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Background

Welcome to the Yi Jing.   The Yi Jing (also known as the Book of Changes or I Ching) is an ancient Chinese text, dating back to at least the 4th century BCE*.  It has been used as an oracle and as a guide to living for over 2,500 years.  The Yi Jing is still in use today.

To help you use and understand the Control-G Yi Jing, we have prepared some brief explanations of the process of consulting the Yi Jing and understanding the answer.

The Yi Jing lists 64 Hexagrams, each of which represents a Change. Each Hexagram is made of 6 Lines and 4 Trigrams.  In the Yi Jing, every Line, every Trigram and every Hexagram is associated with many images and ideas.  In the Chinese language a single word has many meanings and associations, and in Chinese culture every word, spoken or written, carries with it a wealth of associations and images.  So every Hexagram gives a multi-layered symbolic picture of the Change.   The Control-G Yi Jing shows us these associations, so that we can relate to the answer given.

We ask the Yi Jing questions, and the Yi Jing replies with one or more Hexagrams and a number of Lines.  To interpret the Hexagrams, the Yi Jing contains text for each Hexagram (the Judgement and the Symbol) and Line. As well as the text, we need to know the attributes (images) for each trigram. Every hexagram includes 4 trigrams, each with its own set of attributes or references. Examples of attributes are elements (wind, fire, etc), animals (horse, cockerel etc.), directions (North,East etc.), and body parts (eye, foot etc.) The Control-G Yi Jing shows you all these attributes and images, and shows how they interact with each other.

The Yi Jing gives a dynamic representation of the Change, as will be explained below.

The Control-G Yi Jing includes the ancient texts (including variations on the translation) and also a more modern interpretation which is intended to provide a easier to understand summary of the often cryptic ancient texts.  There is also a 'fortune-telling' interpretation that would be more useful to someone seeking a more straightforward oracle or fortune.

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Asking the Question and Understanding the Answer

You should compose your question in your mind, and concentrate on it while you 'throw' the coins. You might even want to ask it out loud.  Asking simple questions with binary yes/no type answers will probably be frustrating.  Questions of the more open type, such as 'What is the best way for me now?' or 'If I go ahead with my plan, what will happen?' are better.

Think of the Yi Jing as being a very wise and respected person, and read the replies as if you were hearing that sage's reply.  You may not understand it immediately but, if you remember this is the Book of Changes, you will find it relates to the changes in your situation.  Try to see where you might be in the images presented.

The more you immerse yourself in the texts and images, the more you will understand the Change that the Yi Jing has given you for an answer.  Always remember that the Change is a process, not a result.

Moreover, if you carefully observe how you react to the answer, you may discover a lot about yourself, about how you are really thinking and feeling, that perhaps was hidden before.  And that knowledge, self-knowledge is priceless.

For a more detailed and deeper understanding of the context and how to interpret the answer, see Understanding the Answer - the Background

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Practical

We consult the Yi Jing by throwing three coins, six times.  Each throw gives a pattern of heads and tails, which correspond to a type of Line.  For example, a result of Head, Head, Tail gives a Young Yin Line.  It is the sequence of 6 Lines which gives us a Hexagram. Lines are drawn from the bottom up, and represent a cycle of change. Remember, change is a dynamic process, not a static event.

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We then look up the Hexagram and read the texts (the Symbol (Image) and the Judgement (Commentary).

Sometimes the Yi Jing replies with two Hexagrams.  If any of the Lines generated by our coin throws are 'Old' Lines, then they change into their opposite – e.g. an Old Yin Line becomes a Yang Line, and so a second (Changing) Hexagram is formed.  If any of the Lines in the first Hexagram are Changing, then we read the text for that Line, paying attention to its type and its position in the first Hexagram.

We then read the Symbol and Judgement for second (Changing) Hexagram.  Remembering that the Change is a snapshot of a dynamic process, the second, Changing, hexagram continues exploring the Change.  Some people think the first Hexagram represents the situation as it is, while the second Hexagram represents the future, but this view might be a bit simplistic.

