This is the fifth and last of a series of articles on the I Ching, or Yijing, the Book of Changes, an ancient oracle, a divinatory book that played a key role in Chinese culture and became for the Chinese a map of 'heaven and earth', of the totality of existence. Much of this material is contained in the Introduction to the Eranos Yijing1. To that book the reader is referred for a deeper discussion of the concepts here presented.
Archeology of the Yijing
In 1973 silk manuscripts, including a version of the Yi and one of the Lao Zi were found in a Han tomb dated 168 BC. It was a crucial discovery, affording insights into the evolution of those great works at a date far antecedent anything available up to that point.
The Mawangdui text of the Yi differs from the canonical text (the Palace Edition of the emperor Kang Xi, published in 1715 and become the standard reference for all later editions) in a number of interesting ways.
First of all, the graphic representation of the hexagrams is different, having different symbols replacing the whole and the opened line. These are variations on the paleographic form of the numbers seven and eight – and at the same time they are remarkably similar to the final form of the whole and the opened line. Therefore we can regard the Mawangdui hexagrams as a bridge, a kind of "missing link," between the numeric "proto-hexagrams" recorded on tortoise shells and oracle bones and the canonical hexagrams.
Second, the names of thirty-five out of sixty-four hexagrams are different, in spite of the fact that overall the oracular texts are remarkably similar to the canonical version.
Third, the order of the hexagrams is different. The Mawangdui order is a systematic sequence obtained by keeping the upper trigram fixed and varying the lower trigram according to a regular rotation. In this way it resembles much more the order of a hexagram table than that of the canonical book. Wang Dongliang2 interprets this fact as an indication that, at the time of the Mawangdui manuscript, divination was still the prevailing use of the Yi and philosophical speculation was not yet the dominant mode. The canonical sequence is "philosophical" in the sense of reflecting a developmental process in which the principles of the cosmos and of the human world are derived from each other according to an internal logic not directly connected with the structure of the signs. The Mawangdui sequence, on the other hand, with its logical arrangement based on the structure of the signs, seems to have the eminently pragmatic purpose of facilitating the search for a given hexagram, i.e. it seems to be tailored to the needs of yarrow stalk consultation.
Finally, the Mawangdui text consists basically of only two sections, corresponding to the Tuan (i.e. the Image of the Situation and the main text of the Transforming Lines) and to the Xi Ci, the Additional Texts. Therefore the classic organization of the book in Ten Wings must not have been yet in existence at that time. Instead of the remaining eight Wings, the Mawangdui manuscript includes an assortment of commentaries in the form of dialogues between Confucius and his disciples (conventionally called yi shu, "lost texts.").
The Yi Jing comes to the West
The first glimpses of the Yi Jing reached the West by way of Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some of these missionaries had a keen interest in the spirit of the Chinese people they had come to convert, deeply studied their culture and tried to approach them on their philosophical terms, frequently incurring the wrath of the Vatican. One of them, Matteo Ricci, is still remembered in the name of an outstanding contemporary sinological institute.
The early Jesuit missionaries brought to Europe fragments of the Classic of Classics; complete translations came only in the nineteenth century. And it was still a missionary, the German Richard Wilhelm, who finally introduced the Yi Jing to the West in a way that won the minds and souls of intellectuals, and eventually also those of a large public of readers and users.
Wilhelm's translation was published in Jena in 1923. It stands out from all previous ones for a radically different attitude toward the Yi Jing. Wilhelm regarded it as a book of spiritual guidance of universal value. He wrote in his preface:
After the Chinese revolution [of 1911], when Tsingtao became the residence of a number of the most eminent scholars of the old school, I met among them my honored teacher Lao Nai-hsüan. I am indebted to him... also because he first opened my mind to the wonders of the Book of Changes3.
Wilhelm not only steeped himself in Neo-Confucian philosophy, but took it on as a personal spiritual path; and, having first traveled to the East as a missionary of Western religion, eventually he came back to the West as a missionary of Eastern wisdom. His translation moves from this committed and participatory stance. He endeavored to make the ancient book accessible to the Western mind by translating it as a discursive text in a Neo-Confucian philosophical perspective. His translation is a remarkably readable, poetic and profound text.
Carl Gustav Jung was deeply struck by the "formidable psychological system" the book embodied, and he wrote a foreword for it, which no doubt contributed considerably to its popularity. He also asked Cary F. Baynes, an American student of analytical psychology in Zurich, to undertake an English rendering of Wilhelm's German translation. The English translation took quite some time to complete (meanwhile Richard Wilhelm had died in 1930). When the Wilhelm-Baynes translation was published in the Bollingen Series in 1950, it rapidly caught the attention of a large audience.
