A Guide to the I Ching


Are you one of those people who has a copy of the I Ching on your shelf but don’t know what to do with it? The following are some guideposts to help you navigate it and make it useful to you.

The I Ching book consists of two layers. The first and oldest, is called the Chou I (pronounced joe-ee, the Chou Changes). This is organized by 64 diagrams called hexagrams, each of which has a distinct combination of six broken (yin) and solid (yang) lines. Each hexagram has a name (such as "Approach"), a brief text called the "judgment" which gives the basic message of the hexagram, and "line readings" that amplify the judgment.

In addition to this core text, there is a group of early I Ching poems, commentaries and important philosophical writings called the "Ten Wings." In many editions of the I Ching, parts of the Wings are placed with relevant hexagrams (e.g. sections labeled "The Image").

The hexagrams can also be divided into trigrams for purposes of analysis and interpretation. These three-line diagrams can also be used as symbols of the universe’s workings, but in a larger, global sense, such as the seasons or directions, or to symbolize relationships within a family (father, mother, and various children).

The individual lines can also be viewed symbolically, on the very primal level of yin-yang, female-male, and so on. The lines can be used to interpret interactions and relationships, for example if a so-called dominant line is in a weak position, that influences how the hexagram is interpreted.

There are two basic ways to use the I Ching. The first, which is perhaps the most well-known, is to use it for divination. The second way is to simply read it as a "wisdom" text. In the case of divination, one of the hexagrams is selected by methods such as throwing coins. Line readings are determined by the way the coins fall; and in some situations, a second hexagram will be read, as well.

Reading the I Ching as a spiritual or ethical guide was a very common practice in old China. The book was actively studied in great depth by thousands of cultured people. They developed intricate theories and charts to explain the meaning of the I Ching and derived moral lessons from it.

Why don’t you take the book off the shelf and give it another look? The first step is simply to open the book.

Workshop on Mysteries of Chinese Book of Changes
Barbara Davis, M.A., director of Great River T’ai Chi in Minneapolis, will present a unique worshop October 15-16 that will explore the ancient Chinese I Ching – the Book of Changes. The workshop will take place at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul. Tuition, including lunches, is $365. For further information, please call (612) 822-5760, or see www.taijiquanjournal.com.

The I Ching is at the heart of every aspect of Chinese culutre. Originally served as a royal divination manual, it ultimately became an important book of philosophy and life, and has inspired countless millions of people through the centuries. This intensive workshop will give participants solid skills with which to use, understand, and navigate the book. Topics to be covered include where is the I Ching from? How can it be used? What do its readings mean? How can we make it relevant to life today?

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Tim Miejan
Tim Miejan is a writer who served as former editor and publisher of The Edge for twenty-five years. Contact him at [email protected].


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