The I Ching III


The Magic in the Mundane

Understanding the I CHING Through Symbolism

Eileen Evermore


Eileen Evermore

The I Ching or Chinese Book of Changes is a work that represents  thousands of years of organic growth.   Layers of ancient Chinese spiritual wisdom are overlain, analyzed, expanded, and explained by the greatest of Chinese philosophers and scholars beginning with Confucius {551-479 B.C.} and augmented by the thinking of revered  modern Western philosophers, such as psychologist  Carl Jung {1875-1961}.   The modern student may be overwhelmed by the prospect of penetrating or understanding this remarkable compendium of thought and belief.   Clearly, this assimilation can occur only through prolonged reflection and meditation.   Nonetheless, the process can be simplified by learning the symbols and meanings that are associated with the various permutations of Yin and Yang.

The most basic symbolism in the I Ching is the juxtaposition or alternation of broken (Yin) lines and solid (Yang) lines.  The patterns created by the positioning of these lines reflect the process of change throughout the universe:  Yin is constantly changing into Yang and vice versa.  Like a pendulum, one side of the movement reaches its maximum and changes into its opposite, which grows, maximizes, and changes in turn.  Thus, the universe is in perpetual motion.  The only constant is change.  The change is limited, and thereby, predictable to some extent.  The many meanings associated with these two lines can be seen as paired oppositions:

                                                           YIN                            YANG 
……………………………………….Feminine                     Masculine
……………………………………….negative                      positive
……………………………………….yielding                        firm
……………………………………….broken                         solid
……………………………………….passive                        active
……………………………………….acquiescent                 dominating
……………………………………….receptive                     dynamic
……………………………………….following                      leading
……………………………………….subordinate                 superordinate
……………………………………….small                            large
……………………………………….petty                            great
……………………………………….inferior                         superior
……………………………………….dark                             light
……………………………………….earth                            heaven

It is important to note that the meanings associated with Yin and Yang reflect the hierarchical nature of Chinese society.  With few exceptions—the Emperor for example—everyone is subordinate to someone and superior to someone else.  Thus Yin and Yang are relational terms.  A general is subordinate to the emperor, but he is superior to other soldiers.  Yin and Yang are terms that are defined in comparison/contrast to other things.  The Moon is Yin to the Sun’s Yang, but it is Yang to the Yin of the stars.

Over time, the solid Yang lines and the broken Yin lines were grouped into sets of three.  The number of variations possible with 2 variables in sets of three is eight.   Thus the eight trigrams were formed, and Chinese scholars associated each trigram with items/traits that were valued by the current culture: the family, the seasons, weather, animals, qualities, elements, and parts of the human body.

Thus, the first trigram  has three solid lines.  The maximal Yang trigram is called Qian/Ch’ien and represents Heaven, Father, the head or mind, the horse, early winter and ice.  He is creative, dynamic and strong.

The second trigram has three broken lines and is the maximal Yin trigram called Kun.  She represents Earth, Mother, the womb or belly, the cow, early autumn and warm weather.  She is receptive, adaptive, and yielding.

The other six trigrams consist of three male children that have two Yin lines and one Yang line each, and three female children that have one Yin line and two Yang lines each.  The placement of the single line in each trigram indicates the birth sequence.   That is, the first born son, Zhen/Chen, has the solid line at the bottom of the trigram, the second son, Kan, has the solid line in the middle, and the third son, Gen/Ken has the solid line at the top of the trigram.  The first daughter, Xun/Sun, has the broken line on the bottom of the trigram, the middle daughter, Li, has the broken line in the middle, and the youngest daughter, Dui/Tui has the broken line at the top of the trigram.  Most I Ching texts have charts which show all 64 hexagrams.

The traditional numbers of ancient divination were assigned: 3 to yang lines and 2 to yin lines.  The sum of the lines for mother is 6, for the male children 7, for the female children 8, and for father 9.  If you are using the three coin method of divination, assign the number 3 to heads and 2 to tails, and add the total sum of each throw to determine the correct line for each of six throws.  Begin at the bottom with the first throw, and proceed upward.  You will have two trigrams that compose one hexagram.  Mark each mother’s line with an “X” in the middle of the broken line, while the daughters’ lines remain unmarked broken lines.   So too, mark each father’s line with an “O” in the middle of the solid line to distinguish it from the mother’s “X” lines.  The “X” and the “O” indicate a “change” or “changing” line—a Yin or Yang maximum force that is about to change into its opposite and create a new hexagram.  More on that process later.

The son’s lines will remain unmarked, solid lines.  The  eldest son, Chen/Zhen, is thunder, the foot, the dragon, springtime and earthquakes.  He is energetic, arousing, and moving.

