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I Ching

The I Ching (《易經》 pinyin yi4 jing1; alternately I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King), the "Book of Changes" or more accurately "Classic of Change", is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.

It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change. See the Philosophy section below for more.

The book is also known as Zhou Yi (《周易》 zhou1 yi4; alternately Chou I), the "Changes of Zhou", in ancient Chinese literature which indicates the book was based on work from Zhou Dynasty. See the History section below for more.

In the Western cultures, it is known mostly as a system of divination.

Table of contents

Structure

The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 gua4). These are each comprised of six horizontal lines (爻 yao2); each line is either unbroken (a solid line), or broken (an open line with a gap in the centre). With six such lines stacked in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram represents a process, a change happening at the present moment. To further express this, it is possible for one, many or all of the lines to be determined to be moving lines, i.e. their polarity is in the process of reversal and thus the meaning of the hexagram radically altered.

Components of Hexagrams

The solid line represents yang, the masculine, creative principle. The open line represents yin, the feminine, receptive principle. These principles are also represented in a common circular symbol (☯), called the yin-yang (陰陽), expressing the idea that everything contains its opposite.

In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a common textual convention: horizontally from left to right, using '|' for yang and ':' for yin. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90°).

Each hexagram can be considered composed of two trigrams (卦 gua4) of three lines each. There are eight possible trigrams (八卦 ba1 gua4).

  1. ||| Force (☰ 乾 qian2) = heaven (天)
  2. ::: Field (☷ 坤 kun1) = earth (地)
  3. |:: Shake (☳ 震 zhen4) = thunder (雷)
  4. :|: Gorge (☵ 坎 kan3) = water (水)
  5. ::| Bound (☶ 艮 gen4) = mountain (山)
  6. :|| Ground (☴ 巽 xun4) = wind (風)
  7. |:| Radiance (☲ 離 li2) = fire (火)
  8. ||: Open (☱ 兌 dui4) = swamp (澤)

The first three lines, the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the change that is occurring. The upper trigram, the last three lines, are the outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal) aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 :|:::| Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram :|: Gorge, relating to the outer trigram ::| Bound.

The Hexagrams

The text of the I Ching describes each of the 64 hexagrams, and later scholars added commentaries and analyses of each one; these have been subsumed into the text comprising the I Ching.

The hexagrams, though, are mere mnemonics for the philosophical concepts embodied in each one. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change.

Philosophy

Taoist thought is at the heart of the I Ching, and the ambient and dualistic nature of this school of thinking is perfectly demonstrated by the nuances of binary possibility within each line of hexagrammatic representation.

A contrary view holds that the I Ching is a completely Confucianist document. This view is based upon the following:

  • The Wings or Appendices are attributed to Confucius.
  • The study of it was required as part of the Civil Service Exams. These exams only studied Confucianist texts.
  • It is one of the Five Confucian Classics.
  • It does not appear in any surviving editions of the DaoZheng.
  • The major commentaries have been written by Confucianists, or NeoConfucianists.

History

It was believed that the principle of I Ching was originated from Fu Hsi (伏羲 Fu2 Xi1). He was one of earliest legendary rulers (2852 BC[?]-2738 BC[?]), reputed to discover the trigrams (八卦 ba1 gua4). Before Zhou Dynasty, there were other literature on the "Change" philosophy, e.g. Lian Shan Yi[?] (『連山易』 Lian2 Shan1 Yi4) and Gui Cang Yi[?] (『歸藏易』 Gui1 Cang2 Yi4). The philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty. It was refined over time and I Ching was completed around the time of Han Wu Di[?] (漢武帝 Han4 Wu3 Di4) in Han Dynasty (circa 200 BC).

Divination

The process of consulting the oracle involves determining the hexagram by some random method, and then reading the I Ching text associated with that hexagram.

Each line of a hexagram determined with these methods is either stable ("young") or changing ("old"); thus, there are four possibilities for each line, corresponding to the cycle of change from yin to yang and back again:

  • old yin (yin changing into yang), which has the number 6
  • young yang (unchanging yang), which has the number 7
  • young yin (unchanging yin), which has the number 8
  • old yang (yang changing into yin), which has the number 9

Once a hexagram is determined, each line has been determined as either changing (old) or unchanging (young). Since each changing line is seen as being in the process of becoming its opposite, a new hexagram can be formed by transposing each changing yin line with a yang line, and vice versa. Thus, further insight into the process of change is gained by reading the text of this new hexagram and viewing it as the result of the current change.

