The Book of Changes is famous in both China and the West as a classic of Chinese wisdom and as a divination manual.
The Chinese title 易經 is transcribed in several different ways, although it is usually written either “Yi Jing” or “I Ching”. There have been many attempts at translating the Book of Changes. However, the translations are all very different. Furthermore, the existing translations include different content. This is of course confusing to readers who wish to come to understand this famous and truly wonderful book.
The present work is concerned solely with the core text of the Book of Changes.
In order to avoid confusion between the core text and the complete classic with commentaries from later periods I refer to the original core text as 周易 which is transcribed “Zhou Yi” or “Chou I” and is pronounced “djow-ee”.
周易 Zhou Yi means “The Book of Changes from the Zhou Dynasty”. The Zhou Yi consists of 64 verses with seven lines in each verse, except the two first which have eight lines. The total number of lines is 450. Although yi 易 occurs twice in the book itself there is nothing in the text directly indicating what exactly 易 in the title refers to. However, there can be no doubt that the Zhou Yi was originally a divination manual and I find it obvious that 易 refers to the system of changing numbers which decides the combination of lines of text in the written divination answers.
The Book of Changes has not only been a famous and respected book for more than 2500 years, it has also been a challenging enigma ever since the first accounts of it. Since ancient times, the Book of Changes has inspired people to contemplate life and cosmology and it has given rise to a multitude of philosophical ideas, not only in ancient China but throughout Chinese history including our time. It has also become increasingly popular in the West.
Commentaries and translations of the Zhou Yi are plentiful. Yet, it is a fact that hardly anyone could ever understand the Zhou Yi, even in ancient times. The proof of this statement is in the fact that all translations and interpretations of the Zhou Yi diverge enormously from each other—there are barely two lines that are agreed upon. Therefore, it is absolutely fair to say that there has, at least since the beginning of the Han dynasty, never been any agreement in the interpretations or translations of the Zhou Yi.
Yet, the Zhou Yi has always been held in as much high respect as the texts of Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, Kong Zi or Meng Zi—all of which are much easier to read. It is as if the Zhou Yi’s popularity was never affected by the fact that hardly anybody could ever read the core part. Nevertheless, the Zhou Yi has been used for divination and citation of wise words by millions of people for more than two millennia.
The language of the Western Zhou period was, in fact, sufficiently evolved to be able to express almost anything. However, it still had many limitations and without the framework of a context it can be especially difficult to translate short lines of early Classical Chinese and this is often the case in the Zhou Yi. To reveal the context is, therefore, the key to a successful translation.
I regard the apparent lack of a context and structure to be the main reason the Zhou Yi has been translated in so many different ways. But there is, in fact, an internal logic in every hexagram and also in the development of the 64 hexagrams.
Furthermore, there are obvious relationships between the 32 pairs of hexagrams. This is sufficient to constitute the outline of the context which is needed to determine the further direction of the translation.
• The present work makes it clear that the Zhou Yi was written by a single author.
• It also determines that the so-called “received version” is the most original.
• It clarifies the internal structure of the hexagrams.
• It explains the relations of all the 32 hexagram pairs.
• It investigates the yarrow sticks method.
• It proposes an explanation of how the divination answers were interpreted.
• It gives detailed definitions of nearly 800 words based on text examples from
before the Han dynasty.
• But primarily, it provides a meaningful and coherent translation.
The purpose of this book is to make a well-founded description and translation of the Zhou Yi. This demands Chinese text, footnotes and a large glossary—all of which may be of little interest to most non-sinologists. Therefore, I have provided a “stripped down” version of the translation placed at the very end of the book, which is, in fact, the beginning of a traditional Chinese book. My own interpretation of the meaning of each of the 450 lines is written in cursive script below the
lines of this translation.
Some chapters are rather technical. Before reading them I would recommend performing the practical techniques with coins or sticks which are described at the end of the book.