...life can be translucent

I Ching with Clarity

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:

To learn the I Ching

It has all you need to get started from scratch. Then if you’re familiar with the basics and want to develop your confidence in interpretation, have a look at the Foundations Course.

To get the I Ching’s help

(There’s help at hand to explain how it works.)

If you’d like my help, have a look at the I Ching reading services.

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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.

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(Thank you.)

Warm wishes,


Fire on the mountain: Hexagram 56

There's a well-established tradition that these trigrams portray fast-moving fire burning through mountain vegetation.
Kong Yingda (574-648AD) wrote,

'When fire is on top of the mountain, it races through the grass and shrubbery, a condition that does not leave it in one place for long. Thus this provides the image for the Wanderer.'

R.J. Lynn, I Ching

There could be other pictures too, though. Long before I learned the traditional view from Wilhelm, I imagined that the noble one of the Image -

'Above the mountain is fire: Travelling.
A noble one is clear and thoughtful in administering punishments, and doesn't draw out legal proceedings.'

Hexagram 56, the Image

- was only stopping overnight, and needed to resolve all disputes before the ashes of the campfire were scattered in the morning. And you can also simply picture the way sunlight and clouds, light and shade, move ceaselessly over a mountain landscape.

However you picture this one, you can see it means movement. (Contrast how the lake gathers on the mountain-top in Hexagram 31.) And it's always worth imagining the trigram picture for yourself, as if you were the first person ever to see the hexagram.

'Travelling, creating small success.
Travelling, constancy brings good fortune.'

Hexagram 56, the Oracle

If you have clear vision of the place where you've stopped to rest (as the Tuanzhuan says), you can enjoy some small success - though nothing too great, as you don't live here; you're not going to transform the place, but at least you won't break its rules.

With 'travelling, constancy brings good fortune,' I wonder whether this might not be 'traveller-constancy', a particular kind of constancy, like the mare's constancy in Hexagram 2. A traveller's constancy would mean holding fast not to where you are or the people around you - 'few connections for the Traveller', says the Zagua - but to where you're going and who you want to be on the way. That's all you have: a traveller has no insulating reputation or connections to remind him of himself.

So you need a blend of firm steadfastness and clear insight - which sounds very much the trigrams: inner gen as steady sense of identity, outer li as awareness. Know who you are, see where you are, and you should be able to keep moving with the minimum of nest-burning.

'Above the mountain is fire: Travelling.
A noble one is clear and thoughtful in administering punishments, and doesn't draw out legal proceedings.'

The word I've translated as 'draw out' actually means 'stay, remain, tarry' - so perhaps we should say the noble one doesn't dwell on legal proceedings. The basic advice is plain: move on. Sort things out before the ashes cool; take the consequences as necessary, but don't set up home in the dispute.

The inner mountain means, as Wang Bi says, that 'he pauses to gain clarity over things': the inner trigram gives rise to the outer. The inner mountain might also encourage thoughtfulness: it's inwardly stable, not impulsive or reactive. And the mountain marks a place to stop. This issue is done with, the line is drawn, and we move on.

Look how different this is from the Image of Hexagram 22, where the same two trigrams swap places:

‘Below the mountain is fire. Beauty.
A noble one brings light to the many standards, but does not venture to pass judgement.’

Hexagram 22, the Image

When light's on the inside, contained by the mountain, it stops and thinks, and experiences inward insight or realisation, but passes no judgement at all. The traveller sees from the outside: the light is moving on, not contained, while rock-solid standards, already known and internalised, can be made visible in punishments.

mountain fire

I Ching Community discussion

Fire above wood: Hexagram 50

The trigram picture of Hexagram 50, the Vessel, is a dynamic one: wood in the fire, burning. The wood is becoming fire; the food in the vessel is cooking for the ritual meal.

'The vessel.
From the source, good fortune.
Creating success.'

Hexagram 50, the Oracle

This is an exceptionally fortunate beginning, because everything is where it needs to be to invite and nourish the spirits - to foster a successful relationship with them, and hence a prosperous, peaceful realm.

The Tuanzhuan (commentary on the oracle) casts more light on the trigrams:

'The Caldron is the image of an object. When one causes wood to penetrate (xun) fire, food is cooked. The holy man cooks in order to sacrifice to God the Lord, and he cooks feasts in order to nourish the holy and worthy.'

