I Ching

I Ching, the classical Chinese Book of Change, dates back to 3000 B.C. but it is still used for divination today, and interpretations of the 64 hexagrams by King Wen, founder of the Chou dynasty (1150-249 B.C.) and Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and other historical scholars throughout history have remained as enigmatic as ever.  Some years ago when I was teaching my I Ching class, I found that a direct interpretation of the juxtaposition of the lines and the attributes of the eight trigrams provided a much clearer revelation of the hexagrams queried.  The explanations I gave in class resulted in a non-classical treatise on the interpretation of the hexagrams consulted by the students.

We will use the eight basic trigrams as the building blocks to form the queried hexagram.  Interpretation will be based on the juxtaposition of the trigrams.  This method of reading will give us an evolutionary explanation from the past to the present and into the future.  Unlike the Tarot which one would read according to what the queried cards may show, the hexagrams will provide us with an evolutionary “path” in answer to our query.   

At least one scholar of Chinese etymology has pointed out that new usage of many Chinese characters has obscured and distorted their original meanings and later etymological texts have erred in their explanations.  I have found that in my I Ching interpretations, relying on classical annotations of the I Ching hexagrams does not provide much useful, practical or applicable interpretations.  Instead, I rely on interpreting the more basic trigrams.  In practice, I instruct the enquirer not to divulge his or her query to me.  Although I base my entire interpretation on explaining the interplay of the elements represented by the trigrams, the enquirer always relates my interpretation to the query and the query is answered satisfactorily.  The same principle of interpretation unencumbered by classical and traditional etymological explanations applies here as well.  The I Ching trigrams consisting of a solid line representing the male genitalia and a broken line representing the female genitalia are the earliest and therefore the most primitive form of symbolic notation.  I have found that a successful divination and a succinct interpretation of the I Ching Oracle rely on a clear explanation of the interplay of the trigrams, not on any historical annotations or interpretations. [Prologue, Chinese Etymology, A personal study of the origin of Chinese characters, March, 2007]  


The I Ching, also known as I Gua, the Book of Change, uses a solid line (the solid yang line, the male) and a broken line (the broken ying line, the female) to form eight trigrams.  A trigram is a pictograph with three lines, one over the other.  Eight different pictographs are formed.  Each of these is given a name:  Heaven, Qian, is a trigram of three solid lines; Earth, Kun, is a trigram of three broken lines; Thunder, Zhen, is a trigram of two broken lines over one solid line; Water, Kan, is a trigram of a broken line over a solid line over a broken line; Mountain, Gen, is a trigram of a solid line over two broken lines; Wind, Xun, is a trigram of two solid lines over a broken line; Fire, Li, is a trigram of a solid line over a broken line over a solid line; and Lake, Dui, is a trigram of a broken line over two solid lines.

The Eight Trigrams


Attributes of the eight trigrams

Heaven represents the male, masculinity, the offensive, dominance, the northwest.

Qian, Heaven

Earth represents the female,  femininity, the defensive, submissiveness, the southwest.

Kun, Earth

Thunder represents a threat, the east.

Zhen, Thunder

Water represents fluidity, the north.

Kan, Water

Mountain represents an obstacle, difficulty, the northeast.

Gen, Mountain

Wind represents dispersion, spreading, change, unpredictability, the southeast.

Xun, Wind

Fire represents flames rising, prosperity, the south.

Li, Fire

Lake represents a reservoir, hidden danger, hidden potential, the west.

Dui, Lake

These eight trigrams multiplied by each other produce 64 hexagrams.


The inscrutability of classical interpretation mostly comes from trying to explain the historical and archaic references in a modern setting.  Therefore, to interpret the 64 hexagrams more befitting our modern world, their imagery and ideographic inference become important because they transcend historical and archaic references.  In this way, we study the interplay of the meteorological and geographical elements as a metaphor for mundane human affairs.  For example, Hexagram 4 (meng) is composed of the trigrams Mountain over Water.  Its geophysical imagery is that of hidden waterways flowing through a mountain.  This image conveys the metaphorical meanings of being hidden, to deceive, and ignorance (meng).

