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Nuclear hexagrams – why bother?

At the heart of every hexagram is its ‘nuclear hexagram’. It’s made up of its inner lines: 234 for its lower trigram, 345 for the upper. So for instance if your original hexagram is 18, Corruption –
– then by taking its lines 234,345 you uncover the nuclear hexagram 54, the Marrying Maiden:

Looking at nuclear hexagrams reveals neat structural patterns. Every hexagram resolves to one of sixteen nuclears; each of these 16 resolves in turn to one of four, which are the first and last two of the King Wen Sequence. But this doesn’t entirely answer the question of why you should bother with them.

In a way, you don’t have to. You can read and learn from the Yijing very happily for a lifetime without ever concerning yourself with the inner structure of your readings; many people do. However, if you do pay it some attention, you’ll find there is more to be learned from your readings. So I would suggest that if your question’s important to you, and you want to explore it in depth, then you include the nuclear hexagram in your contemplation of the answer.

Because there are just the sixteen nuclear hexagrams, they allow you to look at the issues involved on a simpler, larger scale. Each hexagram is a way of expressing or working out the potential of its nuclear hexagram. So when you deal with the hidden influences of Corruption, at a deeper level you are working on the core issue of how you ‘marry into’ your world – how you are dropped in at the deep end, and required to understand and work with things you’re not prepared for, and can’t control. Hexagram 18 especially brings out the way the Marrying Maiden finds herself in a situation whose rules and relationships are not of her choosing.

Another hexagram with the Marrying Maiden at its core is 11, Flow. This may not look as if it’s connected with 18, but below the surface it has the same core. The Marrying Maiden has bigger possibilities in her new environment than she could have conceived of in the old, familiar home.

So by looking beneath the surface at the nuclear hexagrams, you have the opportunity to see larger patterns emerging – especially when you study a series of readings. For instance, I recently had 50 and 14 for successive readings around a similar topic. This showed that at the heart of the matter I was taking a key decision about what does and doesn’t belong in my life – even though I wasn’t consciously aware of doing so.

18 responses to Nuclear hexagrams – why bother?

  1. I think it’s a bit of an assumption that a nuclear hexagram has anything to say about the “inner structure of your readings”. Plain fact is that the mind can easily connect anything to anything else. That 48 hexagrams can never be nuclear hexagrams I would have thought meant that you are not in any way expanding a reading by taking them into account, on the contrary, you are constricting it.

    I think people have been misled by the idea that a nuclear hexagram is somehow the inner situation, when it is merely the result of a mechanical procedure whose relevance is entirely to do with “Image and number” (xiangshu). To extend it to “Meaning and attern” (yili) is, in my opinion, a mistake.

  2. Clearly it’d be a mistake to get excited over what’s inevitably, structurally present (like 16 nuclears and 4 nuclears-of-nuclears). For the rest, it depends whether taking the nuclear hexagram into consideration makes readings more helpful, or not. Like I said, lots of people don’t feel the need for them at all.

  3. Hi Hillary

    This is an interesting debate… about nuclear hexagrams. Of course, I’m with you about: if you find useful.. use them 😉

    I had asked, after reading this entry:

    What would you like to say about the idea of using “nuclear hexagrams”?

    Answer: 28>2

    This is the process I followed about the answer

    My first thought was: it is an excess (due to the name of the principal hexagram)… better to keep the eye in the manifested realm of the hexagram(due to the theme of tendential hexagram)

    Second thought: “nuclear hexagrams” are like the ridgepole of the hexagram…. but using them could lead both to clarify (line 4) or to confuse (line 3) our understanding of the main answer. Everyone seek if this is helpful or not for him/herself

    Third thought: “nuclear hexagrams” are not original but later development to understand the hexagrams (what Bradford call “dimensions”). They are like an effort to bring new life to an ancient tree. What one needs to discern is: are this new development in accordance with Yi’s roots? if the answer is yes, then they are acceptable and brings new life (line 2), but if the answer is not, then they are like one-day-flowers (line 5)

    Fourth thought. I noticed second thougt was based on lines 3-4; and third thought was based on lines 2-5..like paralel contrast. So, I look at the last pair (1-6). Both lines talks about “no blame”, but receive contrasted ommens. Line 1 uses extra caution and the ommen is good fortune; Line 6 goes ahead and ends sumerged in misfortune ommen. mmmm…. better to use extra caution about this tool.

    Fifth thought. I put away the ideas, and look only the lineal images. With the picture of both hexagrams (principal and tendential), it came clearly to me that the changing lines was the lines that form the “nuclear hexagram”. It came to me: the diference between principal and tendential hexagrams is if you use or don’t use those lines to form a nuclear hexagram. If you use them (yang) it is 28; if you don’t use them (yinn), it is 2.

