Saturday, January 20, 2007

True masters

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.

6 comments:

regreso said...

Hi Allan

Several days ago, I had a debate in an spanish forum with Luis about Yi and "masters". I wrote about the need to serious studies (better just Whilelm text and not so many modern books in the begining of the studies) and the guide of expert people, just like real traditional feng shui studies and real traditional martial arts. He said he had met several masters in the past and was disapointed. So.. no masters.

When I read this post from Luis about Professor Li, my first thought was: "No wonder he had been disapointed". Your entrie reinforces my opinion.

Then, the question is.. how to be a correct disciple to find a correct master? And what to do when no master can be found nearby?

"If you are sincere in your heart...", I guess

Thanks for your reflection
R

Allan said...

Hi regreso and welcome!

You are right. A student needs to be sincere and earnest. That is how we could learn more.

Regards,

Allan

Luis Andrade said...

Hi Allan,

Great article, indeed, as usual. Thanks for the mention.

I wanted to point out to my friend Rodrigo (Regreso) above, that my problem is not with "Masters", as they, no doubt, really exist and must be found. I thought that before I was clear in my position, in all those discussions of weeks ago... My qualm is with those that hang, all by themselves, said title on their doors. The study of the Yi Jing, to really comprehend it, is not something that can be imparted in a college degree where at the end of it one receives a PhD in Yiology...(Tipping my hat to Harmen, of course, and adding that the end of such a degree is just the door to a lifetime of learning.) Therefore, I take it as ridiculous occurrence that anybody calls him/herself a "Master of the I Ching" and starts gathering disciples around him, like a 70's Guru. Almost 35 years of studying and using the Yi does not qualifies me as having "mastered" anything but the division of the yarrow stalks.

And I repeat the fact that "Masters" must be found. On a very individual and personal level, that is. I respect those who consider to have "found" a Master for themselves. However, there is a bit of truth that says that "one's Master may not necessarily be another's..."

All the best,

Luis

Harmen Mesker said...

Quote Luis:
"The study of the Yi Jing, to really comprehend it, is not something that can be imparted in a college degree where at the end of it one receives a PhD in Yiology (...) adding that the end of such a degree is just the door to a lifetime of learning.)"

I would like to add that THE study of the Yi Jing does not exist, only A study; a personal study which differs for every person, and for every person it will probably change every now and then. The same goes for 'masters': if they adapt to Change they will reinvent their study over and over again - and be student all the time.
And, as Luis has very well said, a degree is only a door, a door which has the ability to open ways, or to close them.

Allan said...

To be fair, any recognized degree is a good stepping stone to further studies – masters and/or PhD. The important thing is whether students can turn their theoretical knowledge into practice. Failing which, a highly qualified student can still be considered ‘reading dead books’.

How well each student or master applies his knowledge, like what Harmen rightly said, depends on the individual. If the student or master is earnest and sincere, he or she would learn more in any studies.

After spending two decades in Yi studies, there was still so much one did not know, therefore one had asked a Daoist heavenly immortal for help back in 1993. Instead of becoming a disciple of the enlightened Quanzhen master, as invited, one chose to follow the Yi. (There is a previous blog entry on that.)

If one is earnest and sincere in our studies, the Yi can be a better teacher than any real master, in a way, perhaps echoing the thoughts of both Luis and Regreso.

Regards

Allan Lian

P.S. Since the E-Ching Forum has such upright persons like Luis, Regreso and other fellow aficionados holding fort, one feel safe to add the forum to the recommended links for Yi students who speak and understand Spanish to access.

Luis Andrade said...

Hi Allan,

Well, thank you! For many things and specially for this:

After spending two decades in Yi studies, there was still so much one did not know, therefore one had asked a Daoist heavenly immortal for help back in 1993. Instead of becoming a disciple of the enlightened Quanzhen master, as invited, one chose to follow the Yi. (There is a previous blog entry on that.)

If one is earnest and sincere in our studies, the Yi can be a better teacher than any real master, in a way, perhaps echoing the thoughts of both Luis and Regreso.


Luis