Hilary Barrett, I Ching

The elusively simple Hexagram 1

November 22nd, 2015

Hexagram 1 is so simple it’s tremendously hard to get to grips with. The simplicity starts with its shape –


– six solid, ‘yang’ lines, pure and whole, light with no shade, no nuances, no spaces, no ‘picture’.

The significance of those six solid lines is a bit easier to see in contrast to Hexagram 2, Earth: six open, yin lines:


‘Creative Force is firm; the Earth is open.’ (Zagua) Solid lines act; open lines are acted on, or in. Because earth is open, we can work it – dig, shape, plant, change what grows. But ‘the heavens move ceaselessly’ and time passes, and there’s nothing here we can act on.

The simplicity continues with the text. Whereas Hexagram 2 burgeons with imagery – the mare, the noble one finding her way between confusion and the shining light of a ‘master’, compass points, partners, peaceful homecoming – here is the whole oracle of Hexagram 1:


– all five characters of it, qian yuan heng li zhen.

From the source, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.’

What is qian?

The name of the hexagram, qian, isn’t very approachable. Harmen Mesker, someone we can rely on to tease out the ancient meaning of a character for us if anyone can, says he ‘doesn’t know how to translate it’.

His deep dive into qian concentrates on the left and upper right parts of the character, which he finds represent the banner raised at the centre of a settlement, with all the buildings facing towards it. So qian is the centre, the focus, the source of identity; you look to it and arrange your life around it. This fits well with qian‘s association with heaven, sun (a component of the character) and stars: you look to them to know what time it is and order your life accordingly. The staff of the banner may also act as the gnomon of a sundial.

Stephen Field’s excellent Duke of Zhou Changes calls Hexagram 1 ‘The Vigorous’ and says, ‘Qian‘s meaning is derived from the lower right hand element in the graph depicting the “twist” of a newly emerged sprout. The full character means “to shoot upwards,” and refers to the vigor of new spring growth.’ I’m not sure, but I think this is the one element of the character Harmen doesn’t regard as germane to the meaning.

I think both meanings – banner and sprout – come together in the hexagram. It means both absolute truth – the answer to all ‘why?’ questions – and also how that truth makes itself known:  in motion, with endless creative vigour. Truth in motion is Creative Force. It moves stars; it makes acorns grow into oak trees. The Tuanzhuan for hexagram 1 says,

‘Clouds pass, rain falls, the variety of beings flow into form.’

(Bradford Hatcher’s translation)

Creative Force is ineluctable and irreducible. It will not change itself for us – which is why qian is the focus, and we must build around it.

And finally – well, actually not remotely finally – the character qian appears in the text of the Yi. In 1 line 3, ‘the noble one qian qian to the end of the day’ and is still alert at nightfall. This line’s change shows Hexagram 10, Treading (the tiger’s tail). The picture arises of relentlessly driven creative energy – the artist who forgets to eat or sleep because he is so perilously, breathtakingly close to Creative Force. And in the fourth and fifth lines of Hexagram 21, qian means ‘dried’, as in sun-dried meat. Perhaps 1.3’s noble one will also be ‘sun dried’ by exposure to such relentless power – ‘burning out’, we’d call it – but the line says this is no mistake.

Yuan heng li zhen

Yuan heng li zhen – which I usually translate ‘from the source, creating success; constancy bears fruit’ – are fundamental words to the Yijing, subtly combined and varied through most of the hexagram texts. Because they appear so often, it’s easy to pass over them and look for something more colourful and easier to relate to. Which would, of course, be a mistake.

Yuan means source, first or primary – like the founding ancestors. Although it’s often translated simply as ‘great’, in readings it points to something that’s great because it’s at the origin, connected to source. In human terms, think of inspiration, the reason why, the original big idea. (But the idea of yuan could be much bigger than that. Everything has a source.)

Heng is normally translated ‘success'; its ancient meaning has to do with offerings. But ‘offering’ isn’t a complete translation, because heng is a two-way thing, like ‘conversation’ in English: it means both the people making the offering and the spirits enjoying it – the shared meal. If you think about it, an offering both made and received is pretty much the definition of success. Any action with heng connects into deep reality to become spiritually potent – it works as a shared meal with the spirits.

Yuan heng is translated as a single phrase: ‘creating success from the source’ or ‘primal offering’. It’s an accepted offering open and connected to source – successful action empowered by its originating idea.

Li quite literally means ‘fruitful': the old character shows the grain as it is cut. Li action bears fruit – has results – ‘furthers’, in Wilhelm/Baynes.

Zhen, like heng, has both an ancient meaning and a derived one. Originally it means ‘divination': the whole act, the full conversation of asking or bringing one’s intent and receiving an answer. From here comes the idea of ‘constancy': the oracle’s answer fully received, inwardly known, and requiring you to hold to it. The whole divination – from the original clear intent, through the oracle’s advice and affirmation, to internalisation of the response – all needs to translate into consistent, steady action.

