Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Prepare for a lifetime of study

The first time I laid my eyes on the Book of Changes was back in the 1970s. The book sat on a wooden trolley-bookshelf in my good friend’s study which doubled up as a guestroom for me during a week’s stay in his father’s hotel. The three-star hotel is situated just opposite the Brighton pier in Sussex, England. (The hotel was disposed of a few years later.)

With nothing to do, I had picked up the book – the Richard Wilhelm translation – to read in bed late into the night. The riddles and rhymes in the Judgments and lines tickled my funny bones. My giggles and uncontrolled mirth woke my friend up and he walked in to enquire if anything was wrong. Probably he thought Allan had suddenly gone mad under that summer’s heat! Since he found that I enjoyed the book so much, he gave it to me, as a present. Some may call the chance meeting, affinity; others may consider it destiny.

Since little did I realize then, probably like many fellow Yi aficionados; the learned and the wise, minor and great sages of China; that it will take a life time of study to come to know something of the Zhouyi. This ancient Classic is really that profound.

In a way it was a blessing in disguise that I was English educated. Otherwise it may prove too difficult to read and understand the four Confucian books and the remaining four Chinese classics in Classical Chinese. Even graduates from Chinese and Hong Kong Universities have indicated difficulties. To some, the ancient language used is just too deep to grasp what the ancients really meant. Like my parents and Chinese educated friends, they were pleasantly surprised to learn that I have been reading these ancient books and classics as a hobby.

Therefore if you happen to be a descendant of the Diaspora Chinese and educated in a language other than Chinese, do not despair, since it can provide you with a good opportunity to read the ancient Chinese books and classics in a translation you can well understand. From these studies, you can also learn much about ancient Chinese culture and civilization. It forms part of our education in humanity (benevolence - ren) and justice (righteousness - yi). Your parents could be proud, if you were studying these books and classics. They may not have had the chance or opportunity to do so. Of course, it will be better if you start to pick up Mandarin, brush up on your Chinese dialect(s), or learn pinyin.

Like any earnest and sincere student, try to remain hidden until you are ready to appear in the field, or the Kung Fu version to ‘descend the mountain’ (xia shan), so to speak, to enter into discourses with likeminded fellows. (Think of the first and second lines of Qian / The Creative) If our basics and foundations are not strong enough, we could be easily influenced by incorrect teachings of others in the World Wide Web or by some New Age translations.

However, quite a number out there in the web and forums may have a good if not better understanding of these ancient studies. Some of whom are included in the Resources and/or Recommended links. It may help further your studies if you venture into the Resources links. You could spend years reading the valuable resources provided therein.

Yi students could learn much from the ‘Yijing Dao’ website of Steve Marshall where he shares his valuable insights, and where the more experienced Yi aficionados can read the Chinese Yijing together with the pinyin. They could also have their views and understanding of the Yi corrected by what Steve had written.

For a better understanding of Confucian studies, you can access ‘The Useless Tree’ blog of Professor Sam Crane. If you wish to learn something about Etymology and Yi scholarly works, try ‘Harmen’ Mesker’s blog.

If you want to read a great and detailed English translation of the Book of Changes, I recommend ‘I Ching or book of changes’ translated by Richard Wilhelm / Cary Baynes.

If you want to read the four Confucian books – Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), The Great Learning (Da Hsiao), Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung), Mencius (Mengzi) - and the remaining four classics – The Book of History (Shujing), The Book of Rites (Li Ki), The Book of Songs (Shijing), Spring and Autumn Annals (Chun Chiu), I recommend the translations by James Legge whose translations include the classical Chinese, if they are not already out of print. If you cannot get hold of the hard copies, you can visit the relevant Resources sites, but you would not have the benefit of the detailed explanatory notes of Legge.

It is worthwhile to remember that the five Classics have no leanings on religion, in case your religion disallows you to read material of other religions. To me, the four Books teach Confucian doctrine but others may deem Confucian studies as religious.

If you ever decide to read any of the four books and five classics (si shu wu jing), enjoy your studies, it could be a fascinating journey but do prepare for a lifetime of study.



blur said...

sifu allan,
it's the posting im waiting for as the new reader of your blog, and of course being chinese illiterate. i guess it's time to visit the bookshop. i know we are embracing the WWW, but nothng beats a good hard copy!

Luis Andrade said...

Nice post, Allan.

I quoted it in my Yi-Blog.


zentrader said...

Sifu Allan,

Not sure I asked a right question so please don't laugh. Do you think learning IChing is like learning Chi Kung (also based on Yin & Yang Energy) ie if not properly trained it will turn one haywire?


Allan said...


You would be lucky to get a copy of the Richard Wilhelm translation in Malaysia. Try Hong Kong, and New Zealand.

The James Legge translations were printed by Oxford University Press, then Dover, and the leather bound copies were by Hong Kong University Press.

If you cannot get any, try E-Bay or Amazon online.


Thanks. I intend to update the recommended links with an entry to inform Spanish speaking Yi readers from South America and Europe.


Improper neidan or inner alchemy practice has many dangers. Reading the Yi has none. (Think of the generations of Chinese who have had read the four books and five classics since the time of Confucius.)

In case, you are still concerned, a proper safeguard for both the neidan practitioner and the Yi diviner is humility or modesty (a virtue) instead of being arrogant. Arrogance has caused the downfall of many throughout the ages.