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I don’t know the first thing about the Yi

Well, here I am getting started teaching week 1 of the I Ching Foundations Class, so it’s hard to think of a better title for a blog post…

Oh, I know quite a few things about Yi. I know some of its history and the stories behind its words, and how its components work together, and how to interpret what it has to say. Ask me what connects 48.3 to hexagram 29 in particular, or what to make of a reading where you receive it along with lines 1 and 5, and I could probably give you a sensible answer. Ask me about all the structural-interpretive tools I enjoy using, and I could probably write a book.

The first thing about Yi, the one I don’t know: why these words with this line?

Some millennia ago, some people somehow took patterns of lines and oral traditions of myth, history and omens, and put them together. They could look at




and know that this meant ‘Well’.

They somehow brought about a confluence of many streams of wisdom, and so they created something between a great work of art and a force of nature.

I play in orchestras, and I have trouble imagining how someone like Sibelius or Mahler conceives of new worlds of sound, never heard before, in his mind’s ear. But the mind that did this? I haven’t the beginnings of an inkling; I do not think I have the right kind of thinking apparatus. If I were in the least inclined to believe in visiting aliens, they’d come in very handy here.

As an aside – yes, I’ve read Wilhelm Book III and much more along similar lines, purporting to explain the line texts in light of line correspondences, trigrams and nuclear trigrams. This is a tremendously ingenious post-hoc patchwork of explanations: there is a wheel in 9.3 because the trigram qian is round; there is a wheel in 63.1 because wheels are associated with kan. The horse of 26.3 is there because of qian, the horse of 59.1 is there because of kan – and so on. Marvellously thorough and detailed work, but not (remotely) the answer to my question, ‘How was this made? How did they know to put these words with this line?’

We can imagine words and traditions gradually coalescing around lines. An obvious example would be the threads of Zhou history that found their way into the book – but which do look, pretty clearly, like threads woven into an existing fabric. Perhaps someone cast those lines at those moments and the divination stories became part of the tradition. We do something like this nowadays, after all, sharing and remembering the more vivid stories of our experiences with the lines. But this is still a long way from perceiving for the first time that


is the Marrying Maiden.

How is that done? I thought I would ask Yi. (Really, can you think of any other source to ask?)

I didn’t want to ask this one sitting at my desk – I took the beads outside so I could stand on the ground under the sky and ask.

Yi, what happened at this confluence of myth, tradition and gua? How were you made?



Small goes, great comes.
Good fortune, creating success.’

(A bird started singing as I reached line 4.)

9 responses to I don’t know the first thing about the Yi

  1. Hillary:

    Loved this — as I was reading your post, I was thinking about the brain )of course, you know me 😉 and the emergence of complex structures from bits that we could never predict would lead to That.

    Then you shared the hexagram Flow.

    And I had *just* scanned this presentation on the Theory of Everything:

    The punchline?: Form Follows Flow
    (and see the final slide where the note is made that the Chinese have known this for thousands of years 😉

  2. What priceless answer! I can think of a few others that could convince, but this has so many surprises. I know it as Mount Tai though. Is that wrong?

  3. Hi Kazza! Good punchline. Also – Yi as cosmic brain? (The trigrams of hexagram 11 look like the meaning inside the structure.)

    And Christopher – no, you are not wrong – 11 is called Tai, the name of the sacred mountain the ruler must climb to be ‘introduced’ to the spirits, to become a true conduit for the flow of spiritual power into people’s ordinary lives.

    Priceless answer, indeed.

  4. Words are a substitute for the description of the flow of energy. Words are not the energy, but can invoke the energy in ourselves, if they are successful.

    ‘Marrying Maiden” is the name of the hexagram that describes a flow of energies together that is similar to the process of a woman marrying.

    The inner hexagram is 63, the end oif a cycle, which is certasinly true of a maiden being married.

    In some translations 54 is labelled as the unwanted marriage. This idea comes from the smaller, hidden wheel of energy, which is 18 – 54 – 64 – 12.

    the more open, public wheel of energy represents the positive, happy cycle., going from 53,. progress, marriage, to the height of culture, 55, using the cauldron.

    The trigrams further elaborate on this theme.

  5. Great article 🙂
    I’m new about Yi and this article
    really help me understand it better.

    Hope to read more articles from you 🙂

  6. Where a person is and what they are into creates a different scope of focus and questioning awareness. The real issue is what prompts us to go from the bathtub to the ocean.

    Sitting in a room with your face into the wide web of the internet or a simple book will invoke your sense of imagination of what’s out there a bit but to go out and stand under the sky opens the flood gates of unending consciousness to all that there is about everything.

    It is a wise person who can choose their space to be in sync to dwell upon something of small magnitude or great expansiveness. It is about stimulus and depth of curiosity, need and perhaps to be consciously present to receive timely to you personally.

    I think that wide questions about the secrets of the universe stem from some accumulating lack of understanding of many mystifing (but ordinary) situations that lead you to the underlying curiosity that has built up over time. You create the force that no longer can be denied or pushed away. You come face to face with the center of knowledge.

    Your sphere of consciousness is being raised up a notch to be presented with a higher level of challenges. Although it doesn’t seem so, you have made progress and growth.

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