Accept my apologies: The Dao De Jing is not the only good book there is (but close)
Some time ago I wrote, that the „Book of the Way and the Power“, the Dao De Jing ( also known as „Tao Te King“ ) was the only book one really needed to study to become a good Chinese shaman doctor. This may have been a bit polemic. But for me there is no doubt that the reading and reading and reading again of this tiny little pearl of ancient wisdom has changed my way of thinking more than any other book.
I think that in its deepness and challenge to the mind there are not many books that come close to Laozi’s Dao De Jing. Some might argue, that one very strange Chinese classic is even stronger:
The Book of Changes- the Yi Jing
The „Book of Changes„, the Yi Jing ( also known as I Ging ), is a condensation of ancient wisdom which may be rooted way before civilisation as we know it. Nobody knows where it came from. In ancient China most of the books with „jing“ in their name had no known author.
( Laozi, the „father“ of the Dao De Jing is not a real person- he rode backwards on a buffalo out of this world and was sometimes depicted with a fishtail- clearly some shamainc figure.)
We should probably translate Jing as „Holy Books“- even though there is no religion involved. Studying, not just reading, a Jing makes us whole again.
It has been said the Jing originated in Heaven as „Diamond Books“. Heaven is the place, were the all Images originate that condense into material forms on their way down.
A transformation from Yang into Yin.
„Images“ are not Platonic ideas- the transformations happens more often and easily the other way round: From matter back into spirit. It is harder to stay in the body than fly out of it.
The ancient Chinese ( as in Qi Gong ) did their best, to keep a balance between these two movements.
The Yi Jing is about the mechanisms of these changes- from a strictly formalistic point of view. No God, no judgements, no good, no bad. Just endless transformations, beginning from anywhere and leading to anywhere. There are no limits.
The code of the Yi Jing has been likened to the DNA by people who think it is a good thing to state that „these ancients already knew something“. We should re- think the thinking that lies behind such patronizing attitudes.
It would appear, knowledge much superior to ours has been around for a very long time.
When a heavenly book has descended it takes a form that humans can read. There are many legends about this.
On earth a Jing might appear as a silk scroll, hidden in a jewel encrusted box, buried away in some deep mountain cave, patiently waiting for some advanced and exceptional human being who was destined to find it. Destiny was important in this: Heaven decided who could find a Holy book. You could not just walk out and look for one or rather, many people did but never found one. The possesion of a Jing was a matter of great taboo. It could not be passed on carelessly but only to predestined pupils and whoever received it had to smear their mouth with the blood of a white chicken and swear an oath to treat it respectfully. Otherwise heaven’s punishment would be rather crass.
( I will not go into this here, however, I am writing about these stories in my new book and I have been completely overwhelmed by some of them. )
The Yi Jing must have been one of these books.
Holy Books of Chinese Medicine
I once read about a famous doctor of the Song dynasty ( Liu Wansu ) who fell asleep drunk and awoke to a dream in which two men in ancient costumes cut his chest open to put a book inside. After that, it was said, he became a doctor who could treat everything. I do possess the book he has written- unfortunately it is not the one, that was put into his chest. But it is still a very good medical book.
The Song dynasty ( thousand year ago ) was the beginning of modernity in China. By then shamanism and magic had already been despised for a long time by the learned classes. Yet the ancient idea, that wisdom is received and not „invented“ or „thought about“ was still very much alive. Even though, by now wisdom did only come as a drunken dream about men in „ancient costumes“.
The Song dynasty was also a time, when Yi Jing studies were very much en vogue.
Studying the Yi Jing had been a way of life for a long time. One would call himself (or occasionally herself) „Yi student“.
Yi Students: Students of Change and often famous Chinese doctors.
The first famous student of the Book of Changes, the Yi Jing, was Confucius himself (he has not written it, as many people think- but he added extensive commentaries )
The Book of Changes is not a medical book- it is not on any specific subject at all. But many famous Chinese doctors, as well as most of the learned Chinese people from the Song time on have been influenced very deeply by it.
Chinese Herbal medicine owes a lot to these Song dynasty medical doctors who brought the personal history of the client into Chinese medicine. Enlightened doctors they were and great persons too.
( A huge change from the Chinese magical medicine of olden times where the client’s personal history did not matter, as long as the doctor was a good, spiritually connected person who could drive out the evil .
Also very different from the cult of impersonalisation in modern medicine- where it neither matters who gets the disease nor who treats it and where the ideal is a machine or some double-blind-folded executor treating anonymous „cohorts“ )
What to do with the Yi Jing today?
For us, today, the Yi Jing is a difficult book. We do not usually take a livetime to read a book. Some people today take about two months to write one …
But it is worthwhile to pick it up and study it a little bit every once in a while. It can not be read- it has to be opened and pondered over. Then it might make us think about life in a different way and become a stepping stone out of dualism.
Some people throw coins or sticks to find out where to open it. Thus it has been known as a fortune teller’s book and in Chinese communities this is probably what your local fortune teller will do. He will probably also rattle the coins in the shell of a magic turtle before throwing them out like we would throw dice.
In essence the Book of Changes, the Yi Jing is not a fortune teller’s book, but it can harness our subconscious and help us approach deeper levels of knowledge.
So you can use it for „fortune telling“ if you must. I do try sometimes, but I never get any clear instructions. Instead I get stuck in the miriads of Changes, the endless transformations and thereby some day I might sink deeper and get out with a new mindset.
You see, the Yi Jing does not give answers. It messes up our linear thinking and pushes us out of duality if we give it half the chance.
Only a short post today to state on thing: Even though the Book of Changes is one of the great treasures of humanity and even though I do study it at times and even though Chinese medicine would never be the same without this completely unmedical astonishing Holy book of China- I still like the Dao De Jing a little better.
In Chinese medicine and acupuncture we also have our own Jing:
The Huang Di Nei Jing- The so called „Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine“
As there are many hidden caves in China more than two books have been found by the enlightened of old. So there are more „Jing“ classics or „Holy Books“ in China.
The Chinese doctors have their own precious pearl: The „Yellow Emperors Canon of Internal Medicine“, the Huang Di Nei Jing.
The existing book is only about two thousand years old- not a lot for a Jing– classic. But the Nei Jing is built on very ancient material- so it can rightly be called a Jing. And as with the Dao De Jing and the Yi Jing the Nei Jing has sufficiently mysterious origins: The Yellow Emperor was no person but more something like a tribal god of shamanic times, an Earth God.
( There are many shaman gods still to be found in Chinese medicine. Like Thunder and Lightning, the two forces from the sky. )
By the way: the translation „Canon of Inner medicine“ has been discussed for a long time. „Nei“ means „inner“, „hidden from the world“, „invisible“, „esoteric“.
So for me the „Nei Jing“ is the „Holy Book of Esoterics“.
The Nei Jing transmits the secret knowledge of ancient ( prehistoric ) times. It tells what people did about life and dead and what they should do. It tells, why people get ill, and why some do not.
Then in the second part of the Nei Jing, in the Ling Shu– the so called „spiritual pivot“ we receive deep and complex instructions on hwo to use acupuncture.
Acupuncture needles being the pivots of the ling: the spiritual or life-giving force that in another time the shamans sang down to earth.
Another very difficult book, not to be read but pondered over or to be „chewed up and digested“- as they say in China. A book that leads us back in time to a place, where people knew.