The second son, K’an is water—particularly in a ravine/gorge, but also water that recycles globally—the ear, the pig, middle winter or cloudy.  He is characterized by danger, passion, and melancholy.  Note that the trigram looks like water flowing through a ravine—a solid line framed by two broken lines—a symbol of a dangerous situation.

The youngest son, Ken/Gen, is the mountain, the hand, the dog, late winter.  He is characterized by stillness, tranquility, and stability.  Note that the trigram looks like a mountain: 2 broken lines with a solid line on top.

The eldest daughter, Xun/Sun, is the wind or wood, the thigh, the chicken, early summer, mild movement, gentle, submissive, persistent, and penetrating.   Note: To the Western mind, wood and wind seem to have little or nothing in common, but a different perspective reveals that they both create dramatic effects through gentle actions that persist imperceptibly through the passage of time.  A tree can have an impressive impact on a landscape, but it takes years of gentle persistent growth, and wind is invisible—you cannot see the wind itself.  You can only see the effects of the wind which can bend a tree over time

The second daughter, Li, is fire, the eye, the pheasant, the fire bird, the Phoenix, middle summer, lightning.   She is clinging, dependent, brilliant, and is characterized by clarity.  Fire is bright and beautiful, but it is dependent upon fuel—something dark that it clings to for its light.  Note that the trigram looks like an eye—a broken line framed by two solid lines.

The youngest daughter, Tui/Dui, is the lake, water that is limited and confined to a specific space, the mouth, the sheep, the lake or swamp.   She is characterized by joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and openness and late Autumn.  Note the the trigram looks like a smiling mouth and/or the horns of a sheep.

A symbol is a powerful image that can contain a wealth of information.  By learning the meanings associated with the individual trigrams, you will be well on your way to assimilating the magic of the I Ching.  Placement of the trigrams within a hexagram has additional symbolic associations.  The lower trigram is called the Inner Trigram and it symbolizes the correct internal attitude that is required to succeed in the situation describe by the hexagram.  The upper trigram is called the Outer Trigram and it describes the condition of your environment.  Understanding both the depth and breadth of your inner self and your external situation are critical for achieving the desired effect in any given situation.

The ”change” or “changing” lines have also been given symbolic associations:  they indicate the specific situation of the person within the more general  situation described by the entire hexagram.  When interpreting the hexagram, consider all of the information that precedes the section called, “The Lines.”  Then, focus only on the change lines—the sixes and the nines.  You may read every change line or you may narrow the choice to one change line using the method prescribed by Taoist Master Alfred Huang in The Complete I Ching, The Definitive Translation (p 17).   The new hexagram is constructed by converting each change line–or the one change line you chose–to its opposite.   All the other lines remain the same, as in the original hexagram.  The new hexagram has no change lines, and is considered as the next step in the situation—an effect of the action taken in the original Hexagram.

The position of each change line indicates the progression through the situation.  For example, if you have a 6 or a 9 in the first line, it represents the beginning of a situation.  It is the line of a beginner, someone who is still outside or on the lowest rung of society.  This is a critical position because the beginning is the seed of everything that follows.  Mistakes made at the beginning of an endeavor usually indicate poor results.

A 6 or a 9 in the second line is the middle line of the first trigram—the middle way is usually auspicious.  It is considered the ruler—the most favorable line–of the bottom trigram.  It represents a subordinate person in a very favorable condition—a government official who has authority far away from the capital or a wife with great and valuable duties in the home.  It also represents ordinary citizens who are favored by their superiors, but who are not close to the seat of power (line five).

A 6 or a 9 in the third line, being the highest line in the lower trigram, represents the transition of someone trying to move into a higher rank or upper echelon.   It represents not only a dissatisfaction with one’s situation but also the dangers and difficulties of the perilous passage to the upper trigram.  It is not usually an auspicious line because it represents people who are not prepared, not qualified, or not suited to the new situation.

The fourth line is the lowest line in the upper trigram.  A 6 or a 9 here is usually more auspicious than in line three because it symbolizes a minister or officer who works closely with a person in power—line five.  This often represents a person who has achieved great success in a subordinate position.

Line five is the middle line, the golden mean, the central position of the ruler.  A 6 or a 9 here is usually the most auspicious line in any hexagram.  It represents the successful culmination of an endeavor, the moment of fruition.  In families, it represents the head of the household, traditionally, the husband.

The sixth line is the time after the culmination.  The situation is ending, and a 6 or 9 here is an outsider who is beyond the situation.  This can be inauspicious, such as a person who has reached too high, or gone too far, failed to recognize that times have changed, or failed to act when the time was right.  Or it can be auspicious, such as a sage—an enlightened person who moves beyond the toils and troubles of the world.

