An introduction to the I Ching
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Note: The following article was originally written for a software program on the I Ching. The entire text for the software was written by Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary. The article has been reproduced here without any changes.
Chinese wisdom had always interested me as much as ancient Indian knowledge. My spiritual journey took me from philosophy to psychology and divination to synchronicity. I have been involved with the helping professions for nearly 15 years as a student, teacher and practitioner. Irrespective of the field that I was involved with, whether dentistry or administration or astrology or yoga or psychotherapy in a general sense, most often my work involved counseling. I had worked with a few thousand people by any estimate. People often ask me about how I connect my varied interests? Where do I stand in the midst of all the various disciplines that I have been attracted to? It is hard to confine knowledge into water tight compartments. No one can say with certainty where physiology ends and where psychology starts, or where psychology ends and where spirituality starts. There is a junction where physics, physiology, psychology and spirituality meet. It is at these cross-roads where they all meet, that I stand. At one time my own studies in ancient wisdom, had led me to the I Ching.
In the course of my own study into the various methods of divination, I had always been more interested in systems and methods that have a strong philosophical or psychological basis to them. Naturally divination methods that rested on philosophical systems held particular fascination for me. Having been through a theoretical learning and practical training in certain ancient Indian philosophies, I could appreciate most Asian schools of wisdom. Moreover I started sensing that the primitive substratum of certain Tantric ideas had a universal character by its prevalence among peoples widely separated from one another. At times specific practices too had their seeds in different cultures. Some scholars point out the connection between certain mystic practices of Tantra with those of China . Internal evidence from certain Indian Tantric texts too lends support to such a view. Thus we have the Taratantra 's evidence that sage Vasishta went to Mahacina ( China ) and brought from there the cult of Mahacinakramacara . Another such instance can be cited from the South Indian Shaivite Siddha tradition, where sage Bhogar , one of the eighteen great siddhas, is said to be a Chinese sage. While the roots of Tantra are lost in the depths of pre-historic mists, and are also linked to the Vedic wisdom, later Tantra and Tao ism have much in common and even seem to share some relation historically. Buddhism too had played a significant part in further establishing this relationship. In a nutshell the basic principles of Tantra, Saivism and Taoism share a common substratum. So when I first encountered Taoism I was on familiar grounds. I had the same feeling when I came across the I Ching too.
Over the years, my appreciation for and understanding of the I Ching grew as I delved deeper into its divinatory, philosophical and psychological aspects. Since my own studies were of a multi-disciplinary nature, my insights into the I Ching too, had a multi-disciplinary character. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of I Ching . One school is the philosophical school while the other is of Divination. The philosophical school typically looks down on those who use the I Ching for divination, as ignorant and fortune tellers. But I saw no conflict between these two schools as I was already strongly rooted in the Indian Vedic and Tantric world-view that sees no distinction between the sacred and the mundane or the spiritual and worldly. Moreover with my multiple interests I started studying the I Ching' s immense value in all the areas that I was involved in- medicine and healing, philosophy and psychology, and finally divination too as one of the many aspects of ancient wisdom as a guide to daily living.
Though initially I studied the I Ching for its philosophical value, I started seeing its significance as a tool of divination. I would cast the I Ching on a regular basis on every conceivable subject and aspect of life. I had the habit of recording every reading and I would come back to my records after the event came to pass. I would then compare the various traditional commentaries and modern interpretative texts and guides on the I Ching retrospectively. We have a substantial body of literature in English, thanks to the untiring efforts of many western students too. The longer I practiced, the deeper became my understanding. After fifteen years of serious study from the works of nearly fifty authors, various commentaries and interpretative guides, and literally thousands of readings or situations, I had accumulated a rich database that soon evolved naturally into a comprehensive guide to the I Ching- a body of wisdom. The contents of this software are largely from my studies and experience over the years. There are many excellent works on the I Ching in English. So what is unique about this one?
The uniqueness of this work
Most existing works are primarily either philosophical or divinatory. Even those that primarily seek to use the I Ching as a divinatory tool, generally go into only specific aspects. Since I had used the I Ching (for myself as well many others) in almost every conceivable situation, this work is relatively more comprehensive. While I have gone into the philosophical and traditional aspects too, I have extended its use to more contemporary situations as well. Thus under the various aspects you will find the following included.
- Meanings and Indications
- Image of the Situation/ Tuan/ Judgement
- Symbol Tradition/ Overall Image/ Da Xiang
- Image Tradition (Tuan Zhuan) - both traditional and contemporary commentary
- Time of realization
- Employment and change of career
- Disputes and lawsuits
- Lost article
Apart from the above I have covered other important aspects of the I Ching like the moving lines ( Yao Ci) and their commentary, correct and incorrect positions, correspondence ( ying) , juxtaposition ( bi) , detailed description of the eight trigrams ( ba gua ), opposite (pang tong gua), inverse (qian gua), reverse (jiao gua), nuclear of (zhi hu gua) and nuclear (hu gua) hexagrams too, while writing the extended commentary. In other words I haven't left out any of the important aspects of traditional commentaries. In addition I have added my own commentary on certain important aspects that I find most people interested in.
art A is based on traditional commentaries and covers the symbol and its traditional image and commentary. This is good to understand the philosophical principles behind the hexagram. But since some users may find it cryptic and enigmatic, I have also included simplified explanations where required. Some may still find the language
indirect. So I have given a simple and contemporary interpretation in the section called 'the sage says'. Hereafter the subsequent sections are largely divinatory.
