The I Ching Handbook, and The Medical I Ching: Oracle of the Healer Within
The I Ching Handbook Edward A. Hacker Paradigm Publications 1993
The Medical I Ching: Oracle of the Healer Within Miki Shima Blue Poppy Press, 1992
(Reviewed by Selah Chamberlain, EJOM Vol. 1 No. 2)
I have to admit my prejudices. When I was first given these books to review I figured "Oh boy! Iíve heard lots of good stuff about Miki Shima, and I bet heís got lots to say about an aspect of the Yi jing that I donít know much about." And, I figured, getting to read that would make it bearable to plow through yet another book by some Western yellowhair whoíd tell me lots of stuff that I already know, and get it wrong besides. Also, if you havenít noticed, I like pinyin so youíll see "Yi jing" instead of "I Ching", unless Iím quoting.
A little bit of background to start with. In Chinese history there have been 3 main ways of studying the Classics: First, thereís the "Song school", which takes traditional Confucian ideas as synthesised with Daoism in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) by several brilliant teachers like Zhu Xi and the Cheng brothers. Students are encouraged to follow traditional commentaries and realise for themselves how each of the classics, and each part of their lives, fits into the magnificent cosmology articulated by these scholars and refined by the followers. This is the traditional approach, followed very well in the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the Yi jing and Iíve found it a very interesting and productive one, too.
Second is the "Han school", which began last century when archaeological discoveries revealed that early interpretations of the Classics did not necessarily agree with those of the Song school, and that many of them cast some very illuminating light on some very obscure questions. So a lot of people began to re-examine etymological, archaeological and antiquarian sources to see how close they could get to the original ideas of the ancients. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) is the earliest period with a lot of literature surviving (well, a lot relatively speaking) due to the depredations of the preceding dynastyís Great Imperial Cultural Revolution. I get a big kick out of some of the Han schoolís ideas, and sometimes they completely upset the traditional Song interpretations. But, as with archaeology in the West, many conclusions are still speculative. And you need at least some familiarity with Chinese characters to understand a lot of what the Han school is up to.
The third approach is "modern" and analytical, using the Classics as a basis for mathematical, numerological, anthropological, historical, and ideological exploration, while ignoring the non-semiological "content" so beloved of ordinary readers. Shao Young (1011-1077 CE) was one of the first to take this approach, and there are lots of practitioners today whose merciless analysis has often given new depth to books like the Yi jing, as well as demolished a few revered myths.
All this said, Iíll take Dr Hackerís book first. Itís basically a scholarly reference work, and he doesnít read or speak Chinese, so itís a reference to sources in English only.
I have a few quibbles. Because he canít check the originals heís at the mercy of whoeverís expressed an opinion in English, so he sometimes seriously entertains ideas that may not seem to have a lot of merit. And sometimes his choice of translation is badly hampered by the fact that he doesnít know the characters. But hey, these are quibbles.
What Dr Hackerís done is a big favour to English-speakers interested in the Yi jing - we canít really claim to know the book without having explored most of what he recommends we explore. He says in his introduction that he doesnít intend to put forward anything new, and he doesnít. What he does instead is provide a very interesting study guide, full of suggestions to the student of different ways to examine the Yi jing, reasoned considerations of lots of ideas from the Song and analytical schools, and an excellent annotated bibliography (if "excellent" is a strong enough word). He covers in outline most of the ground staked out by the Song school, quite rightly telling us that itís up to us to fill the outlines in for ourselves if we want to, and he does a very good survey of the analytical school as far as itís appeared in English. The bibliography includes some works which take the Han approach, but thatís a side interest for him. He does look at peopleís ideas critically, but he doesnít try to tell us what to think.
If youíre seriously ($49.95 for the US version, say £33.00) interested in the Yi jing, you will be interested in this book to show you around. Shame about the typeface though - sort of Victorian moral tract style.
Miki Shimaís The Medical I Ching is almost entirely a product of the Song school, applying traditional interpretations to medical conditions mostly through yin/yang correspondence.
His introduction is for those of us who are basically unfamiliar with the Yi jing, and takes us through the very basics of Song-style interpretation. His concern is not with the finer points of understanding the Yi jing itself, but with his application of it to patients. You need a TCM background to follow him here.
His method is a mix of the intuitive with the mechanical and formulaic that feels somehow familiar to an old hippy like me. Iím reminded of people Iíve known who cast horary astrological charts or do Tarot spreads to diagnose and determine treatment for patients. There is an utterly unscientific body of tradition to guide them in their interpretation of the outcome, but it seems to me that those who are most successful are those who use their systems as frameworks for deeply intuitive perception.
Me, Iím too "rational" for this approach. I can never decide which of the 6 possible readings is the right one, and anyway I find it easier to refer the patientsí symptoms directly to my medical theory for resolution, rather than meditate them through an oracle and then refer that to my medical theory.
Shima obviously finds that the Yi jing resolves his doubts and clears his mind about difficult patients, and plainly sets out how he uses it. If you find this particular shoe fits, by all means go ahead and wear it. But I donít believe it was made for practitioners who are just finding their feet.