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Confidence in Change

For some 3,000 years, people have turned to the I Ching, the Book of Changes, to help them uncover the meaning of their experience, to bring their actions into harmony with their underlying purpose, and above all to build a foundation of confident awareness for their choices.

Down the millennia, as the I Ching tradition has grown richer and deeper, the things we consult about may have changed a little, but the moment of consultation is much the same. These are the times when you’re turning in circles, hemmed in and frustrated by all the things you can’t see or don’t understand. You can think it over (and over, and over); you can ‘journal’ it; you can gather opinions.

But how can you have confidence in choosing a way to go, if you can’t quite be sure of seeing where you are?

Only understand where you are now, and you rediscover your power to make changes. This is the heart of I Ching divination. Once you can truly see into the present moment, all its possibilities open out before you – and you are free to create your future.

What is the I Ching?

The I Ching (or Yijing) is an oracle book: it speaks to you. You can call on its help with any question you have: issues with relationships of all kinds, ways to attain your personal goals, the outcomes of different choices for a key decision. It grounds you in present reality, encourages you to grow, and nurtures your self-knowledge. When things aren’t working, it opens up a space for you to get ‘off the ride’, out of the rut, and choose your own direction. And above all, it’s a wide-open, free-flowing channel for truth.

For I Ching Beginners -

How do you want to get started?

There are two different ways most people first meet the I Ching. There’s,

‘I’m fascinated by this ancient book and I want to learn all about it,’

and there’s,

‘I need help now with this thing (so I’ll learn whatever I need to know to get help with The Thing).’

Learning about the I Ching, or learning from the I Ching?

In the end, these two ways aren’t actually different. It isn’t possible to do one without the other, and people end up wanting both: the ‘learn about Yi’ people draw on its help more as their knowledge grows; the ‘learn from Yi’ people find they want to know more, once they’ve got the help they need.

But... they are different at the beginning:

Not a beginner?

Welcome - I’m glad you’ve come. Clarity’s here to help you deepen, explore and enjoy your relationship with Yi. You might like...

And so you can get to know some like-minded Yi-enthusiasts and we can keep in touch, do join Clarity

Hello, and thank you for visiting!

I’m Hilary - I work as an I Ching diviner and teacher, and I’m the author of I Ching: Walking your path, creating your future.

I hope you enjoy the site and find what you’re looking for here - do contact me with any comments or questions.

Clarity is my one-woman business providing I Ching courses, readings and community. (You can read more about me, and what I do, here.) It lets me spend my time doing the work I love, using my gifts to help you.

(Thank you.)

Warm wishes,
Hilary”

From the blog

I love Robert Moss’s books; they’re inspiring, wise and lucid. He mirrors my understanding back to me – that we belong here, that life has meaning and the cosmos actively wants to communicate this to us. Also, he does this in a very practical, down-to-earth way: this communication, through dreams, oracles or signs, is quite ordinary; it’s just how the world works.

And… those same books can also leave me with an ugly little blob of negative reactions: an unsavoury case of comparisonitis, with symptoms of ‘it’s not fair,’ inferiority, and ‘impostor syndrome’. Let me explain…

Moss was very ill as a child, almost died, and feels this has left him with some unique ‘world-bridging’ qualities. It seems he routinely has prophetic dreams – those are the ordinary ones for him. (Then there are all the dreams where he is visited by sages and spirit guides.) When he sits down to contemplate a decision, a hawk drops a feather into his lap. All the random encounters he has on his journeys lead to profound and meaningful conversations. And so on. Robert Moss is special.

Me? Really not special at all. I was robustly healthy as a child – missed less than a week of school in total. The huge majority of my dreams are along the lines of ‘I can’t find the classroom!’ or ‘We have more tins of soup than I thought.’ When I sit down outdoors to contemplate, I get half-eaten by the bugs from hell. And random encounters on journeys? Well…

In June, I travelled by train to visit my brother. It’s a long-ish train journey there, with time to think; I spent it contemplating my reading for the week, 36 unchanging, and re-reading Sidewalk Oracles (and getting back in touch with my inner negativity-blob).

Waiting on the train platform at the start of my journey home, I met a friendly young man who came over to start a conversation. We had the ‘where are you headed?’ exchange, and then he eagerly told me all about the top-of-the-range, brand new Mercedes he was just purchasing and having delivered to his home so he would be the very first person to drive it (and would never again have to go near a train). He was open, kind and generous with his time, leaving me with a warm glow as I boarded the train – and the blob twitching in wry amusement.

A few hours later, at another station, I walked along to the end of the platform to find a quiet bench to wait on. From a distance, I noticed someone had left some pennies behind, neatly laid out in a line along one of the slats of the bench.

bench with coins

Remembering the 6 coin method of casting, I thought I would walk up to the bench and read off the hexagram they ‘spelled’. There were actually 7 coins; I would start from the one nearest to me, and read 6 lines.

Here they are (click the photo for a larger version):

It’s not a very good photo, but the coins read tails-heads-tails, heads-heads-heads. Hexagram 36.

The coins some stranger decided to line up, for some unguessable reason, on that particular bench, on that particular platform of that station, on the day I happened to be travelling through, displayed my reading for the week: Brightness Hiding.

I realised that synchronicity, being guided, meaningful dreams… these are not about the person who receives them; they have nothing to do with the qualities of that individual, ‘special’ or otherwise. They’re a quality of the universe – what’s real. It’s just that sometimes the reality is easy to see, and sometimes it’s hidden.

A hidden light doesn’t cease to exist. When I can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It’s a common source of confusion and frustration with I Ching readings:

‘My answer has multiple moving lines, and they contradict one another. How am I supposed to make sense of this?’

Here’s an article to help you with that.

Why ‘revisited’?

