If we had to give a definition of what the I Ching (yijing) is, we could say that it is a philosophy, a practical life guide and a method of divination, a basis for Taoism and a source of inspiration for Chinese Buddhism. Find out everything you need to know about this oriental doctrine, oracle and method of divination based on the Book of Changes.
It all starts with a book called I Ching (YiJing), a text whose origins are lost in the mists of time. The I Ching was the only book to be saved during the burning of books in China. It can be said that we know nothing about China if we do not know the I Ching as many experts consider it to be the book that best reflects the spirit of Chinese culture. The book of the I Ching is an ancient oracular treatise of wisdom that many contemplate as a timeless and collective phenomenon. Only the Bible, the Koran or the Indian Vedas can claim to have a cultural influence similar to it.
What are the origins of the I Ching book? Although some experts trace the I Ching’s origins back to the emperor Fu Hsi, a legendary character whose historical existence cannot be clearly specified. It is believed that the I Ching as we know it today (the Book of Changes) was elaborated by King Wen more than 3,000 years ago.
Since then, this book inspired later authors such as Confucius who contributed greatly to it, writing the interpretive texts still in use today. Thanks to these interpretations the text has lost its encrypted character and is much more accessible to our understanding.
The I Ching was introduced in the West in 1697 by German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried W. Leibnitz, who had discovered it by chance when corresponding with Joachim Bouvet, a Jesuit missionary in China. At present, the most read text is still the one offered by Richard Wilhelm.
As mentioned before, the I Chingis known as the Book of Changes, because experimenting with it has the purpose to find out how changes happen in our life. Its texts are universal laws which show the natural course or that of least resistance to change which is presented by our current situation.
The fundamental philosophy of the I Ching is based on the fact that the immutable is the mutation, that is, that the world is in perpetual change, and this absolute complexity opens up an infinite number of possibilities.
We can use the I Ching divination by asking open questions, which are nor answered with a simple yes or no, and so, it will help us understand the changes that will take place in our life. This is achieved through a structure of ideas represented by different symbols and hexagrams and the relationships established between them.
The answer is not always clear, but it is the oracle’s way of giving it and it is sought by later authors of the I Ching. Its purpose is to make you analyze the reasons which make you doubt, proving that the answer to your question lies in yourself and that the I Ching only helps you discover it.
Thus, the soothsayer should think of a question and then throw yarrow stalks or coins, being the latter a more common divination method because it is easier. The two sides of the coin have a specific significance, so it is Yang for the heads and Yin for the tails. Six throws are made and the score, which is one of the 4,096 possibilities, is written down.
However, the numbers are not written down as they are, but they are represented by lines: if the number that is added is a 6, a changing Yin line is drawn or an “old Yin” (—X—), if it is a 7, then a Yang line (———) is drawn, if it is an 8, a Yin line (— —), and if it is a 9, a changing Yang line or an “old Yang” (—θ—). Moreover, when the sum of the three coins is an odd number (7 and 9), a solid line is drawn, and when it is an even number (6 and 8), a broken line. So, when drawing the six lines a hexagram is formed, and then their commentary should be found. This is a method that is considered quite difficult in the West and therefore, it is not very popular.
Unlike other oracles or methods of divination (it has nothing to do with the tarot or the arcana, for instance), the I Ching not only tells what is going to happen but also why things happen in a certain way and what can be done about it. It is presented as an ordered set of 64 hexagrams that reveals everything that exists, as well as the zodiac wheel of signs and houses.
From a poetic and metaphoric point of view, the commentaries are also quite interesting, since they hide powerful and precious teachings that transcend the oracle.
Is it possible that the information we get from the I Ching is really an interpretation of our subconscious mind and that it can help us make better decisions? It is actually true because most of the people that ask the I Ching get the information they consider important.
For the Chinese, the I Ching was a source of reference for any decision of relevance, as it describes the present situation of the consulter and predicts how it will be resolved in the future if the correct position is taken. Its functioning is based on the principle of synchronicity, the interdependence of objective and subjective events of who uses the Oracle.
In other words, events do not occur by chance, but cyclically, and therefore it is possible to predict them through a method of divination that dominates changes.
The I Ching hexagrams, as we have seen, reveal how changes happen and allow us to find out the natural direction or least resistance to those changes in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It doesn’t offer closed tests or results but interprets the most appropriate way of dealing with vital changes.
For all these reasons, the I Ching is a simple guide on the best way to go in each moment, depending on the state of consciousness in which you are and the good or bad temporal macrocosmic and microcosmic moment, but since according to its philosophy the world is something in continuous change, its method of divination is incapable of predicting a future in constant mutation.
The I Ching can be used as an oracle but it can also be an inspiring reading to connect with the inner guide because the answers it offers reveal the evolution of the inner changes linked to the question we have asked. It also offers a very enriching perspective on how they learn with that change, how to adapt to the transformation.