Sunday, April 25, 2010

Providing Nourishment

In the commentary to the Judgment of Hexagram 27 Yi, Wilhelm and his mentor penned this:

In bestowing care and nourishment, it is important that the right people should be taken care of and that we should attend to our own nourishment in the right way. If we wish to know what anyone is like, we have only to observe on whom he bestows his care and what sides of his own nature he cultivates and nourishes. Nature nourishes all creatures. The great man fosters and takes care of the superior men, in order to take care of all men through them. Mencius says about this:

“If we wish to know whether anyone is superior or not, we need only observe what part of his being he regards as especially important. The body has superior and inferior, important and unimportant parts. We must not injure important parts for the sake of the unimportant, nor must we injure the superior parts for the sake of the inferior. He who cultivates the inferior parts of his nature is an inferior man. He who cultivates the superior parts of his nature is a superior man.”

[Mencius bk. VI, 1. 14]

In Book VI, Mencius discoursed why human nature is good. For that principle alone he was acknowledged a sage, since he knew human nature, heaven and earth, well.

In Part 1 Verse 14, he discussed more than quoted above. And a correction need to be made to the quote – “He who cultivates the inferior parts of his nature is an inferior man (Xiao Ren). He who cultivates the great parts of his nature is a great man (Da Ren).”

In his discourse, philosopher Kao, a student of Mozi was worsted.

If we think about Xunzi, said to be a follower of Confucius, who holds to the principle that human nature is evil (the direct opposite to that of Mencius) and taking his most prominent student, Li Shi, as an example then perhaps he was right. This student of his was evil. It was Li Shi the prime minister who advocated to the first emperor of Chin, Shih Huangdi, to burn all ancient books except those of Chin and to bury hundreds of dissenting Confucian scholars alive.

If we look at Hexagram Yi, the lower three lines did not turn to the summit for nourishment and therefore face misfortune. (Li Shi was a good example if we know how he died.) While the fourth and fifth lines which turn to the summit have good fortune. The sixth or top line being the sage and the source of nourishment also obtains good fortune.

In line with the advice of Mencius and what Hexagram Yi depicts, perhaps you know what is the right thing to do to provide nourishment in the cultivation of self,and how to obtain good fortune?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Influence (2)

Mencius said,

‘Po-i, that he might avoid Chou, was dwelling on the coast of the northern sea. When he heard the rise of king Wen, he roused himself, and said, “Why should I not go and follow him? I have heard that the chief of the West knows well how to nourish the old.”

Tai-kung, that he might avoid Chou, was dwelling on the coast of the eastern sea. When he heard of the rise of king Wen, he roused himself, and said, “Why should I not go and follow him? I have heard that the chief of the West knows well how to nourish the old.”

Those two old men were the greatest old men of the kingdom. When they came to follow king Wen, it was the fathers of the kingdom coming to follow him. When the fathers of the kingdom joined him, how could the sons go to any other?

Were any of the princes to practise the government of king Wen, within seven years he would be sure to be giving laws to the kingdom.’

[The Works of Mencius Book 4, Part 1. 13 Legge]

To excel in the study of ancient Chinese philosophy we need to keep an open and empty mind to understand the thoughts of exemplary ancients.

If you cannot understand the thoughts of the exemplary ancients, studying the ideas of Chen Tuan and Shao Yong, and to a lesser degree, Wang Bi and Zhu Xi, could be complementary and helpful. Instead I see many fellow Yi and Daoist students examining and quoting thoughts of modern scholars as if these scholars know everything there is to learn about Tao and the Zhouyi.

If we carry a whole baggage of ideas borrowed over from modern scholars, we can certainly miss the woods for the trees.

Who is to say that these modern scholars, unless they are already first class scholars of Tao and the Zhouyi, understand the profound subjects in depth?

Take for instance, how many sinologists would want to settle for the word ‘virtue’ to be that of Te in the Tao Te Ching? Trying to be sophisticated or appear deep, they coin many meanings for Te until students especially those in the West who read or follow them are often confused. This can liken to ‘sincerity in disintegrating influence’. (Also refer to the recent entry, February 22, 2010, on this particular line in the Yi.)

In the first entry on Influence (March 31, 2010), I highlighted in bold the respective and yet similar comments by the two greatest old men of the kingdom at the time. King Wen’s virtue influenced the two old men and through them, influenced the sons of the kingdom.

James Legge probably prompted by his learned Chinese mentors referred to a conversation between king Wen and Tai-kung in the Book of History, whereby Wen indicated that his grandfather was looking for him (Tai-kung / Jiang Jiya / Patriarch Lu Shang) long ago. To my knowledge, Wen’s grandfather was pivotal to the aim of locating and employing the worthy to help expand the influence of the Zhou clan.

But somehow the more important historical values in the comments made by Mencius in passing, seemed to escape the notice of both Legge and his learned mentors.

One explanation could be that they thought the comments were of no significant value; since like me, they harbored no doubts to the authenticity of ancient Chinese classics and books.

