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What is I-Ching?

The I Ching (often spelt as I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King, or Yi Jing) is an ancient Chinese representation of wisdom and philosophy.  It is based on a text of the same name supposedly dating back to around 2850 BC, the I Ching or Book of Changes, 'I' meaning 'change' and 'ching' meaning 'book'.  The I Ching is reputedly the oldest of Chinese classic texts.  The book consists of a series of symbols, rules for manipulating these symbols, and poems.  It discusses an ancient system of philosophy and cosmology at the very centre of Chinese beliefs, and was studied by no lesser a person than Confucius.  The philosophy of I Ching centres on the ideas of ‘the dynamic balance of opposites’, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change.

The text of the I Ching is a set of predictions represented by a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (kuas).  Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines where each line is either Yang (an unbroken or solid line), or Yin (a broken or open line with a gap in the center).  With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 2 to the power of 6, or 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams.

Following the universal law of eternal change, these lines are always in motion, moving ever upwards, thus as a new line enters from the bottom it pushes the five lines above it upwards, and as a result displaces the line at the top.  This movement is considered to be always in time to the rhythm of the universal heartbeat, constantly mirroring the universe itself.  Taken together, the hexagrams and their lines represent every conceivable condition to be found in heaven and on earth with all their states of change.

The 8 Trigrams of the I Ching

The great Chinese sage Fu Hsi, to whom the I Ching system is attributed, constructed his answers to questions in the form of sixty-four figures, these being six linear lines stacked one above the other, either divided or undivided, called hexagrams or kua.  The top (upper) three lines and the bottom (lower) three lines of each hexagram are called trigrams, or bagua ('ba' means 'eight', while 'gua' means 'figures' or 'images'), each representing the fundamental ways in which energy moves, and their interactions creating new layers of meaning in each hexagram.

The Eight Trigrams of the I Ching

The Creative - Heaven
The Arousing - Thunder
The Abysmal - Water
Stillness - Mountain
The Receptive - Earth
Brightness - Fire
Gentleness - Wind
Joyous - Lake

The 64 Hexagrams / Kua of the I Ching

Each of the sixty-four hexagrams can change into one another through the movement of one or more of the six lines that form that hexagram, thus requiring that extra attention be paid to the changing line or lines.  The transformation of the changing line to it's opposite results in a supplementary reading to the original hexagram formed.  There are 4,096 possible combinations (64 x 64), which is thought to represent every possible condition in heaven and on earth.

Additionally, each of the sixty-four hexagrams, with their combined total of 384 lines (64 x 6), represents a specific situation or condition.  Each of these situations or conditions contains the six stages of its own evolution:

  1. Preparing to come into being
  2. Actually beginning
  3. Expanding
  4. Approaching its maximum potential
  5. Peaking
  6. Passing its peak and turning towards its opposite condition
Consequently, the hexagrams not only represent every conceivable situation and condition possible, but also include each of their states of change.

The Sixty-four Hexagrams/Kuas of the I Ching

1 - Ch'ien
2 - K'un
3 - Chun
(to start with)
4 - Mo'^e'ng
Youthful Folly
5 - Hsu
6 - Sung
7 - Shih
The Army/Host
8 - Pi
9 - Hsiao
Ch'u The Power
of the Small
10 - Lu
11 - T'ai
12 - P'i
13 - T'ung
Jo'^e'n Fellowship
with Men
14 - Ta
Yu Possession
in Abundance
15 - Ch'ien
16 - Yu
17 - Sui
18 - Ku
19 - Lin
20 - Kuan
21 - Shih
Ho Biting Through
22 - Pi
23 - Po
Splitting Apart
24 - Fu
The Turning Point
25 - Wu
Wang Innocence
26 - Ta
Ch'u The Taming Power
of the Great
27 - I
The Corners of the Mouth
(Providing Nourishment)
28 - Ta
Kuo Hold
of the Great
29 - K'an
The Abysmal
30 - Li
The Clinging
31 - Hsien
32 - Ho'^e'ng
33 - Tun
34 - Ta
Chuang The Power
of the Great
35 - Chin
36 - Ming I
Darkening of
37 - Chia
The Family
38 - K'uei
39 - Chien
40 - Hsieh
41 - Sun
42 - I
43 - Kuai
44 - Kou
45 - Ts'ui
Gathering Together
46 - Sho'^e'ng
Pushing Upwards
47 - K'un
48 - Ching
The Well
49 - Ko
50 - Ting
The Cauldron
51 - Cho'^e'n
The Arousing
(Shock, Thunder)
52 - Ko'^e'n
Keeping Still
53 - Chien
(Gradual Progress)
54 - Kuei
Mei The Marrying
55 - Fo'^e'ng
56 - Lu
The Wanderer
57 - Sun
The Gentle
(Penetrating, Wind)
58 - Tui
The Joyous
59 - Huan
60 - Chieh
61 - Chung
Fu Inner Truth
62 - Hsiao
Kuo Hold
of the Small
63 - Chi
Chi After Completion
64 - Wei
Chi Before Completion

Since reaching Western cultures in the 19th century, the I Ching has been used mainly as a form of divination.  The most common method is to toss three coins of a kind twice to determine a hexagram.  An alternative method is to throw yarrow sticks.  There are numerous sites on the internet which explain the meaning of each hexagram, and this site may well incorporate these meanings to save you looking them up elsewhere if and when time constraints permit.

According to Aleister Crowley, in I Ching - Book of Changes, "The I Ching is mathematical and philosophical in form.  Its structure is cognate with that of the Qabalah; the actual apparatus is simple, and five minutes is sufficient to obtain a fairly detailed answer to any but the most obscure questions."  Incidentally, Crowley used 6 coins or 6 sticks to create his hexagrams.

But contrary to Crowley's opinion that the I Ching is straightforward and simple to understand, Carl Gustav Jung, in the foreword to his book I Ching says, "The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach.  Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered.  It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom - if there be such - it seems to be the right book.  To one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night.  He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true.  Let it go forth into the world for the benefit of those who can discern its meaning."

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