Friday, November 23, 2012

Hongmen heroes and/or Yijing dragons

Heroes or dragons are exceptional leaders in their fields of study and of action. Down the ages, heroes come from all walks of life and sizes. They invariably displayed benevolence (Ren) and righteousness (Yi) - the Way of Man. And they had leavened their admirers or followers to bring out the good in human nature (Xing).

The original heroes of Hongmen (Red Gate) including Xiang Yu, Liu Bang, Zhang Liang, Fan Zeng and Fan Kuai were from various classes and had very little means. Yet they had banded together to fight as rebels for the common good against the enormous and well trained army of the tyrant Shih Huangdi, more than two thousand years ago, eventually overthrowing the mighty but short lived Qin Dynasty. Their exemplary legacy – which accorded with Mencius’ thoughts - inspired many later generations of Chinese to revolt against inhumane and unjust rulers who had had treated the people worse than animals.

If readers had done their homework on Hexagram 1 Qian they would know which one of the six lines in the hexagram depicts heroes and sages. As to whether or not heroes can ascend to the ranks of sages would by and large depend on their continuity of cultivation and actions (practices) in accord with established order, and their destiny – since the chances of such ascendancy are forever so slim.

Sages Jiang Ziya (Taigong), King Wen, Duke Tan of Zhou (Zhougong), Laozi, Confucius, and Mencius count among the ancient dragons whose related respective works on the Book of Changes (Yijing) have had influenced millions of the learned and wise Yijing aficionados down the millennia. Heroes Wei Boyang, Zhang Boduan (Ziyang), Chen Tuan, Shao Yong, Zhou Dunyi, and Zhu Xi are among the better known dragons who were versed with the Yijing with some becoming Daoist celestial immortals because of their further cultivation as taught in the Book of Changes, in Jiang Taigong’ Yin Fu Ching, and in Laozi’ Tao Te Ching.

Hexagram 1 Qian / The Creative Heaven and Hexagram 2 Kun / The Receptive Earth in the Book of Changes defines the subtle differences between real and false dragons respectively. False dragons or charlatans abound on the Web. These fakes who claim several decades of divination experience - and upon scrutiny - often provide incorrect and/or incomplete interpretations of published Yijing prognostications. Yet they unabashedly proceed to teach students or set New Age rules for ancient divination and/or write books on the Yijing.

Compared to the false dragons, real dragons have professional integrity and can be relied upon by students and their followers. They practise the Way of Man by bringing to light - or exposing - the fakes and publicly shaming them in their reviews and/or commentaries on the Web. Their honesty and in-depth knowledge show through in their books, reviews, translations, and/or articles on the Book of Changes, on ancient Chinese philosophy, and on Chinese culture. They would provide references and source citations for further study and research. Like the ancients, almost all of these are done for free and probably for the love of the Book of Changes. To students who have affinity with them, these dragons may reveal a profound thing or two.

And because of their display of integrity on the World Wide Web, I would like to recommend them to students of the Book of Changes and/or of ancient Chinese philosophy.

Among the heroes or dragons I have the honor to communicate with over the years is Steve J Marshall. What he has written and embedded in his YijingDao website will augment many a student’s Book of Changes studies. Students reading his reviews on Yijing related books and translations will not only increase their knowledge, it will save them from wasting time and money on the wrong books. Those interested in knowing something more on the historical Yijing-related events that had occurred before King Wu’s conquest of the Shang and in things Chinese should read his well researched book, ‘The Mandate of Heaven’.

Another hero or dragon I have the honor to communicate with although recently is Steve Moore also of the U.K. Steve Moore is the author of ‘The Trigrams of Han’. Thanks to his translation of the Ma Qian Ke, I have come to know that the ‘Sleeping Dragon’ Zhuge Liang is also a Wu (Magician / Yijing diviner) and not just only a Shi (Daoist priest / neidan adept); a Daoist celestial immortal, and a sage. Steve Moore’s in-depth knowledge of the Book of Changes shows through with his Yijing or divination related books reviews. Read his recent review on the Shen Su, also made available on the YijingDao website, for a good example on how the false is brought to light and shamed – depicting the practice of righteousness (Yi).