Part B summarizes in simple terms the crux of the matter under three headings: condition of fortune, realization of the wish and time of realization. Here a word of caution should be said. Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers can be misleading at times as most situations in life are not that simple and cannot be put in black or white. So please read the previous section once or twice at least. You will invariably see the problem or situation at hand in a new way. And you will most probably find your understanding of the situation clearer as well as more insightful.
In part C I have given full commentary for three special situations that most users might find useful. I have adapted the wisdom of the hexagram to the situation and given my interpretation of the same. Thus in a way I can say that Relationships, Business, and Health/Healing are the three concerns or situations of life, that have received full fledged attention. While the commentary on relationships and business is relatively simple and anybody can benefit from it, let me clearly warn the user against a flippant use of the Health/Healing section.
The Health/Sickness part is meant only for the qualified medical practitioner. Individual questions should be formulated separately about the diagnosis, etiology, treatment plan and prognosis. It is most important to know the patient's medical history well enough before attempting to understand the guidance given here. An appreciation for the ancient medical systems could be an added advantage here. The ancients thought and explained in terms of prana or qi, the five vital airs or pancha pranas or five qi s etc. So you have words like spleen vacuity or lower burner that may make no sense unless you are acquainted with Chinese medicine. Again there are at least three or four main levels of interpretation as well as some more secondary levels that one has to go through before arriving at a tentative conclusion. At no time should one lose sight of the most fundamental concept that the hexagram represents the answer as a whole. One should take note of whether the hexagram is generally auspicious or inauspicious. The rest of the information makes sense against this background.
Part D deals with other important aspects and situations that most people ask about. Clear and concise answers are provided for each aspect. But at the cost of repetition, I should remind the user that simple 'yes' or 'no' answers can be misleading at times as most situations in life are not that simple and cannot be put in black or white. So read the general condition and image tradition thoroughly before accepting the answers. Some situations require more intelligent adaptation of the I Ching's guidance according to the context.
The origin and development of the I Ching
Scholars disagree on the history of the I Ching . It is obvious that the book grew by gradual accretion over a period of at least four millennia, into its present form. The origins are shrouded in mystery because of their great antiquity and are lost in the hoary past. Chinese folklore has interesting stories of the legendary origins of the 'book of changes'. In Chinese literature four holy men are cited as the authors of the book of changes. Modern scholarship has revealed the main steps of the evolution of the classics in four stages which have parallels in folklore too.
According to legend, Fu Hsi (a prehistoric chieftain of perhaps c. 3000 B.C.E.,) is designated as the inventor of the linear signs of the book of changes . From the markings on the back of a tortoise Fu Hsi is said to have constructed the eight Diagrams (Trigrams) or series of lines, from which was developed a whole system of philosophy, embodied later on in the mysterious work known as the " Canon of Changes ". "It is the most venerated and least understood of the Chinese classics, serving as a basis for the philosophy of divination and geomancy, and supposed to contain the elements of metaphysical knowledge and clue to the secrets of creation" (Wilhelm). And from these Trigrams (note the difference between a tri gram and hexa gram), the I Ching was generated. They have been held to be of such antiquity that some say that they antedate historical memory.
The eight Trigrams have names that do not occur in any connection in the Chinese language, and because of this they have even been thought to be of foreign origin. The eight Trigrams are found occurring in various combinations at a very early date. Although the Trigrams can be understood, and can help you to understand the states of consciousness to a certain extent, they do not fully cover all the possible variations of life and thus cannot help with existential decisions and choices. Eventually the eight trigrams were expanded in order to identify more patterns of change and thus more adequately encompass the diversity of experience and phenomena. Adding together two Trigrams and, therefore squaring the total number of possible combinations created 64 Hexagrams, which is nothing but 64 stages of life.
The present collection of sixty-four Hexagrams originated with King Wen, an eleventh-century B.C.E. leader and progenitor of the Chou Dynasty. King Wen is said to have added brief judgments to the Hexagrams during his imprisonment at the hands of the tyrant Chou Hsin, the last emperor of the Shang dynasty. King Wen was imprisoned at Yu-Li, in modern Honan for three years (some say seven years). He spent his time contemplating on the eight trigrams and expanded them into the sixty four hexagrams. He is also said to have written brief judgments for each hexagram. King Wen's work, the 'Pem Ching', consists of the Kua (hexagrams) and Thuan (Judgements) only. The spies reported to the emperor Chou Hsin about Wen's preoccupation with the gua. The tyrant regarded king Wen as too silly to be of any threat to him. One day a strange wind blew away two tiles from the roof, which smashed into pieces on falling on the ground. Wen consulted the I Ching to understand the omen. Hexagram 46 is associated with this event. King Wen predicted that he would be freed soon and return to his home state. It actually came to be so!
After this the Shang dynasty was overthrown and King Wen's son the Duke of Chou, became the emperor. It was he who wrote the text pertaining to the individual lines of each hexagram. King Wen as well as his son the Duke of Chou, observed how the various events in the fall of Shang dynasty and the subsequent rise of the Chou dynasty seemed to be synchronized with the hexagrams of the I Ching. They also recognized in the 64 hexagrams, all the changing patterns in all phenomena.
