You will not reach the essence of the [Way] by merely looking at this book. Think that what is written down here was done just for you, and do not consider simply looking at it, familiarizing yourself with it or trying to imitate it. Rather, you should consider these principles as though they were discovered from your own mind, and continually make great efforts to make them a physical part of yourself.
Miyamoto Mushashi -- A Book of Five Rings
Unless you are fluent in Chinese, you must depend upon a translation if you wish to study the ancient and venerable I Ching, or Book of Changes. There are many English interpretations of this world classic, four of which are both well-regarded and generally available. These are:
The James Legge translation -- 1899
The Wilhelm/Baynes translation -- 1950
The John Blofeld translation -- 1965
The Da Liu translation – 1975
In addition to these original translations there are numerous paraphrases in English which restate the Chinese symbolism in modern Western idiom. Although paraphrases are often extremely valuable while learning to decipher the meanings of the lines of the I Ching, they are not viable substitutes for the original images, and no serious student of the book should rely upon them exclusively.
For that matter, there's no such thing as a "perfect" translation either, and there probably never will be. The pictorial characters of Chinese writing have far too many nuances of meaning to ever be fully transposed into English. Evidence for this is found in the fact that the four respected scholars named above sometimes vary widely in their interpretation of the same original material. Here's an example taken from the fourth line of the first hexagram:
Legge: We see the subject as the dragon looking as if he were leaping up, but still in the deep. There will be no mistake.
Wilhelm: Wavering flight over the depths. No blame.
Blofeld: Leaping about on the brink of a chasm, he is not at fault.
Liu: The dragon leaps from the abyss. No blame.
We easily perceive that although the subject matter of every translation is similar, the actual rendering is not -- each of the above lines communicates a distinctly different message in the English language. R. L. Wing's paraphrase is arguably the most popular version of the I Ching in the United States today. Notice that although his definition of the above line is much more specific than any of the translations, by its very specificity it leaves less room for one's intuition to encompass the infinity of possible interpretations:
A time of choice is at hand. Because of an amplification in your CREATIVE POWER you must decide whether to enter the public eye and serve society, or whether to withdraw and work on your inner development. Follow your deepest intuition and you will not make a mistake.
Chinese, with its thousands of pictorial characters, appears to be a formidable tongue indeed -- in one Chinese- English dictionary there are no less than thirty-five Chinese characters which are pronounced “ching” in English. Their various meanings range from: "A warp in a loom," to "Rice which is not glutinous." Indeed, so problematic is this language, that scholars themselves are in disagreement about how to translate this book's very title: I Ching, Yi King, Yi Jing and Xi Qing have all been rendered in various times and places. It is obvious then that the accuracy of any given translation is highly dependent upon the individual translator's intuition and feeling for the two languages concerned.
Of course it is this very ambiguity which enables the I Ching to match the seeming infinitude of situations offered by experience -- that's why the more "exact" paraphrases are of only limited value. Each of the above translations of hexagram 1:4 is "correct" to one degree or another, but their ultimate truth transcends language entirely. As Confucius says in the Great Treatise: "The written characters are not the full exponent of speech, and speech is not the full expression of ideas."
This is because in the I Ching we are dealing with a connotative rather than a denotative system: a language of symbolic images analogous to that of dreams. C. G. Jung, a life-long student of the I Ching, clearly recognized this association:
As you have found out for yourself, the I Ching consists of readable archetypes, and it very often presents not only a picture of the actual situation but also of the future, exactly like a dream. One could even define the I Ching oracle as an experimental dream.
C. G. Jung -- Letters, August 24, 1960
This suggests that the exact definitions demanded by our scientifically-oriented expectations lose much of their precision when interpreting the I Ching just as they do when we attempt to accurately decipher the dream images flowing through our sleep. Thus we are put in the awkward position of having to rely upon the tools of intellect to comprehend and describe a realm of consciousness which transcends reason itself. Anyone who has ever had a mystical experience or taken a powerful psychedelic drug can attest that there are dimensions of awareness which far transcend our ability to render in mere language. It is this level of awareness which the I Ching addresses -- indeed, it is not too much to say that the I Ching is a bridge to a transcendent, dreamlike world in which language is more of a handicap than a help.
