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Category Archives: Interpreting hexagrams

Comments on whole hexagrams, individual lines and so on

Book of stories: what follows

Book of stories: what follows

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Book of Stories

A few posts ago, I tried to list all Yi’s ways of telling stories:

  • those little one-line vignettes
  • allusions to the culture’s big stories – both history and myth
  • the individual steps of the Sequence of Hexagrams (‘Here’s how you reach this place.’)
  • the huge narrative arcs of the Sequence – ‘you are here’ on the grand scale
  • multiple moving line readings that unfold one line at a time
  • the ‘nuclear story’ within each hexagram
  • the stories told through the connections between readings

So I’ve written about the vignettes and the mythical allusions, and now we come to individual steps through the Sequence.

If you’re looking at a reading and wondering, ‘Where am I in all this?’ then the Sequence will probably help. It shows you where you’ve been and how you got here – or how you can get to where you need to be. Sometimes Yi’s answer is one step ahead of you, as it were, and then the Sequence helps you catch up.

A couple of examples…

Nourishment needs Great Taming

A(nother) redesign-related reading, about embarking on changing the forum’s appearance myself. For the last redesign I paid someone else to make a matching template for the forums, and I was left with the impression that the forum appearance was Much Too Hard for me to take on. On the other hand, I didn’t want to throw money willy-nilly at things I could potentially do myself without too much trouble. In the end I asked a carefully time-limited question,

‘What about setting aside a week to work on the forum templates myself?’

Answer: Hexagram 27, Nourishment/ Jaws, with line 6 changing:

‘Origin of nourishment. Danger, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

I decided it was worth trying to be the ‘origin of nourishment’ and commit some time and effort to this. (And in the event I waded into the river and did get most of it done, though I needed help to sort out the menu.)

Nourishment follows from Great Taming, because,

‘Things are tamed, and so there can be nurturing, and so Nourishment follows.’

…which really hardly needs any commentary beyond farmers grow food; food feeds people. What kind of Great Taming might this situation call for? I think the clue was in the Image:

‘Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain. Great Taming.
A noble one uses the many annals of ancient words and past deeds,
And builds up his character.’

Literal nourishment requires the cultivation of food; becoming the source of forum-coding ‘nourishment’ requires the cultivation of knowledge. The ‘many annals of ancient words and past deeds’ were to be found in the Vbulletin docs and across various support forum threads. I still had plenty to learn at the time of asking, but everything I needed was available.

Inner Truth arises from Measure

A friend kindly invited me round to visit… in what turned out to be probably the most expensive private home I’ve ever been in. I found the whole thing weirdly disconcerting, and wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps something to do with finding someone who’s more or less ‘like me’ (we have things in common, and in some parallel universe I might have followed the same career) living in such a space. So to help me reflect and understand, I asked Yi,

What to learn from the experience of visiting this home?

Hexagram 61, Inner Truth, unchanging.

I could learn something about inner truth… something about what I trust, and why, and where and how I feel connected, and the nature of blessing. Hexagram 61 shows the inner space of a life, inside the home – and seeing that quite different space gave me a clearer view of my own.

Inner Truth follows from Measuring, and the Sequence says,

“Measuring and also trusting it, and so Inner Truth follows.”

Often, I read that as trust arising between people because of the ‘measures’ they share – language, standards, expectations. Here, it seems to be talking about how each person’s own set of ‘measures’, and how the truth of a person’s life arises from that framework: our individual limits, routine, expectations, mindset… everything that seems normal and natural to us, amounting to what we might call a ‘way of life’.

(A tiny example –

‘What would you like to drink?’
‘Water, please.’
‘There’s a water filter over there.’

There was a long moment when I stared dumbly and could not see a water filter. I was looking for a plastic jug, so I couldn’t see the large unit set into the kitchen wall. A mismatch of Measures.)

Our individual Measures become something we can trust and stand in for ourselves. The inner truth of my friend’s life is fundamentally not mine, and not something I can covet any more than I can want to be someone else. That tremendously driven working life is not for me – and actually, nor is the task of filling such a vast space with a sense of ‘home’.

Following and passing along

In readings like these, the Sequence provides a foundation for understanding the whole. It’s ‘here’s how you get here’ or ‘here’s where this comes from’ – a ‘handover’ of experience from one hexagram to the next. Given the context of the Sequence, I can make connections with what I’ve already experienced (the vBulletin manual, the invisible water filter) and move on to what Yi’s showing me with the answer.

The actual formula used in the Sequence Wing to describe how one hexagram follows from another is always translated with some simple variant on ‘and so x follows’ or ‘hence what follows is x’ – except, that is, by Ritsema/Sabbadini, who have,

‘To anterior acquiescence belongs the use of x.’

…which is interesting. A quite literal translation might (might – I am not a scholar of Chinese) be, ‘therefore receiving the use of x’. The important word is shou, 受, ‘receive’ or ‘accept’, which has roots in an image of passing something from one hand to another. When you cast a hexagram, it’s handed to you by the Sequence.


A baton being passed from one hand to the next

Could Stripping Away be painless?

Could Stripping Away be painless?

Hexagram 23 is called Stripping Away. The old character shows a knife, and a less-clear component that might be a well winch or a bag for filtering wine, separating the wine from the dregs. As LiSe shows, that blends into the meaning of the whole. But the knife component is very clear – in etymology and in experience.… Continue Reading

Hexagram 26: Great Taming

Hexagram 26: Great Taming

Hexagrams 9 and 26 are ‘Small Taming’ and ‘Great Taming’ – the same activity on a different scale. That activity is xu, 畜: rearing livestock, and farming in general. (Stephen Field actually translates these two hexagrams as ‘Lesser Stock’ – mostly goats – and ‘Greater Stock’, namely the horses, cattle and pigs mentioned in the lines of… Continue Reading

Hexagram 20: the Tower?

Hexagram 20: the Tower?

Hexagram 20 is called Seeing – but if your I Ching experience began with Wilhelm, then you’ll be familiar with the idea that the shape of the hexagram itself is a picture of an ancient tower: ‘A tower of this kind commanded a wide view of the country; at the same time, when situated on… Continue Reading

Contrasts of Hexagram 6

Hexagram 6 is called Conflict, or Arguing; its name also means bringing to court and calling for justice. Fittingly enough, it’s best understood through contrasts and oppositions. The authors of the oracle seem to have thought so, too: its Oracle is laid out as a series of contrasts: ‘Arguing. There is truth and confidence, blocked.… Continue Reading

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