This was the status of the book at the time Confucius, the great humanistic philosopher of the sixth to fifth BC, came upon it. His copy, a set of bamboo tablets fastened by a leather thong, was consulted so often that the binding had to be replaced three times. It is said that Confucius said that if he had fifty years more to spare, he would devote them to the I Ching. In his old age he gave it intensive study, and it is highly probable that the commentary of the Decision ( T'uan Chuan ) is his work. The commentary on the images also goes back to him. He wrote ten commentaries on the classic, called the Ten Wings, transforming it from a divination text into a philosophical masterpiece. In this form, the I Ching inspired the later Taoists, including Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, as well as the Confucians, and other philosophers and scientists ever since. Thus Confucius is the last of the four wise leaders who are said to have been instrumental in affecting our understanding of the I Ching .
The Philosophical foundations
The fundamental concept of the I Ching is stated by Confucius in The Great Commentary:
"In I, there is Tai Chi.
Tai Chi generates two primary energies.
Two primary energies generate four primary symbols.
Four primary symbols generate eight primary 'gua'.
The Great Treatise just states the principle, but illustrates it no further. Fifteen hundred years after Confucius, scholars of the Taoist school created a graphic illustration of the principle.
The Ultimate ( Tai Chi ) - ONE
In Chinese, the Ultimate is referred to as Tai Chi. Tai Chi is both the first and the last , rather the Supreme Ultimate. The ultimate reality, the core of all things and all beings is beyond thought, form, name and description. The ancient seers called it by various names - Tao, Tai Chi, Param Shiva , Brahman, Pure Consciousness and Cosmic consciousness. Call it what you want to, but it is the eternal ocean in which the countless universes arise as waves; the boundless space within which everything is born, grows and dies; the source of all things, the substratum upon which all things appear, the one and only reality which is un-produced, indestructible, motionless, eternal, all-pervading and beyond time and space. It is a veritable zero of vibration-less equilibrium.
It eternally alternates between two phases of rest and action, having in it the twin aspects of yin and yang , which always remain in a state of perfect coexistence with each other. When this ultimate reality is self-moved to manifest something of it self, it results in the projection of the Universe from itself. The universe is a product of these two twin aspects, in various permutations and combinations, which the poet and devotee see as a sport, play or union of these two.
As we had already observed, the 'bi-une' alternates between periods of rest and action. During the period of action, the energy undergoes many changes and gets distorted giving rise to myriads of forms. It reorganizes itself during the period of rest and thus a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction goes on eternally. This world view is shared by ancient philosophies across the world. Of all such schools, two are most popular- the Indian school of Tantra, and the Chinese Taoist School . Inspite of some differences, both the schools share this 'Bi-une' worldview. Based on this view, many systems - the philosophical, the scientific and the oracular- grew. One such is the I Ching.
The ' I' in the I Ching stands for 'change', while ' Ching ' stands for 'doctrine' or 'book'. In life, there is nothing that does not change. The only thing that doesn't change is this principle of change. Time is the great force of change that drives all things to be born, to grow, to transform and eventually to die. But "change" itself is merely attendant to and patterned according to the "cyclic nature" of all phenomena. What is occurring today has happened in the past. All things change through time. And there are many factors or aspects in the phenomenon of change. Taken by itself, each factor at any moment of time will eventually change in one way or another. But taking all the factors together through a prolonged period of time, their patterns of changes can be very persistently consistent, and therefore, recognizable. Hence, the profound secret of the wisdom of the I Ching is that changes occur in predictable cyclic patterns.
Two primary energies ( Yin &Yang ) - TWO
The 'Bi-une' Tai Chi differentiates into two primary energies, the Yin and the Yang . When in stillness the yin and the yang are integrated in Tai Chi . When in motion they are differentiated. From Tai Chi, the two basic opposites- Yin and Yang- were generated, representing the first group of fundamental and relatively unchangeable factors underlying the permutations of changes. After Tai Chi had differentiated into two primary energies, Heaven and Earth appeared, sun and moon came forth; thunderstorms
and wind were stirred up. The ancient sages summed up all these phenomena and named the two primary energies the Yang and the Yin . Yin represents the dark, soft and female aspect, while Yang represents the light, hard and male. Yin and Yang represent the negative and positive dualism existing within all things. Yet they are not considered opposites at all, but interdependent polarities that bring all of existence into being. They designated a solid line to represent the Yang and a broken line to represent the Yin . In general, the Yin-Yang symbol is a Chinese representation of the entire celestial phenomenon. It contains the cycle of Sun, four seasons, 24-Segment Chi , and the foundation of the I Ching .
The I Ching presents the phenomena of the interchange, interaction, growth, and decline of Yin and Yang . There is always tendency toward balance in the interaction and interchange of the two. When either Yin or Yang reaches the extreme, it is out of balance and a dramatic change takes place by the alternating of the original force to its opposite as the fluctuation seeks balance. In other words the extreme or old Yin transforms into the yang , while the extreme or old yang transforms into the yin . It is a natural law that the evolution and development of heaven and earth and all the beings between them occurs through a process of attaining balance. When Yin and Yang meet, there is balance.
Four primary symbols - FOUR
After two primary energies were generated, Yin energy and Yang energy interacted. There are four possibilities for those interactions.
The Yang interacts with the Yang . ( Greater Yang )
The Yin interacts with the Yang . ( Lesser Yin )
The Yang interacts with the Yin . ( Lesser Yang )
The Yin interacts with the Yin . ( Greater Yin )
Eight Primary Trigrams - EIGHT
After these four more advanced forms of Yin and Yang energy were generated, they continued to interact. There are eight possibilities for these interactions .
