margaret pearson, the book of changes

Review of The Original I Ching: An Authentic Translation of the Book of Changes by Margaret Pearson

Why I Chose this Book

I once searched for the most influential books of all time. I figured that would be a good list to check off some books. At the top or one of the top books was The I Ching. Sometime later, I went to the library. Among the religion section or Ancient Chinese philosophy section, there were several books on The I Ching. I think I then looked for one of the newer books and Margaret Pearson’s book was the newest. It was also much smaller than the other ones. I figured this one had cut the fat. I planned to chew this one’s meat along with a few other religious books and checked them out that day. I don’t think I read any of them before having to return them. I put them on my to read list and vowed to return!

Several months later, I had knocked off a few other books, both on my list and those I read sporadically. I decided to come back to The I Ching. I read this book mostly during train rides.

The Original I Ching

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese text going as far back as 1045 BC that developed over generations. It was consulted by men, women, kings and more to guide them on life decisions. The individual lessons existed before the book existed as a whole. At one point, all of the lessons were compiled into one text. The I Ching is not meant to be read from front to back like a novel, although, that’s what I did. You are meant to come to the text with a question in mind and seek guidance.

One way in which The I Ching is used is a person may go to a Buddhist temple and shake a container holding 64 sticks, each one corresponding to a different hexagram of the I Ching. Whichever one comes out, the person reads a passage containing advice that corresponds to that stick. Pearson explains another method for the modern reader to use the I Ching. It involves throwing some dice and transforming those numbers into sixes and nines which correlate with different parts of each hexagram. Then, you have a full hexagram and you read its information. As I said, I just read the I Ching straight through. I didn’t try this method.

Pearson translated the text in a manner removed from the biased patriarchal assumptions of earlier translations. Thus, Pearson argues, many of the sections are closer to the original meanings and are more gender neutral. The I Ching consists of 64 different passages. Each one corresponds to a figure composed of six broken and unbroken lines. The figures represent objects and human situations. Each passage contains advice that pertains to the situation that the listener is meant to interpret to guide her in a life decision.


The I Ching reminds me of horoscope readings; a lot of the passages were vague, which lend themselves open to interpretation. I noticed that a lot of the hexagrams boiled down to this, though, be persistent, which was acknowledged by Pearson. That seems like the overwhelming advice the book of changes gives, “persevere and you will be successful.” Or maybe I noticed these passages because that’s what I need to know? Based on the advice of many modern sages, though, that advice seems fair. There are definitely other bits of useful advice. Also, a lot of the advice seemed noticeably directed towards those in leadership positions. Overall, it was good to learn more and experience such an ancient influential text.

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