...life can be translucent
Menu

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

Do you need to be psychic to read the I Ching?

Well, if you do, I’m in trouble. Yet this is something readers – maybe mostly tarot readers – often claim: that their psychic powers have been apparent from early childhood, and it was always clear that they were destined to become a reader.

Me? Well… when I was four I intended to be an opera singer; when I was 8, I planned to run away and live in the jungle like Tarzan; by the time I left school, my lovely German teacher was predicting I would become either a professor or a prominent barrister. I was too busy stressing myself silly about exams to have much of an opinion, but if I’d had to guess I would have gone for academia. ‘I Ching diviner’ was not on the menu.

But after six years, I got fed up with writing essays about literary criticism instead of literature, heard of the I Ching, stumbled across Legge in the Oxfam bookshop and Ritsema/Karcher in the library, and you know the rest. No special psychic gifts were involved – just a series of coincidences that had me falling into this work by mistake, and then noticing I’d landed somewhere I could do something useful.

…because, as I was saying in my previous post about not being special, this isn’t about who I am, it’s about what the universe is.

This is a universe where oracles work.

My favourite analogy for this is that we live in a dark room with its shutters tightly closed, with blazing bright daylight outside. All we need to do is let the light in. (And incidentally, it doesn’t matter if you do this by operating a well-oiled latch, or tripping over the wastepaper bin in the dark and falling headlong through the shutters – you still get the same light.)

Once you’ve let the light in, the rest is

  1. remembering that oracles work
  2. practice

Remembering it works comes first, because without that, you wouldn’t practise. Instead, you’d find a reading baffling and give up. Here’s the great secret: being confused at first is normal.

Stephen Karcher went so far as to say that you should be confused at first, because all your ideas should have been thrown into disarray. I wouldn’t go that far – sometimes a reading speaks with perfect limpid clarity straight away (funnily enough, this seems to happen especially often for beginners). But a quite normal, natural journey through a reading might begin with something like the first line of Hexagram 30, Clarity:

‘Treading in confusion.
Honour it,
Not a mistake.’

So my path through a reading often looks something like this:

  1. Ask.
  2. Be confused.
  3. Dive headlong into the confusion, unfold it and develop it into questions. (See Yijing Foundations for much more on those questions.)
  4. Expect answers to the questions to arrive

No, I’m not psychic – no more than anyone else is.

And… increasingly often, when reading, the part of the reading I feel like dwelling on more than usual, or the illustrative example that pops into my head, turns out to be exactly what resonates with the querent, what was needed to open those shutters for them. I have no sense of tapping into any special knowing; I just don’t forget that oracles work.

 

psychic with crystal ball

‘See the great person’ (or ‘great people’) is one of the Yijing’s recurrent phrases: in Hexagram 1, lines 2 and 5, in the oracle texts of hexagrams 6, 39, 45, 46 and 57, and in 39, line 6. (There’s also just ‘great person’ – without the advice to see them – in 12.2.5, 47, and 49.5 – but that’s another story.)

‘Great people’ might originally have been those with power, but the key idea in the Yijing seems to be that they have vision – they can see more and further than most. I wrote about ‘seeing the great person’ – its literal meaning, ideas for interpretation and example applications – in the Language of Change Yijing glossary. Here’s an excerpt –

“When you ‘see a great person’, you seek out a source of insight and advice you can use now – and sometimes also direct help, for instance to more important, fulfilling work.

This can mean literally meeting with another person, perhaps someone who’s achieved what you have only imagined: your entry point to a realm where these things are possible. Or you might encounter the great person through a book, a dream, even introspection. Sometimes, ‘seeing the great person’ can mean recognising the quality of greatness in another person – where it may or may not be obvious! – and also seeing that quality in yourself. (You can only recognise greatness because you already know within yourself what it is.)

The key word is see: seeing the great person always means a change in awareness. It lifts the situation to a higher level where more can be seen and done.”

What I’d like to do in this post is to trace the development of this idea through the Sequence, as I did with the noble one some years ago. Here are all the times Yi advises it’s fruitful to see great people:

‘See the dragon in the fields.
Fruitful to see great people.’

‘Dragon flying in heaven.
Fruitful to see great people.’

‘Arguing.
There is truth and confidence, blocked.
Vigilant and centred, good fortune. Ending, pitfall.
Fruitful to see great people,
Fruitless to cross the great river.’

‘Limping. Fruitful in the southwest,
Not fruitful in the northeast.
Fruitful to see great people.
Constancy, good fortune.’