As seen from the above pyramid, from Tai Chi, originate the Yin and the Yang , the two basic opposites, representing the first group of fundamentally unchangeable factors underlying the permutations of changes. There are four possible pairs of Yin and Yang , viz. Greater Yin , Lesser Yang , Lesser Yin and Greater Yang .
As individual symbols, Yin and Yang- one broken line and one solid line- only express the fundamental dichotomy. However, the world is made up of an almost endless variety of things, rather infinite combinations of Yin and Yang . A three-line symbol called a Trigram is the next building block of the I Ching system of divination. The trigram represents the next level of complexity in the world. Thus the second building block of fundamental and relatively unchangeable factors is represented by the Trigrams ( gua ) based on the three combinations of the Yin and Yang . The eight possible Trigrams ('Ba Gua' where ba means eight) represent the eight fundamental subdivisions of space and time. They include the four cardinal directions, and by extension the five elements and the seasons. The Trigrams thus are numerically capable of representing the eight basic types of consciousness (actually 7 consciousness + 1 Awareness). Each of the eight primary Trigrams of the I Ching are traditionally called by specific names with unique symbolic connotations, or resonances.
The Trigrams have significance in different contexts (family, nature, elements, etc.). The eight names of the Trigrams do not represent the objects mentioned in their names. Strictly speaking, these eight objects are merely symbols employed to illustrate the eight primary energies that interacts in the universe. Symbols are to Trigrams as shadows are to objects. The power of the resulting Hexagram rests partly on the interaction of these significant meanings. To understand the I Ching , one should become familiar with the symbolic meaning of the Trigrams. More on these individual Trigrams will be given later.
The Sixty-Four Hexagrams
Although the Trigrams can be understood, and can help us to understand the states of consciousness, they cannot help fully with existential decisions and choices. Hence eventually this was expanded in order to identify more patterns of change and thus more adequately encompass the diversity of experience and phenomena. Adding together two Trigrams and, therefore squaring the total number of possible combinations created 64 Hexagrams, which is nothing but 64 stages of life, where each stage develops into six steps of linear symbols of Yang and Yin lines, unbroken and broken lines, each six lined figure is called a Hexagram. With the squaring of the eight Trigrams, 64 individual patterns or situations could be described symbolically. Now six lines are used to create a Hexagram.
Every Hexagram represents a phenomenon, and every Hexagram has an essence and a form. To understand a phenomenon one should understand its form as well as its essence. To understand a Hexagram, one has to understand its inner and outer situations as well as its inner spirit and its outer presence. The sixty-four general stages are those, which we find ourselves in at any one time in our lives.
Hexagrams are made up of Yao or lines. When a line changes, the Hexagram changes as well, as does its attributes. In this way lines manifest the functions of the Hexagrams. The ancient sages said that, in order to understand the Hexagram, one must comprehend the lines. The Hexagrams are regarded as symbols displayed so that people could see their significance; lines are symbols for people to imitate. The lines make up the Hexagram. Therefore the attributes of a Hexagram are determined by the attributes of the lines and by their combinations, arrangements, and interrelationships. Let's start by looking at the fundamental building blocks- the lines. The four lines are:
6 = Old Yin
The Old Yin line is a moving or changing line, and represents a situation that is too fragile or negative. It is in a state of flux or transition, and moves to its opposite (a Young Yang line) in order to resolve its conflict. These, along with Old Yang lines, are a primary focus point of our studies.
7 = Young Yang
The Young Yang line is a stable, balanced line, and represents firmness, strength, and virility. It is not changing, and forms a solid basis for our Hexagrams. These lines lend themselves to the "whole," the representation of the Trigrams and the Hexagrams.
8 = Young Yin
The Young Yin line is also a stable, balanced line, and represents yielding, passiveness, and femininity. It also is not changing, and forms the foundations for our Hexagrams. Like Young Yang lines, they give themselves to the "whole" of the reading, adding to the representation of the Trigrams and the Hexagrams.
9 = Old Yang
The Old Yang line, like the Old Yin line, is a moving or changing line, and represents a situation that is too strong or positive. It is also in a state of change, and moves to its opposite (a Young Yin line) in order to achieve balance and harmony. These are also primary focus points of our studies.
The I Ching embraces all phenomena in the universe and summarizes them in sixty-four Hexagrams. The Hexagrams represent all phenomena, and the lines represent stages of changes among the phenomena. Generally speaking, each phenomenon develops in no more than six stages. When it reaches the seventh stage, a dramatic change emerges, that is, a quantitative change becomes a qualitative change. A moving line represents this transformation from one situation to the next. We focus on these moving lines in our interpretations. Both the symbol and the attribute of the phenomenon change. The old vanishes and a new Hexagram emerges. The young (non-moving) lines are considered balanced and stable; they do not move, and instead lend to the overall interpretation and representation of the Hexagram.
Moving hexagram and Final Hexagram
The old (moving) lines are called "moving" lines because they change into their opposite values i.e., Old Yin , 6, and Old Yang , 9 "move" to their respective opposite. When these lines appear (they may not appear some times), we have what is called a "moving Hexagram." This means one or more lines in the Hexagram are 6's ( Old Yin ) or 9's ( Old Yang ). For these Hexagrams, we draw a second Hexagram next to the first one, replacing all old Yin lines with young Yang 's, and replacing all old Yang 's with young Yin 's. The second Hexagram is the final Hexagram or the progressed hexagram and it indicates our future. In other words the final hexagram holds the answer with respect to the eventual outcome, while the moving lines of the first hexagram represent the crucial phases, phases marked by significant changes in the unraveling of the situation.
