Yijing Hexagrams: 1. Heaven (qian)

The Classic of Change (Yijing, or I Ching), also known as The Changes of Zhou (Zhou Yi) has been considered a book of fundamental principles by contemplatives and people of action alike. Replete with cosmological symbolism and deeply humane insights, it has been used since time immemorial as a guide to the good life, be it as a manual of divination or as a repository of metaphysical expositions. Through its countless derivatives and pervasive influence around the Sinosphere, it remains one of the primary components of the Triple Religion and the Far Eastern worldview and ethos.

The Yijing is famously difficult to translate, even in comparison to other Chinese classics. We present here three different translations of the chapter devoted to the first of the sixty-four hexagrams which form the core of the book.

“Heaven creates, develops, brings about fruition and consummation (Yuan Heng Li Zheng)… Creation, development, fruition, consummation, the successive movements of the four seasons, all are carried out by one strength; the one is the body, the four are the function. The body is that whereby the function is carried out, the function is that whereby the body is completed. Body and function are as one; therefore the Tao of heaven acts with strength unceasing.”

Thomas Cleary, The Taoist I Ching

Click here to read.

Wilhelm-Baynes translation

Click here to read.

Thomas Cleary, The Buddhist I Ching

Click here to read.

In their sacrality, impenetrability and wealth of interpretation, the four initial characters of the book, Yuan, Heng, Li, Zheng, are a functional equivalent of the mystical “detached” letters opening certain suras of the Qur’an.

Historical information on the development of the text can be found in Edward Shaughnessy, The Origin and Early Development of the Zhou Changes, Brill, 2022.