Methods

Several of the methods use a randomising agent to determine each line of the hexagram. These methods produce a number, which corresponds to the numbers of changing or unchanging lines discussed above, and thus determine each line of the hexagram.

Cracks on turtle shell

The turtle shell oracle is probably the earliest record of fortune telling. The bottom of a turtle shell was roasted in fire. The resulting cracks were interpreted for divination. The cracks were annotated with inscriptions which are considered the oldest Chinese writings discovered.

Actually the oracle predated the Book of I Ching by over 1000 years. Some oracles unearthed dated back to 1200 BC. The writings on them were already highly developed which indicated that there may be much older oracles to be found. See History section.

Yarrow stalks

  • use fifty dried stalks of the yarrow plant and a large clear table space
  • set aside one stalk to represent unity, using forty-nine stalks for the remainder of the ritual
  • for each of the six lines of the hexagram
    • divide and count the stalks three times as follows
      • gather the stalks into the left hand
      • split them randomly into two bundles with the left thumb
      • place the two bundles separately, as left and right piles, onto the table
      • take one stalk from the right side pile, hold it between the little finger and ring finger of the left hand
      • pick up the left side pile in the left hand
      • count the stalks from the pile into separate piles of four, until four or fewer remain
      • hold this remainder between the ring and middle finger of the left hand
      • pick up the right side pile in the left hand
      • count the stalks from the pile into separate piles of four, until four or fewer remain
      • hold this remainder between the index and middle finger of the left hand
      • set aside all the stalks held between fingers of the left hand
      • count the number of piles of four stalks
      • if this is not the third iteration, gather all the piles of four together to repeat the dividing and counting process
    • after the third iteration, the number of piles of four stalks will be six, seven, eight or nine
    • determine the current line of the hexagram from this number
  • once six lines have been determined (by repeating the dividing and counting process three times for each line) the hexagram is formed

This is the most common "traditional" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:

  • old yin: 1 in 16 (0.0625)
  • young yang: 5 in 16 (0.3125)
  • young yin: 7 in 16 (0.4375)
  • old yang: 3 in 16 (0.1875)

Coins

  • use three coins with distinct "head" and "tail" sides
  • for each of the six lines of the hexagram
    • toss all three coins
    • assign the value 2 to each "head" result, and 3 to each "tail" result
    • total all the coin values
    • the total will be six, seven, eight or nine
    • determine the current line of the hexagram from this number
  • once six lines have been determined, the hexagram is formed

This is the most common "quick" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:

  • old yin: 1 in 8 (0.125)
  • young yang: 3 in 8 (0.375)
  • young yin: 3 in 8 (0.375)
  • old yang: 1 in 8 (0.125)

Marbles

This method is a recent innovation, designed to be quick like the coin method, while giving the same probabilities as the yarrow stalk method.

  • use sixteen marbles of four different colours, distributed as follows
    • 1 marble of a colour representing old yin (such as blue)
    • 5 marbles of a colour representing young yang (such as white)
    • 7 marbles of a colour representing young yin (such as black)
    • 3 marbles of a colour representing old yang (such as red)
  • place all the marbles in a bag or other opaque container
  • for each of the six lines of the hexagram
    • shake all sixteen marbles together in the container to "shuffle" them
    • draw out one marble
    • the marble drawn determines the current line of the hexagram
    • replace the marble in the container
  • once six lines have been determined, the hexagram is formed

Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are the same as the distribution of the colours, as follows:

  • old yin: 1 in 16 (0.0625)
  • young yang: 5 in 16 (0.3125)
  • young yin: 7 in 16 (0.4375)
  • old yang: 3 in 16 (0.1875)

Rice grains

For this method, either rice grains, or small seeds are used.

One picks up a few seeds between the middle finger and thumb. Carefully and respectfully place them on a clean sheet of paper. Repeat this process six times, keeping each cluster of seeds in a separate pile --- each pile represents one line. One then counts the number of seeds in each cluster, starting with the first pile, which is the base line. If there is an even number of seeds, then the line is yin, otherwise the line is yang --- except if there is one seed, in which case one redoes that line.

One then asks the question again, and picks up one more cluster of seeds. Count the number of seeds you have, then keep subtracting six, until you have six seeds or less. This gives you the number of the line that specifically represent your situation. It is not a moving Line. If you do not understand your answer, you may rephrase the question, and ask it a second time.

Calligraphy brush strokes

Moment of birth

Additional resources

Ref: Is your web browser capable of displaying the trigram symbols used on this page? (http://www.hclrss.demon.co.uk/unicode/miscellaneous_symbols)



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