The I Ching and Morality

Audio Narrated by Peter Fritz Walter

The I Ching never is moralistic. It has nothing against wealth, nor is it enamored with poverty. It recommends to remain basically simple and to see that our efforts should surpass a mere striving for comfort, as comfort alone cannot give a sense to our lives. However, this does not mean that the I Ching recommends us to stay out of the world or to retire in the forests. Not at all. The art of living the I Ching teaches is to stay in the world without becoming entangled with the world.

The I Ching teaches to focus upon what we are interested in, what we consider as our mission. As a result, the I Ching does not recommend a fatalistic, procrastinating attitude but encourages personal growth.

I would say, after years of experience in divining, that the wisdom book shows us the difference between greed and commitment, as for building commitment, we have to warp against over-commitment in the form of greed. When you are merely greedy, and your base intention is just to amass more riches, when you are lacking a more outgoing commitment to your profession or activity, then the I Ching will disadvise you to proceed.

What is greed? Let us have a closer look. There is no doubt that the powerful motor of capitalism is greed.

Greed is an effective drive because it is fed by emotional flow. However, greed is not for this reason a natural human characteristic; it is rather a compensation longing for material goods that comes about through the repression of our natural desires. To put it shortly: prohibit sex and you will breed greed in people! Greed is a longing for pleasure, and constant pleasure, and it compensates for the prohibited natural body pleasure. Greed is not just a sort of hunger for wealth. What’s wrong with hunger for wealth? What’s wrong with being clean, comfortable, joyful, wealthy and powerful? Greed is not that.

Webster’s dictionary defines greed as ‘excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness’ and it thus bears an element of excess in it. Interestingly, in the Western culture where materialism has come about in the first place, greed is judged very severely as negative and destructive by the Bible.

Does that mean that every Western businessman who follows and practices Christian religion will be caught in a deep conscience split? I think that this would be a misunderstanding of what greed is. In Buddhism, there is perhaps no single other characteristic that is so harshly judged as destructive for human development as greed. And yet I have never seen a Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese businessman who was in the least bothered with being strongly focused upon acquiring wealth and social status.

I think that when we talk about greed, we really talk about excessiveness. Following the Eastern principle of balance and harmony in all doing, which is recognized as one of the fundamental life principles in Chinese philosophy, we would not need to blacklist greed because it would be held as a signal for negative growth because of its excessiveness.

This makes much more sense in my opinion than the moralistic judgment against greed that is to be found in Christian faith, in Buddhism and in Islam regarding greed.

In fact, moralistic judgments have barely a rational basis, as they are often arbitrary. But it makes sense to avoid behavior that, because of its excessiveness, brings about strife, conflict and backlashes in all ways.

To be more correct on the meaning of words, we could then conclude that a free economy is not based upon greed, but upon the natural striving for comfort and wealth, which is just another form of striving for pleasure, but that capitalism in its extreme form is well based upon greed.

Such a position gives us headway out of the dichotomy capitalism-communism and a new landscape in which we may build an economic system for the future that is based upon the pleasure principle, and that avoids to breed greed in the first place through a naturally permissive education.

When you look at permissive cultures, you very seldom find greed among people, whereas for example in the very repressive Protestant or even Calvinistic culture, you find greed very strongly developed in people while paradoxically, the religious dogma harshly condemns it. Needless to say that this produces a schizoid split in conscience that more or less strongly marks this kind of culture. These people are not very agreeable to have around; their lips are tightly closed or even perversely distorted, and they tend to do exactly the opposite of what they are preaching.

An intelligent society must avoid moralism as it’s against human nature, and bring about a human being that is whole as much as possible; this is so because fragmentation brings strife, conflict and violence in human society and in the long run perverts the human nature.

Now, after this somewhat scholarly explanation, you may want to ask what in fact you can do, in your life, to avoid greed and still develop commitment and a healthy focus upon the acquisition of wealth using positive growth cycles as a motor?

The answer is in the question. When you follow the principle of balance and harmony, you will avoid greed because you are aware of the fact that greed produces hurt, and you don’t want and need hurt for yourself, your family, your friends or your business partners. If you really wish the best for all people you are in touch with, and you go for what Buddha called The Middle Way, you can’t be greedy. Your natural striving for wealth, status and power will come to a standstill in the moment you see that it produces hurt, short-term or long-term, to any creature. You will apply what the I Ching calls self-restraint, and what I call standstill as one of the three main directions in human behavior.

Example. You may stay longer and longer in the office in order to maximize your revenues, but there will be a moment you have to acknowledge that you see your children only at weekends for a few hours, and you become aware that a child needs a father as a human being and not as walking money purse.

You don’t need anybody to tell you that, you know it, and you will know it when the moment arises. And then you may ponder the standstill option or even the backward option, as the forward option then would clearly reveal as destructive for the wellbeing of your family and in the long run for yourself as well.

In the education of your children, when you are too strongly focused on eradicating greed in your child, you will create conflict in your child’s mind. This conflict is actually counter-productive to your goal and will make your child still more greedy. There is only one effective way to avoid children becoming greedy; it is to raise them permissively and thus to ensure they have real opportunities to live our their emotions.

At the same time, you need yourself to not be a bunch of greed for you teach by example— we all do! You cannot bring about qualities in your children that you do not yourself cultivate. And yet, most parents try to do exactly that, and later wonder why they are so ineffective with their educational measures.

Educating your child means in the first place educating yourself. This is actually true for all leadership. The best and most effective way of leading others is by leading self, by being yourself, by incarnating the example.