Wang Bi on Words, Images and Ideas in the Yijing

May 29, 2009

I have been looking for a translation of what Wang Bi 王弼 has said about reading the Yijing 易經 in a chapter entitled Ming Xiang 明象 (Understanding the Images) appeared at the end of his commentaries, Zhouyi Zhu 周易註,  finally I saw one in one of  my friend Boyler’s postings and would like to share it here with everyone:

“Images are the means to express ideas. Words are the means to explain the images. To yield up ideas completely, there is nothing better than the images, to yield up the meaning of the images; there is nothing better than words.

The words are generated by the images, thus one can ponder the words and so observe what the images are. The images are generated by ideas, thus one can ponder the images and so observe what the ideas are. The ideas are yielded up completely by the images, and images are made explicit by the words.

Thus, since the words are the means to explain images, once one gets the images, he forgets the words, and since the images are means to allow us to concentrate on the ideas, once one gets the ideas, he forgets the images.

Similarly, ‘the rabbit snare exists for the sake of the rabbit; once one gets the rabbit, he forgets the snare. And the fish trap exist for sake of fish; once one gets the fish, he forgets the trap.’ If this is so, the words are snares for the images, and images are traps for the ideas.

Therefore someone who stays fixed on the words will not be one to get the images, and someone who stays fixes on the images will not be one to get the ideas.

The images are generated by the ideas, but if one stays fixed on the images themselves, then what he stays fixed on will not be images as we mean them here. The words are generated by the images, but if one stays fixed on the words themselves, then what he stays fixed on will not be words as we mean them here.

If this is so, then someone who forgets the images will be the one to get the ideas, and someone who forgets the words will be one to get the images.

Getting the ideas is in fact a matter of forgetting the images, and getting the images is in fact a matter of forgetting the words. Thus, although the images were established in order to yield up ideas completely, as images they may be forgotten.

Although the number of strokes were doubled in order to yield up all innate tendencies of things, as strokes they may be forgotten…”

Often we get caught up with words and images and forgot what the idea is all about, worse still, we read them too literally when the ancient Chinese used correlative thinking to deliver their ideas.

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