Since then the Yi Jing has become popular in the West, and numerous translations and commentaries have been published, at all levels of quality and depth (see Bibliography). Many of the works by Westerners are translations of previous translations, quite a few of them of Wilhelm's classic translation.
The Yi Jing at Eranos
This series of articles originates from the lifelong work of Rudolf Ritsema and from the experiences of the Eranos circle.
Eranos is an East-West research center founded in 1933 in Ascona, Switzerland, by an extraordinarily energetic and intuitive Dutch woman, Olga Froebe-Kapteyn (1881-1962).
An important influence on her development was the theologian Rudolf Otto, who saw the religious phenomenon as a universal aspect of the human soul, centered on the sense of an invisible order underlying the apparent randomness of life events. In the early 1920's, at the School of Wisdom of Count Hermann Keyserling in Darmstadt, Germany, Olga met various people who were to have a decisive influence on her life. One of them was Carl Gustav Jung: in his concept of archetypes Olga found a psychological language articulating her religious intuitions. Another crucial encounter was that with Richard Wilhelm, who in 1923 presented his new translation of the Yi Jing, shortly before publication, at the School of Wisdom. In the Yi Jing Olga saw a natural bridge connecting the transpersonal archetypal dimension with daily life.
Around 1930 she conceived the idea of turning the Ascona house she has received from her father into a center for the spiritual meeting of East and West. The house was wonderfully situated on the shore of Lago Maggiore, combining the mild Mediterranean climate of the lake with the austere beauty of the surrounding Alps; and Ascona had been, since the beginning of the century, a cauldron of innovative cultural, artistic and political movements. In 1932 Olga sought Otto's support for her project. He was too ill at the time to get personally involved, but he suggested the name "Eranos," a Greek word denoting a feast in which each participant brings a contribution, each one gives and receives.
Carl Gustav Jung, on the other hand, was involved in Olga's project from the very beginning and was a crucial formative influence throughout: for the next twenty years he gave a great personal and intellectual contribution to Eranos. He regularly sojourned there every year, and he presented there many of his ideas at the "work in progress" stage.
The first Eranos Session, or "Eranos Tagung" (German was the main language spoken at Eranos throughout the first decades), was held in 1933 with the title Yoga and Meditation in East and West. From then on the sessions convened every summer in August, and they hosted outstanding intellectual exchanges, involving many of the leading cultural figures of the time4.
Initially Olga Froebe would have liked the sessions to have a concrete and experiential character, to be a laboratory for personal and spiritual growth. In this spirit in 1934 she asked Jung to introduce the psychological use of the Yi Jing in the Eranos Sessions. But Jung felt that the time was not ripe for such an "unsavory" personal exposure, even within the intimate circle of Eranos. It was much better, he suggested, to focus on the scientific study of archetypal images and of the religious phenomenon in the sense of Rudolf Otto. His view prevailed, and the field of archetypal research provided a vital thread for the Eranos Sessions for over half a century.
Nevertheless Olga Froebe kept nurturing the hope that one day the personal and experiential dimension would be included in the work of Eranos. When she met Rudolf Ritsema in 1948, their common interest in the Yi Jing and its use as a tool for self-knowledge created a lasting bond between them.
Rudolf Ritsema (1918-2006) first encountered the Yi Jing in 1944 through his analyst, Alwina von Keller. Immediately he realized that the book had a central meaning in his life. He borrowed it for a week (the Wilhelm translation was then a rare book, difficult to find in Switzerland during the war years), and, working relentlessly, typed a copy of the whole first volume.
In the following years he devoted himself to the study of the Yi Jing. He became interested in the original Chinese text and studied classical Chinese specifically for this purpose. He tried to recover the full range of meaning of each oracular term and, on the basis of his research, started writing commentaries on various passages of the book for the patients of Alwina von Keller and for others.
When in 1948 Rudolf Ritsema came to Eranos, Olga Froebe felt that his way of using the oracle matched the experiential approach she had wished to introduce in the Eranos Sessions. As the friendship between Olga Froebe and the Ritsemas developed, Rudolf and his wife Catherine became progressively more involved in the work of Eranos. From 1956 on, Rudolf and the Basel biologist Adolf Portmann worked together with Olga in the organization of the annual Sessions. In 1961, a year before her death, Olga asked the Ritsemas and Portmann to be her successors and carry on the work of Eranos. In that she was partly motivated by the hope that someday the psychological work with the I Ching would happen at Eranos.