The 64 hexagrams and their interpretations

Hexagram 1:  Heaven over Heaven, counterpoised men, men over men, dominance of the male

Hexagram 2:  Earth over Earth, counterpoised women, women over women, dominance of the female

Hexagram 3:  Water over Thunder, rain and thunder, stormy weather

Hexagram 4:  Mountain over Water, ignorance, hidden waterways flowing through a mountain

Hexagram 5:  Water over Heaven, rain, nourishment

Hexagram 6:  Heaven over Water, mundane affairs, the classical interpretation is song, litigation, legal disputes and lawsuits

Hexagram 7:  Earth over Water, underground water, underground rivers, hidden fluidity

Hexagram 8:  Water over Earth, a flood, inundation

Hexagram 9:  Wind over Heaven, high winds, forecasting a change in weather

Hexagram 10:  Heaven over Lake, nature, watching the stars in the clear night sky in a rowboat on a calm lake

Hexagram 11:  Earth over Heaven, a woman on top of a man, a woman dominating a man, a woman mounting a man

Hexagram 12:  Heaven over Earth, a man on top of a woman, a man mounting a woman, a man dominating a woman

Hexagram 13:  Heaven over Fire, the forest fire, the camp fire, the classical interpretation is tong ren, togetherness

Hexagram 14:  Fire over Heaven, the bright red sun, hot weather, fire in the sky from volcanic eruptions

Hexagram 15:  Earth over Mountain, underground caves, the classical interpretation of qian, modesty and humility

Hexagram 16:  Thunder over Earth, threatening weather, harmless threat, empty threat

Hexagram 17:  Lake over Thunder, lake water remains calm while thunder booms

Hexagram 18:  Mountain over Wind, the classical interpretation is gu, a legendary venomous insect.  It was said that when several of these insects were placed in a vessel, they would fight and kill each other until there was only one left.  The one left would then be used as a lethal poison to commit murder.  The Chinese character gu, the name of the insect, is composed of the character for bug, chong, on top of the character for a vessel or container, ming.

Hexagram 19:  Earth over Lake, a hidden lake, lake in a mountain cave

Hexagram 20:  Wind over Earth, windy weather, change, chaos, instability

Hexagram 21:  Fire over Thunder,  a volcanic eruption with spewing fire and explosions occuring below it

Hexagram 22:  Mountain over Fire, a dormant volcano

Hexagram 23:  Mountain over Earth, a mound, mountains

Hexagram 24:  Earth over Thunder, many women dominating a single man, many women on top of a single man

Hexagram 25:  Heaven over Thunder, thunder in the sky, distant threat

Hexagram 26:  Mountain over Heaven, a cave

Hexagram 27:  Mountain over Thunder, mountains are not threatened by thunder

Hexagram 28:  Lake over Wind, the wind is too weak to create any big waves on the lake

Hexagram 29:  Water over Water, inundation, massive flood, a tsunami

Hexagram 30:  Fire over Fire, big fire, forest fire, conflagration

Hexagram 31:  Lake over Mountain, a mountain lake

Hexagram 32:  Thunder over Wind, menacing threat

Hexagram 33:  Heaven over Mountain, natural landscape

Hexagram 34:  Thunder over Heaven,  approaching threat, impinging threat

Hexagram 35:  Fire over Earth, devastation by fire

Hexagram 36:  Earth over Fire, sunset, hidden lava flow

Hexagram 37:  Wind over Fire, wind feeds and spreads wild fires

Hexagram 38:  Fire over Lake, methane rising from the lake

Hexagram 39:  Water over Mountain, snow capped mountain, avalanche

Hexagram 40:  Thunder over Water, water remains calm while thunder booms

Hexagram 41:  Mountain over Lake, a hidden lake inside a mountain

Hexagram 42:  Wind over Thunder, the wind carries the thunderous sounds along

Hexagram 43:  Lake over Heaven, a deep lake of murky water

Hexagram 44:  Heaven over Wind, high altitude winds and shifting clouds

Hexagram 45:  Lake over Earth, gathering of water, gathered water

Hexagram 46:  Earth over Wind, dust blown into the air by the wind, the classical interpretation is to rise up, to fly upwards, to be raised upwards, to be lifted upwards