The following examples illustrate how to apply the information provided.

  • For example number one, we have a lower or Inner  trigram of Kan with a 9 change line in the second place and an upper trigram of Kun with no change lines.   This is the Hexagram #7:  The Army. #7 w 2 Changing lineThis situation may, in fact, be a military one, but more likely, it is a metaphor for applying military virtues such as discipline, honor,  and loyalty.   Because Kan is posited as the Inner Trigram, these are the virtues that you must possess to be successful.  The 9 in the second place is favorable and indicates that you are a leader surrounded by your “troops.”

    You are a commander who needs to be on good terms with your superior in line 5, but more importantly, you will achieve your goals by cultivating a good reputation through your connection and care of those closest to you, indicated by surrounding broken lines.  Take care of those who work for you.  Establish good lines of communication.  Be flexible and diplomatic.  Be strong and brave.  Emulate these virtues and you will gain recognition of those above and below.  You will be a danger to outside forces by strengthening all those who are working with you.
    The new Hexagram is #2 Kun: The Receptive.
    Hexagram # 2
  • In example number two, we have the lower or Inner Trigram, Xun/Sun, in this case Wood, with no change lines.   The upper or Outer Trigram is Kun or Earth with a 6 change line in the sixth place.   Wood within the Earth is the symbol of a plant pushing upward through the soil.   This is Hexagram #46: Ascending.  Hexagram 46 w 6 Changing Line This represents a slow, methodical ascent through the persistent exercise of your own will.   You will not be helped by others.   Nor will your progress be quick.  Nonetheless, this is your natural environment and you will succeed by making steady progress, accumulating small advantages.  Being persistent and pushing upward is consistent with your nature and is the right thing to be doing at this time.  The 6 in the sixth place, however, is not an auspicious place to be.  Now the time of progress is coming to an end, so do not push blindly ahead.  Instead, constantly reconsider your position and exercise utmost care and discretion.  Perhaps, it would be better for you to wait than to exhaust yourself and lose the ground you have gained.  Do not despair.  Waiting for the proper time will ensure success when the time is right.  Be patient and keep the faith.
    The new Hexagram is #18: Remedying or Work on What Has Been Spoiled.

Hexagram 18

  • And finally, for example number three, we have the lower Inner Trigram, Zhen/Chen, with a 6 change line in the third place and the upper or Outer Trigram is Gen/Ken with no change lines.   This is Hexagram # 27:  Nourishment. Hexagram # 27 w Changing Line 3The image is an open mouth:  the solid lines on the bottom and the top are lips and the broken lines inside are teeth.  This hexagram is concerned with nourishment of the body, mind, and spirit.  Also, it is concerned with the nourishment of the self and others.   The lesson here is that you are what you eat on all levels:  healthy, nutritious food will better prepare you to deal with the blows of misfortune when they inevitably occur.   Conversely, eating junk food or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol may feel satisfying but it does not nourish your body.

    Likewise, focusing on negative emotions or unworthy activities will weaken and debilitate you.  Do not debase and devalue yourself by wasting time on people who abuse or manipulate you.  Spend your time nourishing those who, in turn, nourish you in a positive and healthy way.  The 6 in the third place is not an auspicious line.   This is the situation of a person who rejects a healthy diet and gorges on junk food.  The person who is overfed and under-nourished damages his/her health.   On a spiritual level, this person is looking for nourishment in all the wrong things.  Caught in an endless cycle of desire and gratification that has no lasting satisfaction or nourishment, this person will feel  unhappy and incomplete.  This is the equivalent of junk food for the spirit.  The time has come to release the people and things that do not serve you.  Otherwise, misfortune will result.
    This new Hexagram is #22: Grace or Beauty of Form.
    Hexagram 18

The information I have provided here is only the tip of the ice berg, an example of what is available to you, should you wish to delve deeper into the wisdom of the I Ching.  I have not provided an analysis for any of the new Hexagrams.  I leave that to you.

WilhemTo enhance your understanding, I suggest that you study  “The Ten Wings,” the commentaries on the I Ching. One source is the Wilhelm/Baynes translation, The I Ching or The Chinese Book of Changes, Book II:  The Material.  “The Ten Wings” includes detailed commentaries on everything in the I Ching:  the Judgments, the Images, the  Lines, the Trigrams, and the Sequence or Order of the Hexagrams.

Still, I would begin by expanding the meanings behind the symbols: the magic in the mundane found in the “Introduction to Book II, The Discussion of The Trigrams.”

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