Many years ago now, I wrote a rambling overview of ways people consider and work with (or avoid working with) multiple moving lines. You can read it here. This post is different: it’s about the approach I recommend. Obviously, this is not the One Right True Way to interpret these readings – it’s simply a way that works. If you want to work with multiple moving lines in a way that both engages with the depths of the reading and also gives you insights you can use, then read on.

About simplification, and why I don’t recommend it…

When you cast a Yijing reading, your answer normally has one or two changing lines – but it could have none, or six, or anything in between.

This range of possibilities is part of the Yi’s language. An unchanging hexagram might be saying something like,

‘Pay attention: here is the one simple thing you need to hear. Remember this.’

And a reading with multiple lines is saying,

‘This situation you asked about is more complex – here are the many factors at play,’ or, ‘Here are the many ways it could turn out’.

In other words, Yi will respond to your situation and give you exactly the kind of answer you need now. (I have lost count of the number of times I’ve received an unchanging hexagram because I needed something spelling out v-e-r-y s-i-m-p-l-y.)

So this is why, although there are many methods to simplify the Yijing’s answer and ensure you never have to think about multiple moving lines, I don’t recommend them. They take away Yi’s freedom to give you the kind of answer you need, and replace it with a system to ensure you get the kind of answer you want.

These methods all fall into one of two categories:

  1. There are methods to cast a reading that will always have exactly one moving line, no more or no less. That’s rather like emailing a question to tech support and adding, ‘You must answer in exactly 150 words.’ (What if they need 1000? Come to that, what if they could perfectly well answer in 15?)
  2. And there are assorted ways of casting normally, and then applying a formula to rule any ‘extra’ changing lines out of consideration. This is rather like emailing your question to tech support, receiving a long, detailed answer, and first counting its sentences so you can delete every third sentence with the letter ‘r’ in it, or some such.

It makes more sense to me to assume that if you get a short email, the answer is simple, and if you get a long email, that’s because the question you asked is more complex than you anticipated. Also, I feel this approach makes for a better relationship with the support department in the long run. And Yi is a considerably better communicator than your average tech support department.

…except when I do

6 coins cast in a column: thtHth

However, if you know you only have the time or energy to handle a short answer – if you need a quick reading and absolutely, definitely, do not have the time to deal with the complexities of multiple moving lines – then I think the first of those two options is acceptable.

You can ask Yi for a single hexagram (one very direct way of doing this is to ask the nearest person for a number between 1 and 64), or you can use a casting method that generates exactly one moving line. Here’s an easy way to do that:

  • Take 6 coins; 5 identical, one different.
  • Allocate coin faces to broken and solid lines. (Traditionally, the side with the value of the coin on it is yang.)
  • Shake up all six coins together and cast them together in a roughly vertical line.
  • The coin that lands nearest to you is the bottom line.
  • The one different coin represents the moving line.
  • Read your hexagram.

The illustration is one I just cast, with the question, ‘Yi, what do you think of this method?’

(Of course, left unrestricted, Yi might have given you an unchanging reading anyway.)

Understanding multiple moving lines

If, instead of simplifying the reading, you trust Yi to give you the answer you need, and then it turns out that that answer contains a lot of moving lines, how can you understand them?

As a story

Most often, multiple moving lines are telling a story. You can expect them to unfold over time, step by step, starting with the lowest line.

33, Retreat, changing to 8, Seeking Union?

changing to

At first you are tied and find it hard to retreat…

‘Tied retreat. There is affliction, danger.
Nurturing servants and handmaidens, good fortune.’

then you find a way to retreat out of love (though not everyone ‘gets it’)

‘Loving retreat.
Noble one, good fortune.
Small people, blocked.’

and ultimately the retreat enriches everyone:

‘Rich retreat.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

48, the Well, changing to 61, Inner Truth?

changing to

At first the well is unusable…

‘The well is muddy, no drinking.
Old well, no birds.’

…then it is repaired…

‘Well is being lined,
No mistake.’

…so that it can be used:

‘The well: clear, cold spring water to drink.’

Yi often tells stories this way, and if you receive multiple moving lines this is the first thing to try.

Start reading with the lowest changing line, and pay most attention to this one because it will be relevant first. Indeed, sometimes if you miss that line’s message, the following lines will never apply. If your first line is 43.1 –

‘Vigour in the leading foot.
Going on without control means making mistakes.’

– then you need to concentrate first on not rushing in and falling flat on your face, and worry about any other changing lines later.

An exception to this: if you have the first line of a hexagram changing, and recognise it as something from your immediate past. Maybe you have already gone ahead without control and made mistakes, and this is why you’re asking in the first place. In that case – and if you are perfectly sure you’re not about to do the same again – you’ll want to move your attention to the next line.

As alternatives

It’s very often true that Yijing readings contain an implied ‘if… then…’. (Here is an earlier post I wrote about that. This one shows you in more detail how to work with the lines.)

Often, the alternatives are encompassed within a single line. 23, line 6, for instance:

‘A ripe fruit uneaten.
Noble one gets a cart,
Small people strip their huts.’

There are two ways this could go, says Yi: one way for the noble one, another for the small person. Which are you?

Sometimes there are alternatives contained within a single line – and sometimes they’re divided between multiple moving lines. Lines that appear to be contradicting one another often simply represent alternative paths with alternative destinations. ‘If you take this attitude or adopt this strategy, then you create this outcome. But if, on the other hand, you go about it this way, then…’ Or, ‘If and when you find yourself in this position, expect to encounter this. But if instead you have to go about it this way, here’s what to expect…’

Here’s an example:

An imaginary example reading: 34.1.4.6 to 18

Imagine you have a wonderful idea for a big new project. You’re full of energy and raring to get started, and ask Yi for comment.

‘What about this new project?’

Yi answers with Hexagram 34, Great Vigour, changing at lines 1, 4 and 6 to 18, Corruption:

changing to

All the power and vitality of 34, setting out to deal with the corruption of 18. In a real reading, we’d pause here to think about how those two hexagrams relate, to get a picture of the landscape. But for now, let’s jump ahead and ask how that relationship works out in the moving lines.