Rudolf Ritsema and Adolf Portmann continued the tradition of the Eranos Sessions devoted to fundamental archetypal research. At the same time Rudolf Ritsema privately carried on his Yi Jing research. Around 1970 he grew dissatisfied with writing critical commentaries on the Wilhelm translation, and conceived the idea of an entirely new translation of the Yi Jing, a translation in the spirit of the oracular, rather than the philosophical, tradition, avoiding as much as possible any a priori interpretation, so as to allow the questioner a direct personal contact with the archetypal images.
In 1988 Rudolf Ritsema carried out the transformation of the Eranos Sessions Olga Froebe had wished fifty-four years before: he brought the Yi Jing to the center of the Eranos activities and started the Eranos Yi Jing Project. The new sessions, called Eranos Round Table Sessions, were held twice or thrice a year around a large round table. In them all participants asked personal questions of the oracle and the alchemical circle of the people sitting around the table created a resonant body for working on the archetypal images received.
With the collaboration of the American poet Stephen Karcher, Rudolf Ritsema first completed a provisional English translation of the Yi Jing, entitled Chou Yi, The Oracle of Encompassing Versatility, which was put to the test in the Eranos Round Table Sessions from 1990 to 1992. The work done in these sessions led to in an improved version of the English translation, published for the general book market in 1994 by Element Books under the title I Ching, The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change.
In 1990 the Italian publisher Maurizio Rosenberg participated in the first Eranos Round Table Session and conceived the project of an Italian version of the Eranos Yi Jing. In 1991 the present author started working with Rudolf Ritsema on this project, again translating from the original Chinese, and their translation was published by Red Edizioni, Como, in 1996 with the title Eranos I Ching, Il libro della versatilità. Italian Round Table Sessions using the new translation started happening at Eranos beside the English sessions. In 1997 the Swiss linguist Hansjakob Schneider joined Rudolf Ritsema to produce a German translation, which was published in 2000 by O.W. Barth, Munich, under the title Eranos Yi Jing, Das Buch der Wandlungen. Finally, Imelda and Pierre Gaudissart, working under the direction of Rudolf Ritsema, produced a French translation, published in 2003 by Encre, Paris, under the title Le Yi Jing Eranos.
By the year 2000 the work done on the Italian and the German translations, together with the experience of the Eranos Round Table Sessions, had suggested a number of significant improvements on the first English translation published in 1994. That consideration moved Ritsema and Sabbadini to embark on a new translation, incorporating all the insights developed in a decade of research, a compendium of the Eranos Yi Jing Project experience.
The last Eranos Round Table Session was held in November 2002 with the title Beyond Consolidated Forms: Emergence of Change. Since then the Eranos Yi Jing has moved beyond the boundaries of Eranos. A new edition of the English version of the Eranos Yi Jing has been published in 2018. Courses and workshops on the introspective use of the Eranos Yi Jing are regularly offered by Shantena Augusto Sabbadini and his wife Cruz Mañas Peñalver.
1 Rudolf Ritsema and Shantena Augusto Sabbadini, The Original I Ching Oracle or the Book of Changes, Watkins, London, 2005, 2018.
2 Wang Dongliang, op. cit., p. 99.
3 Richard Wilhelm, I Ging, Das Buch der Wandlungen, Eugen Diederichs, Jena, 1923, p. xlv.
4 Among them, beside Jung, Ernst Benz, Jean Brun, Martin Buber, Ernesto Buonaiuti, Joseph Campbell, Henry Corbin, Gilbert Durand, Mircea Eliade, Marie-Louise von Franz, Wolfgang Giegerich, James Hillman, Gerald Holton, Toshihiko Izutsu, Aniela Jaffé, Karl Kerényi, John Layard, Louis Massignon, David Miller, Erich Neumann, Herbert Pietschmann, Manfred Porkert, Adolf Portmann, Ira Progoff, Herbert Read, Shmuel Sambursky, Gershom Scholem, Erwin Schrödinger, Jean Servier, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Paul Tillich, Giuseppe Tucci, Hermann Weyl, Hellmut Wilhelm, Heinrich Zimmer and Victor Zuckerkandl.
For an exhaustive source of the contributions presented at Eranos, see the Eranos Jahrbücher/Eranos Yearbooks (volumes 1-1933 to 13-1945 with articles in German; 14-1946 to 57-1988 with articles in English, French and German; while from 58-1989 on all articles are in English). The Eranos Yearbooks are available from Daimon Verlag, and in the USA from Spring Publishers.