‘Going on, limping; coming back, maturity.
Good fortune.
Fruitful to see great people.’

‘Gathering, creating success.
The king enters his temple
Fruitful to see great people, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Using great sacrificial animals: good fortune.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.’

‘Pushing upward, creating success from the source.
Make use of seeing great people.
Do not worry.
Set forth to the south, good fortune.’

‘Subtly penetrating, creating small success.
Fruitful to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to see great people.’

From Hexagram 1 all the way to Hexagram 57. What happens along the way?

Prelude: Eye-opening

The idea is introduced in Hexagram 1, line 2, which suggests a parallel between ‘seeing the dragon in the fields’ and seeing great people. See the dragon – see the creative power at work – see how we can go to work now and reap a good harvest later. See the future we can create – or, in the fifth line, see what is possible now, with the dragon in full flight.

Changing these two ‘see the great person’ lines together creates this reading:

changing to

1.2.5 to 30: the two solid lines ‘open’ to yin, revealing the hexagram of light and clear perception at the end of the Upper Canon. Seeing great people carries us directly to Clarity.

Act 1: Look up!

‘Arguing.
There is truth and confidence, blocked.
Vigilant and centred, good fortune. Ending, pitfall.
Fruitful to see great people,
Fruitless to cross the great river.’

When a reading advises someone that it’s ‘fruitful to see great people’, I will often tell them that they might ‘see’ them outside or inside themselves. With Hexagram 6, though, we’re most likely to need a real, external great person – an arbitration service, a marriage counsellor, or someone who is outside the Argument, has an overview and can mediate. The phrase used is the same one you might interpret elsewhere as ‘see your own higher self’ – it’s just that we humans seem to be less than brilliant at seeing beyond our own perspective when we’re fighting.

‘Limping. Fruitful in the west and south,
Not fruitful in the east and north.
Fruitful to see great people.
Constancy, good fortune.’

Something similar applies with Hexagram 39 – when we’re in that ‘I’m going to get this done if it kills me’ mode, we tend to be quite entrenched. This reminds me of amateur musicians (like me) when the music gets difficult to play: the struggle to get round the notes consumes all our attention, we bury our heads in the part and become oblivious to all else. Lift up your eyes, says Yi, remove your nose from the grindstone for a moment, and see the bigger picture. Follow the conductor. See the potential.

Interlude: Turnaround

There are just three moving lines that speak of ‘seeing great people’: 1.2.5, and 39.6:
‘Going on, limping; coming back, maturity.
Good fortune.
Fruitful to see a great person.’

This change is Limping’s final change of direction: from struggle to 碩, shuo: a broad term for someone with size, mastery, eminence, maturity… the qualities, in fact, of a great person.

With this line, Limping joins with 53, Gradual Development – a hexagram of integration and homecoming. It seems that now the one limping has turned around and is moving towards the vision of great people. Perhaps, with this new alignment, more of that dragon’s potential could be realised.

Act II: Alignment

The three remaining moments to ‘see great people’ are quite different from 6 and 39. Then, you needed to see the great person to change your angle of view altogether – to lift your eyes up and see beyond a narrow preoccupation. Simply put, someone who manages to see great people will probably not keep on Arguing, or Limping, as before.

But now…

‘Gathering, creating success.
The king enters his temple
Fruitful to see great people, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Using great sacrificial animals: good fortune.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.’

…we can imagine the great people are present at the Gathering, with the king in his temple and the great sacrificial animals. (Wu Jing Nuan thinks the great people you need to see are probably diviners.)

Or you are facing south, aspiring onward and upward, and can make use of the great people to support your progress:

‘Pushing upward, creating success from the source.
Make use of seeing great people.
Do not worry.
Set forth to the south, good fortune.’

And perhaps, with Subtly Penetrating, you can fully internalise the great person along with your direction to go. (In readings, I think this is the opposite extreme to Hexagram 6 – when you might think first of an inner sense of the great person, and only then of an external mentor.)

‘Subtly penetrating, creating small success.
Fruitful to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to see the great person.’

In 45 and 57, ‘seeing great people’ is now joined with ‘having a direction to go’, while in 46 it goes with ‘setting out to the south’. Seeing great people now can lend direction and wisdom to your own undertaking. It’s not an alternative to your preoccupations, but something that works with them – not drawing your attention elsewhere, but illuminating your work and its purposes.