‘Vigour in the toes.
Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
There is truth and confidence.’

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

Obviously, these can’t all be true at once: you can’t be simultaneously stuck in the hedge and rolling on through. Perhaps these lines could be the chapters in a story – a project that starts badly, then goes well, but then gets entangled again. But as a story, this is lacking in coherence – and it wouldn’t be especially helpful as a reading, either, as you try to decide whether it’s wise to start on your project. No – to understand this one, you need to read the three line as alternatives.

  • If/when you are at line 1, then setting out to bring order is disastrous.
  • If/when you’re at line 4, then constancy will pay off and you will be able to get free of all obstacles and hindrances.
  • But if/when you are at line 6, you’ll be stuck, and won’t be able to pursue your plans directly.

The question, of course, is how to tell when each line applies. Line 1, we can be reasonably sure, applies first: you shouldn’t rush into this unprepared. But further along, when I’m facing a thorny obstacle, I need to be able to tell whether this is line 4 (forge ahead, break through!) or line 6 (forge ahead, and you’ll only get more and more stuck). To work with an ‘if… then…’ you need  a full understanding of the ‘if…’.

The first and easiest place to look for an ‘if…’ is the text of the line itself. You simply need to slow down and use your imagination to engage with your answer. Do you have ‘vigour in the toes’ – are you raring to go, do you have itchy feet? Or do you have a ‘great cart’ with strong axle straps… a well-constructed plan, a solid means of making progress, something that holds together under stress? Those two situations will feel quite different. (And when you use your imagination to develop a clear inner sense of how those situations would feel, then you’re likely to be able to recognise them in real life.)

However, not all lines make their ‘if’ clear; some, like 34.2 (‘Constancy, good fortune.’), say nothing about their conditions at all. Lines 4 and 6 do make an important distinction – a well-constructed cart does better than a ram – but it would still be good to understand more about the conditions in order to be sure you can tell them apart in practice.

Line context: the line’s position

I already touched on this with lines as story. You know that line 1 is the beginning, line 6 is the end, and this basic idea applies to every hexagram. But line positions correspond not only to chapters in a story, but also to the layers of a psyche, and the different roles and relationships in a group of people. This means that ‘being at line 4’ has certain characteristics: someone asking, ‘What can I do here?’; the moment of emerging from the inner trigram into the outer, taking an idea out into the world, putting it into practice and finding what’s possible; the person responsible for this. Line 6 is quite different: at the end, at the higher level of a supervisor (or sage, or narrator), traditionally said to be removed from the action.

How could this apply to our imaginary reading?

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

This is the experience of someone who takes a ‘line 4 position’: someone who’s thinking about applications and possibilities, who uses a well-made cart with attention to detail. But what about line 6?

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

The ram isn’t removed from the action, and that’s rather the problem. But perhaps this could be someone with a ‘line-6-ish’ mindset in the context of Great Vigour: looking at the long-term, the vision, charging powerfully towards that… gloriously unconcerned with little details like a hedge in the way.

And so you begin to understand some of your reading’s ‘if.., then…’.

When you are just beginning, don’t rush in and try to fix everything at once. If you do your thinking and planning and have a well-made vehicle for your idea, then it will go smoothly. But if you focus only on the vision and remove yourself from the practicalities, then you’ll have a long, hard struggle to get unstuck.

Line position is one of those brilliantly simple concepts that unlock whole realms of meaning in the Yi. I find it so useful that I made it the subject of a whole module of the Yijing Foundations Course.

Line context: the changed hexagram

This is the other line context I rely on in readings (and hence also included in Foundations). As you know, changing lines reveal new hexagrams. When you have multiple changing lines, your relating hexagram is the result of all those changes combined – but each individual line is still pointing to its own changed hexagram.

What would be the relating hexagram if this were the only changing line is still a ‘mini relating hexagram’ for this particular line. As such, it represents some of the same things a relating hexagram would do: a personal stance, or attitude, or aspiration, or context.

34 line 1 would change to 32, Lasting:

to

What mindset does that suggest lies behind the ‘vigour in the toes’? Something well-established, a truth long known and trusted (‘there is truth and confidence’, says line 1), or perhaps just an ingrained habit. Of course you think you can ‘bring order’ if you’re already absolutely familiar with how it all works; it would just be a matter of implementing what’s tried and true in new territory.

So… we have a picture of someone at the beginning, not yet familiar with the specifics of this project, in a big hurry to get going on the basis of what they know and trust – and maybe even literally bouncing on the balls of their feet in their eagerness. This is pretty clear, detailed picture; you’ll be able to recognise when it applies.

Line 4 points you towards Hexagram 11, Flow:

to

This approach is clearly a good fit: fluent energy, with the will to apply it (have a look at the Image of 11). ‘Small goes, great comes’: the great cart carries us through, and the obstacle of the hedge is swept away along with those vanishing regrets.

Hexagram 11 colours the line with its sense of momentum and aspiration – it’s an especially forward-looking hexagram, that sees how all things are possible.

And what about line 6? That would change to Hexagram 14, Great Possession:

to

This one might seem odd. Great Possession is another overwhelmingly positive hexagram –

‘Great Possession.
From the source, creating success.’

– where a great wealth of potential (talent, material wealth, social credit, spiritual gifts…) makes for a very promising beginning. Great Vigour with Great Possession – how can this end up with a ram caught in a hedge?

Well… the ram is in possession of great strength, and that is all he really knows about. (If you have my book, you may have noticed that these changed hexagrams often show up in the line commentary; the ram, I wrote, ‘has reduced the whole situation to the question of how much power he has’.) It’s just that now he needs to use that strength sideways, as it were, to wriggle free.

