The I Ching, or, Book of Changes

I came across this one in the museum shop at the Seattle Asian American Art Museum. Of course I’d heard of the I Ching before…but hadn’t really appreciated exactly what it was or why it was important.

This is quite a significant book, “one of the first efforts of the human mind to place itself within the universe.” One reviewer notes that while it is “a book in that it has pages and printed text” it’s also “an actual, living oracle, with its roots in antiquity and fresh leaves emerging every spring.” It’s filled with signs and symbols, metaphor and interpretation, poetry and wisdom, patterns and interpretation, divination and chance and cosmology.

This edition is gorgeous: great design, clear organization and typography, and it includes multiple prefaces, forwards, introductory essays and more. This is apparently regarded as the definitive, “benchmark” version/translation. In fact one person says it’s “[m]ore than just a translation…a profound introduction to the Chinese world-view.”

It’s made up of several books: Book I, “The Text”, is about the hexagrams themselves; Book II, “The Material”, considers two interpretive commentaries; Book III, “The Commentaries”, returns again to the hexagrams for more detailed commentary. In all it’s over 700 pages. And I still don’t have much concrete idea how this material is used or absorbed, or the depths of what it all can mean — that’s largely why it intrigues me.

It sounds like it can be used in many different ways, and that’s part of its enduring beauty and wisdom. Some use the book for divination; to others it’s “primarily a text for studying and meditation” and “a key to understanding the self”. I really like what one person said about these depths: “It differs from simple prognostication, however, in that it demands us, as diviners, to cultivate an understanding of the world and ourselves.”

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0844295909
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press

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* Independent online book marketplaces. While these sites are often lighter on data / reviews, and thus not the first place to go to learn about a book, they're a great place to actually purchase!