Li zhen is also a single phrase: li qualifies zhen, meaning ‘fruitful divination’ – but that means not just ‘nice, positive answer’ but that the whole divination bears fruit.

The complete expression, yuan heng li zhen, occurs in just a select few hexagrams. When it does, it points to a tremendous creative drive at work, from the source through into reality. Something wants to happen, to become manifest.

Most of the other 63 hexagrams contain variations on the yuan heng li zhen pattern, and each variation carries meaning. But hexagram 1 is the theme for all those variations: the pure pattern of divination-becoming-action (or truth-becoming-action), with no qualifiers or conditions. It’s the same simplicity that’s embodied in the six active yang lines: all light, no shade. The Wenyan Wing says of qian, ‘Its true greatness lies in the fact that nothing is said about the means by which it furthers [li].’

Its greatness lies in this – and frankly, so too does the difficulty in really engaging with this hexagram in readings. Heaven has no ‘handles’ for us. What to do with hexagram 1 in a reading beyond saying, ‘Oh, there must be lots of creative energy involved…’?

Riding dragons

For specifics, naturally you look to the moving lines – and there, more often than not, you find dragons. (The dragon isn’t named in lines 3 and 4, the ‘human positions’ of the hexagram, but he’s implied, especially at line 4.) If someone’s having difficulty getting a feel for hexagram 2, I might recommend that they spend time with horses to understand the ‘mare’s constancy’. With hexagram 1… this is obviously trickier

There are two stories told about hexagram 1’s dragon. SJ Marshall in The Mandate of Heaven explains the annual cycle of the rain dragon: how it overwinters underwater in a mountain gorge, wakes in spring and flies over the fields, bringing the vital rain. When the people see the first clouds begin to gather, they climb the mountain, make noise and throw things into the lake to anger the dragon into waking so that those clouds will bring rain. (He’s found records of such rites continuing into the 1930s.)

Thus at line 1 the dragon is still asleep underwater; at line 2 the clouds appear; at line 4 the dragon is leaping from the abyss, and by line 5 the rain has come. All of which makes good sense when you consider the simplest meaning of qian in the Yijing itself: ‘dried by the sun’. Qian is drought, and requires rain magic. The hexagram overall is about bringing rain – awakening potential into action.

But there’s also a bigger and more remote dragon here: the Azure Dragon, a vast asterism whose journey across the night sky governs the farming year. In midwinter it is entirely hidden below the horizon, dormant in the waters beyond the end of the world. In late winter the dragon’s horn rises above the horizon at dusk; through spring it emerges, and by summer solstice the whole dragon from horn to tail is ‘flying in heaven’. Stephen Field in The Duke of Zhou Changes  translates line 6 as ‘setting dragon’, literally ‘necked dragon': the dragon’s head has disappeared below the horizon, decapitating it. And then (in the text linked with all lines changing) the dragon with no head is ‘gathered’ entirely below the horizon: ‘As the seasons progress, the Dragon completely disappears below the western horizon where it fights for supremacy with the Heavenly Turtle (Corona Australis). The prognostication of “good fortune” portends victory for the Dragon and the rebirth of the year.’

These seem to me to be two parallel images of the same essential dragon, overwintering both in the local Dragon Pool and in the watery abyss beyond the world. Where they seem to differ is in how we can relate to them: observing the constellations as your almanac and acting accordingly, or actively setting out to wake the dragon. (Marshall suggests translating 1.1 as ‘Submerged dragon is of no use,’ implying that you should be waking it up – but the negative used in this line is typically an imperative, ‘Do not!’) Observe and obediently follow celestial timing, or invoke the powers of nature with magic?

Reading through the Wings on Hexagram 1 helps answer this question – by revealing it to be a false dichotomy. Following celestial timing is not a passive thing:

‘Great light completes then begins
The six positions are by season fulfilled
Seasons to mount the six dragons
And with these to master the skies.’
(Tuanzhuan, Bradford Hatcher’s translation.)

This is about timeliness: watching the dragon, always being able to answer the question, ‘What time is it?’ and know the right action for the moment. (Yuan heng li zhen – pure divination.) And if you know what is right in the moment… then you might also know the power that creates rightness – qian. You might be said to be riding the dragon.

This image comes with ancient echoes: KC Chang in Art, Myth and Ritual describes how certain animals, not least dragons, ‘served as the helpers of shamans and shamanesses in the task of communication between heaven and earth, the spirits and the living.’ In the Classic of Mountains and Seas, riding dragons is ‘invariably associated with agents bringing messages back and forth between heaven and earth’ – such as a hero who returned to earth from his audiences in heaven bringing a particular set of songs.

The Wing authors’ choice of image echoes the same understanding: if you can ride dragons, you are in communication with heaven. ‘Riding’ (the verb’s the same one used in the Yi for ‘driving’ a team of horses) suggests mastery, but plainly doesn’t imply that you impose your will on the dragon – rather, it’s that your will and the dragon’s will are the same. And so your intent resonates with Creative Force and your action is timely.

