“A Song on Observing the Yi (Changes)” by Shao Yong. 《觀易吟》邵雍

February 8, 2019

Many Chinese metaphysics practitioners have quoted this poem by Shao Yong since it touches on the practices like Feng Shui 風水, Bazi Suanming 八字算命, Qimen Dunjia 奇門遁甲 and Ziwei Doushu 紫微斗術, etc. There are few English translation availabal on this poem so I decided to have a go with my limited scholarship and understanding, your comments are welcome.

“A Song on Observing the Yi (Changes)” by Shao Yong.

A thing has a body in itself,
A body also has its own Taiji.
To know how myriad things are prepared for me,
(I) need to know the division of San Cai at its root.
Heaven faces one-center to separate the Ti Yong
Man relies on his heart to raise the Jing Lun.
How can heaven and man have a different meaning,
The Dao is not an empty journey it depends on man.

Translator’s notes and commentary:

1. A “thing” 物 here refers to matters in the universe.
2. A “body” 身refers to its qi 器, or its vessel/container.
3. “Taiji” is translated from the Trigrams Qian and Kun, meaning Yang and Yin.
4. “San Cai” 三才 refers to the trinity of Heaven, Earth and Man.
5. “Ti Yong” 體用refers to the concept of “principle and function” or the “body and its usage”.
6. “Jing Lun” 經綸refers to theory and classification in Chinese thoughts, it can also mean silk-threading or to a clever statecraft.

The first two lines of the poem can be expressed with the concept of “One item one Taiji” 一物一太極, in the sense that everything has its complementary opposites, so we need to decide what constitute one “item” or one “thing” under consideration, before we can look at its Taiji or Yin and Yang.

In the third and fourth lines, Shao Yong is talking about the San Cai in the six Yao lines of a Hexagram when casting the Yijing with a question in mind, by dividing the six Yao lines into 3 pairs of Heaven, Man and Earth, thus help us to decipher the meanings of a Hexagram to answer the questions we asked. (Refer Illustration)

The fifth and sixth lines are about the concepts of Ti and Yong (Principle and Function) in Heaven and Jing and Lun (Scripture and Classification) in Man.

According to Shao Yong, one principle (or one body) has many functions (or applications), the ancient Chinese viewed the world from the centre looking out, he puts himself in the middle of the Bagua or the eight directions looking outward, to strive for a unity of Heaven and Man. For this reason, he needs to establish a center in a chosen “item” or “thing” to differentiate, but the two are not separate, they are held together as complementary opposites in a Taiji.

The same applies to Man on Earth, theories and classifications (or clever statecraft) come out from Man’s “Xin”, or his heart/mind, by the way he observes and thinks looking at the near and the far, the large and the small, and thinking in a causal and correlative way at the same time, to find his efficacy. The unity of heaven and Man can be achieved by combining the “Li” 理 in Heaven and the “Xin” 心 in Man.

The last two lines referred to the idea of the unity of Heaven and Man and the path to the Dao depends on the “Xin” of the Man and not on the numbers, symbols and images casted in the Yijing or other “Shu Shu” 數術” or “Numbers and Methods” in Chinese numerological metaphysics. Contrary to most people’s understanding, Shao Yong towards his later years, put his emphasis on the Xin (heart/mind) and not on the Shu (numbers and symbols), but he also acknowledged that they go together like Yin and Yang, to Shao Yong the idealistic and the materialistic are two sides of the same coin.

When Plum Blossom Divination 梅花易數was being promoted to the general public, the earlier practitioners shrewdly changed the last two lines to advertise their exclusive knowledge and lineage:
How can heaven and man have a different meaning,
The Dao is not an empty journey it depends on man.
There are no two sayings for theImmortal and Man,
The Dao is not an empty transmission it depends on Man.

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