About The I Ching

The I Ching is a classic Chinese text that was written as a guide to help people restore harmony in times of disorder.

Its wisdom teaches us that change is inevitable and a vital force that determines our outcomes and personal stability. Often called ‘The Book of Changes’ the I Ching has been translated and re-written by countless authors for spiritual development today. The force of change remains at its heart and it asserts each person is a natural universe within themselves with Nature’s laws binding the human family together.

How did the I Ching start?

There are many beliefs about how the I Ching came about but the most likely is that before written history an ancient named Fu Hsi developed a ‘line system’ to explore energy patterns. He drew them in the sand or made them with bamboo sticks. They were symbolic combinations of line formations to express balance or danger, to show people what was going on in their different life situations and what may be present if they did not make a change.

Since we tend to live by symbols and since it pre-dated the written word, it was understandable to the people of the time. The method revealed natural patterns of the subtle energy or hidden realm and assisted them to get along better in daily life.

King Wen of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1121BC) continued Fu Shi’s system, developing written explanations for all the hexagrams. Confucius (551-479BC) expanded it with a substantial contribution of commentaries during the later part of his life, even though the I Ching shares the same yin and yang interdependence that form the basis of Taoist teachings. Harmony is the central theme of the Tao and of the Confucian influence of the I Ching. The summaries and influence of Confucius dominate many of the written versions available in bookstores, and it is really a matter of personal taste as to which version is most suitable to study.

What are the lines and patterns?

The book relies on 64 hexagrams made up of six lines each that symbolise forces in Nature. No matter how off-centre things swing, Nature is a catalyst for change. She restores balance and recovers and we are able to do the same.

Individual lines reveal degrees of development in a situation. The oracles and guidance relate to daily circumstances – relationships, increase and decrease, over-desire, under-achievement – aspects of inner and outer harmony as well as disorder.

These elements are present in every situation yet we miss subtle signs or avoid looking into them even though they may have already appeared to us as a precaution. By using the I Ching and interpreting transforming energy patterns we learn how one step taken influences the next and can sense the timing of when action is needed or has gone too far.

Each line holds a specific energy formation determined by its line position. The lines have vital relationships to one another. When we ask a question of the I Ching, answers arise from the interpretation of ‘open’ and ‘whole’ lines. We read the guidance given in the oracle drawn. It will show us if the line or summary is supportive or prohibitive to our development.

To consult the I Ching, contemplate a question in a calm and considered way, then lightly toss three coins a total of six times, focusing on the question throughout. Six different formations of heads and tails occur as the coins land. These combinations form the hexagram. A ‘moving’ line within the hexagram is the guidance we need to read first, from the bottom line upwards.

It may be felt by some that coins represent luck or money, but this is not so. They are used merely as a convenient form of attaining the symbolic patterns we need to read the text better. The coins are in no way related to bringing one good fortune. Everyone can relate to coins as we use them every day and the earlier method of using yarrow sticks is unfamiliar for most of us.

New knowledge is always exciting and it is best to view the I Ching lightly at first, without wanting to overdo the understanding. The text can appear heavily laden with ancient Chinese philosophy so it may take awhile to adjust to the writing and make sense of it for our own situations.

The hexagrams ‘lift a veil’ on our limited vision by showing us how a particular stage of a problem may affect the people in it and the transforming patterns up ahead. By sensing where we are stuck we can become attuned to the next possible step we may need to take and improve our preparedness for any occurrence.

Each hexagram is built from two separate trigrams that represent an aspect in Nature, with either a dominant upper or lower section. All I Ching books contain trigram explanations. The core of an issue will make more sense when we see the trigram that dominates it.

If we rely on the I Ching to tell us what to do or become dependent on it to make our decisions, we are giving it too much power and misusing the tool, even though many people spend hours trying to predict their future or that of another by such a method.

To use it in this way will result in disorder. Let it reflect the energy present in the now, and show the thoughts and feelings that bring stagnation to aspects of our lives.

Although it may be advertised as a source of Divination and even regarded this way by its cultural heritage, it is not the way suggested here.

Energy is in the present moment and only there. We all naturally have a past that has gone, but of course, is still always a part of us, and a future that will arrive. Any decisions we make in the present moment will contribute to the unfolding of our lives and we can only take one step at a time, trusting that step with greater clarity.

No matter how despondent we may become, we must never lose our own initiative to choose for ourselves. The I Ching is a tool that points us in the best direction.

We may become emotional before making a decision as it requires commitment. The I Ching can suggest what is behind a situation so that we are more able to face hidden influences and prevent a negative phase from overwhelming us or a positive phase from being spoiled by over-excitability. Such reactions cause exhaustion and limit joy even though at the time we may find euphoria to be a positive thing.

If we are able to accept some choices we have already made we can gain understanding as to why we have reacted in a certain way to a circumstance and can alter our response. It can ‘kick start our own psyche’ into moving forward again when stuck in an emotional daze brought about by some hurt suffered.

This treasury of wisdom is a form of self-education that links us back to the oneness of all things, restoring creativity, the masculine impetus of the universe and bringing receptivity, the feminine force for all. When an appropriate response appears through the I Ching we find a natural balance point for living as set off by its guidance.

What are the trigrams?

The 64 hexagrams originate from eight basic trigrams. These are: the Creative (Heaven), the Receptive (Earth), the Arousing (Thunder), the Abysmal (Water), Keeping Still (Mountain), the Gentle (Wind/Wood), the Clinging (Fire) and the Joyous (Lake). The cyclic patterns of Nature that govern life are present in the human spirit too, and as we are Nature, we accept and relate to changing states.

What type of questions do we ask?

The I Ching text helps to harmonise our dualistic nature so we ask questions that do not require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Since we are on the planet to overcome duality it is helpful to consult the text on the interdependence of two sides and their merging.

Ask about the consequences of taking a particular action or how a decision will affect a person or event. If no moving lines are shown do not be disappointed and rush to find another answer. Why consult the I Ching if we want to put our own personal will in the way? The need for a particular outcome is our own desire.

If the situation is upsetting, allow feelings of grief to surface. All emotions require acknowledgment. What has been repressed will bring new questions to light.

Good fortune is determined by our own high mind and personal essence. If we rely heavily on coins, sticks, seeds and oracles, we deny spontaneous change that is present in the moment. If a new project has already started it is rather futile to ask the I Ching if it was the right decision. Accept the stage of development you have reached and complement it with I Ching study to overcome obstacles.

Emperor Shun reigned in China for forty-eight years beginning in 2257BC. He was considered a wise man because he queried life situations paid attention to the discourses achieved through the I Ching. He was an example of someone able to let go of what was not useful, absorbing only what could benefit his own life path. In our own lives true wisdom comes from staying true to our own life direction.

When we become attached to others opinions, habits and ways of behaving we stray from our natural way. These opinions are the status quo and influence us greatly but it us up to us to build enough resilience and personal power to accept who we are and still be kind to others. We usually seek the approval of others at the cost of our own dignity in one way or another. These burdens block energy flow, denying natural receptivity. Change needs space and room to be effective so make a place for it.

The wisdom of the I Ching allows us to give more energy to life as it is, not as we would hope it to be. Some of our impediments in a situation are dissolved with this new willingness to let go.

Let go of fixed ideas and learn how to interpret the oracles. It can be a pure and trusted reference for us in times of change.

– Karen Cohen

To study the I Ching and obtain readings, contact:


© Copyright 2009, K. M. Cohen at One Publishing
P.O. Box 16, Ivanhoe, VIC. 3079, Australia

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