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Each Hexagram is made up of four Trigrams – the Primary and Inner Trigrams.  Each Trigram has a name, usually of an element, e.g. Fire or Water, and many associations such as with directions, animals, family relations and body parts.  It is the combination and relation of the Trigrams which give a Hexagram its character.

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Note.  You can also look up any Hexagram manually (by name or number) by going to the Look Up Hexagram page from the main Yi Jing page.

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Interpreting the Texts (The Quick Version)

The Yi Jing texts have evolved over thousands of years and are still being reinterpreted today.  The basic text for each Hexagram comprises two short elements, the Symbol and the Judgement, and a short piece of text for each Line in that Hexagram.

The Judgement relates to the meaning of the Hexagram as a whole and often contains advice or comments.

The Symbol relates more directly to the images of the two main (Primary) Trigrams that make up the Hexagram.

The text for each Line (which would usually be read only if it were a Changing Line) often contains an image related to the overall Change, and appropriate to that Line's character (Yin or Yang) and its position in the Hexagram.  Remember that a Hexagram represents the whole cycle of change, from beginning to peak.

Always keeping your question in mind, consider your first reactions to the Judgement and Symbol.  Look at them as answers to your question.  The images and advice might be quite clear, but it is wise to avoid jumping to conclusions, especially if the answer seems to confirm your own feelings.  Deeper consideration of the details of the answer may give a better understanding of the situation.  However, the answer may seem cryptic and unrelated to your situation. The Yi Jing comes from the background of the ancient Chinese world and the images and references may not be familiar to us.  For some insight into some of the more common images and their meaning, see Principle Images (The Quick Version).

So the Symbol and Judgement give a picture of the Change related to your question.  Any Changing Lines refer to stages in the cycle of that Change, as indicated by their position (Bottom, 2nd Place etc.). The Yi Jing presents us with a description of the Change and advises us (or suggests or warns) about how we should act.  The heart of the process is relating the images to your situation.

In particular, note the relationships between the Trigram's correspondences (with nature, animals, the family, seasons etc.) and what they represent to you.  For instance, each Trigram represents an element such as Fire or Water, and also a family relationship such as Father or Youngest Daughter.  Consider what these attributes might represent in relation to your question.  Who in your situation is represented by The Mother, and how does that person stand in relation to, say, Eldest Son?  Or, for instance, the Youngest Son may indicate a lack of responsibility and duty in the situation - is this you, or is someone else playing that role?

 

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Interpreting the Modern Texts (The Quick Version)

The traditional Yi Jing texts are deeply evocative and significant.  Confucius is reputed to have said he wanted to devote ten lifetimes to studying the Yi Jing, but many people want a simpler interpretation and answer to their questions without years of study. They seek advice about their situation from a practical point of view.  For these people, the Control-G Yi Jing provides a modern interpretation of the text, still rooted in the ancient wisdom, but updated for today's busier world, and more directly applicable to their question.

In fact, the Yi Jing has traditionally been consulted by employing a skilled practitioner who would cast the Yi Jing and interpret the answers, relating them to the questioner's situation.  The Control-G Yi Jing includes both a modern equivalent for the traditional texts and a section interpreting the answers by subject e.g. career, family, health etc.  While these texts are based on the traditional versions, they are more interpretive, and a closer examination of the traditional material (texts and images for Hexagrams, Trigrams and Lines) will always give a more detailed and comprehensive picture.

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The Psychological Yi Jing (The Quick Version)

Perhaps the most interesting and acceptable use of the Yi Jing in the modern Western world, is as a psychological and philosophical tool.  Indeed, we find it unlikely that the sophisticated sages of ancient China, such as Confucius, thought a simplistic oracle worthy of study.  Philosophically, the Yi Jing presents a paradigm of change; basically a cycle of growing, peaking and then declining, all driven by the opposing but complementary forces of Yin and Yang.  Psychologically, it is in our reactions to the text and images of the Yi Jing and to its 'advice' that we come to understand our own inner thoughts and feelings.