…and isn’t that what magic is? You begin your rituals at the Dragon Pool not on a whim, but when you see the first clouds. Watch the heavens, and you know when to make magic. And then –

‘The heavens move ceaselessly.
A noble one in his own strength does not pause.’

– it’s your own strength that is ceaseless, because to be in harmony with the time is to be powerful. The Dazhuan, in its list of culture heroes who ‘probably got their idea’ from particular hexagrams, says of the ancient sage kings: ‘The Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun let their robes hang loosely down, yet all under heaven was well-ordered. They probably got the idea for this from Qian and Kun.


Hexagram 1 in readings

Each line that changes in Hexagram 1 is an opening: solid becoming open, creating space for action. When none of the lines is changing, there is no such space, only unbroken Creative Force. Quite often this means something like, ‘Potent idea! How could it become manifest?’

When lines in 1 change, the relating hexagram is an exact map of the openings for manifestation: the field of action for creative force, the form it can flow into.

And the experience of Hexagram 1 as relating hexagram itself may be of a much bigger reality – larger scale, longer term – that puts your experience, efforts and motives into perspective. Depending on the situation and your action (in other words, depending on the primary hexagram and which lines must change to give this relating hexagram), it might magnify the power of your endeavours and work as a blessing; sometimes it might reveal your inadequacy or untimeliness. But it always seems to say – ‘there is another, bigger way to see this.’

A final note: talking about qian in general terms as I’ve done here, it always sounds vast and splendid: dragons, heaven, creative drive, absolute truth. In readings, it’s not necessarily so grand. Stars, dragons and oak trees have qian, and so too do laundry, bookkeeping and cabbages.

A shared dao of 21 and 48

November 14th, 2015

Complementary hexagrams are paradoxical things. On the one hand, there is no hexagram more different from 21, Biting Through than 48, the Well:

21, Biting Through

48, the Well

Every line is changed, so they have nothing in common. If it’s time to bite through, then it is exactly not time for well-maintenance.

And on the other hand, this means that complementary hexagrams are – visibly, obviously – the same shape, like a mould and its casting are the same shape. They share a pattern, and meet at every point to form a whole.

What is that ‘whole’? The best description I have is that it’s the single dao of their shared pattern.

I believe each hexagram with its complement will express a single dao. Coming to understand each one is proving to be a slow process – but every now and then I get a hint of one.

I think the single dao of hexagrams 21 and 48 is the imperative to do whatever work’s required to connect with what sustains us, by joining above and below.

Here’s the train of thought that got me this far:

21 is generally known as a pictorial hexagram derived from Hexagram 27, which is literally called Jaws. 27 shows the upper and lower jaws and the teeth between them. (The trigrams draw the same picture: the upper jaw is still (mountain) and the lower jaw moves (thunder).)

21 shows the ‘jaws’ picture with the addition of one yang line at the fourth place, which represents both the obstacle between the teeth and the action of biting through it.

27, Nourishment/ Jaws

21 zhi 27


‘Biting into dried, bony meat,
Gains a metal arrow.
Constancy in hardship bears fruit.
Good fortune.’

(A metal arrow is not just any obstacle: it adds a whole new dimension. Find it, and not only can you swallow this mouthful, but you have the means to get your next meal.)

48 is the ‘negative’ of the picture in 21 – so you could say it’s derived from Hexagram 28, but with one extra yin line added at the fourth place.

28, Great Exceeding

48 zhi 28

21.4 is the obstacle and action between above and below – so what’s 48.4? It’s the space that connects above and below. It’s the well-shaft.


‘Well is being lined,
No mistake.’

Paralleling 21.4, this isn’t just about the space, but the activity to hold it clear. It’s a subtler, less vivid reflection of the dao of uniting above and below to reach sustenance.

The fan yao of each line shows something more about their themes –

21.4 is reflected in 27.4:

‘Biting into dried, bony meat,
Gains a metal arrow.
Constancy in hardship bears fruit.
Good fortune.’
‘Unbalanced nourishment,
Good fortune.
Tiger watches, glares and glares.
His appetites, pursues and pursues.
No mistake.’

The power behind ‘biting into dried bony meat’ and ‘constancy in hardship’ is the tiger’s fierce persistence. 27 isn’t only about finding a balanced framework of nourishment, it’s also about the blazing, transforming desires that animate the framework (and for ‘animate the framework’ you can read ‘power the jaws’).

48.4 is reflected in 28.4:

‘Well is being lined,
No mistake.’
‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

‘Sustenance’ means what sustains – what holds up. That’s a theme of 28 – what kind of structure holds up under stress, and what energies renew its strength.

These lines seem to ‘unfold’ the single dao of 21-48 (and that of 27-28) to explore the relationships it generates between desire, sustenance and structure.


‘Language of Change’ Yijing glossary

November 4th, 2015

I’ve just made Language of Change available separately. It’s a Yijing glossary covering common phrases, words and omens (‘crossing the great river’, ‘feudal lords’, ‘regrets vanish’…) and also some key concepts (centrality, offerings, marriage…), and it’s available in pdf (digital) format for £7, here.

