The I Ching

The Ancient Chinese oracle of change

 

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The I Ching has exerted its influence on all prominent Chinese thinkers down through three thousand years of history, and is unquestionably one of the world’s most significant books.  In Legge’s words “Indeed, not only the philosophy of China but its science and statecraft as well have never ceased to draw from the spring of wisdom in the I Ching.  He goes on to state that the I Ching also throws new light on the thought of Lau-Tzu and his pupils, and on Confucianism.

This short document is an explanation of how the I Ching is used for divination.  However, in order to interpret the lines you need a full reference such as Legge’s notes.  Legge’s notes explains each hexagram in detail but also the individual lines and especially the moving ones (see below).

The I Ching is a popular divination tool which has its origins in China.  In ancient times the Chinese heated tortoise shells in a fire until they cracked and interpreted the way the cracks ran.  Otherwise they threw yarrow sticks and interpreted how they fell.  The use of the yarrow-sticks is described in detail in appendix 1 of Legge’s notes.

The I Ching is based on an ancient philosophy which considers that nothing in the world is constant, except change itself, which always occurs. Hence what is important is not so much what the hexagram indicates itself, but how it is changing into another hexagram.  The so called “moving lines”, the ones which change in the following hexagram, are given most attention.

In the present day, a commonly used, convenient technique is to throw coins to see how they fall.  Three coins are used.  If a coin falls heads up it is interpreted as Yang, value three.  Three coins are thrown and the values added.  This results in a score of 6,7,8 or 9.  Three tails is 6, Three heads is 9, any other combination results in a score of 7 or 8.

A core of 8 or 9 is Yang, drawn as an unbroken line (--- in this document).  A score of 6 or 7 is Yin,  drawn as a broken line (- - in this document).  However, the only lines which are considered are the “moving lines” 6 or 9.  7 and 8 lines are ignored.  Hence Legge’s notes will give an interpretation of, for instance “six in the first place” which means a score of six on the top line, or “nine in the third place”, which means a score of nine on the third line from the top.

The table of the trigrams and the table of the hexagrams below only show yin or yang lines with no indication of the score, and therefore no indication of which lines to read and which to ignore.  To cope with this, a notation has been devised for the scoring as follows:

 

                                                                  6                            - -                         Yin, moving

                                                                  7                            -o-                        Yin, static

                                                                  8                            -x-                        Yang, static

                                                                  9                            ---                         Yang, moving

 

From Legge’s notes, you read the commentary for the hexagram as a whole, and then the commentary for the moving lines.  Because they are moving, a moving Yin line becomes Yang and a moving Yang line becomes Yin.  This gives rise to a second hexagram which is what the situation is changing into.  You read only the corresponding lines from this hexagram.

Three such lines, one above another and the result of throwing three coins in succession, form a trigram.  They are drawn from the top down.  There are two possibilities with each line (heads or tails) so that when three coins are thrown there are 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 possible trigrams.

These 8 trigrams are:

 

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Creative

Receptive

Arousing

Abysmal

Keeping Still

Gentle

Clinging

Joyous

Strong

Devoted, Yielding

Inciting movement

Dangerous

Resting

Penetrating

Light-giving

Joyful

Heaven

Earth

Thunder

Water

Mountain

Wind, wood

Fire

Lake

Father

Mother

First son

Second son

Third son

First daughter

Second daughter

Third daughter

 

 

A hexagram consists of two trigrams, an upper and a lower trigram.  Because there are 8 trigrams, there are 8 x 8 = 64 possible hexagrams.

These are the hexagrams:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

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Ch’ien

K’un

Chun

Meng

Hsui

Sung

Shih

Pi

Creative

Receptive

Difficulty in the
beginning

Youthful Folly

Waiting (nourishment)

Conflict

The Army

Holding Together
(Union)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

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Hsaio Ch’u

Lu

T’ai

P’i

T’ung Jen

Ta Yu

Ch’ien

Yu

Taming power
of the small

Treading (Conduct)

Peace

Standstill
(stagnation)

Fellowship with men

Possession in
great measure

Modesty

Enthusiasm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

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Sui

Ku

Lin

Kuan

Shih Ho

Pi

Po

Fu

Following

Work on what has
been spoiled (decay)

Approach

Contemplation
(View)

Biting through

Grace

Splitting apart

Return
(the turning point)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

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Wu Wang

Ta Ch’u

I

Ta Kuo

K’an

Li

Hsien

Heng

Innocence
(The unexpected)

The taming power
of the great

The corners of the mouth
(providing nourishment)

Preponderance
of the great

The Abysmal
(water)

The Clinging,
Fire

Influence
(wooing)

Duration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

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Tun

Ta Chuang

Chin

Ming I

Chia Jen

K’uei

Chien

Hsieh

Retreat

The Power
of the Great

Progress

Darkening of the light

The Family
(the clan)

Opposition

Obstruction

Deliverance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

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Sun

I

Kuai

Kou

Ts’ui

Sheng

K’un

Ching

Decrease

Increase

Breakthrough
(resoluteness)

Coming to meet

Gathering together
(massing)

Pushing
upwards

Oppression
(exhaustion)

The well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49

50

51

52

53

54

55

56

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Ko

Ting

Chen

Ken

Chien

Kuei Mei

Feng

Lu

Revolution
(Moulting)

The cauldron

The arousing
(shock, thunder)

Keeping still
mountain

Development
(Gradual progress)

The marrying
maiden

Abundance
(fullness)

The wanderer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

57

58

59

60

61

62

63

64

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Sun

Tui

Huan

Chieh

Chung Fu

Hsaio Kuo

Chi Chi

Wei Chi

The Gentle,
Penetrating, wind

The joyous, lake

Dispersion
(dissolution)

Limitation

Inner truth

Preponderance
of the small

After
Completion

Before
Completion

 

Click here

For a downloadable PDF of the 64 hexagrams

 

 

History of the Ching

 

Four holy men are credited in Chinese literature with the creation of the I Ching: Confucius, The Duke of Chou, King Wen and Fu Hsi.  The latter is a figure in legend who represents hunting and fishing and was reputedly the inventor of cooking.  The eight trigrams have names which do not occur otherwise in Chinese languages and as a result, they are assumed to have had a foreign origin.  The eight trigrams appear in the literature of antiquity, occurring in the literature of the Hsai dynasty (c.2205 – 1766 B.C.) under the name Lian Shen.  They then appear in the Book of Changes of the Shang dynasty (c. 1766 – 1150 B.C.).

The present order and naming of the sixty-four hexagrams is believed to date from King Wen.  King Wen was given the title of king posthumously by his son Wu who became the first ruler of the Chou dynasty (c. 1150 – 249 B.C.).  The book, At that time, was known as the Changes of Chou.

Confucius came upon the book in the form it had acquired under Chou.  He studied it intensively in his old age and it is very likely that the commentary on the decision (T’uan Chuan) was written by him.  Pu Shang, a follower of Confucius, was principally responsible for popularising the I Ching across China.

The I China escaped the “burning of the books” under the tyrant Ch’in Shih Huang Ti.  However, it has changed greatly over the centuries through re-translation and the use of the oral tradition, as do many old documents.

The Yin-Yang philosophy, now such an intrinsic feature of the Book of Changes, was probably a latter-day introduction under Tsou Yen.  Finally, the scholar Wang Pi emphasised the use of the book as a book of wisdom rather than only as a book of divination.

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© Ken James 2008