The person consulting the Yi Jing is almost certainly facing a decision about which they have ambivalent feelings, even if the question is the unspoken 'What will happen if I do nothing?'  However, even if we are convinced we have chosen the right path, consulting the Yi Jing may cast new light on our decisions, or at least help us to understand our choices and their consequences.

A common method of breaking the impasse, where we cannot decide which choice is right, is to 'toss a coin' i.e. let chance decide between two alternatives.  Examining our feelings when chance chooses one alternative may help us to 'project ourselves into the future' and understand how we really feel about that particular choice.  If, after flipping the coin, you find yourself thinking, 'Best of three?' you see that you are not really happy with that particular choice after all.  

The Yi Jing, of course, is far more sophisticated than a simple binary choice between two alternatives.  It allows us to explore our feelings about every aspect of the situation by presenting complex layers of statements and images.  These may be thought of as archetypal images (see Jung and the Yi Jing below) and correspond to different aspects of the situation and our feelings about it.  

For instance, if the Hexagram were Dùn, the Upper Primary Trigram is Qián (Father) and the Lower Primary is Gèn (Youngest Son) and we might respond by asking ourselves which of these archetypes (or inner voices) is influencing our decision?  The Control-G Yi Jing provides prompts to help the user ask themselves penetrating questions about the texts and images.

So we might consider the Yi Jing to be a sort of equivalent to the famous Rorschach Ink Blot tests.  What you see in an image may tell you a lot about your true feelings.  At the very least, the Yi Jing provides a framework, within which we can examine all the conscious and unconscious factors influencing our choices.  In that role, the Yi Jing is a wise counsellor indeed. Not simply telling us what to do, but allowing us to see a wider, perhaps truer, picture, and thereby helping us to make our own decisions.

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Jung and the Yi Jing

C G Jung (1875 - 1961) was one of the most influential theorists and practitioners of the psychoanalytic movement, which dominated much psychological thinking in the first half of the 20th Century.  Jung was a student of Freud, although they later fell out, and the school of psychotherapy he founded is still widely practiced today.  Jung is well known for his ideas integrating psychology (including psychotherapy) with mystical or religious ideas, especially those of Eastern philosophies.

Jung was deeply impressed by the Yi Jing.  So much so that he wrote a foreword for Wilhelm's seminal translation.  Jung studied and consulted the Yi Jing for most of his adult life.  He believed that a principle, which he called synchronicity, connected all events in a non-causal way, and the casting of the Yi Jing reflected the entire world at that moment.  So the Hexagram obtained in answer to a question reflected a complete picture of that moment.

Jung insists on regarding Yi Jing as a person, to whom we speak and who speaks to us directly.  Partly, this was because he believed that all humans share a 'collective unconscious', and that within this unconscious were found certain elements, which he called archetypes.  Archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas.  You might like to think of them as patterns which reside in the unconscious.  Typically, archetypes are represented by images, such as the Wise Old Man, the Child, the Hero and, famously, the Shadow.  For Jung, the Yi Jing was a tool for invoking these archetypes and exploring their influence on our inner lives.  The Yi Jing Trigrams each embody several archetype images, not just people but animals, elements and landscape features. 

By generating archetypal images and examining his reaction to and interaction with them, Jung thought the Yi Jing gave a profound and powerful insight into the psyche.  In his foreword to the Yi Jing (1949) he says of several notable sinologists who consulted the Yi Jing despite their avowed scepticism,
"But oddly enough, the answer received apparently coincided with the questioner's psychological blind spot remarkably well."

Of course, many psychologists disagree with Jung's ideas, but even if we discount most of his theories, the practical value of the Yi Jing as a tool for exploring our personal psyche can hardly be doubted.

