I Ching

Alternative meaning: I Ching (monk)

The I Ching (易經 pinyin yì jīng) is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. Alternative romanizations of the name include I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King. Translations of its name into English include the "Book of Changes" or more accurately "Classic of Change".

It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change. See the Philosophy section below for more.

The book is also known as Zhou Yi (周易 zhōu yì; alternately Chou I), the "Changes of Zhou", in ancient Chinese literature which indicates the book was based on work from Zhou Dynasty. See the History section below for more.

In the Western cultures, it is known mostly as a system of divination.


The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 guà). These are each comprised of six horizontal lines (爻 yáo); each line is either unbroken (a solid line), or broken (an open line with a gap in the centre). With six such lines stacked in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram represents a process, a change happening at the present moment. To further express this, it is possible for one, many or all of the lines to be determined to be moving lines, i.e. their polarity is in the process of reversal and thus the meaning of the hexagram radically altered.

Note that because the lines in the hexagrams are traditionally determined by biased random-number generation procedures, the 64 hexagrams are not equiprobable if generated in these ways.

Components of Hexagrams

The solid line represents yang, the masculine, creative principle. The open line represents yin, the feminine, receptive principle. These principles are also represented in a common circular symbol (☯), known as taijitu (太極圖), but more commonly known in the west as the yin-yang (陰陽) diagram, expressing the non-dualist idea that every category created by the mind of man automatically implies its opposite.

In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a common textual convention: horizontally from left to right, using '|' for yang and ':' for yin. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90°).

Each hexagram can be considered composed of two trigrams (卦 guà) of three lines each. There are eight possible trigrams (八卦 bā guà).

    1. ||| Force (☰ 乾 qián) = heaven (天)
    2. ::: Field (☷ 坤 kūn) = earth (地)
    3. |:: Shake (☳ 震 zhèn) = thunder (雷)
    4. :|: Gorge (☵ 坎 kǎn) = water (水)
    5. ::| Bound (☶ 艮 gèn) = mountain (山)
    6. :|| Ground (☴ 巽 xùn) = wind (風)
    7. |:| Radiance (☲ 離 lí) = fire (火)
    8. ||: Open (☱ 兌 duì) = swamp (澤)

The first three lines, the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the change that is occurring. The upper trigram, the last three lines, are the outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal) aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 :|:::| Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram :|: Gorge, relating to the outer trigram ::| Bound.

The Hexagrams

The text of the I Ching describes each of the 64 hexagrams, and later scholars added commentaries and analyses of each one; these have been subsumed into the text comprising the I Ching.

The hexagrams, though, are mere mnemonics for the philosophical concepts embodied in each one. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change.


Gradations of binary expression based on yin and yang (Old yang, old yin; young yang or young yin, see the divination paragraph below) are what the hexagrams are built from. Yin and yang, while common expressions associated with many schools known from classical Chinese culture, are especially associated with the Taoists.

Another view holds that the I Ching is primarily a Confucianist ethical or philosophical document. This view is based upon the following:

Both views may be seen to show that I Ching was at the heart of Chinese thought, serving as a common ground for the Confucian and Taoist schools. Partly forgotten because of the rise of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, the I Ching came back to the attention of many scholars during the Song dynasty, concomitant with the reassessment of Confucianism by Confucians in the light of Taoist and Buddhist metaphysics, known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. The book, unquestionably an ancient Chinese scripture, helped Song Confucian thinkers to synthesize Buddhist and Taoist cosmologies with Confucian and Mencian ethics into a new kind of cosmogony that could be linked to the so-called "lost Tao" of Confucius and Mencius.


Traditionally it was believed that the principles of the I Ching originated with the legendary Fu Hsi. In this respect he is seen as an early culture hero, one of earliest legendary rulers of China (traditional dates 2852 BC-2738 BC), reputed to have had the trigrams (八卦 bā gùa) revealed to him supernaturally. Before the Zhou Dynasty, there was other literature on the "Change" philosophy, e.g. Lian Shan Yi (『連山易』 Lián Shān Yì) and Gui Cang Yi (『歸藏易』 Gūi Cáng Yì). The philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty. It was refined over time and I Ching was completed around the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Hàn Wǔ Dì) during the Han Dynasty (circa 200 BC).