A tip: when the combination of hexagrams and line is unexpected, as it is here, that’s often a sign that the experience of the line will be unexpected in the same way. If you wouldn’t imagine that Great Vigour with Great Possession would look like a ram stuck in a hedge, then you probably also wouldn’t imagine that a project with a superabundance of energy, talent and potential at its disposal could run into trouble. Once you’re aware of the context of this line, if you hear something like,

‘We have enough capital to invest that we can get past that,’

or if you catch yourself thinking,

‘That’s not a serious obstacle for such talented people,’

then you should see flashing lights and hear klaxons. (Whereas if people are talking about testing the possibilities, believing in the vision, and strengthening the bonds of communication, you can feel more confident.)

What if we simplified the reading?

Imagine for a  moment what would happen with enforced simplification of 34.1.4.6 to 18.

‘What about this new project?’

34.1.4.6 to 18.

‘This is over-complicated; the lines contradict one another; we must simplify them. Let’s use the rule passed on by Alfred Huang: “If there are three moving lines, consult only the middle one.” Line 4 – that’s good. Clearly this project is a good idea; we can forge ahead and will break through all obstacles in our path.’

Of course, this method of simplification isn’t always going to sweep warnings under the carpet; with some readings it will do the opposite, and make disaster seem inevitable. But either way, it changes the nature of Yi’s answer – from nuanced, detailed advice on how the project could work, what approach is recommended and where the potential traps lie, to something that requires a lot less thought and is a lot less informative.

This wouldn’t matter if lines 1 and 6 were genuinely irrelevant to the project – but please trust me on this: if you only needed the advice from one moving line, then that would be the only line changing. I’ve never yet seen a reading where it made sense to ignore any of the moving lines.

Summing up…

Yi gives you multiple moving lines when your question has a more complex answer. It makes sense to accept this complexity, not try to simplify it out of existence.

Multiple moving lines could be telling a story, starting at the lower lines and travelling up through the hexagram: ‘when you reach this point, then…

Multiple moving lines could also be describing alternatives: ‘if you do this, then…’

You need to understand the ‘if…’ or ‘when…’ as fully as possible, so that you will recognise each line when you encounter it in reality. The three most direct ways to do this are by reflecting on

  • the imagery of the line itself
  • the position of the line within the hexagram
  • the hexagram revealed when this line changes

Explore the depths of your reading…

river flows through deep, dark forest

Things that come in threes

One of many things about Yi that I first became aware of when Scott Davis pointed it out: there’s a tendency for motifs to occur three times. (He gives the example of whether words are trusted – not in 43.4, not in 47 – not until 49.3, when words of revolution have gone round three times.)

Why three times? Perhaps because three points are the minimum to develop an idea, or describe the arc of a story: thesis, antithesis, synthesis; beginning, middle and end. The ‘boundaries’ motif I wrote about before is one such; here is another.

Not robbers…

匪寇婚媾: ‘Not robbers, marital allies.’ This phrase occurs in three lines: 3.2, 22.4 and 38.6.

The custom that’s said to be behind this phrase is an odd one. Traditionally, the groom would come to the bride’s home with much pomp and splendour – fine horses, a shining carriage, a grand escort. But there was also a custom of the groom and his party masquerading as robbers come to steal the bride away. (Perhaps this was for use when the groom was poor and unable to provide a sufficiently splendid procession, so the bride’s family could be spared the shame of giving their daughter away to a poor man. The ‘saving face’ idea doesn’t seem especially relevant to these lines in the Yi, though.)

The core idea is simply that although this looks like someone who has come to steal from you, in reality they are here to offer a partnership that will benefit you. Robbers and marital allies are perfect opposites: robbers are beyond the pale of society; marriage reinforces the social fabric. (The emphasis is on partnership and alliance – marriage as a means of creating relationships between families, perhaps preventing war – rather than romance.)

Unlike the ‘boundaries’ idea – where every line that contains it changes to the trigram kan – this one occurs in a different trigram every time: thunder changing to lake, mountain changing to fire, then fire changing back to thunder. However… the lines do seem to tell a story, and the unfolding trigram changes are part of that.

3.2 – the beginning

‘Now sprouting, now hesitating,
Now driving a team of horses.
Not robbers at all, but marital allies.
The child-woman’s constancy – no children.
Ten years go by, then there are children.’

Of course Hexagram 3 is the very beginning of everything – and it’s also the first time the marriage theme appears in the Yi at all. The future bride is still a child herself (following Wu Jing Nuan’s interpretation, which has always felt right to me) so it is far too early for children. All you have to do, though, is to be patient and constant for ten years. If you’re willing to wait that long, and can afford to, then there is no need for hesitancy: a delay might be mistaken for a theft, but it is not at all the same thing.

The line has some very hexagram-3-esque ‘fertile confusion’ about it: the one hesitating, then driving the horses, must be the groom; then there’s an abrupt switch of point of view to the bride and her family, the ones who might mistake marital allies for robbers. And then it’s the woman’s constancy that answers that initial hesitancy. The two perspectives are stirred and mixed together, and by the end of this mini-story they’re united (allied, married…) in the promise of children to come.

Aspects of the structure feed into the line’s meaning…

This is line 2, reaching out for relationship with line 5 (and finding it, since this is yin and that’s yang).

This is the trigram zhen, thunder, action and initiative and setting-things-in-motion, changing to dui, lake, trigram of relationship and fertility. With one line change, action quite naturally and simply translates into relationship – it needs only constancy to carry it through.

(Also, Takashima would probably count forward ten lines to cover the ten years, and incorporate 4.5, ‘Young ignoramus, good fortune,’ into his interpretation.)

22.4 – the middle

‘Now beautiful, now silver-white,
Now a plumed white horse.
Not robbers at all, but marital allies.’