Hexagram 47:  Lake over Water, a lake fed by underground river

Hexagram 48:  Water over Wind, rain blown and carried by strong winds

Hexagram 49:  Lake over Fire, water over an undersea volcano

Hexagram 50:  Fire over Wind, wild fire is spread by strong winds

Hexagram 51:  Thunder over Thunder, thunder, immediate threat, accusations out of jealousy

Hexagram 52:  Mountain over Mountain, blockage, obstruction, extreme difficulty

Hexagram 53:  Wind over Mountain, wind blows over the mountain, weak obstacle, obstruction is easily overcome

Hexagram 54:  Thunder over Lake, tranquility is being threatened

Hexagram 55:  Thunder over Fire, forecast of more disaster and devastation

Hexagram 56:  Fire over Mountain, a mountain fire

Hexagram 57:  Wind over Wind, strong winds, devastating winds, rapid and sudden change, extreme instability

Hexagram 58:  Lake over Lake, a very deep lake, abundant reserves

Hexagram 59:  Wind over Water, changing waters, waves, the wind disperses the water

Hexagram 60:  Water over Lake, water spills from a lake, water flows out from a lake

Hexagram 61:  Wind over Lake, wind blows over a lake and makes waves

Hexagram 62:  Thunder over Mountain, thunder does not threaten the mountains

Hexagram 63:  Water over Fire, water puts out fire, water extinguishes fires

Hexagram 64:  Fire over Water, burning oil on the surface of water

Consulting the I Ching

Here are some real stories about consulting the I Ching.

Professor Y. T. Hsiung used to consult the I Ching every morning.  He said that the morning consultations guided his decisions for the day.

A student of mine learned to consult the I Ching and he bagan doing it at home every morning.  One morning at 8:00 a.m. he called me by phone and asked me to interpret one of the hexagrams he got.  I told him to stay indoors and not to go out for at least two hours.   There is immediate danger in the neighborhood.  At 8:45 a.m.,  he called me by phone again to tell me that at 8:30 a.m., his neighbor was shot by a robber with a gun in an attempted armed robbery.

About repetition of a hexagram

Repetition of the same hexagram in consecutive order is not that rare.  On quite a few occasions, the same hexagram has appeared consecutively.  Repetition occurs in two cases.  (1)  The enquirer mentally asks the same question and gets the same hexagram consecutively.  (2)  The enquirer mentally asks two different questions but the hexagram repeats, giving the same answer to two different questions.  (3)  Different hexagrams may give the same advice.

(1)  The same question asked twice and the same hexagram repeats as the answer indicate confirmation. 

(2)  The enquirer asks two different questions but the hexagram repeats, giving the same answer to two different questions.   In order to understand the divinations, we must study how the answer applies to the two different questions by studying the two trigrams to see how they would apply to each question.  Sometimes, a line by line interpretation would further clarify the answer’s appropriateness to the two questions.  In this case, the hexagram may indicate that the same evolutionary solution applies to both questions.  One such example would be the dual function of a canal both as a flood control device and as an irrigation canal and perhaps a waterway for barge transportation as well.      

(3)  Different hexagrams may give the same advice.  Usually they answer enquiries about choices in such phrases as “should I or should I not” take action in a particular situation.  Although the hexagrams may be different, they may all indicate “wait” or “inaction”.


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