Misty path up a mountain

 

 

I’m experimenting with a different kind of post: taking just one line of the Yi, looking at what the translators and interpreters make of it, and seeing what I can learn from the different perspectives.

Let’s start with the fifth line of Hexagram 44, Coupling – a strange line, in a mysterious hexagram:

‘Using willow to wrap melons.
Containing a thing of beauty,
It is falling from heaven.’

I’ll look at the elements of the line first, and then dive into some commentaries.

The line, one image at a time…

Wrapping melons in willow

There are a couple of different ways to understand this. One is the idea of wrapping a melon for eating in willow leaves while it ripens, to prevent bruising. The more I think about this, the less convincing I find it. All the instructions I can find for melon-growing describe leaving them to ripen on the vine, and resting them on something solid, like a brick, to keep them dry and prevent rot. I suppose you might then wrap the ripe fruit in leaves for storage – but then as Lars Bo Christensen points out, willow leaves are narrow, and a strange choice for wrapping the fruit of a plant that has big, wide leaves itself.

Richard Rutt explains the other understanding: the bottle gourd ‘is bound near the stalk while it is growing, in order to ensure that, when it is dried for use as a flask, it will have a good shape.’ I think this is what’s going on here.

The wrapped melon/ gourd also looks like pregnancy imagery (along with the ‘fish in the wrapper’ in previous lines); the character for ‘wrapping’, bao, shows a foetus in the womb.

Containing a thing of beauty

To ‘contain’ is literally ‘to hold something in the mouth’, and also to contain, restrain or tolerate.

And the ‘thing of beauty’ is zhang, whose dictionary meanings include a chapter of a book, a section of a piece of music, a composition, structure, set of rules or constitution. The old character breaks down into ‘ten’ and ‘sounds’, so maybe ‘musical composition’ is the core idea.
In the Shijing, the Book of Songs, this word means variously the blazon on a flag, finely woven cloth, elegant speech, gold and jade ornaments, ancient statutes, the laws or the personal example given by a great ruler, and the form of the Milky Way in the heavens. I get the impression of a perfectly elegant, distinct shape, whole and complete in itself.

The character zhang with the radical for ‘jade’ means a jade baton (which in itself signified nobility and culture), and there was a custom of holding such a baton in front of your mouth when speaking with the ruler. So some modern translators combine these two characters into ‘hold a jade baton in the mouth’. (Though ‘in the mouth’ and ‘in front of the mouth’ are not the same thing…)

The same hidden/contained zhang appears in 2.3, where it allows constancy, but not for recognition. And the zhang (no longer hidden) is also what’s coming, bringing reward and praise, in 55.5.

Falling from heaven

This is more straightforward, though the word for ‘falling’ does also mean ‘meteorites’; ‘there are meteorites from heaven’ would be a perfectly literal translation.

Zhi gua 50, the Vessel

This is the line that joins Coupling with the Vessel, and I think this should be included in our understanding of the text. For instance… there is a bronze vessel, and there is a more fragile, organic vessel to be shaped with willow twigs. And there is a Vessel representing the new form of government according to the Mandate of Heaven, and there is the zhang (a model, an example, a constitution…) falling from heaven.

Learning from some commentaries

(I’ve looked at lots of commentaries for this, but these are the ones I thought contributed something original.)

The Xiaoxiang

Part of the Yijing, of course, but also the original commentary on the line.

‘Nine at the fifth place contains a thing of beauty: central and correct. Something is falling from heaven: aspiration does not relinquish the mandate.’

The first part of this simply refers to line theory: the fifth place is central, and a yang line in that position is correct. All is in order, the pattern is whole. The second part seems to be about alignment: heaven sends down its mandates, so align your will with that and don’t let it go.

Wilhelm Book I

The translation and commentary:

‘A melon covered with willow leaves.
Hidden lines.
Then it drops down to one from heaven.’

‘The melon, like the fish, is a symbol of the principle of darkness.’ [He means the first, yin line of the hexagram, which he identifies with the threat of the powerful woman.] ‘It is sweet but spoils easily and for this reason is protected with a cover of willow leaves. This is a situation in which a strong, superior, well-poised man tolerates and protects the inferiors in his charge. He has the firm lines of order and beauty within himself but he does not lay stress upon them. He does not bother his subordinates with outward show or tiresome admonitions but leaves them quite free, putting his trust in the transforming power of a strong and upright personality. And behold! Fate is favorable. His inferiors respond to his influence and fall to his disposition like ripe fruit.’

