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Monthly Archives: August 2018

Multiple moving lines, revisited

Multiple moving lines, revisited

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: 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:


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:


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:


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 to 18.

‘What about this new project?’ 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

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