The Tuanzhuan, Wilhelm/Baynes

Nourishing the holy and worthy suggests not just certain people, but these qualities (Bradford Hatcher has 'nourishing wisdom and excellence'.) And so the next phrase follows -

'Through gentleness (xun) the ear and eye become sharp and clear…'

In other words, xun is nourishing and creating li. But of course we know this: wood makes fire, and so also gentle penetration makes for clear understanding. This could be a picture of an enlightened culture, or a fully-conscious individual.

I think that helps explain the Image -

'Above wood there is fire. The Vessel.
A noble one sets her situation straight and makes her calling solid.'

This can sound very staid, no matter who translates it:

  • 'Applies principles of positioning to manifest higher purpose.' - Hatcher
  • 'Consolidates his fate by making his position correct' - Wilhelm.
  • 'Keeps his stance correct, making his orders hold' - Rutt
  • 'Rectifies positions and makes his orders firm' - Lynn. (Wang Bi reckoned the noble one is putting noble and base people in their right places.)

What does the noble one do? As always, the Chinese is more economical -

正 位 凝 命

正 - zheng - right, correct, straight, rectify. The character shows a foot stopped, coming to its right place.
位 - wei - place, position, status, court office
凝 - ning - to congeal, freeze, become solid. The character includes the component 'ice', and this seems to be especially about a liquid becoming solid.
命 - ming - mandate, destiny, or simply 'orders'.

Perhaps she isn't so much setting the world to rights as she is specifically coming to her own right place, finding where she stands.

How does this connect with the trigrams of wood and fire? Not with the kind of direct correspondence you find in - for instance - Hexagram 21:

'Thunder and lightning. Biting through.
The ancient kings brought light to punishments and proclaimed the laws.'

Hexagram 21, the Image

'Bringing light' is the action of li, and punishing or proclaiming is the action of thunder: trigrams map to verbs. Nothing so clear happens in Hexagram 50: instead, the Image seems to derive from the picture as a whole: wood in the fire is in its right place, and so is the noble one. You don't need to find a trigram to correspond to 'setting straight' or 'consolidating'.

Still… wood becomes fire. Penetrate in, and you see clearly. So maybe getting to your right place is the action of xun: gently penetrating into the situation and accepting the seals that give you your place; xun also means submitting, complying. And the original form of the character ming shows a mouth giving a command, speaking downward to someone who kneels submissively below, along with a second mouth oriented upward, as if responding.

Perhaps this is about bringing yourself into a living, responsive relationship with your own calling. Then that calling 'consolidates': it goes from liquid to solid, becomes real and has its place in the world, is no longer just an idea. The wood catches light. Unlike the Vessel, wood and fire won't last forever, but then that's not what they - or we - are for.

I Ching Community discussion

Stripping Away, no mistake

Hexagram 23, Stripping Away, is not generally much fun.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as a negative hexagram. But it's a rare reading when the sight of 23 fills one with joy. Stripping away means loss; usually, it means having something taken from you that you would really have preferred to keep.

Often it's a sense of life direction, a plan, a self-concept - though, of course, anything can be stripped away: material, emotional, spiritual or social. The name of the hexagram originally means peeling or even flaying, a reminder that what you are losing is superficial.

But then we're not wired to enjoy losing anything, and especially not our sense of purpose and agency. Hexagram 23 can be a particularly blunt response to questions of 'Where next? What's the next step?' -

'Stripping away.
Fruitless to have somewhere to go.'

Hexagram 23, the Oracle

Nothing doing: there isn't a 'next step' or a place to go. As the Commentary on the Oracle puts it:

'Accept and stop here
Look at the image
The noble young one respects waning and waxing as surplus and want
And as heaven's behaviour.'

Hexagram 23, Tuanzhuan, translated by Bradford Hatcher

In other words: this is how it works.

That's the point of line 3, too:

'Stripping away. No mistake.'


I've found Yi usually says 'no mistake' when we think something must be wrong - and it can be a challenge to understand why/how it isn't. Here at line 3, on the verge of stepping across the threshold between the trigrams and out into the world, we might well be gearing up for action. So Yi reminds us that Stripping Away - nothing to do, nowhere to be - is not a mistake.