    From here, my understanding is like the Yi saying: use extremely caution about this issue; discern if this is in accordance with the root of the Wisdom and examinate the effects on your undertanding of the answers. Choose receptiveness above over-analysis.

    (Of course, I’m aware that this interpretation is/could be biased by my previous opinion about this issue described in http://www.onlineclarity.co.uk/friends/showthread.php?t=2998)

    Anyhow, i find the answer of some interest to share it.

    Best wishes

  4. Personally, I find more richness of interpretation by focusing on the individual nuclear trigrams rather than their resulting hexagrams. I tend to agree with Steve that a fixed sub-set of hexagrams can be somewhat restricting.


  5. I work with both nucleur trigrams and with nucleur hexagrams, I think you can use them both.
    The nucleur hexagrams I used a lot with studying structures like the 12 meridians, or 12 astrology signs, the clock houres of the day etc.
    The nucleur trigrams are interesting to work with in the 5 phases and in the king wen and fu shi sequence.

    And these structures have a important place in our way of thinking, and by using them you can get a wider look on the structure of the hexagrams itself. And this gives you a beter understanding of the interpretation.
    But it’s what already have been said, if you like working with them do it , if not leave it. I like to work with structures and thats for me an important reason to use them.

  6. Probably the oldest records of Yi divination available on the web or in books are those obtained from the Zuozhuan with some of the divinations done by historiographers of the Zhou Court around 600 B C. In their interpretations, these divination experts had made references to the hexagrams, the changing line, and the trigrams of both hexagrams but not to nuclear hexagrams. Yet diviners who came much later generated more ‘meat’ by introducing new things to their own readings. With these ‘new’ inventions, can they really discern more from the prognostications? Highly unlikely, but what do I know, since every diviner have their own way of looking at interpretations.
    Ha, one would like to see how these later diviners use nuclear hexagrams for Qian and Kun – obviously they would counter that these two hexagrams because of their uniqueness have their own special rules.
    The divined hexagram, the moving line and the resultant hexagram would have already given diviners the answer. If the answers are not clear or deep enough, then we can look at the attributes of the trigrams that formed the two hexagrams. For omens, perhaps we have to look at the nuclear trigrams too to check whether anything has been overlooked. If the answer is still incorrect after deep pondering, perhaps the Yi may not have talked to us?
    If the answer to Jesed’s question is correct, then the Yi may be saying to him: ‘Do not delve into nuclear hexagrams and to move on quickly.’ [Kun – line 1]

  7. What you were saying jesed,a interesting debate, I also asked the Yi:shall and can I use Nucleur hexagrams.
    And the answer was 45 line 2.

    So I interpreted this as a way of gathering information. The most important thing is what you are doing with the information.
    and I agree with you Jesed take care for over analysing, the most important aspect is to stay receptive

    But it can be a extra dimension in a reading.

    And for me it’s no reason not to use them because they didn’t do that before
    They found the DNA code in 1953,it’s not that it wasn’t there before, they
    only revealed it after research and now everybody is thinking in terms of DNA
    Also in acupuncture there were first the normal meridians and later came the extra ordinary meridians, these last ones are even more fundamental as the first ones.
    So we people discover only something when we are ready for seeing it.

  8. Hi Allan

    Yes, that is also the opinion in the circle where I had learned traditional teachings about the Yi.

    Hi Frank
    Gathering together wich tends to Stagnation? mmmm

    My take on that answer (I repeat, only about the answer) is diferent than yours, based on the tradition I had learn:
    a) Using the Yi is a way to comunicate with Ancients Sages (judgement of 45)
    b) But the Yi cries because the consultant and the Sages are not gathering together. Yi hopes with this answer the situation changes and a real conection between the consultant and the Sages come (line 6 of hex 45).
    c) The tendential movement, if this advices is not taked seriously, is a stagnation of the Yi’s Sense (judgement of 12)

    Best wishes

  9. Hi Frank

    As far as one is aware, the sovereign hexagrams are used for the 12 meridian points and the later 12 astrological (animal) signs. These hexagrams are also used to represent the celestial stems and horary branches. How nuclear hexagrams fit in, one has no clue.
    For those not familiar with the 12 sovereign hexagrams, it is advisable to pay a visit to Steve Marshall’s Yijing Dao website to read about them.


  10. Hallo Allan,

    Yes I know them I also wrote about those and also about the ucleur hexagrams in these threads http://www.onlineclarity.co.uk/friends/showthread.php?t=315

    Hello Jesed,

    Thanks for explaining your view and the explanation how you read 46 -6.
    I agree with a part from your interpretation, but a part I don’t.