Yet, "handicap" or not, language and the reasoning function which manipulates it are among the highest attainments of human evolution – lifelines which must never be abandoned if we are to explore our deeper levels of awareness without becoming hopelessly lost. There is a wide gulf between the automatic rejection of anything that cannot be measured against some pre-conceived standard of expectation and the superstitious acceptance of every inner image at face value. The discipline necessary to resolve this paradox is a fine line spanning this gulf and to walk it with full commitment is one of the most challenging exercises that the human mind can undertake.
The I Ching was first written down in 1143 BCE as a book of oracles -- its purpose was to provide answers to questions about the unknown. Like any mantic system such as the Tarot or astrology, the Book of Changes is ultimately dependent upon the subjective evaluation of the querent: its efficacy is measured by the ability to perceive and accurately interpret one's experience in symbolic terms. In this it is analogous to many other spiritual disciplines, and it is the specific purpose of this treatise to demonstrate that the symbolism of the I Ching, an Eastern oracle book, is perfectly compatible with the symbolism of the Western Mystery Tradition.
The lowest common denominator for all valid mystical systems is that they use symbols to describe a reality which transcends language, and that even if the symbols of one viable system are superficially different from those of another, upon careful examination a correspondence will be found between them. If we find for example, that the symbols of the Kabbalah and the I Ching are empirically valid, then we must look for a deeper reality which unifies them both. Obviously, the I Ching doesn't describe one reality and the Kabbalah another -- since they both work, they must both refer to the same reality, though their symbols appear at first glance to be entirely different. Aliester Crowley, in his book, Magick in Theory and Practice made this crucial observation many years ago:
The Yi King is mathematical and philosophical in form. Its structure is cognate with that of the Qabalah; the identity is so intimate that the existence of two such superficially different systems is transcendent testimony to the truth of both.
This implies that human consciousness is linked to a universal source which expresses itself uniquely within different cultures, yet in its essence is always the same. One of the least important facts about the I Ching is that it emerged in China -- what is of supreme importance is that it is universally valid for anyone who uses it, regardless of language or culture. Aldous Huxley identified these ubiquitous correspondences as components of what he called (after Leibniz) the "Perennial Philosophy":
The Perennial Philosophy has spoken almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of every one of the higher religions. But under all this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state... It is only the act of contemplation, when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.
All of the systems within the Western Mystery Tradition fit into this category -- Alchemy, the Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and Gnosticism being only a few of many which are available to us. In modern times Jung's Analytical Psychology has emerged as an empirical and scientific description of the human psyche based upon the principles of the Perennial Philosophy.
This book is an effort to show the similarities between the symbolism of the I Ching and some of these other systems. It is hoped that when this succeeds it may give a new perspective on the non-verbal foundations of the human psyche-- that Great Mystery which is beyond the description of language, yet constitutes both the original source and ultimate destination of all differentiated awareness. The metaphor used throughout is that of the Great Work of Transformation -- a concept which describes the willed alteration of consciousness from a differentiated to a unified state, and which in various traditions has been called Individuation, The Path, The Tao, or simply: The Work.
The present volume is built upon an edited and annotated version of the James Legge I Ching translation of 1899 -- readily available in the Dover facsimile reprint of 1963, and in a much handier 1971 Mentor re-arrangement by Raymond Van Over. Despite the latter work's marked improvement over the original version, considerable controversy remains about Legge's general approach to the I Ching.
His often awkward "literal" translation of Chinese into English, the arbitrary way in which he separated the Confucian commentary from the original lines (thus making the English version structurally different from the Chinese document), and his apparent refusal to regard the book as much more than a collection of curious epigrams has evoked a great deal of criticism from other commentators. Consequently, the Wilhelm/Baynes translation has long been regarded as the standard of comparison, and Legge's version is often perceived as verbose pedantry.
While there is some justification for this view, I feel that there is far more in Legge's I Ching than has been commonly recognized -- when the Confucian commentaries are put back with their corresponding lines and Legge's footnotes are retrieved from their fine-print oblivion, edited, and placed where they logically belong, there begins to emerge some real insight into the original images.
What I have done with Legge's material is what any modern editor who was familiar with the I Ching might do if he received the book as a manuscript submitted for publication -- re-phrase awkward 19th Century syntax, delete extraneous commentary, and in general make the book as lucid as possible without altering its general style or original meaning. To assist me in this process I have had the advantage of constant reference to the modern translations of Wilhelm, Blofeld and Liu.