A confession first – this is not the translation you’ll find in my book. I only just realised today that there is a perfect, character-for-character textual parallel between 22.4 and the beginning of 3.2, which I’d completely obscured in my version. Not good. Here it is:

賁如皤如。白馬翰如。匪冠婚媾. (22.4)
屯如邅如。乘馬班如。匪冠婚媾. (beginning of 3.2)

You don’t need to read Chinese to see the parallel.

(Also, I think that 如 ru, when used in these repetitive formulas, describes not just things that are alike, but things that necessarily follow one another swiftly in time.)

This seems to be a much more straightforward story than 3.2. The hesitation has been overcome and we’re underway. There’s almost a breathless feel to it: the horse’s mane and tail streaming out like plumes as if it could fly, sweeping the bride off her feet with its momentum.

However, the commentary on the line points out that there is still a moment of hesitation: ‘Properly positioned, but doubted. …In the end, no question.’ (Hatcher) She still needs to understand that this is not a robber but a marital ally. And actually… that’s quite odd. 22 is a hexagram of demonstrating, making clearly visible, and this groom isn’t dressed up as a robber, but is signalling his intent clearly with his beautiful greys. So how could there be any mistake?

Well… we’ve moved up to line 4 now, a place that doesn’t just look for relationship, but asks ‘What’s possible here? What can be done?’  Perhaps the 22 equivalent of that is to ask, ‘What’s this I’m looking at, really?’ It’s coming at me so fast – is it all it seems? And the line answers that yes, this is exactly what it seems: no less and also no more.

The trigram change for this line: mountain to fire, the solid ‘stop’ sign trigram becoming clear perception. Eyes are opened, the lights come on: with his beautiful plumed horses, the suitor makes marriage visible. 3.2 only needed patient constancy to carry it past its initial hesitancy, but 22.4 requires a change in perception.

38.6 – the next beginning

‘Opposed, alone.
Seeing pigs covered in muck,
The chariot loaded with devils.
At first drawing the bow,
Then relaxing the bow.
Not robbers at all, but marital allies.
Going on meets the rain, and so there is good fortune.’

This is the longest, most complex story of the three. We’ve moved up again to the sixth line, so now the question is not ‘how can I connect?’ nor yet ‘what can I do?’ but ‘what is happening here?’ – line 6 seeks a complete overview.

This is also the one line that doesn’t mention the groom’s horse-team. In their place, at first you see pigs and a cart full of devils… but perhaps this uncanny, sinister vision is not what’s really there. 38 is the hexagram of Opposition: people who are not from inside our home, not our kind of people, but other. Line 6 – all alone – needs to rise above its natural fear and suspicion of the other before it can put aside its defences and recognise that these are ‘not robbers, but marital allies’.

When 3.2 realises that these are not robbers, that’s simply a cue to keep going; for 38.6, on the verge of treating the strangers as robbers and peppering them with arrows, it requires a complete change. With this new understanding, then they can ‘go on and meet the rain’, with its promise of new growth.

This line changes to Hexagram 54, a deeply unpromising situation for the junior bride, its positive potential very well-hidden. And the trigram change that takes us from insight to action is from fire back to thunder, where our trigram story started.

Synthesis?

As I said at the beginning, this set of three seems to involve trigrams in telling its story, or developing its idea. Action (zhen) created relationship (dui); an established pattern of ritual (gen) gave rise to understanding (li); finally, understanding (li) can give rise to clear action (zhen). Have a look at the initial, cast trigram for each line in turn:

|::    ::|    |:|.

Thunder, and then its inverse, and then… actually, then, what looks like the two trigrams superimposed.

|::  + ::| = |:| ?

Combine the urge to action with stability, and you have marriage?

(I’m getting carried away, of course…)

 

 

galloping white horse

I’ve been browsing with growing fascination through the Takashima Ekidan. Published in 1893 in Tokyo, this is an English translation by Shigetake Sugiura of an original Yijing translation by Kaemon Takashima, a successful serial entrepreneur and respected diviner. (‘Eki’ is the Japanese name for the Yi, and I believe ‘dan’ means ‘monograph’.) It includes a full translation of Judgement, line texts, Commentary on the Judgement, Image and the Small Images (line commentaries) – and despite the fact that this has come from Japanese through English, it’s reassuringly familiar.

What I love about the book, though, are the example readings given for most hexagrams.

There is something deeply affecting and quite startling about these readings. The best comparison I can find is that it’s like finding old, previously-unseen photos of your parents from before you were born. Here is the same Yi I know well, and was talking to this morning about ‘cello repairs, conversing and advising on concerns of 19th Century Japan. There are readings about business, about war and diplomacy, marriage, debt, illness, modern technology, and a dispute between fishmongers – and Yi is right in the midst of it all. Through these readings, I get glimpses of a world that’s completely strange to me – as are some of the methods of interpretation (more on that in another post) – but Yi itself is absolutely recognisable.

These are undoubtedly real readings. There is one where he admits to a misinterpretation, and several where he says the final outcome isn’t yet known. There are many deeply satisfied querents, including a family who are pleased because, although they’ve yet to see proof his reading was correct, it agrees with what they were told by a gypsy. Takashima is a skilled, sincere diviner, greatly impressing others with the force of his conviction, free and confident – maybe sometimes a little too much so – in his interpretations. Even when his methods are unfamiliar, his genuine relationship with Yi shines through.

Here are three of his example readings:

The Shimonoseki indemnity

A group of senior government figures asked Takashima whether American would repay the Shimonoseki indemnity. (This is one of those readings where Wikipedia is our friend – search this article for ‘indemnity’ to get some idea of what this is about!) He divined, and received 4.4 to 64.

(He doesn’t say how he divined, but I wonder whether he used stalks or the Plum Blossom method, since he begins this anecdote with the first words of one of his guests: ‘As it is raining today, we cannot go a-hunting and a-walking among the hills. Being too solitary, we are all come here to hear from you some Eki.’ Rain prevents us from going to the hills… kan before gen?)

