Taoism > Sources > I-ching
What is I-ching (Book of Changes)?
Even if today we are mostly interested in its philosophical aspect (see Wilhelm's introduction), the book has been used from the oldest times as an oracle, while it offered
Sovereigns and princes used the book in this direction. Its importance is also proved by its survival from the arson of books ordered by the Chinese emperor Ch'in Shih-huang-ti, in 213 AD
Tradition has attributed the creation of this unique book to Fu Hsi, the mythical ancestor, who invented many other useful things to Chinese antiquity. It is said that he had been the witness of a miraculous phenomenon that put him in contact with the 8 trigrams (pa-kua), forming the basic structure of the Book of Changes. The legend says that while he was walking on the banks of the Yellow River, he caught a glimpse of a dragon coming out of waters and wearing on his back the signs of the 8 trigrams that he copied by drawing them with his finger, on the sand.
Finally, an outstanding contribution came from the famous Confucius and his school, who added various comments (Wings).
It is all agreed that this book contains the essence of Chinese spiritual movements and that it has influenced everything that was consequently conceived. Nobody can deny its importance in the Taoism too.
I-ching is a collection of essays on 64 linear figures made up of six continuous or discontinuous lines. The continuous lines ______ represent the yang principle, and the discontinuous ones__ __, the yin principle.
The 64 combinations of lines have titles like Creative (Yang), Difficulty at Beginning, Caldron, Marrying Maiden, Progress, Contemplation... that definitely describe typical situations. Each hexagram also contains a Judgment (many times offering oracular predictions) and short texts explaining the significance of each individual line.
The most important contribution to the spreading of this book in Europe was that of Richard Wilhelm. He was a Christian missionary in China and he met Lao-nai Hsuan, a descendant of Confucian school, who effectively helped him to translate the book into German. More than a simple translation, Wilhelm also added his comments to the 64 hexagrams.
I-ching is together with yin-yang, Lao-tzu and Tao-te ching one of the most familiar Chinese keywords to the Western culture. The oracle is used even today despite the general confusion concerning the meaning if its answers. Many translation are available in English but almost all of them are inaccurate or just modern adaptation of the ancient text.
More online resources:
-> Introduction to the I-ching by Richard Wilhelm (HTML).
-> Foreword to the English Version by Carl Jung (PDF).
-> Carl Jung and I-ching here.
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