This is the same glossary that’s included inside the Resonance Journal and with Change Circle membership – so, er, don’t buy it if you already own one of those. But if you don’t, and would like some high-quality imagination food to nourish your readings, then… have a look. (There are umpteen months of research and thought distilled into Language of Change and I’m quite proud of the results.) There’s a full contents list and sample entry on the product page.

I just want to know if it’s going to happen

October 27th, 2015

mists over mountains

The well-known problems with asking for a prediction

Often, wanting a prediction is a thin veneer over what we really want. Sometimes I’ll encounter a beginner who wants more than anything to know what to do or how to be now, but who feels obliged to ask what’ll happen, because isn’t that the kind of thing you’re supposed to ask an oracle?

Logically, it’s hard to see how the real question could ever be ‘What will happen?’ because knowing the future, on its own, makes no practical difference in the present. Some years ago, when my Mum was seriously ill, I thought of asking Yi for her prognosis – but digging a little deeper, found that what I really wanted to know was what on earth can I do with myself? I think that’s very often the hidden question: if you feel the need to know the future so you’ll know what to do now, you’re really asking, ‘What to do now?’ – so ask! As well as being a simpler, more honest approach to the oracle, this gives you an answer you can use – an answer that can create change.

Asking ‘What will happen?’ can be a sign of disconnection. ‘The future’ that can be predicted is imagined as something quite separate from us – there’s no sense of an unfolding process of creation in which we might be involved. It’s not just that we don’t see how to apply our own strength or will – if that were the issue, we’d be asking ‘How to…?’ – but that we don’t see how our strength and will has any part anywhere at all. This is profound alienation: like standing on the banks of the river of life, watching it flow past, and keeping our feet dry.

Asking for a prediction seems passive, and logically like a waste of a good question… but does it even make sense? This depends on your point of view, of course. The more fatalistic you are – the more you believe that some things are just destined to happen to you and some are not – the more it makes sense to ask for predictions. I’m more inclined to think of people as mostly the authors of their own lives, so a lot of prediction questions just don’t make sense to me – they don’t seem to acknowledge the real world.

For instance, when maybe ten years ago I had a client who wanted a prediction, I talked with her about her question choice: how it was really a bit like asking, ‘Will I ever stand on the summit of Everest?’ It can’t happen unless you intend it, prepare and try. How there wasn’t already a carved-in-stone future where this happened or it didn’t – there was only a process of her moving towards it, or not.

She understood what I was saying and agreed, and we went ahead with a reading about how she could become ready and move towards what she wanted. At the end, feeling I’d done rather a good job interpreting and communicating the reading, I asked if she had any remaining questions. And my client told me politely and resignedly that the reading was very interesting, but ‘really I just wanted to know if it would ever happen.’

In other words – the reading had not reached her and had not helped. So much for ‘logically’, so much for ‘sense’, and so much for ‘an answer that can create change’.

Never, ever again have I tried to talk someone into asking a completely different question. If someone asks for a prediction, I will scratch a little at their question to see if there’s another one hiding beneath it – ‘What difference would it make to know that?’ – and then I accept what they’re asking. (The preliminary call before a reading is no longer about ‘helping to choose the best question’ but about ‘finding the question you are asking‘.)

The human desire for predictions isn’t going away. It’s something to respect, and try to understand.

Why do we want to know the future?


Why do we want to know what will happen? Actually, I think we don’t – not quite. That really would make for a tedious, pointless life, wouldn’t it? If you know it all in advance, why bother having the experience? What we want is to feel that our desires might be aligned with reality – in other words, we want hope.

As I said, asking for a prediction can be a sign of disconnection. It’s also a sign that we want to connect – even if only to dip a toe into the river. These questions express a will to re-engage – if that will weren’t present, we wouldn’t be asking at all. We’ll try navigating the realms of possibility, if someone will just give us even a fragment of a map.

In theory, this could be part of a logical decision-making process: if what I want’s possible, I’ll persist in trying; if not, I’ll divert my attention to something else. Lines from an elementary computer program: ‘If… then… else…’.

In practice, I don’t believe logic has much to do with it at all. For one thing, it’s a rare human being who can truly redirect their attention and energy just because that would be the rational thing to do. No… that’s a matter of emotional readiness, and we can set up camp at the crossroads for a long time before it arises. It’s much more likely that we’re divining as a way to court that readiness, tentatively and experimentally.

Engaging with the unknown

It’s difficult, not knowing what’s going to happen. This seems to me to be a very basic human experience: there’s a process going on here that’s outside my realm of knowledge; I want to connect with it and participate in it, enter into its realm and get a glimpse of how it unfolds. So I divine. (It doesn’t matter if that process might be ‘the game animals are migrating’ or ‘the stock market’s moving’ or ‘my boyfriend’s changing’ – the impulse to divine is much the same.)

Divining lets us engage our will with the unknown. Even a partial, blurry vision of the future has the power to move us in the present. Without seeing the future harvest, how could we go out in the cold to plough? The vision is the first step to full engagement in creating. With the idea that this is possible, we can form an intention, and then we can start exploring ways to make it manifest.