Wilhelm is thinking of the easily-spoiled melon as line 1, and this fifth line as the wise ruler dealing with such things, protecting people who could easily go to the bad. Zhang becomes ‘lines’ – which sounds odd, but imagine a hidden pattern to the ruler’s character, firm and strong. So the ruler’s protection is like the willow wrapping; the ‘hidden lines’ are his inner character; the development of the inferior people is like the melon ripening; what drops down to one from heaven is the positive response of the inferiors.

I like the sense of tolerant protection here, but I find the way he breaks up the line quite awkward and unnatural. The melon is one thing, then the hidden lines are something else, and what falls from heaven is yet a third thing – or perhaps the melon, but that’s also awkward, since melons grow on the ground.

Wilhelm Book III

It’s always interesting to turn to Book III of Wilhelm, where he often ‘shows his workings’ in more detail, with explanations based on component trigrams and line theory. For this line, though, he says,

‘…[The melon] is protected and covered with willow leaves. No forcible interference takes place. The regulative lines of the laws upon which the beauty of life depends are covered over. We entrust the fruit in our care entirely to its own natural development. Then it ripens of its own accord. It falls to our lot. This is not contrived but is decreed by our accepted fate.’

The jarring insistence on ‘inferior’ people is gone; instead, this is just about trusting the process of ripening. There’s no mention of keeping anything sinister in check. The ‘hidden lines’ become the implicit natural laws of growth and development. The fruit need not be people we influence; it could be anything that ‘ripens’ – a creative idea, perhaps, or our own character.

So there’s a clear, distinct idea – ‘entrust the fruit in your care entirely to its own natural development, and it ripens of its own accord.’

(Which is a better fit in readings? This, or the idea of using willow twigs actively to shape the gourd for use?)

Bradford Hatcher

Bradford’s work is available, as always, from hermetica.info. Here’s his original translation and commentary for the line.

‘Wrapping the melons in willows
Restraint is displayed
They will have fallen from heaven.’

‘All of the members come to his meeting, and he acts like a model host, serving his fine food and drink. But all the green melons stay in the cellar, hidden from light and view. Still deeper down, and covered with cobwebs and dust, are many rows of tightly-corked bottles of wine. These melons and wine will one day be sacraments, as though they had fallen from heaven. But heaven is not simply a place, or even all places: it is all times as well, and the way times are strung together. There is much of not yet in heaven, but not much too soon or too late. these melons and wine, given our kind, but reserved, host’s assistance, will fall from the time of just right, when heaven is ready as well. Haste is such a shallow thing, hardly worthy of sacraments. Just like these melons and wine, our very best is sacred, and worthy of our patience.’

As with Wilhelm, these are definitely edible melons, not bottle gourds, but the rest is completely different. Han zhang, ‘contained pattern’ has become containment as a pattern: wrapping the melons is a display of restraint. The line becomes an ode to the kind of patience required to enjoy divine timing.

LiSe

– at yijing.nl:

‘Melon enwrapped in willow. A hidden creation descended from heaven.
Carry and treat the future heir with respect – Heaven made it. Every creative action or thought should be handled this way. They may look easy but creativity grows only when everything is right: the seed, the soil, the season. It needs the completeness of nature. It can not be summoned when it is absent.’

LiSe picks up directly on the pregnancy imagery of the enwrapped melon. She also reads the line as a whole: the wrapped melon is the hidden beauty which comes down from heaven. I like this – and also I taken her point that what falls from heaven is not something you make happen by your own efforts. (This builds on Wilhelm’s point about trusting natural development – you can’t direct it, so you have to trust it.) You can wrap it, protect it and wait for it – that’s all.

R.J. Lynn

As far as I know, the very first full commentary on the Yijing was written by Wang Bi, and this has been passed on to us in its entirety in Lynn’s superb book. (If you don’t already have this one, I would strongly recommend it.) These are the roots of the tradition Wilhelm also represents, so the interpretations are often similar to his – but not always…

‘With his basket willow and bottle gourd, this one harbors beauty within, so if there is destruction, it will only come from Heaven.’

Wait, what?