In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the I Ching has been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions and other sources (see below). These reconstructions are dealt with in growing number of books, such as "The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching", by S J Marshall, Columbia University Press, 2001, and Richard Rutt's "Zhouyi: The Book of Changes" from Curzon Press, 1996. Scholarly PhDs dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include the dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy. These and other scholars have been helped immensely by the discovery in the 1970s by Chinese archaeologists of intact Han dynasty era tombs in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan province. One of the tombs contained more or less complete 2nd century BC texts of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing and other works, which are mostly similar yet in some ways diverge significantly from the "received" or traditional texts preserved by the chances of history. The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching, previously unknown, and apparently written as if they were meant to be attributed to Confucius. All of the Mawangdui texts are many centuries older than the earliest known attestations of the texts in question. When talking about the evolution therefore of the Book of Changes the Modernists contend that it is important to distinguish between the traditional history assigned to texts such as the I Ching (felt to be anachronistic by the Modernists), assignations in commentaries which have themselves been canonized over the centuries along with their subjects, and the more recent scholarly history aided by modern linguistic textual criticism and archaeology. Many feel that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, many Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and that the hexagrams came before the trigrams.


The process of consulting the oracle involves determining the hexagram by some random method, and then reading the I Ching text associated with that hexagram.

Each line of a hexagram determined with these methods is either stable ("young") or changing ("old"); thus, there are four possibilities for each line, corresponding to the cycle of change from yin to yang and back again:

Once a hexagram is determined, each line has been determined as either changing (old) or unchanging (young). Since each changing line is seen as being in the process of becoming its opposite, a new hexagram can be formed by transposing each changing yin line with a yang line, and vice versa. Thus, further insight into the process of change is gained by reading the text of this new hexagram and viewing it as the result of the current change.


Several of the methods use a randomising agent to determine each line of the hexagram. These methods produce a number, which corresponds to the numbers of changing or unchanging lines discussed above, and thus determine each line of the hexagram.

Cracks on turtle shell

The turtle shell oracle is probably the earliest record of fortune telling. The bottom of a turtle shell was roasted in fire. The resulting cracks were interpreted for divination. The cracks were annotated with inscriptions which are considered the oldest Chinese writings discovered.

Actually the oracle predated the Book of I Ching by over 1000 years. Some oracles unearthed dated back to 1200 BC. The writings on them were already highly developed which indicated that there may be much older oracles to be found. See History section.

Yarrow stalks

The following algorithm is traditionally used to generate biased random numbers for the I Ching using yarrow stalks:

This is the most common "traditional" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:


This is the most common "quick" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:


This method is a recent innovation, designed to be quick like the coin method, while giving the same probabilities as the yarrow stalk method.

Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are the same as the distribution of the colours, as follows:

Rice grains

For this method, either rice grains, or small seeds are used.

One picks up a few seeds between the middle finger and thumb. Carefully and respectfully place them on a clean sheet of paper. Repeat this process six times, keeping each cluster of seeds in a separate pile --- each pile represents one line. One then counts the number of seeds in each cluster, starting with the first pile, which is the base line. If there is an even number of seeds, then the line is yin, otherwise the line is yang --- except if there is one seed, in which case one redoes that line.

One then asks the question again, and picks up one more cluster of seeds. Count the number of seeds you have, then keep subtracting six, until you have six seeds or less. This gives you the number of the line that specifically represent your situation. It is not a moving Line. If you do not understand your answer, you may rephrase the question, and ask it a second time.

? 2004

I Ching (monk)

Not to be confused with the I Ching, the Book of Changes.

I Ching (義淨; pinyin yi jing) (635 - 713) was a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled to India via the Silk Trade Route to collect Buddhist texts in Sanskrit. These he took back to China and translated into Chinese. He was based for a time at Xi Ming Temple in Ch'ang-an, the capital of T'ang dynasty China.

During his trip, in the year 671 he visited the Srivijaya kingdom on the Malay peninsula, and his writings are one of the few sources about that kingdom.

Translated 60+ sutras into Chinese, including:

? 2004

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