The first thing that really grabs me about this reading is Takashima’s interpretation of 4’s Oracle:

“It says, ‘We do not apply to children; children do apply to us.‘ As this was obtained by divining whether America will return the ransom or not, I must take America as the leader and us as the follower… Then, ‘we‘ means America, and ‘children‘ us.”

I’ve often encouraged people to work with this hexagram in the same way: no, it is definitely not always the case that Yi is the speaker here, warning the querent against repeated divinations. It’s much more likely that both ‘applicant’ and ‘applied-to’ are human. In one of my earliest experiences with Hexagram 4, I was the child, and my web hosting company was the one not responding well to my repeated support tickets.

Of course, being characterised as the importunate infant is no fun, and characterising Imperial Japan in this way did not go down well with the ministers. Again, not an unfamiliar experience for a diviner, as Yi is no respecter of our sense of dignity. Takashima responds,

“Well, sir, the Eki indicates the divine will, and so, even the sagest personages conduct as if they were infants when they receive this hexagram. It is quite independent of time and place. …We may be conceited and deny to be infant, but the Almighty shows us the hexagram of Mo, which is inevitable.”

This sounds quite a lot like the kind of explanation I’ve given when trying to explain to some dignified older person how Yi is describing them as a toddler. This is just about how you look from Yi’s perspective, and seen from there, we are all infants. With a very offended querent, I might also make diffident noises – Yi said it, not me, please don’t shoot the messenger – but Takashima is characteristically unapologetic: the Almighty said this, through Yi, and so you must just accept that it is right. (And furthermore, he adds, the conduct of the country in this particular affair was ‘infant’.)

What he goes on to do with the line is odd. You or I might look at 4.4 and conclude that the money is lost:

‘Is sunk in Mo; inauspicious.’

But Takashima goes further. To start with, he also reads the xiaoxiang for that line:

‘The calamity of being sunk in Mo is the result of keeping himself aloof from the intelligent.’

The problem, it seems, is that the Japanese are not claiming the money back; they must move forward and do so.

“If we advance a step to the position of the Negative V [ie line 5] and claim, we will be ‘an infant, and lucky.’ Undoubtedly she will satisfy our claim and return the sum.”
“I do not know when America will return it to us, if we do not claim, but only wait the determination of her senators. Our government must convince her of our no more being infant and of being in want of money to promote our civilisation. …In this way, I am sure, she will regard our claim as being ‘children apply to us‘ and return the required sum of money.”

And he was quite right: according to Wikipedia, “In 1883, twenty years after the first battle to reopen the strait, the United States quietly returned $750,000 to Japan, which represented its share of the reparation payment.”

This is just one among many readings that show this free approach to the lines. Takashima uses a casting method that always generates just one moving line, but this doesn’t mean that he ignores the other moving line texts. Instead he normally regards them as points on a timeline. If the casting shows that you are currently at line 4, then lines 5 and 6 are still to come – and perhaps, as in this reading, you can change the outcome by moving to a new line.

(This reading’s actually unusual for him; in others with negative omens, he regards the disastrous outcome as an inevitability, or at least something that can only be averted by prayer, not by any human endeavour.)

The railway bridge

Here’s a fine example of practical reliance on Yi. In 1882, construction work on a railway Takashima had funded was interrupted when a flood swept away a temporary river bridge. Railway bridge construction, he explains, is a catch 22 situation: to construct a full, permanent bridge, you need building materials on both sides of the river; to transport the materials across the river, you need a bridge. So the high banks of the river had been cut down almost to water level and a temporary bridge constructed – and this had been demolished by the flood.

The Director of the Railway Department, who showed up on site at the same time as Takashima, indicated that they had three choices. They could rebuild another bridge at the same level, which would be a tremendous waste if it were to be lost in another flood, or they could build a temporary bridge at the full height of the banks, or something intermediate. The matter was to be settled by divination.

Takashima cast Hexagram 45, Gathering, changing at line 1 to 17, Following.

He observed first of all that 45, with lake over the earth, was a hexagram of flooding. We might add that it’s also a hexagram of great and purposeful investment, a gathering of men and resources – a perfect description of a great railway construction project.

Since line 1 changes to 17, and 17 means ‘to follow an example‘, they should build the same kind of bridge as before – only they should chain the beams to the banks, so they can be lifted out of the way in case of flood. He doesn’t say where this idea comes from, but I imagine it’s some combination of the Image of 45

‘Lake higher than the earth. Gathering.
A noble one sets aside weapons and tools,
And warns against the unexpected.’

reminding him to take precautions, and the Dazhuan passage that attributes the invention of harnessing oxen and horses to carts to Hexagram 17. (He does mention this part of the Dazhuan in another reading.)

However, Takashima has more to say – again, making use of the lines that were not moving, though this time only their zhi gua, not their text. To construct a higher bridge, ‘the posts must be heavier, and the whole will not bear itself against a flood.’ This he sees in the fact that line 2 changes to 47 (and also the trigram kan). A strong, high, iron bridge would be line 3, and since it leads to Hexagram 31 (and the trigram gen) that should certainly be built in the end, but at present it would be too time-consuming. So… it turns out that he is using the height of the line, in the ‘earth’ trigram, to determine the height of the bridge. Line 1 is the ground-level construction; line 2 would be higher; the highest, strongest bridge would be line 3.

They rebuilt the temporary bridge at the low level, and, ‘In the next year, we found that this hexagram was not wrong.’