…and the uncontrollable

The other difficult thing about the future: it’s not in our control. If I don’t go hunting, I know I won’t catch anything – but I might not catch anything even if I do. And in practice often you want to ask what’ll happen because what you want isn’t happening (is making a real habit of not happening, in fact). So there’s an atmosphere of weary helplessness at that camp at the crossroads, and maybe letting the intention go starts to look possible, after all.

Then asking ‘What will happen?’ is still a way of creating a present stance: something to lend new shape and power to how you engage.

So… what to ask?

This seems a good moment to remember that the question we ask is important for us – so we know what we’re asking about and can listen better. The Yi will give us the answer we need anyway. So the distinction between ‘prediction questions’ and ‘advice questions’ has a lot to do with how we listen, and not much to do with what Yi can say.

Even then… recently I’ve done one reading where the person was asking ‘what will happen?’ but received the answer as ‘how to be’ and one where the person was asking ‘what to do?’ but received the answer as both advice and ‘what will happen’. And both did unquestionably receive the answer: these were readings that ‘landed’ – unlike that early effort with the woman who just wanted to know if it would ever happen.

My mistake there was to try to push her straight to ‘How can I?’ when she didn’t know whether she could at all, and had no way to bridge that gap between ‘if’ and ‘how’. The right response to all those problems with asking for a prediction isn’t to substitute a different, more proactive question, any more than a brisk jog is a good cure for a broken leg.

Also, at the opposite extreme, there can be a certain arrogance behind ‘How can I?’ – insisting that the universe dispense the required answer, regardless of what’s real. (A wise friend once described this as treating Yi as a mail-order catalogue.) Such questions can be every bit as disconnected as ‘what will happen?’

Yet it’s still good to question the impulse to ask for a prediction. Perhaps there’s a simpler question behind it about how to be, now. Or perhaps a fog of insecurity is obscuring direct experience: ‘I can’t let myself want this until I know for sure I can have it.’ There’s a tremendously fine, grey line, though, between that and ‘I’ll be able to invest in this once I can see it’s possible for me’ – between postponing life until we know for sure, and being able to believe – or suspend disbelief.

There isn’t a right question, or even a better question. But in each case there’s an honest question that allows the fullest engagement with life, and that – I think – would be the one to ask.

(Note: a reading behind much of this article:
Question: ‘Yi, why do we ask for predictions?’
Answer: Hexagram 45, unchanging.)

This means something

October 11th, 2015

A thoroughly useful guiding principle for both diviners and translators: this means something. For diviners with/ translators of the Yijing, the principle needs elaborating: this means something, whether or not I have the faintest glimmerings of a clue what it means.

That should really be inscribed in every Yijing book and journal. Probably the most common beginner’s mistake is to look at a reading, not ‘get it’, and give up. The experienced user does sometimes look at the reading and ‘get it’ right away, but more often than not the only difference is how you persist through the confusion. You sleep on it, ask questions about it, search for related readings (easy as falling off a log with the Resonance Journal), and just keep on listening – because you trust the oracle.

This principle of trust gets interesting when the oracle’s advice goes against ‘common sense’… but for now I’d like to write about something a little geekier/yeekier. What happens when you extend it into the depths of the Yi’s text and structure and keep on assuming that ‘this means something’?

One thing that can happen is delusion. Let me just get that out of the way – we humans are good at seeing meaningful patterns, whether or not there are any. There’s even a term for it: apophenia, seeing meaningful patterns in random data, a term first coined to describe the early stages of schizophrenia.

So yes, we can deceive ourselves. We can weave a tight net of ‘meaning’ that entangles and traps us – or newly-recognised meanings can be like opening doors and flooding light. The possibility of delusion isn’t a reason not to go looking for meaning.

One thing is sure: if you start out from the assumption that something doesn’t carry meaning, you can’t learn anything from it.

Take, for instance, the Sequence of Hexagrams. It’s still commonly said among Yijing people who should (I feel) know better that this is a mostly random arrangement. They’ll concede that the hexagrams are arranged in pairs and the beginning and ending are deliberate (starting with pure yang and pure yin hexagrams, ending with yang and yin completely mixed), but that’s about all there is to it.

No, it really isn’t.

I’ve been re-reading Scott Davis’ The Classic of Changes in Cultural Context, a book filled with such beautiful ideas and discoveries about the Yi that it’s well worth wading through the Academese it’s written in to find them. He works on the principle that the Sequence and the text are a single fabric rich with meaning. And because he looks, he finds.

A simple example from his book:

Hexagram 5 line 6 changes to 9; 9.6 changes to 5. Hexagram 5 is about Waiting, traditionally thought of as waiting for rain. 5.6 says

‘Entering into the pit.
There are uninvited guests,
Three people come.
Honour them: in the end, good fortune.’

