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JChapman: I Ching - interpretation

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.divination,alt.magick
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: JChapman: I Ching - interpretation
Date: 11 Apr 1997 00:04:41 -0700

[from private email: Jeffrey Chapman ]

>>Date: Thu, 20 Mar 1997 17:44:34 +1100

>   Has anyone who tried a few different interpretations found one to be
>PARTICULARLY good? I was told that WILHELM was the best, and BLOFELD was the
>next best. I have found that having BOTH is useful for interpreting - the
>Wilhelm edition has a lot more TEXT, whereas Blofeld has a lot of FOOTNOTES.
>Both are appropriate at different times. Some examples -

There are a variety of translations of this classic into English and other
European languages. There are also many books which present themselves as
translations which are merely English paraphrases of someone else's
translation. All have their interpretational ups and downs, and the reader
will have to exercise a certain amount of personal judgment.

English-speakers usually use "Wilhelm" to refer to the Wilhelm-Baynes text,
which is a translation into English by Cary Baynes of Richard Wilhelm's
1924 translation from Chinese into German. It includes some late Confucian
commentaries. It was for many years the "best" translation into any
European language, with the possible exception of French. Indeed, it was
the one Joseph Needham preferred. Helmut Wilhelm, Richard's son, makes some
rather grandiose claims for his father's translation in the preface,
particularly a comment about his father having worked closely together with
one of the foremost Chinese scholars of that time, who he claims "was in
complete possession of the traditional I Ching lore." Anything more than a
cursory study of the Changes will make such hyperbole sound quaint...

The principle merits of the Wilhelm-Baynes are its easy availability and
quality of production. It has an "Old Testament" tone that some people
like, although many find it difficult to read and understand. One can get a
lot out of it if one takes into consideration the Christian bias of the
translator(s) and the neo-Confucian bias of the Chinese informant and
source texts. The meeting of these two worlds and the additional cultural
filtering of re-translation have had a peculiar effect on the
interpretative portions of the Wilhelm-Baynes, which makes it extremely
frustrating for some. Bottom line? It's easier for most people to learn
German than Chinese, or at least it was for me, and if you really like the
Wilhelm book, it may profit you to take a look at it in German.

Blofeld produced a lackluster but nearly serviceable translation, should
one have access to no other. He is quite out of his element here, but has
produced some delightful material on Chinese tea drinking, which is no
trivial subject, either. On the other hand, he is realistic about his
capacities and does not present himself as a heavyweight I Ching scholar.
See below for comments on other translations.

>   Wilhelm ed. had a hexagram (sorry, no reference handy) about pulling up
>earth when pulling up grass. There was no explanation. I thought this to be
>not good. Blofled (in the footnotes to the same hexagram) said that this means
>that you are getting MORE than you BARGAINED on. This made PERFECT sense!

The hexagram described is 11; Tai. A Confucian perspective on the pulling
up of plants and sod mentioned above would be pulling a leader in some
direction and seeing those under hir follow along. There are many ways of
translating "grass" here, including "rushes", "madder" (a creeper used to
make red-dye), etc., and accordingly, many ways of interpreting.

>    On the OTHER hand, in hexagram 61 (Inner Truth) Wilhelm talks of "pigs and
>fishes" as being the most DIFFICULT of animals to influence (being the least
>INTELLIGENT). BLOFELD has, INSTEAD of "pigs and fishes", "Dolphins" with NO
>explanation (and of course, Dolphins are the MOST intelligent animals).
>   Also in Blofeld, there is often a line about going to the South-West with
>no explanation, whereas Wilhelm explains that this means to make a tactful

There are many traditional interpretations. Nowadays, people tend to
interpret things to please themselves. As for the texts - "Dolphins" is a
liberal reading of fishes, most likely; it is doubtful that the Zhou were
aware of dolphins, and if they were, it is quite unlikely that they would
commemorate them in writing. This example is frequently cited and is
suggestive of Wilhelm's personal attitudes and Blofeld's dilettantism more
than anything. "Pigs and fishes" is accepted by consensus.

Southwest is traditionally thought of as an "auspicious" direction for a
variety of undertakings. That may well be the full extent of its meaning...

Interpretation can be difficult and is often a highly personal matter,
particularly in the West, where I Ching seems even more exotic and obscure
than it does in Asia. Cultural bias is a major factor and should be taken
into account, although it is certainly possible to work with the I Ching in
a way that "makes sense" whatever your cultural standpoint.

>   Comments on these or any OTHER editions?

A caveat: one ought to have misgivings about selecting any one translation
of anything, especially when translating from classical Chinese to
non-Asian languages. If intense study of classical Chinese is not an option
(it generally isn't), working with several different translations in
parallel can be very informative. The core text of the Changes solidified
at least 3000 years ago. Its great age makes it quite difficult for a
native Chinese-speaker, and presents an even greater obstacles of cultural
and linguistic distance for the rest of us. A single translation, or
indeed, a single human being, cannot contain everything that the I Ching
has become over its long life.

A newer translation worth looking at is _Rediscovering the I Ching_ by
Gregory Whincup. It easy-to-read, semi-scholarly, and not overburdened with
footnotes and commentary. Whincup takes a very different view of the
Changes from the other translators, and he makes some penetrating
observations. If footnotes and commentary are desired in copious
quantities, try Richard John Lynn's translation published by Columbia
University Press. It is quite scholarly and includes the sometimes
interesting, sometimes inscrutable commentary of Wang Bi, which differs
significantly from the Ten Wings commentary included in the Wilhelm-Baynes.
On the whole, it is difficult reading. _The Fortune Teller's I Ching_
sounds corny, but is a handy thing to have around for its modern
sensibility and an appendix containing the text of the judgments in Chinese

A few others in English have been observed; the one by James Legge was
first published in 1882 and a major source of late 19th and early 20th
century misconceptions about the I Ching and Chinese thought in general --
it can be safely ignored; the impressive-looking but virtually content-free
edition, by Ritsema and Karcher, not really a translation at all, which
fails to establish a correspondence between the I Ching, Jungian
psychology, and a motley band of other symbol systems. There's one by some
guru or other which also appears to have little to do with the Changes
itself. Thomas Cleary has issued three (!) translations of the I Ching, and
scores of others, all best avoided. His I Ching books appear to be weak
paraphrases and have commentaries of dubious origin attached. Especially
entertaining is his "Taoist I Ching", since anything that could reasonably
be called Taoism did not come into being for at least another 500-1000
years after the emergence of the Changes as an oracle book. Religious
Taoism eventually admitted the Changes into the Taoist Canon, but only long
after the Confucians adopted it as holy writ, and even then it was regarded
mainly as a talisman, not so much as a book to be studied.

Apologies in advance to anyone who finds their favorite translation roasted

Jeffrey Chapman

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