In general, I have not altered the translation of the original Chinese lines, but at times have edited Legge's often wordy commentary considerably. All alterations of original lines (other than minor rephrasing for clarity) are acknowledged in the text, with reference made to the authority of the other translators. Whenever there is disagreement among them, Wilhelm's commentary usually prevails. Actually, the only line that I have changed drastically is line three of hexagram number ten.
Because of the importance of making comparisons when interpreting an English translation from the Chinese, I have also included Wilhelm's version of each of the lines. [Note,2009: Six more translations and two paraphrases have been added to the working manuscript since the above was written.]
One of the most structurally minor, yet conceptually significant, changes I have made concerns the extremely important relationships between the lines of the hexagrams, which depict positive and negative forces in terms of sexual polarity. The I Ching was written by patriarchs in a patriarchal era when women were regarded as inferior to men. Consequently, the commentaries usually have a male bias, and the yin, or female lines (depending on their placement in the hexagram), frequently symbolize "negative" situations. Since the Book of Changes is an empirically viable system, and since as presumably enlightened moderns we perceive that sexually prejudiced attitudes are as illogical as having a "preference" for one over the other pole in an electrical circuit, we must be able to interpret the truth of the I Ching as symbolic rather than literal.
In order to evoke and emphasize an unbiased polarity in the lines of the hexagrams, I have altered the original text to the extent of identifying each line as either "dynamic" or "magnetic." This nomenclature is taken from the philosophy of Actualism, as developed by Russell Schofield and described by Ralph Metzner in his book Know Your Type -- Maps of Identity (1979):
Actualism distinguishes two basic polarities of energy relationships, dynamic and magnetic. The dynamic pole is outgoing, expressive, giving, masculine, yang...The magnetic pole is incoming, receptive, feminine, yin... In a broader sense, the dynamic aspect of consciousness is functional and the magnetic is structural. Function moves through structure, and is given body or form by structure. Energy (dynamic) is embodied (in-formed) into matter (magnetic). Some examples of this principle are: the flow of electric current (dynamic) through a conductor (magnetic); the flow of life through the human body; and the structuring of sound energy into meaningful verbal patterns. An unstructured dynamic expression is random and incoherent; a magnetic without dynamic function is an empty and powerless structure.
In addition to this I have added the feminine pronoun to magnetic lines but retained the masculine pronoun for dynamic lines. (Occasionally, the context of a line will not allow this however, and such instances are acknowledged in the commentary.)
At this point it must be emphasized that while I am sympathetic to those causes which aspire to liberate all human beings from the illusions of sexism, my use of masculine and feminine pronouns in the lines of the I Ching is not a gesture toward a social ideal or the reform of language. Quite simply, it is an effort to evoke the tension between the polarized forces which make up each hexagram. As will be discussed later, this is one of the most important keys to understanding the structure and dynamics of the oracle.
Perhaps paradoxically, while we are on the subject of gender we must concede that the sexist implications of using the masculine pronoun when referring to humanity, at least half of which is female, is unfortunately an integral component of any language (such as English) which has no neuter pronoun to indicate generic Beingness. The use of neologisms like S/he or awkward constructions such as He/She, is an aesthetically unsatisfactory solution to the problem. Enduring change is usually an organically evolving synthesis of the polarities which drive it; therefore, arbitrary solutions to our linguistic gender imbalance are unlikely to endure unless they carry a conviction of naturalness. One need not feel obliged to write gracelessly to prove one's allegiance to the ideal of sexual equality. My solution to the problem of sexist pronouns is that authors should use the pronoun they are most familiar with: their own. Male writers need not feel any more ashamed to say "he" or "his" than female writers to say "she" or "hers." While this may not be the perfect solution to this problem, it feels more natural to this author than the alternatives described above, and it is the format followed in this book.
In addition, it seems necessary to assert that the concept of the Superior Man is one of the cornerstones upon which the philosophy of the Book of Changes is based. Some translations and paraphrases have altered this to "Superior Person," or even in one instance, "Superior Woman." While this is a politically correct modern stance to take, in my opinion it does inexcusable violence to the structure and meaning of the Chinese document. I have retained the original appellation of Superior Man in the confidence that mature readers will be able to interpret the meaning of any line without being confused or offended by a Chinese concept as old as civilization itself. Respect for the mysteries must over-rule current fashion, regardless of its equalitarian merit.