    But I have not so much time now and I’m going on a holiday so I will write you back at the end of next week when I’m back.

    BTW interesting that you also had 28 with the question about the nucleur Bomming and N Korea. In my opinion nucleur hexagrams and nucleur bombs can give us extra information about these subjects.

    Hilary must have a very sensitive feeling that’s she brought this up the week before that it happened.

    So till next week.

    Best wishes to you Jesed and also Allan

  11. On the subject of searching for meaning in something that is ‘merely’ a structural feature – that’s something I do a great deal. There are thematic connections between moving lines and their zhi gua, between hexagrams and their inverted pairs, between hexagrams and their constituent trigrams, between hexagrams and their nuclears.

    Yes, the mind can connect anything with anything else; it can also decide a priori that there are no connections to be found, and limit the places where it’s willing to see meaning. In working with Yi, I always prefer to assume that the meaning is there, waiting for me to catch up with it.

    Devil’s advocate speaks:

    There are only eight trigrams; dividing a group of six lines into two groups of three is a purely mechanical operation; trigrams are (probably) a later addition to the interpretive ‘toolkit’. Is it restrictive and artificial to involve trigrams in interpretation?

  12. Hi Frank

    Yes. I’ll wait your comment. I always find interesting things that you see than i don’t.

    Hi Hillary
    “…trigrams are (probably) a later addition to the interpretive ‘toolkit’. Is it restrictive and artificial to involve trigrams in interpretation? ”
    Beyond the issue about what was first, trigrams or hexagrams, now you are posting ANOTHER interesting issue: “tradition”/”modern”.

    Of course, the fact that something is later is not an a priori disaproval thing. Otherwise, we should remain in the tourtle-oracle… and forget about later Zhouyi, and forget about much later Yijing 😉

    That is what I liked so much about the constrast between lines 28.2/28.5.

    This is not about older/newer. Is about newer as organic development or not.

    I mean, if the newer developments are in accordance with the previous roots. This was (supposely) the criteria to discriminate among canonical texts and apocriphal texts, not only in the Changes, but also in another processes like that

    Best wishes.

  13. Thank you for drawing my attention back to the reading! 🙂

    You are right, lines 2 and 5 do indeed have something to say about the new as organic development. Willow trees have a unique capacity for regeneration – they make a lovely image for Yi traditions. Still… let’s not forget that at 28.5, Yi says that there is nothing wrong with the tree that simply flowers. Certainly a tree’s flowers cannot help but be an organic development from its roots!

    (I believe there is just one other line with the same phrase, ‘No mistake, no praise’: 2, line 4. Perhaps 28.5 has a related sense of a mysterious, hidden potential that is just not available to be judged as ‘good thing/bad thing’?)

  14. Hi-
    There’s a page on this in my Dimensions chapter with some info missing here.
    There’s a very good little paperback book with much to say on the Hu Gua by Charles Ponce, “The Nature of the I Ching”, available thru ABE.
    I for one am less inclined to use dimensions that were not around when the Zhouyi was written. When writing creative commentary instead of interpreting the original I found some use for them, but more for the nuclear trigrams than hexagrams. These seem to be centuries older.

  15. Hallo Jesed,

    I hope you will read this because it’s already some time ago.

    But here is my answer of 45-6. 45 is a heaxagram with a lot of emotions, but also one of expressing emotions.
    Till now the discussion about the nucleur hexagrams was more a polarisation than a real discussion.
    There was no real connection between the groups, (12), that made me sad(45-6 there were my tears and sobs comming from).

    In my study acupuncture I used the I Ching to go deeper in understanding what TCM was, when I found the nucleur hexagrams(together with the sovereign hexagrams) I found a beautifull tool to understand the body and mind better than ever before.

    And I was amazed that the nucleur hexagrams were that contoversial, for some I Ching adepts it’s almost like cursing in the church.
    I think that the nucleur hexagrams can give a deeper understanding of what nucleur energy, nucleur bombs and nucleur medical application are.

    Bradford thanks for the tip about the book of Charles Ponce, I already looked on the net for a copy, till now I only found expensive ones, and the cheaper ones where no international shipping.

    So if someone sees a copy please let me know I’m interested in what he has to say about the nucleur hexagrams

  16. The nuclear trigrams supply many of the rich imagery in the judgements and line statements. If one wants to know why “goats, toes, weapons or yellow” appear in the text one can look to these trigrams and their associated imagery (See 8th Wing) to find the answer.

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