.

And the emperor was just being polite by saying that both diviners are superb.
He must have had a wry smile on his face.

Stephen said...

The emperor said, “You both are superb.”

Yet, Yuan got the result of his hexagram completely wrong - and Li never bothered to get one of his own, just borrowed Yuan's and chose the result to contradict his competitor.

Was the emperor being sarcastic?

With only two possible outcomes and two diviners, opposing predictions will produce a correct result somewhere. In that way, Li and Yuan may even have colluded to maintain the emperor's trust in divination.

A cynical view perhaps, but I've always understood that one shouldn't ask the YiJing direct questions like "which horse will come first?"


CaitanyaRupa said...

Actually, probably not cynical considering the track record for the emperors of China. More probably very pragmatic.

C.Y.A. - get it right or be dead?
Good comments.

Caitanya Rupa