The more likely explanation is that the comments present no significant historical values to them at all. Perhaps, a kinder way to say it must have gone above their heads, since they did not connect Mencius’s comments made in passing, to the Tao and the Zhouyi.

The three historical personages, Po-I, Tai-kung, and King Wen, knew Heaven and Earth. They also knew their roots, and the timing to do what is right. The two greatest old men of the kingdom recognized the virtue of King Wen and therefore joined him.

Legge and his mentors referred to King Wen, Prince Chi, and Chou Hsin in the Ming Yi / Darkening of the Light hexagram. Wilhelm and his mentor mentioned six historical personages: Po-I, King Wen, King Wu, Prince Wei Tzu, Prince Chi and Chou Hsin, whom the wise and learned deemed to represent the respective six lines in this Hexagram 36.

Both Legge and Wilhelm together with their respective mentors seemed not to have spotted the insight of the ancient sage, Mencius, given on the subject of Tao and the Zhouyi. There is no evidence to the contrary shown in their respective translation of the Book of Changes, notwithstanding their comments in the Ming Yi hexagram. It does not say they have missed important issues nor their respective translations are not quite up to mark. If you still do not own a Wilhelm / Baynes translation of the Book of Changes, it is high time you bought one.

I had already made a link to Tao and the Zhouyi in the first entry and this second one too.

Perhaps you can broaden your mind and deepen your Daoist and Yi studies by trying to spot the connection to the two profound subjects?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bumping into walls

No, I am not about to discuss the famous ‘Another brick in the wall’ song by Pink Floyd. This entry is on property bubbles in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China. There is also some free lunch provided for pensioners on the safest investment in the world and the timing to invest in it.

If you wanted to know why house prices in Malaysia have suddenly risen in the latter half of 2009 to a spectacular high, check out the latest published Bank Negara report. It could also answer the foremost question on your mind (over the past few years) on how people can still find money to buy houses at new peaks. Simple, they borrow from banks.

According to the BN report, total household debt expanded by 9.4% to RM 516.6 billion or 76.6% of GDP as at end 2009 compared to RM 472.1 billion or 63.9% of GDP the previous year. Almost half of household debts were to fund house acquisitions. The volume of personal financing and outstanding credit card balances also picked up in the second half, expanding at an annual rate of 17.6% to RM 98.8 billion. Personal financing expanded strongly at 22.9% in 2009 to account for 14% of household debt. [Starbiz March 25 2010]

If we analyze the figures provided, at least RM 22 billion was borrowed by households to fund house acquisitions (half of the increase of RM 44 billion debt over 2008). Property players would also have noticed that after a tailing off, there was a sudden surge in demand and consequently house prices in the second half of 2009.

With the prevailing low interest rates scenario and constant prompting by market players, experts, and economists alike, speculators or ‘flippers’ have splashed out on houses with bank borrowings eager for short term profits or a quick kill and await for ‘bigger fools’ to buy from them.

Does this mean that the current upsurge in Malaysian property prices will continue for ever? Yes, if you believe in fairy tales. Or think like those property speculators who got badly burnt in the US, Europe, and Dubai, the past few years.

If we look around the world and into past trends of property cycles which represent change, we may get to know the answer. Otherwise we risk bumping into walls, and get hurt. How badly hurt investors get depends on the amount borrowed and the severity of falls in property prices. The amounts of credit used magnify both the gains and the losses. Since credit is a double edge sword.

Did Mencius not advise the Junzi not to stand near a wall since it can collapse? Knowing how to observe and read signs help. Since no one or any remonstration given can stop someone from bumping into walls if they insist on doing so, I occasionally remind my children with practical examples.

When bankers start questioning the reasonableness of property developers’ pricing of houses and shops, which they did last year in Malaysia, it provides a sign. When banks or Central Banks start raising lending rates, it is another sign. When banks advertise for more fixed deposits offering better rates than competitors but over a longer time span than the popular, it shows that their liquidity is fast dwindling – and that interest rates could further rise.

Banks are smarter than most but not all depositors are equally gullible!

For pensioners waiting for opportunities, wait for deposit interest rates to go very high (beyond the norm of good years or those paid by the pension funds) in your country of abode before tying in your cash in fixed deposits for the long term. Although interest rates can go sky high in the aftermath of the recent global financial crisis, they will fall back again after awhile otherwise economies would be 'strangled to dead'.

When house prices go higher than shops it carries a dire warning sign of over speculation. Can the houses rental match those of shops? One asks.

There are a few other signs that would show the peak of the property cycles in Malaysia, but go ask the same property experts who recently managed to convince you to buy for speculation or for a better word, invest.

According to recent media reports, apparently Li KaShing has had indicated that prices of housing units in Hong Kong have peaked. If it is so, investors or speculators of Hong Kong properties should take the cue from this Da Ren (great man) since realty and investments are his forte.

I particularly like his statements when asked by the media about the HK property market a week or two ago, which goes something like this: ‘Those who tell lies or exaggerate to mislead should be punished.’ ‘Those who bought into properties with their own money following his suggestion last year should have made some gains.’