How to repay a debt

This is a more personal reading, and I think it shows Takashima doing a particularly good, kind job as a diviner. His querent was a police officer, who was very anxious to discover that not only had his debt almost doubled, but the value of his estate had dropped so dramatically that he could repay only a fraction of the debt by selling up. Worry and insomnia over this were making him unfit to work. (There is another story in the book of a man who committed suicide because of an unpayable debt. Clearly this wasn’t taken lightly.)
His question: ‘Will you please teach me how to return my debt?’
The response: Hexagram 60, Measure, with line 2 changing.
Takashima talked first about the trigrams of 60, with flowing water above dui, lake. Debt, he said, is like the water in a pond: it must be limited so as not to overflow destructively.
Since lines 1 and 2 have similar imagery, and the Dazhuan passage on line 1 says it is about speaking with care, he deduces that when line 2 has bad luck from not going out, this means not speaking out. The querent needs to speak to his creditor.
Takashima tells him exactly what to say. First, he should sell his estate and repay its full value. Then, he is to tell the creditor he will pay in monthly installments taken from his salary, leaving him enough each month for both essentials and a social life. Takashima even does the maths for him: how much to pay, at what interest rate, and when the debt will be paid off.

The creditor may be reluctant to accept this, but will come round in the end. This is to be seen in the position and relationship of 60’s lines. The querent has the second line of dui, a trigram of mouth and tongue, so he must speak up. The corresponding line is 5, in the trigram kan, representing ‘ear’ and ‘heart-sickness’, ‘so he will be obliged to comply with you though reluctantly.’ But the debtor must speak up promptly, and not ‘lose the time’ of his line and thus fall into line 3.

Finally, Takashima adds further advice, absolutely in keeping with Hexagram 60. To avoid illness,

‘You must limit your concern for your debt to one hour every day, and the remaining hours must be contributed to your comforts of mind.’

The querent wrote, ‘On following your advice, my accumulated concerns were dispersed, and I feel myself very well again. My life is really your gift.’

Afterthought

We come and go, and the Well wells. Takashima had a different jug and well-rope – pretty good ones – but the Well is unchanged. Yi is timeless.

In 1721, Bach wrote 6 glorious Suites for ‘cello. They were not much played, certainly not performed, until they were discovered by Pau Casals, the grandfather of all modern ‘cellists.

In 1936, Casals made the first ever recording of the Suites. Countless distinguished ‘cellists have followed with their own interpretations.

‘Cellos live a great deal longer than humans, and Casals’ ‘cello is now played by Amit Peled, who is recording the Suites on it once again. When I heard what Peled had to say about his position, I could see parallels at once to those of us still divining with Yi.

“At one point, Casals held this ‘cello and played Bach. Many years have passed, and now I’m holding it and playing Bach on the same ‘cello. And I know that one day somebody else will hold this ‘cello and will play the same Bach suites. And it might be 100 years from today. It will be the same Bach suite, it’ll be the same ‘cello – and a totally different person. So it gives you perspective, how amazing this art is, and how small we are. We’re just servants. And I’m just happy to be the servant that can hold it now and can use it to bring out my soul.”

Name and nature: the enigma of guai

ancient guai characterHexagram 43 is called 夬, guai, which is generally understood to mean‘decision’ or ‘resoluteness’ or ‘breakthrough’. The oldest forms of the character show a hand holding up an object – a token of authority, perhaps, or an archer’s thumb ring. In some early versions of the character, it’s quite clearly a drawing of a hand with a thumb ring: Guai character on silk

Nowadays, the word for an archer’s ring is jue, 玦, formed by combining guai with the ‘jade’ radical.

The Wings (Tuanzhuan, Zagua and Xugua) agree, though, that 夬 means  jue 决: a word that combines guai with the ‘water’ radical and means decide, breakthrough, breach (of a dike), certainty, execution. This, they say, is what the solid lines of the hexagram are doing to the one broken line at the top: ‘taking decisive action’ against it (Lynn).

43 as motion

|||||:Translators almost all follow the wisdom of the Wings authors, because their understanding fits so naturally with the shape of the hexagram. Following its energy through from the bottom line to the top, you get the sense of a powerful upward drive, pushing out that final yin line. It feels like a single giant arrow of motion: one way only.

I wonder whether guai might originally refer to a particular kind of motion: the kind that characterises both the bowstring released by the archer’s thumb and the water that breaches a dike. Stored energy is released into swift motion – in a single direction, with momentum, and not to be diverted.

The position of this hexagram in the Sequence carries the same idea: the lake gathers under the mountain in 41, and then there is Increase, and then ‘Increasing and not reaching an end must mean breakthrough.’

(Here’s more on 43 as the ‘breakthrough’ of water breaching a dike.)

The Oracle

The Oracle of 43, though, seems to tell the story of an idea:

‘Deciding, tell it in the king’s chambers.
With truth, cry out, there is danger.
Notify your own town.
Fruitless to take up arms;
Fruitful to have a direction to go.’

It begins with communication: broadcast the message in the king’s chambers, truth calls out there is danger, notify the town. The word translate ‘cry out’ means to yell, or howl like the wind: ‘Truth that howls means danger!’

The message ripples outward: from the royal court to the town and beyond, into a ‘direction to go’. In this way, it translates into motion – the potent momentum of the hexagram. An idea with power behind it is carried through into action.

The Oracle finishes up with a very clear contrast: to take up arms is fruitless; to have a direction to go is fruitful. What’s the distinction it’s pointing to here? The Tuanzhuan says that taking up arms would mean what you hold in high esteem comes to nothing – which actually seems odd: with all this energy and momentum, wouldn’t you expect to win any battles you started?

In my book I only said, ‘It will serve you better to focus with clear intention on what you’re moving towards, rather than what you’re reacting against.’ I think we might add that taking up arms would be a distraction from 43’s single direction.

In this connection, it’s interesting to see how Wang Bi describes this (in Lynn’s translation). He points out that 43 is the opposite of 23, when ‘the Dao of the noble man wanes’ and ‘his virtues of strength and rectitude are denied a straight path to action.’ Since 43 does have a straight path to action, best to keep to the path.