The lines are differentiated into Yin and Yang . The ancient sages named Yang lines Nine, because nine is the greatest among the five odd numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and it is Yang 's nature to lead. They named Yin lines Six, because six is the central among the five even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and it is Yin 's nature to hold the center. Thus, a second Yang line would be named as "Nine at the second place", while a sixth Yin line would be named as "Six at the second place".
Types of Casting
There are many ways to cast the I Ching . Traditionally, the I Ching sticks were made from yarrow stalks or the bamboo sticks, which were, considered the proper tools for casting. Since then practitioners of the I Ching have invented many tools and techniques for consulting it. First, there is the three-coin technique of divination, which has already become quite popular in the West. There is also a casting method utilizing dice, which is very quick and convenient for daily purposes. And, finally, in our high-tech days, there are several computer software programs for the I Ching divination. They are fairly quick, well designed and are developed keeping in mind the present day scenario. Now let me acquaint you with various methods in detail. First I will describe the three coin method as it is the simplest, easiest and quite popular in modern times. Then I will follow it by a brief discussion of other methods.
The Three-Coin Toss Method:
Finding the yarrow stalks method tedious, modern divinators have restored to a short cut method by using the random throwing of three coins to determine each line of the Hexagram. The use of coins has a similar spiritual background, based in history and imagery. It is not necessary to use authentic bronze Chinese coins. It involves throwing onto plain surface three coins simultaneously, six times in succession to obtain a single Hexagram. In other words, one throws the three coins once for each line, from bottom line to top. (Note: The first line is drawn at the bottom, with each subsequent line coming on top of the previous one till the last line (sixth) is drawn at the topmost)
Choose one side of your coins to be "head" and the other side to be "tail." It does not really matter which you select, as long as you never vary from your choice. To the Heads side, we associate the value 3 (three). This represents the Yang or positive principle. To the Tails side, we associate the value 2 (two). This represents the Yin or negative principle, and indicates the limitation and duality of our relationship with the Universe or God. Thus by throwing three coins at one time, there are four possible Yin / Yang combinations as given in the table below. You can use the following table to translate this number into the first line of your hexagram:
Yao or Line
changing broken line
unchanging solid line
unchanging broken line
changing solid line
1) Old /moving Yin line:
Tail (2) + Tail (2) + Tail (2) = 6
2) Yang line/ Fixed Yang line:
Tail (2) + Tail (2) + Head (3) = 7
3) Yin line / Fixed Yin line:
Tail (2) + Head (3) + Head (3) = 8
4) Old / moving Yang line:
Head (3) + Head (3) + Head (3) = 9
Using the above combinations, you can generate your Hexagram. Now let me recapitulate the procedure in a few steps.
Contemplate on your question. Throw the coins on a plain surface. Write down the line you received: it's the first line of your hexagram, which is the one at the bottom .
Repeat the same process five more times, working from the bottom up to the sixth and last line.
- Now you've written down your primary hexagram . There's no more casting to be done. This is the basis of the whole answer. What you have is the first or primary or moving hexagram. Note the moving lines in the hexagram if any.
- Convert the moving lines to their opposite. You now have a different hexagram. This is the final or progressed hexagram.
Interpretation: In the I Ching book (whichever version or translation you are using) there will be a reference chart where you can read off the hexagram you've received. Remember that t h e final hexagram holds the answer with respect to the eventual outcome, while the moving lines of the first hexagram represent the crucial phases, phases marked by significant changes in the unraveling of the situation.
Now I will describe the other methods of casting a hexagram.
The Yarrow sticks or stalks Method:
The ancient divination method of consulting the I Ching was the method of the Yarrow Stalks. Fifty yarrow stalks would be used and randomly divided into heaps until four or fewer stalks are left in each heap. The residual stalks of the two heaps would give you a number. Repeating these three times that would yield a cumulative number, which would correspond to a line of the Hexagram. This method would yield these numbers: 9 for old Yang , 7 for young Yang , 6 for old Yin and 8 for young Yin . The use of stalks has an organic spiritual history, connecting oneself with a link between Heaven (the creative or Yang principle ) and the earth (the receptive or Yin principle ). The yarrow stalks are still a popular method, but this technique requires an extensive amount of time.
The Dice Method:
In this particular method of casting, one needs two octagonal dice of two different colors with the numbers 1 to 8 and one hexagonal (regular) dice of any color with the numbers 1 to 6. A dice cup is optional. One uses one of the two octagonal dice for the determining the upper Trigram and the other for the lower Trigram. The hexagonal dice is used for determining the moving lines. Traditionally one Trigram corresponds to each number on the octagonal dice.
The Computer Method:
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to generate a Hexagram. In general, one first types in his question, then pauses a moment meditating on the question, and then types in numbers and pushes the submit button. Immediately a Hexagram with the moving lines (if any) appears before one's eye onto the monitor. You can find your answer in that particular Hexagram.
Some may spurn at using such a mechanical process for casting the I Ching. But if the mechanisms behind the oracular prognostications of the I Ching are none other than synchronicity and the holographic nature of reality, then pushing a computer button at a moment thus and generating a Hexagram is no different than throwing coins or dice. So using the computer method does not disadvantage the practitioner in any way.