To rein in speculative activities, China has recently stopped all government institutions including those of states to invest in realty using bank borrowings. The Chinese government realized that these institutions are fast becoming the main culprits in property speculation and for the rapid increase in prices since their borrowings constitute about 70% (?) of total lending for the purchase of realty in China.

When companies in various other industries use their cash and bank borrowings to load onto vacant properties arguably for long term investment, it is also a sign that the property bubble in China will burst soon.

Like in October 2005 while discussing Change, I have touched on the US property market, around the time when her housing prices have first started to fall. (No, we did not know back then, until years later when the media reports and statistics came rolling in.) Perhaps it is also coincidental that this entry touches on the property markets of Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China or maybe not.

For who knows change better compared to Yi aficionados who have spent decades of their lives studying and observing it? But how would I know?

Since your guess in change or property cycles, whether or not, luck plays a part, could be as good as mine.

However I blog this entry for a reason and when events unfold accordingly, I may elaborate why.


Friday, April 02, 2010

A scholar of the Book of Changes

One definition of a scholar is that of a learned person (especially in the humanities); someone who by long study has gained mastery in one or more disciplines.

Scholarly method or scholarship -- is the body of principles and practices used by scholars to make their claims about the world as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public.

The reason I Google for a definition of scholar is because many people have claimed or tend to think that they are scholars of the Book of Changes (I Ching / Yijing / The Yi). The related definition of scholarly method or scholarship is also noteworthy for this entry.

If we consider the number of students in the world who have spent decades in the study of the Book of Changes, there would be many scholars of the Yi.

But are they considered learned? Have they gained mastery of the Yi? We ask.

A scholar of the Book of Changes would make claims about the Yi and/or its related studies as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public (in line with the definition of scholarship provided at wikipedia).

How many of the so called (or so claimed) I Ching scholars have publicly come out with claims about the Yi and/or its related studies as valid and trustworthy as possible?

Too few, in my books, therefore aspirant scholars should be encouraged and not eagerly condemned especially if they are considered friends , with the arrogant – those too full - left well alone. As taught in the Yi, heaven and humans raise the modest and level the full.

In my books, a scholar of this ancient classic known as the Book of Changes knows ancient Chinese history well, has studied the four Confucian books and the remaining four Chinese classics, is versed with Yi divinatory practices of old, and have published their original thoughts – valid and trustworthy as possible (thereby showing integrity) - either in books, blogs, or websites available for public consumption or for the dispute of their ideas.

Of the renowned Western scholars, James Legge and Richard Wilhelm fall under my category of Yi scholars. They and/or their mentors know the Yi well. Question them on ancient Chinese history or the four Confucian books and the five classics and they could very well have pointed out something that we have missed in our studies. However since they are no longer around, we can only learn from their commentary or well researched footnotes in the translations.

But it does not mean that these renowned scholars have spotted everything related to the Yi studies, which leave a lot of work to do for later scholars. The research into Hexagram 55 Feng / Abundance and an overlooked solar eclipse just before the Zhou invasion of Shang, leading to a book publication of ‘The Mandate of Heaven’ by Steve Marshall provides an example.

Another example could be that of the relationship between Tao and the Yi, which even the Chinese or Taiwanese professors of ancient Chinese philosophy recently try to tie in. That area of study is deep and profound probably beyond many including these professors, since top class Chinese scholars like the mentors of Wilhelm and Legge seemed to have missed them in the Yi. For examples: the space between Heaven and Earth, and the absence of Tao all under heaven – already discussed in this blog since 2008. And I am still waiting for any scholar or the learned including my Quanzhen friend to dispute my claims.

As blogged before, if people want to discuss the eternal Tao, we must first have some experiences of what Laozi, Buddha, the Daoist celestial immortals, and the Zhen Ren have had indicated. Otherwise it is just never ending rhetoric. Does this help to clear up some doubt on what Laozi meant in his Tao Te Ching chapter one?

Notwithstanding what fellow students may like to think, the reading of numerous Yi translations do not make one a scholar, we are just perusing the thoughts of the translators. Neither can a translator of the Yi in any form, whimsical or otherwise, be considered one. If you are only good at reading fortunes or at fengshui, try calling yourself a fortune teller or fengshui master. Like the circumspect fortune tellers and fengshui masters on the web, never claim the title of a scholar of the Book of Changes; unless you know deep in your heart you are versed with the Yi and its ancient usages – divinatory practices and others. Since sincerity is the way of heaven.

At the end of the day, whether or not you can make the ranks of a scholar of the Book of Changes depend on acceptance by your peers.

The difference between reputable Yi scholars and the not so good ones by and large depends on their own studies, research, and talent.

If several of your claims on the Yi or its related studies happen to appear invalid and untrustworthy, consider going back up the mountain where you can enjoy the peace and quiet!

Laying your mind fallow for awhile helps even if you are not a scholar of the Book of Changes. But that is not a claim on related Yi studies, just a mere observation!