In the Concise Oxford dictionary, a master can mean a revered teacher in philosophy or one who has acquired complete knowledge of a subject. If someone tells us that they have mastered a skill like martial arts or a subject of history, they can always be called upon to demonstrate their skill or knowledge. It could be more difficult to determine a master of profound subjects like Tao and the Zhouyi.
In this day and age, anyone can claim that they have mastered the Tao or the Zhouyi. There are many so called masters around in the world, but amongst them who are the true or real masters?
True Yi masters by my tight definition are those whose knowledge of the Book of Changes is rarely disputed, and their expertise is admired by masters and students alike. (Think Chen Tuan, Shao Yong, and Zhu Xi.)
According to the Grand Historian Sima Qian, Confucius wanted more time to fully comprehend the Yi. One also appreciated the humility of eminent Professor Liu Da-jun who heads the Center for Zhouyi and Ancient Chinese Philosophy of Shandong University, since he cannot consider himself a student of this Book of Changes. This shows how true masters (or Zhen Ren) seldom reveal their expertise and remain hidden. Like the ancients, true masters are slow in their speech and earnest in their actions.
Over the years, quite a number of Taiwanese Professors of the Yi and ancient Chinese philosophy visit the Malaysian Tao Association based in Kuala Lumpur to teach students. According to an elderly friend who attended Zhouyi classes there, one of them was an eminent Taiwanese Professor in his eighties who also taught in the US and Taiwan. For three years, this professor had taught this friend, basics of the Zhouyi and meditation. I had wanted to meet this master to learn something from him and had eagerly waited for his next trip to KL. One has waited for several years and is still waiting. Apparently he had not been well and probably now too old to travel.
About ten years ago, a Taiwanese Yi Professor was specially invited to read the Fengshui of a huge private burial ground – as a marketing strategy – by my friends. Their company owns the burial grounds and they managed to have it listed in the KLSE. When one read the newspaper article and saw the professor’s photograph, an image of the Qian trigram rose up to my head, ran through my body and sank down to my feet. Perhaps he is a true Yi master since no one had emanated the same effect on me ever since. One had tried to arrange a meeting through a friend but he did not accede to my request since he feared that the professor could be annoyed by fielding too many questions from this ignorant Yi student. Perhaps you can see the difficulty of meeting and wanting to learn from true masters. Or perhaps this student was not ready.
After the above ramblings, we can now address the linked article which Luis Andrade, a fellow Yi aficionado, kindly brought up in the comment section of the ‘Gentle Persuasion’ entry. The heading of the particular article in Lifestyle, The Star newspaper on 19 January 2007, reads: ‘Guidance from an expert’. The article includes a photograph of the expert, I Ching Professor Li Heng-Lih along with the caption of ‘True master’. Let us listen to what he has to say and it is up to readers to discern if he is a true Yi master or not. Forget about his credentials and 40 years of divination experience for a moment. (Many Yi aficionados in the East and the West have that many years of experience too.)
With reference to 64 cards of the I Ching laid out on the table, each one a Chinese painting with an eloquent message, he said: ‘It’s I Ching presented in a modern form so that people can relate to it.’ While Li advocates classical texts, he demystified them and turned them into practical applications to use in daily life. ‘I Ching is logical and scientific. It is not a subject of superstition or religion.’ For this reason the cards are going global, with their eventual translation into English, Japanese and Korean.
“Consulting the I Ching has always been through using three coins,’ said Li, ‘now we use pictures in cards so that even the common folk can relate to them.’
If you are at the crossroads or need to make an important decision, you could shuffle the Heng-lih cards – as they are called – and read the message from the card drawn. “Look at the picture and you will get the interpretation."
‘But there is a special process of doing this,’ said Li. ‘You must be sincere, with no bad thoughts or wish to cause harm to people and the accuracy of the message will be there.’
[Excerpts from the interview]
Well, Professor Li Heng-lih is without doubt a Yi master and/or expert. But one never knew that the I Ching is logical. Even Confucius seemed to have found the Yi profound. Maybe the newly invented cards system uses logic and it proves a good marketing gimmick. The system looks more like a derivation of divination practice extant in Daoist temples, and not of the Zhouyi. Some Taiwanese Fengshui masters are versed with such gimmicks to make a quick buck by promoting various New Age innovations.
Professor Li seems to have forgotten his books and classics, when he mentioned coins for divination and nothing about Yarrow stalks. Or did his father and/or University teach him that – ‘Consulting the I Ching has always been through using three coins’? Granted, he got the number of coins right, though. (This helps explain why the ancients and true masters are slow in their speech.)
If his New Age cards system ever proves highly popular, like what he had claimed - we now use pictures in cards - probably the world will soon have Yi fortune tellers lining the high streets of every town since every one can relate to the I Ching. No more requisite earnest studies and YI divination practice for decades! While he laughs all the way to the bank, sooner or later fortune tellers around the corner will have to fold, what with everyone able to read his Heng-lih cards. No one would banter about fortune cookies anymore since kids - New Age ‘Wang Bis’ - can draw a card from his 64 cards deck and know what the Yi had wanted to say.
It is one thing to promote a wider readership and simpler understanding of the Zhouyi but to issue misleading statements while promoting New Age gimmicks to the general public, with respect, this Professor Li did not make the cut of a true Yi master in my books.