Three uninvited guests, and then in the end good fortune. Three hexagrams, 6, 7 and 8, and then in the end Hexagram 9. 9 line 6: ‘Already rained, already come to rest…’

A more complex and richer example, also from his book:

Hexagram 18 speaks of three days before and three days after jia. What’s jia? Literally something like ‘seedburst’, it means ‘beginning, new start’, and is the name of the first day of the 10 day week.

The hexagrams are grouped in 10s throughout the Sequence (you can verify this for yourself with a glance at how the trigrams are distributed). Suppose the first hexagram of a decade is like the first day of a week: then jia day relative to hexagram 18 is hexagram 11.

Hexagram 11 says, ‘Small goes, great comes.’ Three ‘days’ after hexagram 11 is hexagram 14, Great Possession. Hexagram 12, on the other hand, says ‘Great goes, small comes.’ Three ‘days’ before 12 is Hexagram 9, Small Taming.

(Aside: Davis doesn’t suggest this, but you could also think of this as pointing to the jia day after 18: Hexagram 21. 18 happens to fall three ‘days’ before it. That’s interesting too, but not so elegantly woven into the fabric of the whole as Davis’ discovery – there’s much more about it in his book.)

If you find yourself counting to and fro on your fingers through the Sequence… you’re not the only one. If hexagrams can play the role of days, or uninvited guests, what else could they do?

Here’s one I stumbled across the other day.

We know that hexagrams come in pairs, mostly created by inversion of the same pattern of lines. So Hexagram 42 is really just 41 looked at from a different angle. By the same token, 42 line 2 is really just 41 line 5 looked at from a different angle. (You can demonstrate this by drawing hexagram 42, marking line 2 changing, then rotating the paper through 180 degrees.)

41 and 42 are a nice example of a pair because their names – ‘Decrease’ and ‘Increase’ – make it clear they belong together. The same’s true of the text of 41.5 and 42.2:

‘Maybe increased by ten paired tortoise shells,
Nothing is capable of going against this.
From the source, good fortune.’

‘Maybe increased by ten paired tortoise shells.
Nothing is capable of going against this.
Ever-flowing constancy, good fortune.
The king uses this to make offerings to the supreme being: good fortune.’

Both of these lines change to Hexagram 61, Inner Truth.

A little background: I’ve been working with this book full-time for about 20 years, and I’ve never noticed anything remarkable about this before, except that the paired lines have paired text. Specifically, I never saw any significance in there being ten pairs of shells – because it never occurred to me to look. I accepted the general consensus: numbers in the Zhouyi have no particular meaning beyond ‘some’ and ‘a lot’. But… what if this means something?

Tortoise shells are objects used in divination. Can I think of another object used in divination – one that, as these lines not-so-subtly remind me, comes in pairs? I think I can. And if I increase 41-42 by 10 pairs of hexagrams

reflective tortoise

Using the Sequence in readings, part 2

October 6th, 2015

The changing lines

Continuing from my previous post: Yi’s answer to ‘How to use the Sequence in readings?’, 25.4.6 to 3…

´There can be constancy.
No mistake.´

Line 4 is just across the threshold between inner and outer; it’s just stepped out into the world. So – in any hexagram – it tends to ask questions like, ‘What can I do here?’ – which is very much what I was asking. You can imagine that ‘What can I do here?’ might potentially be an awkward question to ask in the midst of disentangling. But the answer’s very simple: you can persist; you can be steady and carry it through.

Also (and originally), zhen, constancy, means divination. Hence the line also means ‘divining is possible’ or ‘there is consent for divination’. As an answer to this question, of course, the two meanings converge. How to use the sequence in readings? To allow divination; to allow you to carry a reading through steadily.

I can recognise the significance of the sequence ‘allowing divination’, because it’s often essential to help the querent recognise where they are. Without that recognition, without being able to orientate and find oneself in the reading, divining is not possible.

This line is how Without Entanglement joins with Hexagram 42, Increase and Blessing. If you look across at the oracle of 42, or if you trace the line pathway (25.4, 42.4, 41.3, 26.3) you’ll see that, although both hexagrams of this reading warn against having a ‘direction to go’, this line opens the way for it eventually to become fruitful after all (in 26.3).

How could that happen? Through independence of movement (41.3, 26.3), you can move to the centre (42.4) – where you have the best view of the whole periphery – and inspire the trust (41.3, 42.4) necessary to create your own direction (42.4, 26.3). This makes me imagine the cast hexagram as a ‘centre’ from which you can survey the surrounding Sequence-landscape – not with a view to seeing what must follow (better to walk alone, and train your horses to separate from the herd), but to build that understanding that makes divination possible.

Line 6 is quite different. Sixth lines in general, with their lofty vantage point, may be somewhat removed from the action. But that can go too far:

‘Without entanglement. Acting brings blunders.
No direction bears fruit.’

If that had been the only line in my reading, I wouldn’t have spent the past month working on the Sequence! But as it is, it stands in straightforward contrast to line 4: do that, don’t do this.

