Chinese spirituality: “The Yi Jing is a tool for self-improvement”

Canonized two centuries before our era, the Yi Jing has now become a work of universal scope. From the divinatory practices of Chinese antiquity, it is a tool for analyzing the lines of force that underlie our behavior and the world in which we live. Through numerous texts as well as 64 figures composed of continuous or discontinuous lines, called hexagrams, he intends to aim to understand no less than 4,096 situations.

Thanks to his knowledge of classical Chinese and his practice of Yi Jing for fifty years, Pierre Faure has been offering a new translation of the original text, accompanied by commentaries and an unpublished analysis of the hexagrams (Yi Jing. The mutation classics, co-edition Belles Lettres/La Compagnie du livre rouge, 39 euros). Its goal is to make this work accessible to non-Western specialists, so that everyone can appropriate it.

There are several translations of Yi Jing. How is yours different?

I wanted to offer a Western reading of the text, while scrupulously respecting its origins. A Chinese of Antiquity had to fit into a world modeled on natural rhythms but very hierarchical by politics, which is quite far from our modern Western vision, where we want to be actors in our existence. It was therefore important to adapt the text to make it understandable by all. It’s also a way for me to safeguard it, even though the Yi Jing disappeared from China with the cultural revolution.

The first to make the texts known in the West was Richard Wilhelm, a German sinologist, in 1924. Why do you say that his translation is outdated?

I pay homage to Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930), even if, today, one could no longer translate the text of the Yi Jing in such a liberal way. Knowing that the meaning of a Chinese character depends on the context, he went so far as to translate the same formula in four or five different ways, which in my opinion is a bit exaggerated.

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Moreover, the texts of Yi Jing transmitted to him by a Confucian school which guided his vision. But also, his Christian culture as a German pastor from the beginning of the 20the century necessarily played a role in its translations. Finally, we did not have, at his time, the current elements of sinology and archeology. Chinese thought in antiquity has become much clearer since then.

What does the Yi Jingprecisely ?

I identify three layers to this text. The first is the divinatory dimension which can be read in mantic formulas like “auspicious, inauspicious”, and many others. The second is the historical dimension which accounts for the change of dynasty between the Shang (the “villains”) and the Zhou (the “good guys”), in the eleventhe century before our era. The characters depicted in the Yi Jing intervene as emblems of situations and sometimes models of conduct.

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Chinese spirituality: “The Yi Jing is a tool for self-improvement”

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