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What is the I-Ching?

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Perhaps nothing is as mysterious, at least at first glance, as an I-Ching reading. Steeped in the wisdom of the East, the I-Ching may not seem to provide obscure answers to everyday problems. However, as inscrutable this ancient divination system seems, it is based on metaphysical concepts recognizable to many Westerners. In the hands of the competent practitioner, the I-Ching provides amazing insights in the right actions to take for everyday problems and concerns.

Origins of I-Ching
The I-Ching is a system of wisdom and divination that predates most forms of prognostication used today. For instance, while the roots of astrology are seen in ancient documents from the 3rd century BC, the current form of Western Astrology didn’t develop until around 200 BC. Tarot cards arrived on the divination scene somewhere around the 15th century. Though traditionally, I-Ching is said to develop before the advent of writing, what we are sure of is during the Shang Dynasty (approximately 2000 BC) the I-Ching was refined by various authors, most notably King Wen of Zhou and later his son, King Wu of Zhou. Five Hundred years before the birth of Christ Confucius wrote a series of commentaries on the I-Ching that influences thought about this system to this day.
The Principles of I-Ching

I-Ching is literally means the book of changes. The philosophy of the I-Ching is based on the dualistic nature of the universe and the cycle of change we see all around us. Specifically the primary images of the I-Ching are heaven and earth. Heaven represents the "creative" and the "male" while earth represents the “receptive” and “female.” In Taoist philosophy, the tension between these two forces keeps the universe in a constant state of motion and renewal. Neither force is “better than” the other as neither can exist without the other.

The I-Ching embraces the idea of "so above is below." It draws a direct parallel between the motions of the planets and synchronous activities on earth. However, while heaven generates creative activity, it is the earth that receives, nurtures and births this energy into form on this planet.

Lines, Trigrams and Hexagrams

Lines of three, called the trigrams are the basis for the sixty-four hexagrams in the I-Ching. The lines are composed of sets of broken and unbroken lines. Unbroken lines are "male" and "creative" while broken lines are "female" and "receptive". Unbroken lines are associated with odd numbers, while broken lines are assigned even numbers. Often in the commentaries you will see the unbroken lines referred to as "nines", "firm" and "superior" while broken lines as "sixes", "weak" and "inferior". These are just states of being and not judgments of better than or less the other.

The eight trigrams are associated with specific archetypes, that is symbols that a recognizable by most humans. To give you an example, concepts like mother and father are archetypes. The archetypes are based on the lines relationship with each other. For instance in the trigram Ch'ien, composed of three firm lines the active, creative force is fully potent, each line supporting the other in this purpose. For this reason Ch'ien represents heaven.


The Hexagrams
The hexagrams are composed of two trigrams. The combination of the archetypes of the trigrams forms a new set of sixty-four archetypes. These archetypes are lovely and evocative, drawing upon images of everyday life in old China.
Divination with the I-Ching

The hexagrams are determined by using yarrow stalks or coins. The yarrow stalk method is a bit complex, involving the sorting of the stalks in a specific sets and choosing the six stalks in a ritualized fashion. Coins are quicker and easier to use to construct a hexagram. Three coins are used. Heads are assigned the number 3 and tails, 2. In each toss, the numbers are added. If the number is odd of the coin toss is odd, the line is solid; even, the line is broken. Lines are stacked bottom to top. When the six tosses are completed, the hexagram is revealed.

I-Chings texts will give the archetypal meaning of the hexagram and the commentaries on it.

A Sample Reading
The hexagram below was produced by the use of yarrow stalks in response to a question about how the querent should earn money. In the face of current economic difficulties the querent was concerned about whether or not to pursue her creative pursuits or if she should seek a regularly paying job.
Earning Money

The present is embodied in Hexagram 14 – Ta Yu (Possession in Great Measure): There will be great progress and success.

The fire in heaven above shines far, and all things stand out in the light and become manifest. The weak fifth line occupies the place of honor, and all the strong lines are in accord with it. All things come to the man who is modest and kind in a high position.

The I Ching or Book of Changes (Bollingen Series XIX) Princeton University Press.

There are no changing lines. The situation is expected to remain the same in the immediate future.

The things most apparent, those above and in front, are embodied by the upper trigram Li (Fire). This trigram embodies that which is bright and warm.

The lower trigram Chi'en (Heaven) represents strength and creativity. This trigram is those things that are the least apparent.

Commentary on the Trigram

The first trigram is Chi'en, which means Heaven seems to assure success, even in the face of current difficulties. Let's take a look at why.

In the lower trigram there are no changing lines. This is the foundation of the situation. As such there seems to a firm foundation to the current situation. Things may seem to the querent that things are unsteady, but the I-Ching assures the querent that she is on solid ground. Why? This lower trigram represents the Will of Heaven. The querent is following the path that is ordained to her. The difficulties she experiences are not due to anything she has done or failed to do.

The first line of the trigram Chi'en is a yan line representing creative power. While it talks of difficulties to be overcome, this first line also says that being conscious of the difficulties prepares the querent for what is to come.

The second line of the trigram, also a yan line, supported by the yan line at the bottom, indicates that there are people available to help to help the querent. She should not hesitate to ask for help to maintain her current path.

The third yan line, supported by the firm foundation of the first two lines, indicates that the querent is in the correct position to attain her destiny as long as she offers her work to the world at large. This seems to indicate that taking a paid position, the byproducts of which are owned by a singular entity, is a step back and not aligned with the Will of Heaven.

The fourth yan line, another unchanging line, indicates, according to the commentaries, a person who is placed among rich and powerful people. This seems to indicate the querent will soon meet such people, those who hold to key to material success.

The fifth line is yin line. Being open, it is receptive, but also being supported by a firm yan line on the bottom and the top, allows the line to operate freely with the power available to being receptive to the ideas of others. This line indicates that the querent should be open to the suggestions and advice of others and in doing so good fortune is assured.

The sixth and final line is firm and unyielding. Confucius says of this line: "Heaven helps the man who is devoted; men help the man who is true. He who walks in truth and is devoted in his thinking, and furthermore reveres the worthy, is blessed by heaven".

The oracle is clear. Using the creative energies of the querent will lead her to her financial goals.

Is The I-Ching the Best Type of Reading for You?
Many forms of divination can give you events, but rarely offer concrete advice on how to handle them. Based on the cycles of life, there is nothing that is beyond the I-Ching to answer. It is amazing how often the specific details of the descriptive trigrams and hexagrams fit the circumstances of the querent's life. If you are looking for true guiding insight that informs and reassures an I-Ching reading is for you.
Learn More About the I-Ching:
Recommended Reading
The I Ching, or, Book of Changes (Bollingen Series XIX) [Hardcover] Richard Wilhelm (Translator), Cary F. Baynes (Translator), Hellmut Wilhelm (Preface), C. G. Jung (Foreword)
Photo Credits

Yin/Yang Earth Sky photo published under a Creative Commons License Issued by Flickr User Donkeyhotey

I-Ching Coins published under a Creative Commons License issued by Flickr User Ross Griff





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