I associate this line with ‘disentangling’ taken to excess, so it becomes completely disengaged. A favourite personal example: the time I forgot all about the stock I’d left boiling on the stove to reduce. Acting completely without entanglement, so disengaged from the action that you’re not aware of what’s going on at all, means blunders. (Also one smoke-filled kitchen, one charred, gelatinous lump, and no stock.)

What would be the equivalent blunder in using the Sequence in readings? I think that would be using it to disengage from the reading’s present reality. The zhi gua for this line is hexagram 17, Following, which suggests things unfolding as if on a pre-ordained course – so we can just follow along. But you can follow along without divining; divination is for something else.

Another way to say this: the Sequence might be used to tell stories, but when you divine, you’re the protagonist, not the narrator.

This line’s pathway – 25.6, 17.6, 18.1, 26.1 – has a theme of attachment and inevitability (in 17.6) but also of being able to break the pattern (18.1, 26.1). The Sequence shows how the hexagrams are connected, how they naturally unfold one after another – but it does not tell you about the future; you do the telling. And if it leads you to distance yourself from the divinatory crossroads-moment, then acting brings blunders and no direction bears fruit.

Coda: what can I learn from the Sequence about this reading?

Without Entanglement follows from Returning: ‘Returning, and so truly Without Entanglement,’ says the Xugua, as if this were too obvious to need explanation – which, to the authors of that Wing, I dare say it was…

Perhaps being able to turn round – or simply to be still at the turning point for long enough to sense your right direction – is tantamount to being disentangled. Returning travels freely to and fro, going out and coming in, meeting partners and turning round at the right time. It’s a combination of free movement and knowing where and when you are – which is itself reminiscent of the Sequence.

Another way to look at this Sequence is through the trigram change: from thunder under the earth, to thunder joined with heaven. The inner zhen (initiative, creativity, will to act, spark of life…) is first nurtured within the earth – so you can be receptive to its guidance in your going out and coming in – and then becomes a means of connecting with spirit. (That yang line at the root shares its nature with the outer qian and naturally moves with it.)

This actually reminds me of the idea that intuition as a bodily awareness might be the beginnings of a connection to the divine – or at least that it depends on the same inner ‘wiring’. The Sequence offers more than one way of knowing where you are.

This inner zhen is also part of a bigger pattern in the Sequence. You could say its prologue is in 17 (thunder in the lake), its grand opening is in 19 (which is like the trigram zhen writ large, with each line individually doubled), and then its development travels through 21 (thunder below fire), 24 (thunder in the earth) and 25 (thunder under heaven), to culminate in 27 (thunder joined with its inverse, mountain).

That’s a very interesting pattern, but what does it tell us about Without Entanglement?

Faced with a question like that, I like to keep it as simple as possible. Inner thunder is experienced through a range of different outer trigrams, so this region of the Sequence might explore questions like,

  • How does the spark of life interact with different contexts?
  • How can it be guided and respond to them?
  • How can you be present from the inside out? (The theme that appears larger than life in Hexagram 19, Nearing.)

All this still has to do with knowing where you are.

A good question to ask to get back from these generalisations to the specific reading received: what’s different and new here? What does Hexagram 25 do that wasn’t done before? Well… 25 specifically connects zhen, the life impulse, with qian, the absolute. From the Foundations Course:

“When qian is the outer trigram, there might be a sense of coming face to face with How It Is and being challenged by absolutes of nature (including human nature). These hexagrams ask questions like, ‘What does this truth require of you? How can you respond to it?’ As you recreate your relationship to How It Is in accordance with the inner trigram, you might also be able to reconnect with its power, becoming a wiser leader, more influential ruler, more awe-inspiring hermit, and so on.”

And in Hexagram 25, you might have a much enlarged and deepened sense of where you are. Joining inner thunder with outer heaven turns out to mean spontaneity and true alignment.

And Hexagram 3? According to the Xugua, this is where the Sequence begins. Hexagrams 1 and 2 are the ‘gates’ into the narrative; they’re not part of the story, more like the stuff it’s made of.

‘There is heaven and earth, and so the ten thousand things are born.
To fill the space between heaven and earth to overflowing, the ten thousand things.
And so Sprouting follows:
Sprouting means filling to overflowing;
Sprouting means the beginning of things’ birth.’

And, of course, Hexagram 3 also has thunder as its inner trigram. Thunder is the ‘firstborn’ trigram of heaven and earth, where the story begins. I’ve described 25’s inner thunder as the culmination of a kind of story whose prologue is in hexagram 17 – but if you keep looking back through the Sequence for the origin of this story, you find the only preceding inner-thunder hexagram is 3.

Using the Sequence in readings

October 1st, 2015

I’m working, bit by bit, on an advanced Yijing course – sharing ideas with Change Circle members as I go along. I’ve started with the Sequence of Hexagrams.

On the one hand, this is a nice, simple place to start, as using the Sequence is about as un-technical as you can get. You look at the preceding hexagram to see where you’ve been on the road, or what you need to travel through to arrive at the cast hexagram. It’s intuitively obvious, straightforward, and works well.

