I Ching: the quest for the middle way

middle way

One of the best ways of deepening your understanding of China is to read the Book of Changes. There are plenty of excellent English-language translations and commentaries available, so language is no barrier. My favorites include “I Ching: The Essential Translation of the Ancient Chinese Oracle and Book of Wisdom” by John Minford, “The Living I Ching: Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom to Shape Your Life” by Ming-Dao Deng, and “The I Ching, or, Book of Changes,” by Richard Wilhelm.

Although it has at times been dismissed as a fortune-telling manual, the Book of Changes is much more subtle and sophisticated than that. Indeed, it provides a roadmap or guidebook on how to progress through your life and deal with the inevitable highs and lows you will encounter along the way. Perhaps its most important single core message is that nothing lasts forever. Since both good times and bad times will pass, you need to retain a sense of detachment by remaining balanced and sticking to a middle way.

When you are at the peak of success, you need to avoid arrogance and extravagance in order to be prepared for when the pendulum inevitably starts to swing in the opposite direction. Similarly, when you are in the depths of despair, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by anger and grief because better days lie ahead. The key is to remain balanced and retain a sense of proportion no matter what particular circumstances you find yourself in.

This quest for a balanced middle way is a constantly recurring theme in Chinese philosophical thought and is explored in great depth in all the classics no matter whether they are labeled as “Confucian” or “Daoist”. Before reading what Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Mencius, and all the other greats have to say about the subject, why not start with the source?

I wish I had.

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