A Review of Paul O’Brien’s THE VISIONARY I CHING


by Andrea Adler

The I Ching or Book of Changes has held a certain mystique and fascination throughout the ages—captivating kings, politicians, scholars, wise men and women since 1000 BC. The oldest preserved Chinese text—and possibly the oldest book in the world—the I Ching has been more than a repository of Taoist wisdom. It is a way of divining trends in order to navigate through changes. For thousands of hears, the I Ching has been a trusted friend and guide to millions of people seeking emotional, mental and spiritual stability in the making of appropriate and crucial decisions about a myriad of concerns.

How the I Ching is capable of delivering these predictions has been a mystery for eons. Even the world renowned psychologist Carl Jung who was an avid prescriber of the I Ching, is said to have agreed with Confucius who reportedly said: “If I had had more years added to my life, I would devote them to studying the workings of the I Ching.”

The most popular western translation of the I Ching was compiled by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, published by Princeton University Press in 1950. Wilhelm translated the book from Chinese to German and Baynes translated it from German to English. Although this translation was admired worldwide, and has been the best selling I Ching, it reflects a Germanic flavor, and the patriarchal and militaristic biases of ancient Chinese culture. This makes the Wilhelm/Baynes version challenging for many people to interpret and use.

In comparison, Paul O’Brien’s The Visionary I Ching is much easier to understand and reflect upon. In a creative way, it virtually upgrades the Wilhelm Baynes translation to a new incarnation for the modern world. O’Brien has replaced all the sexist terminology about the “superior man” (a term often used in the text) and liberalized the flavor of its stiff prose, making the 64 commentaries easier to read, without being flowery or simplistic.

Here is an example of this comparison based on a recent “throw” of my own. The question I asked was: Should I pursue this particular business relationship? In the Wilhelm Baynes book, the hexagram revealed was: #39 Chien/Obstruction.

Below is a brief description of the answer:

The hexagram pictures a dangerous abyss lying before us and a steep, inaccessible mountain rising behind us. We are surrounded by obstacles; at the same time, since the mountain has the attribute of keeping still, there is implicit a hint as to how we can extricate ourselves. In such a situation, it is wise to pause in view of the danger and to retreat. The hexagram represents obstructions that appear in the course of time but that can and should be overcome. Water on the mountain. The image of obstruction. Thus the superior man turns his attention to himself and molds his character.

An excerpt from O’Brien’s Visionary I Ching, Hexagram #39 is described as follows:

In the course of trying to reach a goal or to fulfill a personal ambition, obstructions inevitably present themselves. This is not always a bad thing. Obstacles, difficulties and even setbacks that are eventually overcome often turn into assets. Without irritating grains of sand, oysters would never make pearls. The obstacles pointed  here are not permanent, yet they are in the way. As when a large boulder falls in the road, the best course of action is usually to go around it, rather than to try to move it out of the way. Temporary obstacles must be seen for what they are—temporary—and should not be allowed to take on too much significance.  

Because of Visionary I Ching’s uncomplicated,straightforward style, itwill resonate with a wider audience.

O’Brien originally wrote The Visionary I Ching as part of the the first divination software in 1989, an interactive I Ching program he named Synchronicity–after the principle defined by Carl Jung (to describe how divination systems like the I Ching and Tarot work). (As a result of that quirky software product, which this reviewer had the good fortune to use back in the day, O’Brien came to be known in esoteric circles as “the father of interactive divination.”)

In this newer version of The Visionary I Ching, now coming out in book form, O’Brien includes information on the I Ching’s origins. He describes in a clear and simple manner how the I Ching works, how to cast an I Ching reading and how to interpret the I Ching’s answer. He conveys the morphing of the hexagrams, their ying/yang polarity and writes about our need for timing, intuition, greater objectivity, and mental clarity in a way that captures the imagination for today’s audience without diminishing its profundity.

In addition, the elegant pictures by Joan Larimore, which captures the essence of each of the 64 hexagrams are outstanding. Larimore’s beautiful, evocative, impressionistic art, based on the juxtaposition of the eight traditional Chinese elements is a unique feature of The Visionary I Ching, as I have not seen illustrations accompany any other I Ching book by other authors.

I have personally, throughout the years, found great wisdom and solace from the I Ching, as it has uncannily revealed my unconscious thoughts, answered my questions by way of metaphor, and provided insights into surrounding circumstances. (In fact, I wrote an authobiographical novel based on the experience!) To this day, I am stunned by the I Ching’s accuracy and impressed by its candor and ability to answer questions I didn’t even realize I needed to ask.

In the Sanskrit language the word caitanya (the primordial consciousness) comes to mind when I think of the I Ching, largely because this book, for me, and for many other’s who have received its intuitive and direct advice, is an animate object, for its commentaries seem to “come alive.”

I discovered the I Ching in the early 70’s along with thousands of other baby boomers in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and a time of great unrest. Social and political turbulence was in the air, and people were looking for something to hold onto in order to make their lives more meaningful. The I Ching and other tools of divination (astrology, numerology, the runes and tarot) became extremely popular and of great interest to those seekers wanting something more. As we approach 2012, we seem to be experiencing that same volcanic energy and desire for spiritual connection.

Which is why, Paul O’Brien’s book, The Visionary I Ching is the right book for this time. His understanding of divination will bring hungry seekers peace of mind in the midst of mayhem and help thousands of people find a moment of respite as our lives accelerate and our demand for information quickly and succinctly increases. O’Brien’s sharp interpretation gives us just that and it comes to us through every line.


Andrea Adler, Author of Pushing Upward, a coming-of-age novel about an actress who falls in love with the I Ching and uses it as her own personal GPS to navigate her life in L.A.