How to consult the I Ching
When to consult the I Ching :
It's a good time to consult the I Ching whenever you
- Are faced with an important or particularly stressful question
- Are faced with a dilemma or upsetting problem
- Inner conflict
- Could use advice on the best timing to make a significant move
- Want to center yourself in the midst of knotty issues
How to frame the Question:
When we're bothered by something or must face a difficult decision, we can often become muddled in confusion. Ask about what's foremost on your mind and put it as clearly and positively as possible. It's usually better to ask for advice about whether to do something proactive, than whether not to do a thing. Otherwise, the problem of double negatives can make the response difficult to interpret clearly. For instance, questions like "Should I take the new assignment?" generally work better than "Should I turn down this assignment?" It is extremely important that consulting the I Ching be carried out in a peaceful, unbiased frame of mind. If one tries to cast the I Ching in a hurried, perturbed state of mind or solely for selfish reasons, one will never be able to obtain a proper or a meaning answer to their question. You may use the I Ching for your friends and acquaintances too, but you must maintain confidentiality. Never reveal a person's secret to any other person.
Approach the I Ching with an attitude of respect and open-mindedness. Do not expect a firm 'Yes' or 'No' answer. Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers can be misleading at times as most situations in life are not that simple and cannot be put in black or white. So please read the Image, Symbol and the commentary a few times. You will invariably see the problem or situation at hand in a new way. And you will most probably find your understanding of the situation clearer as well as more insightful.
Do not demand the I Ching:
When we approach someone with respect and honor, we politely ask them, "Please advise me as to what the course of action should be with regard to ." The same holds good with the I Ching. Just as we remind little children, "remember to say your 'Pleases' and 'Thank-You s'!" Each reading should center on a single question. How many questions can you ask? Though you may ask leading questions that further clarify the situation, it is better if you ask only one or two at a time, because each answer deserves an amount of observation, study, and introspective thought. Sometimes a particular situation just doesn't have a specific, clear-cut question. In those cases, try to generalize your thoughts as much as possible.
Avoid being Ambiguous!
In terms of formulating an individual question, it is most important to know what one wants to ask the I Ching . When people get an obscure answer, it is usually because that they were not clear about what they wanted to know. An example of this is either/or questions. When one asks a question of the I Ching , one is ultimately asking their deep instinctive mind to come up with an answer and, if one is not clear about what one wants to know, they will only get an ambiguous answer. Therefore, it is extremely important to contemplate on one's question and ask oneself whether or not one knows what they want.
The I Ching works well with clear questions like:
- What's the best approach to take in tomorrow's transaction?
- Will I succeed in this endeavor?
- For marriage, is this alliance suitable for me?
- Can I accept this assignment?
- Will my health improve?
- Can I travel now?
- Pregnancy - whether boy or girl?
- Can I make investment in real estate, share, business etc? (Each should be separately asked)
- What's the best way to relate to my girlfriend who hasn't spoken to me in a week?
- If I do x, what will be the result?
- Should I go for it and put it all on the line today?
It is a good idea to maintain a record of all your questions and the hexagrams obtained so that you may read it again retrospectively after the event has come to pass. This way you will find your understanding of the I Ching greatly enhanced. So be sure to take a print out or write it down! It is always advised to take a print out or to write down the Hexagram you obtained for further reference.
Do not ask the same question twice:
One should ask the I Ching a particular question only once. Never ask the same question twice just because one does not like the answer one has obtained. To ask the same question a second time would have been tactless and so you should not. "The master speaks but once." There are people who keep asking the same question over and over again in a different form until they get the answer they wanted to hear. This should be never done. The only exception is when the I Ching itself prompts you to consult again after a time gap.
One should also not cast the I Ching for fun on insignificant matters or just to test it. The reason is simple. The I Ching or for that matter no form of divination or oracle works like that. All forms of divination generally work through the phenomenon of Synchronicity. In the subsequent section I have dealt with this in detail. If you are not interested in serious scientific reading, you may skip this section.
Is there any scientific explanation for how the I Ching works?
There are many advantages in consulting with the I Ching. You use the I Ching when in need of a stimulus to explore alternatives in making decisions. One major advantage is the I Ching's complete objectivity. At the core of every I Ching reading is an interaction between your subjective hopes and fears, and the external objective realities. One might wonder how this happens. To understand that I have to touch upon that great phenomenon called Synchronicity. Let me digress here.
Synchronicity and the I Ching
Consider this. For no reason, you remember a friend whom you haven't met for years and he is on your mind the whole day. The phone rings. And guess what! It is the same friend about whom you had been thinking. It happened many times to me. It happens to all of us sometimes.
Synchronicity, a term originated by the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, is used to explain a parallelism of events which cannot be related causally. The 'connectedness' between non-causally related events is termed as 'synchronicity. Meaningful coincidences had always fascinated me. I had observed this phenomenon since childhood. But its significance became more apparent once I started learning various divination and oracular systems of different cultures in my late teens.
The various experiences and insights that a seeker on the spiritual path goes through do not have appropriate English words to describe them. Often there is this lack of communication, especially between the mystic and the scientist. Carl Jung's work has helped in furthering the dialogue between the mystic and the scientist. I rejoiced when I discovered that Carl Jung had words that could partly fill the lacunae in scientific vocabulary in English. His contribution to modern psychology is immense, and becomes evident when one looks at the rich vocabulary that he had left behind. Today the terms that he had designated, such as synchronicity and archetypes, are often used as well as misused. What is 'Synchronicity'?
Synchronicity is a phenomenon where an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind. Jung looked for a theoretical concept that would account for such paranormal 'chance' phenomena. The origin of the principle of synchronicity is linked with Jung's limited acquaintance with the I Ching. In 1930, he first used the term 'synchronicity' to describe an "a-causal connection between psychic states and objective events". Let me hasten to add that Jung carefully distinguishes "synchronicity" from the mere "synchronism" of events occurring simultaneously but unconnected in meaning.
