Created Nov 19, 2001 | Updated Nov 7, 2011

# The 'I Ching' - the Book of Changes

The I Ching (pronounced 'yee jing') is an oracle or divination device, as well as a book of wisdom based on the principle of change. It utilizes symbols comprising six broken and/or unbroken parallel lines known as hexagrams. Each hexagram has its own unique meaning. These readings can be used for insight into whatever question that is before you. Furthermore, the very lines themselves have unique meanings if they are a 'changing' line.

### The Elements of the I Ching

The I Ching uses a set of symbols that represent the process of change. The basic symbol is a horizontal line. A line can be unbroken (a Yang line) or broken (a Yin line). A trigram is made up of three lines. As there are eight possible combinations, there are eight trigrams. When two trigrams are placed one on top of another, it becomes a hexagram. With six lines there are 64 possible combinations, and therefore 64 hexagrams which make up the I Ching.

### The Origins and Evolution of the I Ching

The origins of the I Ching are lost in antiquity. Legend has it that Emperor Fu Shi (also known as Fu Hsi and Fuh Hi) discovered the eight trigrams on the side of a dragon. He is also credited with naming each trigram and giving them an associated image. For example the trigram Ch'ien which is made up entirely of unbroken 'Yang' lines symbolises heaven, the male, and activity. The trigram K'un on the other hand made up entirely of broken 'Yin' lines symbolises earth, the female, and passivity.

Some time later, an unknown sage got the bright idea of combining the eight trigrams with each other, creating the 64 hexagrams that make up the I Ching. Each of these hexagrams took their image and meanings by the two trigrams that made it.

64 possible answers to any given question is better than what you would get with a Magic 8 Ball but when it comes down to it, it's not a lot of answers for every conceivable question. King Wen, and his son, the Duke of Chou therefore conceived of the concept of a 'changing line'. This is a line that is in the process of changing. An old Yang line would change into a new Yin line, and an old Yin line would change into a new Yang line. This will create a new hexagram. Each of these changing lines also had its own meaning, bringing the total number of answers the I Ching can provide to a whopping 4096!

King Wen wrote his commentary on the hexagrams of the I Ching which became known as the Judgement and the Image. The Duke of Chou completed the commentary by writing the Decision, which clarifies the Judgement and explains the philosophy behind the prediction.

The last great contribution to the I Ching came from the legendary philosopher Confucius (also known as K'ung Fu Tsz'). Confucius wrote what is known as The Ten Wings, a detailed treatise on the I Ching as it existed in his time. They include such things as a commentary on the Images (Third and Fourth Wings), discussion of the trigrams (Eighth Wing), and note on the hexagrams (Tenth Wing).

### Consulting the I Ching

There are two traditional methods for consulting the I Ching as an oracle. They are the use of 50 yarrow sticks, or the use of three coins.

#### Preparation for Consulting the I Ching

The most important preparation for consulting the I Ching is framing the question you wish answered. Clearly defining your question will help the reading be relevant to your situation. It is better to be precise than vague. Typical questions can be 'What will happen if I...?' 'Should I...?' 'What lies in my immediate future?' 'What should my attitude about... be?'

There are also other preparations that can be made, such as washing your hands, lighting incense, and facing south (as did all persons of authority in ancient China).

#### Consulting the I Ching: Yarrow Sticks Method

1. Place the 50 yarrow sticks in front of you.

2. Take one stick and place it aside. The reason for this is lost in antiquity, but some call this stick 'The Witness'.

3. Divide the remaining 49 sticks into two random groups, left and right.

4. Take a single yarrow stick from the right hand group and place it in between your fifth and fourth fingers (little and ring) of your left hand.

5. From the left hand group, count off the yarrow sticks in fours until four or less yarrow sticks remain. Take these remaining yarrow sticks and place them between your fourth and third (ring and middle) fingers of your left hand.

6. From the remaining group, count off the yarrow sticks in fours again, until four or less remain. Take these remaining yarrow sticks and place them between your third and second fingers (middle and index) of your left hand.

7. Remove all the yarrow sticks from your left hand and place them out of the way. (There are three such groups to be placed and they are to be kept separate.)

8. The remaining yarrow sticks are now to be gathered together again and divided once more into two groups.

9. Repeat Steps 4 through 7 with the remaining yarrow sticks.

10. For a third time, gather together the remaining yarrow sticks, divide then into two groups and repeat steps 4 through 7. You should now have three groups of yarrow sticks.

11. Remove one yarrow stick from the first group and set it aside. Now each group will have a count of either four or eight.

12. Assign a value to each group as follows:

• Those that have four sticks are valued at three.
• Those that have eight sticks are valued at two.
• Total the three values; they will equal six, seven, eight or nine.

• Draw the bottom line of your hexagram as follows:

• A six is an Old Yin Line (changing) and written --X--
• A seven is a Young Yang Line and written -----
• An eight is a Young Yin Line and written -- --
• A nine is a Old Yang Line (changing) and written --O--

13. Repeat this entire process 5 times drawing the new line above the one previously drawn to complete your hexagram.

15. If you have changing lines, redraw the hexagram turning the Old Yin lines (--X--) into its opposite, a Yang Line (-----) and turning Old Yang lines (--O--) into its opposite a Yin Line (-- --).

#### Consulting the I Ching - Coin Method

The coin method is much simpler than the yarrow stalk method, and much faster. All you need are three coins. Ideally these would be old Chinese coins with the hole in the centre, where one side is inscribed (the Yin side) and the other is blank (The Yang side). If you don't have old Chinese coins, any three coins will do, with the 'heads' considered the Yin side, and the 'tails' considered the Yang side.

1. Cup the coins loosely in both hand, shake them, and allow them to fall before you.

2. Assign values to the coins as follows:

• Yin side will have a value of two.
• Yang side will have a value of three.

3. Total the three values, they will equal six, seven, eight or nine.

Draw the bottom line of your hexagram as follows:

• A six is an Old Yin Line (changing) and written --X--
• A seven is a Young Yang Line and written -----
• An eight is a Young Yin Line and written -- --
• A nine is a Old Yang Line (changing) and written --O--
• Repeat this entire process five times drawing the new line above the one previously drawn to complete your hexagram.

• If you have changing lines, redraw the hexagram turning the Old Yin lines (--X--) into its opposite, a Yang Line (-----) and turning Old Yang lines (--O--) into its opposite a Yin Line (-- --).

#### Consulting the I Ching - a Third Method

In this modern day and age, you can have a computer generate a hexagram for you and scrap all this fiddling around with sticks and coins.

### Other Uses of the I Ching

The I Ching is more than just an oracle; it has also been used as the basis for a Martial Art.

## Approved Entry

A647840

Written by

Edited by

Referenced h2g2 Entries