Wang Bi’s commentary:

‘The basket willow is such that it is a plant that grows in fertile soil, and the bottle gourd is such that it is tied up and not eaten.’ [Here a footnote glosses this idea, quoting Confucius saying he would not want to be like a bottle gourd, ‘just hung up and not eaten’, i.e. ornamental and empty.] ‘Fifth yin manages to tread the territory of the noble position, but it does not meet with any proper response.’ [Reference to line correspondence: a yang line 5 doesn’t resonate with yang line 2.] ‘This one may have obtained land, but it does not provide him with a living; he may harbor beauty within but never has a chance to let that beauty shine forth. As one here does not meet with any proper response, his orders will never circulate. However, such a one manages to occupy a position that is right for him, embodies hardness and strength, and abides in centrality, so if “this one’s will remains fixed on not giving up his mandate,”‘ [quoting from the Xiaoxiang] ‘he cannot be destroyed. This is why the text says: “If there is destruction, it will only come from Heaven.”‘

How strange. ‘There is falling from heaven’ has become in effect, ‘If there is downfall, it is from heaven.’ And the rich, sweet melon imagery has become something dry and hollow, an image of frustration. There’s beauty within, but it has no influence – which is exactly the opposite of Wilhelm’s interpretation, and really doesn’t resonate for me.

However, Lynn’s book is blessed with copious footnotes, and for this line he includes Cheng Yi’s alternative explanation: in brief, that the key to the hexagram is the idea of meeting, and this line shows the meeting of the lofty willow with the beautiful but lowly melon.

‘Here we have something that is beautiful but abides in a lowly place, and this is an image of the worthy who remains out of the way and leads an insignificant life.’ Willow wrapping melon is an image of a ruler humbly seeking this worthy talent below. ‘One who can humble himself in this way also nourishes virtues of centrality and righteousness within, so he comes of perfect fruition and displays perfect beauty. If the sovereign of men is like this, he will never fail to meet those whom he seeks.’

I admire the way Cheng Yi interprets, using a few very simple facts about the line and its imagery: this hexagram is about meeting; trees are tall whereas melons grow on the ground; the fifth line is the place of the ruler. Then he draws this together into a single picture – more successfully than Wang Bi, I reckon.

Kerson and Rosemary Huang

Wang Bi’s ‘destruction from heaven’ interpretation wasn’t abandoned – in fact, it surfaces in unexpected places. Some modernists read zhang as Shang, the name of the dynasty, and so for instance Kerson and Rosemary Huang have,

‘Wrapping melon with leaves of staple grain:
The downfall of Shang.
It brought wrath from heaven.’

They suggest that wrapping melons in this way must have been sacrilegious… well, I suppose they have to suggest something of the sort to find a connection with the first part of the line…

Margaret Pearson

Margaret Pearson contributed the idea that 44’s powerful woman is a royal bride to be treated with respect. (And if that idea isn’t unambiguously present in the text, nor is the traditional view that she represents a creeping, insidious evil.)

For 44.5, she has:

‘She protects the babe within, just as a gourd is protected by being wrapped in flexible willow twigs. You hold great beauty within you. If you miscarry, this is Heaven’s will.’

Pure, perfectly coherent pregnancy imagery – and Wang Bi’s influence.

Minford

Minford’s work is unique in that it offers you two quite different perspectives inside one book: a traditional, ‘wisdom book’ interpretation in the Part I, and a reconstruction of the Bronze Age oracle in Part II.

So the commentary in Part I offers ideas familiar from Wilhelm: protecting the light and restraining the dangerous presence of First Yin; the leader protecting his employees like protecting the gourd with willow leaves. Part II has less explanation and more mystery:

‘A gourd
Is bound
With purple willow.
A Jade Talisman
Is contained.
It drops
From heaven.

A meteorite? A gourd bound into the shape of a bottle gourd, traditional receptacle for things magical or Taoist?’

Wait – so a shaped gourd isn’t just a convenient water bottle, but has magical significance? I hadn’t realised, but my goodness, it makes sense in the context. Must – read – more – books.

Field

One of my favourite books.

‘Bundle the gourd in willow. The pattern holds. Something will fall from heaven.’

‘This omen collects another image that seems to describe metaphorically the consummation of a sexual rendezvous. “Bundle the gourd in willow” literally describes the process by which a gourd is shaped for use as a bottle. The image of the willow tree was also used as a sexual metaphor in lines 28.2 and 28.5. A variation of “the pattern holds” was used in line 2.3 to indicate fertility and ripeness. The counsel, “Something will fall from heaven,” may pertain to anomalies such as rocks falling from the sky, but more likely refers to falling stars.’

The ‘willow’ in 28.2.5 is a different character, which I imagine must mean a different plant. Also, I’d say that while it’s obviously associated with sex, it’s more specifically a symbol of rejuvenation, turning back the clock and cheating old age.