My recommendations would be incomplete if they do not include some heroes or dragons from China. Of those who have written and published articles on the Center for Zhouyi website, I have discerned two whom I consider dragons.

The first of the two dragons is Professor Liu Dajun, the departmental head of Ancient Chinese Philosophy in the Shandong University, China. His in-depth knowledge of things ancient and his humility shines through in his well written articles and commentaries; qualities of which students are well advised to emulate. Professor Liu is acknowledged by his global peers as a leader in his field of study and action.

The second dragon in China may not appear so to experts and scholars of Ancient Chinese Philosophy unless they are discerning and thorough enough. He is none other than Professor Tang YiJie of Shandong and Beijing Universities. In his one and only published article (code 330) on ‘Yi is what the Dao of heaven and that of human’ on the Center for Zhouyi website, he displayed his thoroughness and in-depth knowledge of ancient Chinese philosophy. Since he has had articulated his understanding of the four Confucian books and five ancient classics – which include the Book of Changes; the Buddhist scriptures; and the cardinal virtues (including the hidden one) so much better than me to uphold his contention that Zhuangzi knows Heaven but not that of Earth (and of Human), it would be remiss of me not to recommend this dragon to students. In reading his article, students will appreciate the importance of thoroughness in their studies of the Yijing and of ancient Chinese philosophy.

Among those of note who are aspiring dragons would be Professor Fabrizio Predagio of Stanford University USA whom I also have the honor to discuss with on the subject of Chinese inner alchemy. With his scholarly knowledge acquired through several years of dedication on the profound subject, his recent translations on Daoist inner alchemy texts can be relied upon.

Harmen Mesker of the Netherlands is also an aspiring dragon. He has written two Yijing related books in Dutch - one at an early age - and has quite a following in his home country. His etymology knowledge of the Book of Changes has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years and his articles are worth reading. Since his fact findings and discovery of the meaning behind a classical Chinese word usage in the Book of Changes sometimes even astound Yijing experts and scholars. Also read his reviews on Chinese divination-related books and learn to differentiate between correct and wrong practices.

If Yijing aficionados diligently study the Book of Changes and put in the proverbial extra mile we may one day become heroes or dragons like the aforementioned ancient sages, Neo Daoists, and Neo Confucians. The sincerity and integrity displayed in their Yijing related texts or writings have had withstood close scrutiny through the passage of time. If we do not practise the art of Yi divination and the science of interpretation, we can never become a Yijing hero because our studies would not be complete and thorough enough.

Since we have the affinity to ‘barge into Hongmen’ to read the Yijing with the hope of becoming heroes, can we also not put in the extra efforts to cultivate our human nature (Xing) to bring out the good therein in order to master our own fate (Ming)? Is this not another one of the purposes of reading the Yijing? Therefore do not miss the woods for the trees again, and again!


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Heroes of Hongmen

Whether or not we know the significance when we first started to read the Book of Changes after all these years let me tell Yijing aficionados an inspiring story they may like to keep in their bosoms for the rest of their lives. Good.

After almost twenty years of studying the Book of Changes I have had an affinity with and the opportunity to ask a Quanzhen celestial immortal in 1993 to teach me how to read the Yijing. His first remark in Chinese (and translated into pinyin), ‘Qiang Qing Hongmen Kan Yijing’, still astounded me until recently. The divinity continued his teaching with six cryptic messages which have already been blogged and discussed six years ago.

His remark ‘Qiang Qing Hongmen Kan Yijing’ could literally be translated into English as ‘Barging into Red Gate to read the Book of Changes’. Whether or not this remark equally applies to all Yijing aficionados by and large will depend on their own studies and actions. Therefore do not jump into conclusions.

Why would I be barging into Hongmen (Red Gate) - a city in China - to read the Yijing? I did not know the actual reasons for it until twenty years later (1993 to 2012)! That’s why I am a slow learner who often falls behind in Yijing and in ancient Chinese philosophy studies.