Jung's initial attempts to understand synchronicity seem to have been influenced by the classical idea of astrology too- "the objective time moment". This supposes that certain quality exists in a moment of time itself- "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to breakdown and a time to build up; a time to Dance; a time to get and a time to lose; A time to keep and a time to cast away", as the Eccelesiastes states. This concept of a certain quality to time, is fundamental to Vedic astrology, which has its roots in the ancient Vedic practice of timing their rituals according to this quality of time, in fact so much so that in India, Time has even been personified as a mighty Being- Mahakala the Lord of Time.
Qualitative time seems to explain why astrology and other forms of divination work. But synchronicities are not always dependent on such a moment of time. Precognition, for instance, does not occur in "same-timeness". Jung gradually gave up the supposition of qualitative time. He concluded that since qualitative time is nothing but the flux of things, and is as much "nothing" as space this hypothesis ends up in a vicious circle- "the flux of things and events is the cause of the flux of things, etc".
Jung thought that it would be possible to link his " a - causal principle" of synchronicity to new ideas emerging in physics. Things happen both in physics and biology according to Quantum logic of uncertainty. After Heisenberg's discovery of the uncertainty principle, most quantum physicists like Niels Bohr and Max Planck were concerned with demolishing the principle of Causality. Heisenberg had experimentally proved that things may happen without any cause. Planck says that even the rationalists have to admit of mysteries and miracles that do happen without any causal relationship. He wrote, "Though the order of nature is admitted as inevitably predetermined by the Supreme Cause, yet the causal chain in the world itself may at any time be interrupted by the intervention of a supernatural power."
Carl Jung wrote the following words in his preface to an English translation of the I Ching by his friend Richard Wilhelm. ". Our science, however, is based upon the principle of causality, and causality is considered to be an axiomatic truth. But a great change in our standpoint is setting in. What Kant's Critique of Pure Reason failed to do, is being accomplished by modern physics. The axioms of causality are being shaken to their foundations: we know now that what we term natural laws are merely statistical truths and thus must necessarily allow for exceptions. We have not sufficiently taken into account as yet that we need the laboratory with its incisive restrictions in order to demonstrate the invariable validity of natural law. If we leave things to nature, we see a very different picture: every process is partially or totally interfered with by chance, so much so that under natural circumstances a course of events absolutely conforming to specific laws is almost an exception.
Thus it happens that when one throws the three coins, or counts through the forty-nine yarrow stalks, these chance details enter into the picture of the moment of observation and form a part of it - a part that is insignificant to us, yet most meaningful to the Chinese mind. With us it would be a banal and almost meaningless statement (at least on the face of it) to say that whatever happens in a given moment possesses inevitably the quality peculiar to that moment. This is not an abstract argument but a very practical one.
This assumption involves a certain curious principle that I have termed synchronicity, a concept that formulates a point of view diametrically opposed to that of causality. Since the latter is a merely statistical truth and not absolute, it is a sort of working hypothesis of how events evolve one out of another. Whereas synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers."
Synchronicity was defined by Jung as an "acausal connecting principle," an essentially mysterious connection between the personal psyche and the material world, based on the fact that at bottom they are only different forms of energy. "It is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them" (On the Nature of the Psyche," CW 8, par. 418.).
Jung associated synchronistic experiences with the relativity of space and time and a degree of unconsciousness. "The very diverse and confusing aspects of these phenomena are, so far as I can see at present, completely explicable on the assumption of a psychically relative space-time continuum. As soon as a psychic content crosses the threshold of consciousness, the synchronistic marginal phenomena disappear, time and space resume their accustomed sway, and consciousness is once more isolated in its subjectivity. . . . Conversely, synchronistic phenomena can be evoked by putting the subject into an unconscious state" (On the Nature of the Psyche," CW 8, par. 440).
Jung hoped to establish synchronicity as a law equal in status to causality. To this end he even devised carefully planned statistical investigations into birth charts. Of course eventually his original experiment parted company with orthodox statistical methods. In searching for an objective law, he had found the reflection of the subjective psyche of the observer in the apparently objective material! He discovered that "synchronistic events draw the observer into what is happening and make him an accessory to them".
Jung had succeeded in proving (?) that "A secret, mutual connivance exists between the material and the psychic state of the astrologer. This correspondence is simply there like any other agreeable or annoying incident, and it seems to me doubtful whether it can be proved scientifically to be anything more than that." But Jung seems to be ambiguous about the degree of subjectivity or objectivity of synchronicity. "Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers."
This is a bit ambiguous. The relationship between the observer and observed remains confused and gives rise to two understandings of synchronicity. In the first version there is already an "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves" (say, planets and an event), observed objectively. Yet the second version involves the subjective participation of the observing psyche. In other words the experimenter's psyche is also involved. Again sounds like an echo of Quantum physics!
The first version (Synchronicity O), with its objectivity, could be examined for an inherent theory or law. The second one (Synchronicity S), with its secret, mutual connivance, is unique and lawless. It depends on, and even brings to light, the psyche of the observing subjects so that the individual's own psyche is mysteriously reflected in the objective material.