I have also identified the Chinese commentaries on each line with the name of Confucius. Whether or not Confucius himself actually wrote these commentaries is simply unknowable. Although Legge makes much of the opinion that they were written by others, I have taken my clue from Wilhelm:
This commentary is an extremely thorough and valuable piece of work and throws much light upon the inner organization of the hexagrams of the I Ching. The Chinese ascribe it to Confucius. I see no reason for doubting this ascription, inasmuch as it is well known that Confucius devoted much thought to the Book of Changes, and since the views expressed in this commentary nowhere conflict with his views.
In addition to the editing of Legge's original version of the I Ching I have added my own commentary based upon more than thirty years' of comparison of the Book of Changes with the Western Mysteries (most notably the Kabbalah), and Analytical (Jungian) Psychology. A quotation from one of a variety of these sources is appended to each line to show their general correspondence. Sometimes these connections seem tenuous, but most of the quotes fit well enough, and in many instances they are almost exact paraphrases. In a few cases the quotation is taken from materials unrelated to the Western Mystery Tradition or Jungian theory.
Finally, I have added my own paraphrases (usually more than one) to each line. These are based upon a continuous and intensive daily experience with the I Ching over a period of decades. As emphasized above however, a paraphrase is never an adequate substitute for the original image -- whenever there is doubt the reader must always refer back to the symbolism of the line itself to find its meaning within the context of the matter at hand. Only you can do this: it’s part of the Work.
It must be stated at the outset that I have avoided many of the conventions of traditional scholarship in an effort to make what is already difficult material as lucid and easily accessible as possible. The confusing and unnecessary parentheses in Legge's original translation have been eliminated, as have almost all Chinese words. The Chinese names of the trigrams which make up each hexagram mean absolutely nothing to a non-Chinese speaking reader, and therefore conceal more than they reveal about their symbolic meanings. Footnotes are non-existent, and although quotations are identified whenever possible by both author and work, the page numbers have been eliminated. It is my intention to de-emphasize "chapter and verse" to enable the reader's perception to transcend the intellect. The meaning of the Book of Changes lies within the psyche of the one who uses it, and while scholarly study has its definite place in the Work, it is only a booster rocket which must be ultimately discarded if the mind is to achieve the orbit it seeks.
I can only justify this arbitrary approach by the fact that the unedited material is readily available for comparison. The Legge translation has been extant for over a century, and may be found in almost any library or bookstore in its original form. Indeed, no serious non- Chinese student of the I Ching can afford to be without a copy, as well as one each of the Wilhelm, Blofeld and Liu versions. The paraphrases of Wing, Siu, Reifler and Dhiegh are also useful, and should not be ignored.
The I Ching is so flexible, and so accurate once one understands how to use it, that one could probably annotate a version slanted toward almost any general field of human interest. Because my concern has been the alteration of consciousness, this book is definitely biased toward using the Book of Changes for that purpose. Consequently, some of my paraphrases may not seem to apply to queries about other issues, and in that case readers will have to formulate their own paraphrase specific to the question at hand.
The Work may be undertaken at many levels of commitment. At its highest levels it is a "short-path" technique for the transformation of consciousness, and like all short paths it is exceedingly steep and perilous. The warnings of danger which are found throughout mystical and occult literature are, if anything, understated. It is my conviction, based upon hard experience, that no one should begin the Work at its highest levels unless he is "called" to it and has absolutely no other choice.
At its lower levels the Work is safe enough however, and no one should be frightened away by a warning which applies to only a small minority of seekers. There will be time enough later on to decide whether you really want to attempt the short path. Nevertheless, my commentary and the quotations chosen to illustrate the lines are couched in short-path terminology. The reader must be aware of this and make his interpretations according to his own level of commitment.
Eventually there may come a time when the student wishes to dedicate himself definitely to the work...The dedication is no thing to be lightly undertaken. It is equivalent to taking monastic vows, except that the initiate's life is lived nowadays very much in the world. Before making the unreserved dedication he is free to give as much to the work as he thinks fit. After it, the work has to come first, before everything. Few realize the implications of this, though many are keen to do it. It is a way for the very few. It is an essential step, however, before the advanced work can be undertaken, because the fact of making real dedication channels the whole being into the direction chosen and thus releases much power within. Should the dedication later be revoked, it can well disorganize the whole life.
G. Knight -- The Work of a Modern Occult Fraternity