However, I do like the suggestion that we should consider ‘falling from heaven’ as literal before it’s symbolic. Signs from heaven could well be meteorites (Alfred Huang’s translation) or falling stars. And what would those mean?

Karcher, Total I Ching 

Stephen Karcher does his best to weave together wisdom tradition and Bronze Age mystery:

‘Coupling. The Royal Bride.
Willow wrapping the melons, jade talisman in the mouth.
Held in this containing beauty,
It tumbles down from Heaven.’

As you see, he takes a ‘so good I’ll translate it twice’ approach. Han zhang becomes both ‘jade talisman in the mouth’ and ‘held in this containing beauty.’ What strikes me, though, is that he seems to suggest a poetic parallelism between wrapping the melon and hiding the jade. That seems right to me.

His commentary –

‘This is a beautiful inspiration, the Coupling of King and Queen, literally made in Heaven. What you do now will add elegance and beauty to life. It inaugurates a wonderful new time.’

– closely follows Wu Jing Nuan: ‘This line indicates a wondrous, creative time when heaven and man are joined spontaneously in beauty and elegance.’

Alas, neither of them can tell me what a jade talisman in the mouth might mean here – and han does mean ‘held in the mouth’ not ‘in front of the mouth’, so this seems important. I’ve heard of jade used in burials because of its imperishability, but that really doesn’t seem to fit with this line.

Mine:

(for completeness…)

‘Using willow to wrap melons.
Containing a thing of beauty,
It comes falling from its source in heaven.’

‘What you have here comes falling into your lap ‘out of the blue’. It is a beginning to receive and nurture with care, as people would wrap a melon to protect it against bruising as it ripens.

This is the beginning of an incubation period, like a pregnancy, and the final shape of this ‘thing of beauty’ is still hidden away, growing and transforming – perhaps into a whole new pattern to live by. It may not be anything you had planned for, and you may or may not have a place for it. Much depends on the quality of your availability, and whether you will create space for a relationship with this unexpected, maybe unasked-for gift in its entirety.’

Conclusions?

What have I gleaned from these explorations?

Well… mostly I feel as though I’m at the beginning of a whole new cycle of checking ideas against reading experience to find what holds.

I like the idea of zhang as a hidden pattern of character, from Wilhelm. (And if this is, as he says, about influence, then that would make the Image something of a commentary on the fifth line – which it often is.)

I appreciate the lessons, from LiSe and Wilhelm and Bradford, about natural growth and timing and its hidden laws. Also the importance of care and protection, from LiSe and Margaret Pearson.

The fluent simplicity of Cheng Yi’s interpretation grabbed me, too. I must look out for examples of something worthy-but-hidden.

From the ‘modernists’, I’ve gleaned more questions than answers.

If the first image is not an edible crop but a gourd to be shaped into a useful vessel, what does that mean? (With apologies to Wang Bi and Confucius, I can’t take seriously the idea that this is the image of something useless.) No-one seems to have attempted to describe this yet.

I think I can see the idea: the future shape of the gourd-vessel is hidden, contained, like the future constitution. The great disruptive power of heaven finds its own way to expression (perhaps as the coming heir). You work with it, align yourself with its energy if you can, but you don’t grow it. It ‘ripens of its own accord.’ 

But there is so much more to learn! Does the idea of shaping something for use work in readings? How do you go about shaping a bottle gourd by binding it with willow, anyway? What is the symbolic or magical power of such a gourd, and – a whole other, and probably unanswerable, question – what was its symbolic power in Zhou times?

And come to that… if there is a ‘jade talisman held in the mouth’ in the line, who would have one? When, and why? (As I said, the burial custom really doesn’t fit here – or not unless the line is describing the whole cycle of life as what ‘falls to us from heaven’…) And if there were meteorites or meteors, what did such an omen represent?

(In other words, the main thing I’ve learned is how much I have to learn. This is, on the whole, not especially surprising. Maybe gourds are bigger on the inside?)

calabash plant and gourd

 

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

From the I Ching Community

Join Clarity

You are warmly invited to join Clarity and -

  • access the audio version of the Beginners’ Course
  • participate in the I Ching Community
  • subscribe to ‘Clarity Notes’ for I Ching news

Join here!

Clarity,
Office 17622,
PO Box 6945,
London.
W1A 6US
United Kingdom

Phone/ Voicemail:
+44 (0)20 3287 3053 (UK)
+1 (561) 459-4758 (US).