Jung moves ambiguously between these two versions of synchronicity. If synchronicity in its broadest sense has to be meaningful, then it must have a subjective component, because it is impossible to separate "meaning" from subjective psychic activity. Yet in suggesting a form of synchronicity based on an "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves", Jung also has to posit the existence of a psychoid level of reality, existing prior to human consciousness. This implies an order and pattern in the cosmos, a transcendental meaning inherent in the collective psyche. Synchronicity postulates a meaning, which is a priori to human consciousness and apparently exists outside of man.
This is perhaps the principle or phenomenon that is behind all oracular and divination systems. This is the basis of the Indian Horary (Prasna) method of fixing the ascendant by a number given by the client. While one method (Uttarakalamrita) uses 108 numbers, another modern method (KP) uses 249! The same number indicates a different ascendant in both the methods. So could we rely on such methods? Why not? The basis here is not the numbers, but synchronicity. In fact synchronicity is at the root of all oracular systems. The most important and least understood of such methodologies, is 'Nimitta' or 'Shakunam', a branch of Vedic astrology that deals with the interpretation of 'omens', based on the phenomenon of synchronicity.
Let me narrate an incident to you. I was sitting in a business meeting in India . We were assessing the viability of a particular project. Normally I allow myself as well as others, to assess any business situation by regular methods first. Any astrological methods are done as a final check. At one stage, both the business partners sitting there suggested that I should check what was indicated through some form of divination. I decided to use the I Ching on this occasion. Let me tell you that sometimes I draw a hexagram by a very unconventional method instead of using coins or york sticks. I close my eyes and let a number appear in my mind. This happens passively without one having to try really. Let me also clarify that this does not involve any psychic abilities and that anybody can try this as long as one is capable of letting a number come up naturally without any efforts- psychic or rational. On this occasion I could visualize the number 34. I had noted it down. But on the insistence of one member there, we called an employee who was conversant with the I Ching (he had learnt it under my influence) and asked him to draw a hexagram. Using three coins, he drew a hexagram. The final hexagram was the 34 th ! Two different methods of arriving at the symbol by two people gave the same result!
Let me quote Jung here. "Synchronicity . . . consists of two factors: a) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition. b) An objective situation coincides with this content. The one is as puzzling as the other" ("Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle"," CW 8, par. 858.).
What he says is clearly illustrated in the above-narrated incident. Jung speaks of two factors:
An unconscious image comes into consciousness either
Directly i.e. literally (the number 34 visualized in the mind in this case), or
Indirectly symbolized or suggested (the 34 th hexagram drawn by the coin method, being the symbol here) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition.
An objective situation (the viability of the project) coincides with this content.
One thing should be remembered here- the significance of symbols. A symbol is the best possible expression for something unknown. Tools like Astrology, Tarot and the I Ching, all afford us symbols rich with meaning. External events arise out of these psychological roots. Predictions are interpretations based on these psychological symbols. Most predictive texts explore the probable manifestations of such symbols. Hence the student should remember that the predictive guidelines are secondary, occupying only a second place, with the symbols rightfully occupying the first place.
Originally there were no words, only symbols. Ultimately words were appended to the symbols. After that, people relied more on the words and neglected the symbols. Gradually the profound significance of the symbols became unfamiliar and obscure to the people. Yet words and symbols are equally important. They are forms and essence. Only by relying on both of them can the mystery of any divination system be fully revealed. Moreover each separate symbol is related to all the others in the system, emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything. Right interpretation of these symbols comes with right understanding.
Interpreting the Readings :
The I Ching speaks to us in a symbolic language, which tends to be cryptic and enigmatic. It rarely speaks to us directly and in a straightforward way. Keep in mind, too, that the I Ching may not directly answer your question, but may instead address itself to your motives or subconscious urges in asking. Or, sensing a coming crisis or significant change, the oracle may take the opportunity of the conversation you've initiated to alert you. You may find it a willful book-neither to be put off, nor to be used aimlessly. As you become more familiar with the I Ching you will see it in a new light.
The answer varies somewhat according to the way the question is put. If for instance a person finds himself in a confusing situation, he may himself appear in the oracle as the speaker. Or, if the question concerns a relationship with another person, that person may appear as the speaker. However, the identity of the speaker does not depend entirely on the manner in which the question is phrased, in as much as the latter does not always determine our relations with our fellow beings. It may also occur that we take a situation too seriously and consider it extremely important, whereas the answer we get on consulting the I Ching draws attention to some unsuspected other aspect implicit in the question.
Interpretation of the I Ching is ultimately a matter of personal and individual symbolic association. Your specific mindset is the key factor in the interpretation of each reflection. It is as if there is a dialogue between you and the I Ching in each consultation. It's up to you to select what is helpful to you and leave the rest behind. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how the reading you receive correlates with your psychic conditions. It is important to interpret readings in light of two criteria:
The exact phraseology of your question
Your state of mind when you did the process.
THE EYE SEES WHAT THE MIND KNOWS!
The I Ching has such a magical ability to pinpoint the essence of a situation that it has been used for all the important decisions of life. It's like having a close and trusted friend listening to your problems and giving you unconditional advice, which you are free to accept or ignore. And again your understanding depends on your own level of understanding. It all depends on the level of understanding of the diviner or practitioner. To one person the answer appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. The longer one practices, the deeper becomes one's understanding of the symbolism of the particular method employed, and there is no end to it. No practitioner or user can see in a spiritual tool, anything beyond his own level of thinking at that stage. One has to agree with Dane Rudhyar that, "No astrologer- and as well no psychoanalyst- can interpret a life and destiny at a level higher than that at which he himself functions". Only the user can decide upon the importance and meaning of a particular method for him or her.