The Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I-Ching was first published in English in 1951 and has never been out of print. Despite the appearance over the years of numerous other interpretations of this peerless Chinese classic (many based on Wilhelm's work), the poetic beauty and quintessentially Chinese character captured by Wilhelm's translation endures like no other. Most serious students who have a long-term relationship with the oracle - for that's what it can become; an intense, intimate relationship - return eventually to the fine if somewhat formal philosophical observations of the Wilhelm-Baynes work and resonate with its essentially Chinese quirkiness. The foreword to this greatest-ever translation of the I-Ching is written by C. G. Jung.
The 64 hexagrams each have a dynamic structure which moves upwards from the bottom (the first line) and naturally divides into two trigrams: the upper and lower. Each of the six lines of each hexagram have the value of either 7 = a Yang (unbroken, strong) or 8 = a Yin (broken, yielding) line, and their complex interrelationship gives the unique nature and meaning to each hexagram. The hexagrams each have both a number and a name: for example 4 is Meng, "Youthful Folly"; 16 is Yu, "Enthusiasm"; 21 is Shih Ho, "Biting Through"; whilst 34 is Ta Chuang, "The Power of the Great" (another hexagram is named "The Taming Power of the Great" which has a completely different meaning).
To further complicate matters, each line may be in the process of changing into its opposite - a "changing line" - indicated by a 6 (broken Yin line in the process of changing to Yang) or a 9 (unbroken Yang line changing to a Yin). The dynamic interplay of all these possibilities allows the oracle to offer a nuanced, poignant and occasionally humorous perspective to the enquirer on any issue as his/her situation changes.
The Wilhelm-Baynes edition has three major sections:
1. The Text: the 64 hexagrams and their changing lines explained, in order (248 pages) - in other words, the original classical text
2. The Material: discussions of the trigrams, and the highly regarded "Ta Chuan" or "Great Treatise" on the I-Ching which takes up 75 pages
3. The Commentaries: a re-run of section one, but with more detail and commentaries from different Chinese scholars and sages over the years added in (340 pages) - sometimes the meaning ascribed can be quite different to that of the classical text, and the alternative can be useful
The I-Ching has nothing to do with "fortune telling." It is concerned with human development and self-knowledge, with understanding first of all the dynamics in any situation and then what consequent actions might be appropriate, even when the action advised is most difficult or may go against the wishes or hopes of the enquirer. Sometimes the answer the oracle offers is not what you want to hear, but over time, you realize it is ALWAYS right. Often the changing lines lay out the consequences of different types of action possible in any situation. The I-Ching is, unquestionably, one of the greatest works of philosophy in the history of the human race, a unique representation of how the great forces of the cosmos interrelate with a human life as we encounter continuous change. It's timeless, and regardless of how human society seems to progress and change on the outside, the oracle remains relevant and of inestimable value to what goes on within us.
If you become captivated by the wisdom and depth of the I-Ching and begin to study it, sooner or later you're going to discover this greatest-of-all translations. My personal copy is a battered and much-read 1975 printing, a welcome gift in those far off days, and remains one of my two or three most valued possessions. Despite the spine being broken and the rear board accidentally singed by a candle flame some 20 years ago it would, with no possible rival, be my one indispensable desert island book.
I bought a used hardback copy of this through Amazon.co.uk last year and there has not been a week gone by since that I have failed to pick it up.
I bought my first copy (paperback) in 1975 when the Grand National win of Escargot gave me a little cash and that copy virtually fell apart so about 15 years on I bought another paperback copy.
I went to the trouble of separating all the pages - and there are a lot of them - punching holes and sticking on reinforcement circles on each hole and placing the two halves in binders.
This organised copy lasted me for the next 20 years or so but the thin paper has aged and browned, the corners are very brittle.
This, my third copy, is hardback, the paper seems thicker and at over 60 years of age I expect this latest copy to see me out.
It has never failed to help me when I ask a question. Sometimes the interpretation of the answer is a little "misty" but usually a little time reveals the definition.
As a woman I must admit it gets a bit annoying when the "feminine" is put in second place in the book's words.
When I have followed its sometimes obtuse answers to my queries I have never been let down.
If you can afford it buy Hardback.
If there is a risk someone will "borrow" your copy - get a paperback version as well and keep the hardback copy secure.
on 20 August 2011
This book is, as Richard Wilhelm claimed, among one of the most important books in the World.
It describes, in Hexagram 16: "Enthusiasm", the great sacrifice which is the "final summation of Chinese culture"!
Well,the sacrifice described is also the fulfillment of "The Revelation of St. John" in the Bible, and the man(or as the Revelation describes, the child who was devoured at birth by the "Seven Headed, Ten Horned, Seven Crowned Red Dragon"-what was the "British Empire") who IS "the Lamb of God" is represented on the British Royal Mail stamps: "The Single European Market" issue of 13th October, 1992!