Lonely as a cloud

The Image of 43 says,

‘Lake above heaven. Deciding.
A noble one distributes riches to reach those below,
He dwells in power and virtue, and also shuns things.’

…except that there’s actually more than one way to understand that final line. Word for word in Chinese, it’s literally something like, ‘Dwelling-in virtue and/thus avoid.’ Wilhelm has, ‘he refrains from resting on his virtue;’ Lynn, following Wang Bi, has ‘dwells in virtue and so clarifies what one should be averse to.’ (Wang Bi says that to be averse to something implies to prohibit it, and this is about having very clear laws without laxity.)

What do the trigrams imply? The outer lake has to do with communicating, spreading and sharing. Heaven on the inside indicates both lasting power and unchanging truths behind this communication – probably what Wang Bi had in mind when he talked about having clear laws.

Of course, the simplest way to understand a ‘lake above heaven’ is as a cloud. A cloud distributes riches to those below. It reaches everyone, but no-one can reach it: rain water is always pure; the shores of a sky-lake never get muddy. It makes sense to me that the noble one is like this: simultaneously generous and aloof. In the line texts, it turns out that we do need a certain reserve and distance to keep going.

(In support of this – the Image of 53 has a very similar phrase, ‘the noble one dwells in good character and virtue’. No-one interprets this as lazily ‘resting on his virtue.’)

Words have power

According to the Dazhuan, the hexagrams predate civilisation and inspire its greatest creations – such as the written word:

‘In remote antiquity, people knotted cords to keep things in order. The sages of later ages exchanged these for written tallies, and by means of these all the various officials were kept in order, and the myriad folk were supervised. They probably got the idea for this from the hexagram Kuai.’ (Lynn)

The idea of written tallies comes – like the image of the cloud – from the trigrams: communication (lake) that contains enduring power (heaven). As Wilhelm says, ‘words should be made strong and enduring.’ Writing infuses communication with greater power.

In this connection… it’s interesting to see the role Hexagram 43 plays in the Zagua, the ‘Miscellaneous Hexagrams’ Wing that describes contrasting pairs. At the end of this Wing, the last few hexagrams mentioned are no longer grouped with their pairs. (No-one knows why.) 43, separated from 44, is the very last of all:

Guai is breaking through,
Firm breaks through soft.
The noble one’s dao is long lasting,
The small man’s dao is sorrow.’

Why might this be the final word? I wonder if it’s because 43 is about words with power behind them. The Zagua is a simple little text, mostly in rhyme – I imagine it was intended to be recited out loud by a student learning the pairs. The recitation ends with something like an incantation, with the power of the whole book behind it: may the noble man’s way endure, may the small man decline.

Journey through the lines

The line texts of 43, true to its sense of direction and momentum, tell a story. Deciding – it makes clear – isn’t just theoretical: it means carrying your intention, your words-with-power-behind-them, through into action.

Line 1

‘Vigour in the leading foot.
Going on without control means making mistakes.’

It’s no good to start moving too soon, before you’re capable of the task. Just declaring your intent is not enough. This line joins with Hexagram 28, Great Exceeding. Someone has such an overwhelming sense that Something Must Be Done that she falls over her own feet in her hurry to get going.

Line 2

‘Alarmed, crying out.
Evening and night, bearing arms.
Do not fear.’

The ‘crying out’ from the Oracle is heard again. This line connects with 49, Radical Change. Truth howls in the dark, and we are thoroughly alarmed. (The character ‘alarm’ consists of ‘heart’ and yi, ‘change’, making it pretty clear what frightens us.) This is when we’re liable to take up arms, which the Oracle said wasn’t a good idea. Perhaps it still isn’t – at all events, better not to over-react or over-identify.

Line 3

‘Vigour in the cheekbones means a pitfall.
Noble one decides, decides.
Walks alone, meets the rain,
And is indignant as if he were soaked through.
Not a mistake.’

Deciding meets Hexagram 58, Opening: it’s time to go out into the open and communicate. Line 3 asks ‘can I, should I, go out across the threshold?’ and the answer is yes. To decide now is to walk out alone, though you may end up bedraggled and sputtering. Never mind preserving your dignity: some things are more important. (You can see the reflection of this noble one in the Image.)

Line 4

‘Thighs without flesh,
Walking awkwardly now.
Lead a sheep, regrets vanish.
Hear words, not trusted.’

This is the line associated with Yu the Great, the hero whose thighs were wasted from his decades spent battling the floods. It’s the second line about how you move: alone in line 3, understandably awkwardly now.

This line joins with Hexagram 5, Waiting: the floods didn’t recede instantaneously just because Heaven said that Yu should conquer them. ‘Deciding’ can be a long-term undertaking. If things are getting on top of you, surrender to the reality of it and just keep hobbling on.

This is a hexagram of words with power, but now we reach the outer trigram, words are not trusted. I think that’s partly because it’s time for action now – words alone aren’t enough – and partly because these words come from the sidelines. LiSe sees Yu here and in line 3, getting no thanks for his labours.

Line 5

‘Amaranth on high ground.
Decide, decide.
Walk in the centre, no mistake.’

A third ‘walking’ line, now with Great Vigour (Hexagram 34) – like that amaranth, perhaps, or like the energy it would take to harvest it. At line 5 – the place of personal autonomy and choice – in a hexagram about Deciding, Yi is remarkably open-ended. Decide for yourself where the middle path lies, and walk it.

Line 6

‘Not crying out.
In the end, pitfall.’

If truth never cries out, there’s no deciding; nothing happens. Hexagram 1 shines through this line, bringing the necessity of creative change – but also, perhaps, a desire to keep clear of messiness, and not allow anything to go wrong. This reminds me somewhat of 55.6, and also 21.6: what if the message never got through? What if the upheaval never happened? In the short term, this might make things easier, but not in the end.

Backlit rain storm at sunset

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