As for why it isn't… the relating hexagram for this line is 52, Stilling: a time to stop. More from the Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the Oracle):

Means to keep still.
If time to stop, then stop
If time to move, then move.
When activity and rest do not lose their timing
One's path is revealed and clarified.'

52, Tuanzhuan, trans. Bradford Hatcher

changing to

Hexagram 23's inner trigram earth is solidifying into mountain: a natural boundary, offering solid footing where we can stop on this side of the threshold, look out at the world and understand how much doesn't need doing. (Line 4, by contrast, out across the threshold and looking for something useful to do, gets into real trouble.)

In my part of the world, November is a good time of year to understand this. Leaves are falling - and don't need sticking back on the branches. The trees are becoming dormant for the winter, metabolism slowed, growth suspended.

'Stripping away.
Fruitless to have somewhere to go.'

You don't always have to be going somewhere. Sometimes it's winter, time to rest - to slow down, not to grow. If time to stop, then stop.

I Ching Community discussion

Creating a business?

Episode 37 of the I Ching with Clarity podcast features a listener's reading. She's wondering whether her desire to create a business is her real path, or whether she could be losing herself. Her reading - Hexagram 48, the Well, changing at line 3 to 29, Repeating Chasms:

changing to

During our chat, I mentioned a previous episode where we discussed Hexagram 29 without changing lines.

If you'd like to share a reading of your own on a future episode, you're very welcome to click here and book your reading. It's free, and you don't have to use your real name.

More light outside: Hexagrams 30, 35 and 38

The next three hexagrams with trigram li outside are 30, Clarity (doubled li, inside and out), 35, Advancing (fire over the earth) and 38, Opposing (fire above the lake). Each one has a different kind of trigram interaction, but the outer light always seems to be expanding awareness: spreading the light of culture, revealing the opportunities in earth, and illuminating relationship and difference.

Hexagram 30, Clarity

Hexagram 30, of course, has li outside and inside, and so I wrote about it before - Light inside: hexagrams 13, 22 and 30 - and don't have much to add.

'Doubled light gives rise to Clarity.
Great People with continuous light illuminate the four regions.'

Light here is spreading from inside to outside: the great people's understanding, enlightening others. It makes a good contrast with the movement of water in Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms -

'Waters flow on and reach the end: Repeating Chasms.
A noble one, consistent in character and action, teaches things by repeating.'

Water flows in a single consistent direction; light spreads in all directions at once. The insight of the great people grows into a web of connections that gives rise to culture - and remember that the culture hero Fuxi, the same one who discovered the trigrams themselves, was inspired by Hexagram 30 to invent nets. Writing about this last year, I suggested 'that he’s the inventor of a net of concepts that captures the whole world and creates Clarity through its patterns.'

Hexagram 35, Advancing

Here, li is above kun: the light is shining down on the earth. It's daytime - 'Advancing means daylight', says the Zagua - when the sunlight acts on the earth, makes things grow, and defines the time we have for action. (Even if you imagine li here as sun, moon and stars, this is still light relative to earth - a 24 hour cycle.) It probably isn't coincidence that the Oracle text says 畫日, 'in the course of a day' (or 'by the light of a day', in Bradford Hatcher's translation) - and the bottom part of the hexagram name was sometimes written as the sun.

To grasp this, we need to imagine a world without electric light - no artificial prolongation of working hours - so that the sun's light is a precious gift, not to be wasted. Confucius was most unimpressed by a student who was caught napping during daylight hours; Prince Kang is the exact opposite of this, making the very most of his gifts and his time. Seize the day.

So to begin with, the sun is casting light on the inner trigram - showing what can be done, illuminating our capacities and gifts. The other way I've noticed li-as-outer-trigram showing up is as a light sustained - fuelled - by the inner trigram. In Hexagram 35, the Image shifts our point of view to see from this perspective:

'Light comes forth over the earth. Advancing
The noble one's own light shines in her character.'