Finally, we think it is worth quoting Jung's foreword regarding using the Yi Jing,
"The I Ching insists upon self-knowledge throughout. The method by which this is to be achieved is open to every kind of misuse, and is therefore not for the frivolous-minded and immature; nor is it for intellectualists and rationalists. It is appropriate only for thoughtful and reflective people who like to think about what they do and what happens to them"

 

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Principle Images

The Yi Jing is full of images which would have been familiar to the ancient Chinese (even the most urbane would have recognised rural and agricultural references) and are embedded in the culture and philosophy of the time.  However, if an image has a different meaning for you, you should probably trust your own intuition.

Here is a list of some of those images with notes about how we might interpret them.

Possibly the most important image in the Yi Jing never appears in its text.
This is the the Taijitu (太極圖) or Yin-Yang symbol .    The circle (the whole) is made of two opposite halves, each of which contains an element of its complement.   The line which joins the halves represents the 'ridgepole' (like that on a roof - another image used in the Yi Jing) which joins, supports, defines the interface and unites the forces.

The forces of Yin (dark, moist, receptive) and Yang (light, dry active) permeate every aspect of life and so we must learn to recognise them and react appropriately.   Only by balancing along the ridgepole, like a surfer on a wave, can we pass harmoniously through life.  Our aim should always be to act in harmony with the world and not waste energy in useless opposition.

 

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Table of Principle Images
The Superior Man (the Admirable Person) The noble, wise and good person we aspire to be.  One who lives in harmony with the world.
The Dragon The principle of creativity and energy.  But beware of tweaking the dragon's tail.
Heaven Not only the skies above, but also the source of creation and harmony.  The ruling principle.
Earth The mundane world below. But also the complement to Heaven.
Family members (Father, Younger Daughter etc.) The Yi Jing comes from a tradition where people's roles were defined and rigid.  Think of the family relationships as archetypes.
Elements (Fire, Water, Metal etc.) As you might expect, the elements have a dual nature. Fire destroys but also gives heat and light to the home.
Geography (Lake, Mountain etc.) Again these have a dual nature. The Mountain can be a dangerous place but it also symbolises endurance and solidity and a place of retreat for the sage.
The Great Water Frequently referred to, the Great Water represents the ocean and the great unknown.  To cross the Great Water is to begin a major undertaking, far from your normal life.
Domestic animals (Pig, Cock, Ox etc.) Pretty much as you would expect.  The Horse, for instance, symbolises strength, power (position) and usefulness, but also can be unruly and difficult to control.
Wild Animals (Fox, Pheasant etc.) The Chinese would have been familiar with a wide range of wild animals, some of which were hunted for food.  Every animal would be regarded as having its own nature. The fox, as always, represents a cunning outsider. 
   
   
   

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Notes on the Texts

The starting point for any translation of the Yi Jing texts must be the work of Legge (1889) and, of course, Richard Wilhelm (1950), but many others exist.  The Chinese texts are terse and cryptic, and not easily transliterated into English without some interpretation and imagination.  We have chosen to retain the simplest and most authoritative translations for the ancient/traditional texts, as being closest to the spirit of the original Chinese.  Being written in Chinese, any translation must be an approximation and there are often difficult choices to be made between literal accuracy and conveying the true meaning of the text.  We hope we have made the right choices, but are always grateful for suggestions to improve our work.

For the more modern texts, we chose a number of different sources, but principally produced our own interpretation.  We tried to capture the meaning of the symbolism without the archaic references.  Additionally, we tried to provide a more psychological and personal text, where the intention is to engage the reader by relating their own inner lives to the text.  For instance, we frequently ask the reader to think about how they relate to the images represented in their own situation.

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New! Alternatively, try our How to Consult the Yi Jing - the movie

The Control-G Yi Jing also lets you look up the texts and save your questions and answers for later review.  (Your questions and answers remain strictly private.)

If you are already familiar with the Yi Jing, or just very impatient, then jump right in with Consult the Yi Jing

We hope you enjoy using the Control-G Yi Jing and find it as useful and interesting as we do.

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us or leave your feedback in our visitors book.   Sorry, we cannot help you interpret the Yi Jing - that path is for your steps alone. Contact us About the Control-G Yi Jing