Sunday, August 22, 2010

The I Ching (Book of Changes) and Confucianism: The Superior Person in the Ten Wings

The I Ching (Book of Changes) and Confucianism
The Superior Person in the Ten Wings

. According to tradition the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, was written by the ancient sage-king Wen (1184-1157 BCE) during his long imprisonment. . Because the I Ching illustrates specific situations and changes in which the superior person must practice Confucian ethics, is an invaluable resource in introducing the relevance and significance of Confucianism. Much of Asian philosophy, especially Confucianism, is practical and demands context for true understanding. The I Ching, in its attempt to represent the movement and change of the world, is an especially effective tool for providing such context. Through it we can see the superior person's way of practicing virtue in contextualized scenarios of change.The I Ching instructs readers on how to practice virtue from any position, within any change. Superior people were "superior" for a number of reasons. They chose the proper way to deal with change, and in this way worked to fulfill the work of King Wen, helping to make society harmonious. This harmonious benefit is the goal of the superior person. The superior person, in the I Ching and in the Ten Wings commentary, understood that the deepest, most enduring benefit comes from following Heavenly destiny, ming(%u547D)-self-cultivation (in preparation for change) and righteousness as the proper path in response to change. Superior people catch the subtle beginning of change and respond accordingly. The author, or authors, of the Ten Wings commentary on the I Ching, long believed to be Confucius and his disciples, repeatedly referred to several key ideas for understanding the I Ching: the superior person, the ability of humanity, the proper way to deal with change, working toward the goal of harmonizing society, and benefiting people (Wilhelm 1950/1967). Traditional accounts provide much evidence that Confucius' study of the I Ching was typical for that type of scholar in the time period. Confucius (551-479 BCE), like most scholars of his era, would have been familiar with the I Ching and like most other scholars of the era he wished to enter into the service of a lord. He attempted to find a ruler who would share his goal of manifesting the ancient virtue of the sage-rulers such as Duke Chou, who created the system of music and propriety in order to enrich and stabilize people's lives. It was the spirit of this system that Confucius sought to transmit to benefit his own society. The traditional account, which has influenced Chinese philosophy and society over the centuries, tells us that Confucius, unable to find a virtuous ruler, went to Lao Tzu and asked about propriety. After this point in his life Confucius is quoted as saying he learned the Way of Heaven. It was then that Confucius began focusing on teaching. Confucius' disciples were inspired to provide a record of him. They were also inspired to continue and transmit a very deep, enlivening, profound and practical philosophy that they attributed to him. Confucius studied, and he compiled and edited copies of the classic books, such as the Book of Poetry (Wu 2002), that are still used today and that further reflect his values. Confucius and his disciples also studied and commented on the I Ching; this commentary is known as the Ten Wings.By making clear the philosophy of the Way of Heaven and the ability of humankind to manifest that Way on Earth in these commentaries, Confucius and his disciples greatly enhanced understanding of the I Ching. . In the Ten Wings the superior person is a model for responding to the changes through practicing virtue. The Ten Wings also gives explicit instructions for how the superior person should study, contemplate, cultivate, and practice the principles of the I Ching. Learning and practicing these principles, gaining insight and understanding into the theory of the I Ching involves the philosophy of the movement of Heaven and the nature of Earth, the ability of human beings, and the significance of their position. For example this selection from the Great Image Wing of the Ten Wings:

H-36, Ming I (Hexagram 36 out of 64, situations of changes)

Darkening of the Light
The light has sunk into the Earth:
The image of Ming I
Thus does the superior man live with the great mass
He covers his outside, and has the principle inside.

The superior person, who values simplicity, can hide within society during a period of decaying culture. Because their needs are very simple, superior people are not easily snared by the changing customs, habits, and view of the society. Understanding the Tao, practicing virtue, superior people are like a well from which other people, seeking to learn and practice virtue, can come to drink. But even if superior people remain within a decaying society, they will not despair when no one comes to use them. Superior people have a concerned mind for all people and remain among them, but are untarnished by the ignorance around them. Superior people only seek to continue learning, becoming ready for the proper time when they are called upon again.
In order to live in such a time superior people hide themselves from the unprincipled majority that is on the rise. Not seeking to evangelize or advertise, superior people cover their ability and wait for the proper time to again arise.

The I Ching consists of 64 different life situations, periods of change. In the above example we see how superior people flourish in the particular situation of "Darkening of the Light," a period of change in which society is in decay, the culture is becoming more vulgar. Superior people set and example of how to respond in any given situation. The provide one example for anyone in any era to follow in any situation of Change. Indeed the Superior Person is an exemplar for the practice of ethics and spirituality today.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This was great and exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.