Or in other translations, the noble one…

  • 'naturally radiates clarity of character' (Bradford Hatcher)
  • 'himself brightens his bright virtue' (Wilhelm/Baynes)
  • 'himself shines with bright powers' (Rutt)
  • 'illuminates himself with bright virtue' (Lynn)

It creates an interesting shift in perspective (as the Image often does): the king gives horses to Prince Kang as the sun gives its light to the earth; the sun rises from the earth, and the noble one's light emerges from their own nature. I'm imagining this as the raw, unshaped clay of character developed into 'bright virtue' and shining out.

Hexagram 38, Opposing

Light engenders light (in Hexagram 30); light shines out freely and creates opportunity (in Hexagram 35). But what if the light doesn't meet a response, or at least, not one at the same angle? When light shines over the lake, in Hexagram 38, Opposing, the water will bend the light, or fracture it into dazzlement. The eyes squint; those other people see differently. It's pretty clear that fire and water don't mix: the inner trigram isn't 'fuelling' the outer fire this time, though it might change and multiply our experience of it.

These trigrams probably get mentioned more often than most, because Wilhelm gives them a mention in his Book I:

'This hexagram is composed of the trigram Li above, i.e., flame, which burns upward, and Tui below, ie.. the lake, which seeps downward. These two movements are in direct contrast. Furthermore, Li is the second daughter and Tui the youngest daughter, and although they live in the same house they belong to different men; hence their wills are not the same but are divergently directed.'

Wilhelm is drawing on the Tuanzhuan, the commentary on the Oracle, which happily doesn't explain the divergence in terms of being property:

'The fire moves, but (only) upwards
The lake moves, but (only) downwards.
Two women dwell together,
(But) their intentions do not function as one.'
Bradford's translation

Literally, the two women live in harmony - the word used is tong 同, which we know from Hexagram 13 People in Harmony, and also from 38's Image - but their wills (/aspirations / intentions) do not move in harmony.

Unusually for the Tuanzhuan, this is often recognisable in reading experiences with the hexagram. There's an inner division: two people living in your head, who want to move in opposite directions. Sometimes the divergence is between emotional depths and clear awareness.

However, the commentary doesn't stop with the two sisters. It continues…

'Heaven and earth are in opposition, but their affairs are in harmony.
Male and female are in opposition, but their intentions are joined.
The ten thousand things are in opposition, but their affairs are related.'

That's 'affairs' as in the Oracle itself -

Small affairs, good fortune.'

So the opposing elements here do more than just move apart. As the Image says,

'Fire above, lake below. Opposing.
A noble one is in harmony and yet different.'

'In harmony' is tong as in Hexagram 13, People in Harmony. And 'different', 異 yi, is a weird and wonderful character that you can see here in its earliest forms, thanks to Richard Sears: https://hanziyuan.net/#%E7%95%B0 . My dictionary suggests prosaically that it meant someone carrying a container on their head - but what it shows is someone with a container, or something, for a head. It means different, other, extraordinary, strange, to divide, to separate, a foreigner.

I used to translate this as 'the noble one both harmonises and separates,' but I think I missed the point: this is about how you yourself relate to other people, making friends but without having to be the same. I'd like to think of it as permission to be the weird one.

Like the Image of Hexagram 14, this is not laden with direct references to its trigrams' actions; it just shows the whole picture of the two together. (Though you could say that lake harmonises and fire differentiates.) Perhaps the idea is that the light illuminates the inner life, the heart - even if that creates distortions - and all the conversation and intermingling that goes on within the lake's currents. You can empathise with other people and still see things differently.

So… elements that diverge can still be in relationship and work in harmony; indeed, it starts to look as though all those little differences are what create relationship, interaction and good fortune in 'small affairs'. And in the end - when we reach line 6 - if the others are sufficiently different (because you can't marry inside your own clan), we could join our people with theirs in marriage:

'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 matrimonial allies.
Going on meets the rain, and so there is good fortune.'

It's going to be quite some task, though, to get past the automatic perception that other = enemy.

I Ching Community discussion

An unexpected reading

Episode 36 of the I Ching with Clarity podcast - a reading of my own, received in a way that might be new to you. I was asking for guidance in a new situation, and the response was Hexagram 27, Nourishing, changing to 54, the Marrying Maiden. (The completely positive experience I had as 'marrying maiden' was somewhat unexpected, too.)

changing to

I Ching Community


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