The ‘Red Gate Feast’ or ‘Hongmen Yan’ in pinyin relates to heroes for the discerning. The young, middle age and old all look up to heroes; the more popular and exemplary the heroes the better. Hero Guan Gong (the God of War) is best known for his righteousness (Yi) while hero Zhuge Liang is admired for his foreknowledge and profound strategies. Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are best known for their caring attitude and kindness (Ren) to all. And therefore are heroes to nurses. Yijing aficionados with sincerity and integrity can also be heroes, if they have never known or thought about it until reading up on this article.

While the Triads and Chinese masonry prefer and invariably copy the later and more romantic version of the Hongmen Yan - the swearing of brotherhood, of serving the state and saving people, and of following the Way of Man (Ren Yi) by the three famous heroes: Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei in the Peach Garden - and the naming of senior triad leaders after the five tiger generals of Shu Han; the original and actual Hongmen Yan is a real historical event.

To know what the Hongmen Yan is all about, let us go back two thousand two hundred years to its history as recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), shall we?

During the popular uprising against the Qin Dynasty (c 207 BC) and after Liu Bang had captured the Qin capital Xianyang for the rebels, Xiang Yu invited him to a feast at Hongmen (Red Gate) on the pretense of celebrating the historic capture. Instead Xiang Yu had planned to kill Liu Bang during the feast; as advised by his brilliant strategist, Fan Zeng who had foreseen Liu Bang’s ascendancy, and based on received information from a traitor that Liu Bang had intended to name himself, King of Guanzhong – a title so promised by Xiang Yu for the first rebel chief to capture Xianyang. Unknown to Xiang Yu, his uncle Xiang Bo who knew about the vile scheme and fearing for the safety of his friend, Zhang Liang – the renowned strategist of Liu Bang – he decided to warn Zhang not to attend the Hongmen Feast (Yan). Zhang Liang then prepared counter strategies for Liu Bang before attending the feast at Hongmen. At the feast, Liu Bang managed to convince Xiang Yu that he had no intention to mutiny but Fan Zeng on his own account still proceeded with the murderous plan. His plan to kill Liu Bang via a sword dance fell through due to the intervention of Xiang Bo, Fan Kuai (a general of Liu Bang), and Zhang Liang. Liu Bang finally managed to escape back to his own camp. Thereafter the traitor in Liu Bang’s camp was executed.

After a few years of contention, Xiang Yu worsted by Liu Bang with the help of his best general, Han Hsin and the strategies of Zhang Liang, took his own life. Liu Bang went on to establish the Han Dynasty.

Those who had attended the feast at Hongmen were heroes. To the populace, both Xiang Yu and Liu Bang were great heroes since they had had ended the tyrannical rule of Qin. The people of China had suffered immensely under the rule of Qin Shih Huangdi (the first emperor of Qin - and not the first emperor of China as many overwhelmed history teachers in the world would tend to believe), so much so that even Zhang Liang has had impoverished his own family by selling assets and using the money to hire assassins hoping to kill the tyrant. By ending the sufferings of the people and by giving them hope, these heroes had followed the Way of Man (benevolence and righteousness – Ren Yi). Perhaps, for this reason many elder Chinese today still refer to themselves as Han people.

If you are a sincere Yijing aficionado who has integrity, you can also be a hero and/or a dragon. Sincerity is required because it is a Way of Heaven and integrity is a must in order not to mislead admirers, followers, and/or students. By following the Way of Man, you would be kind and righteous like the heroes of Hongmen. There are many ways to display kindness and justice – refer to the examples of Guan Gong, Zhuge Liang, Florence Nightingale, and Mother Teresa - more of which will be discussed in my follow up article on dragons and current heroes of the Yijing and/or ancient Chinese philosophy on the Web.

Meanwhile you can do yourself a favor by reading up on Hexagram 1 Qian / The Creative Heaven – using the Wilhelm / Baynes translation - to learn more about dragons and heroes. And to deepen your Yijing studies.