And on the other hand, there turns out to be a lot more than that to the Sequence. The Gritter grid, vessel casting patterns, little trigram changes and long trigram sequences, not to mention all the patterns Scott Davis has found… a whole complex fabric of reflections and connections. Should I try to take all these into account in readings, too? It’s all very beautiful… but then again, it’s not ‘facts about the hexagram’ but ‘facts about how they’re arranged’, so how intrinsic is it, really?

…and so on. So in addition to going through volumes of past readings to see how/ when/ whether this kind of awareness might have helped, I also asked Yi:

How to use the Sequence in readings?

Yi says 25.4.6 to 3: Without Entanglement, its Sprouting.

(I’ll talk about the two hexagrams now, and the moving lines in my next post.)

Primary hexagram 25, Without Entanglement

|::|||Use it without entanglement. What’s entanglement? Involvement with something barren and futile: anything unfounded. An ‘entangled’ claim is pretentious, an action foolhardy, a belief deluded. It’s why the oracle of 25 insists on uprightness or correctness: the character shows a foot stopped at the line, in the right place. The Shijing speaks of the turtle oracle making a new town ‘correct’, meaning founded in the right place.

‘Without entanglement.
Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
One who is not upright commits blunders,
And it is fruitless to have a direction to go.’

Without Entanglement, you are in touch with the creative force all the way from origin to fruition: yuan heng li zhen. But if you are not upright and correct – which has a lot to do with being grounded, as well as morally upright – then you blunder. That is, your vision is clouded, and you make errors because you don’t understand where you are. Setting intentions to be elsewhere is not going to help.

In readings, I’ve often found that 25’s entanglement is with past or future – or both. To be Without Entanglement is to be fully grounded in the present moment, fully aware. ‘Direction to go’ is unlikely to help because it tends to distract from the here and now. The ancient kings nourished the ten thousand things in accord with the seasons, not with a Five Year Strategic Plan.

That’s odd, because the Sequence certainly looks like a way to consider past and future. But using it without entanglement would mean using it as a way to be more in touch with where you are – not to become preoccupied with all the other places you might be, or might have been (but aren’t). It’s only useful in answering the question, ‘What time is it now?’

The Sequence doesn’t work as a formulaic story: ‘You have hexagram 49? Then you must have been building and exploring your way of interacting (outer dui trigram 43-49), and now you must be about to found a new way of living (50), and then spend time processing and integrating the changes (51-2) and ‘marrying into’ the world (53-4) and…’ That would be entangled: plunking the reading into a formula and the querent into a chain of inevitability – and in the process, forfeiting the spontaneous, individual connection that makes a reading real.

Relating hexagram 3: Sprouting

|:::|:The second hexagram is Sprouting and Beginning: putting out roots, establishing feudal lords, getting a feel for where you are by growing connections to your surroundings. How to use the Sequence in readings? Use it, without entanglement, to begin a reading – to become well-rooted in the themes and possibilities of your hexagram environment and start to weave order from chaos.

The xugua, the Wing that describes the Sequence, actually begins at hexagram 3. Sprouting is also the opening of the whole vessel casting process: the complex enterprise of creating a container (an understanding, a reading) begins with setting up those feudal lords.

Feudal lords provide lines of connection, communication and support through territories much too big to grasp on your own. They look to me a lot like the structures and landmarks of the Sequence: ‘You have hexagram 49? Then the lake-series of the 40s might bring you messages about this dui on the outside, that now you’re finally lighting up from within; the great casting-mould from 3 to 50 might lend support to your sense of creating something new…’

 Primary and relating hexagrams together

´Without entanglement.
Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
One who is not upright commits blunders,
And it is fruitless to have a direction to go.´

Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
Don’t use this to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to establish feudal lords.’

These oracle texts have two things in common. The first is yuan heng li zhen, ‘creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.’ The four characters only occur together like this in a select few hexagrams. They point to a creative essence and its power and drive towards realisation. To me, seeing this formula twice in the reading suggests that use of the Sequence is a way to connect with that essence – with the heart of the oracle. The Sequence is something potent and real, telling us how things connect and unfold.

And the second thing they have in common: a distinct wariness about ‘having a direction to go’. Direction (intention, purpose, narrative…) may emerge from fully understanding where you are and being in right relationship to it – from being upright, from establishing feudal lords. It’s certainly no use to you without that.

This reminds me – intensely – of divination. It happens when a reading gives someone a way into the true nature and potential of the present moment. Then they can join their own initiative with the full reality, just as, in 25’s trigrams, inner thunder joins with heaven.

This oracle isn’t called the Book of The Inevitable, with the hexagrams chained together in fixed sequence: its defining characteristic is that any hexagram can change into any other. The real, actual connections of any reading are found in its changing lines; we know that the message of a changing line takes precedence in a reading.

So when using the Sequence, the message seems pretty clear: don’t try to use it to see where you’re going; use it to understand where you are. As a starting point, the Sequence contributes to your awareness of how you got here, what’s different about this moment, what your choices are – your feel for the moment as crossroads.

(Moving lines – and a bit more on the Sequence – to follow!)


thunder under heaven