The Book of Changes: What is it?
The Book of Changes is also known as the I-Ching. It has been used for over 3,000 years to gain knowledge of the future or to interpret how you should act. It is a kind of oracle if you like.
The book is one of the oldest classic books from China. Rulers, royalty, armies and all kinds of people have used the book for hundreds of years to make moral and strategic decisions. Along with the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Changes is one of China’s most consulted, translated and respected books.
Confucius has a lot to do with the book, as he added commentary, and it has strong connections with Daoism too. Changes are the key here. The book is about an acceptance of change and a willingness to act in the best way possible. Unlike Western thought, where things are supposed to have a cause, Chinese people often believe in synchronicity.
Synchronicity is the coincidence of events. So when thinking about the Book of Changes, this means that you only throw the right results at that moment in time. Western science would slate this idea completely.
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So how do you consult the Book of Changes?
The book works with numbers. It is a form of cleromancy, where objects, like dice, are cast to find answers or consult spiritual agents. The supernatural is supposed to intervene in the result of your throw. People typically throw coins when consulting the Book of Changes.
Originally there were only 16 combinations to look up. But there are 84 hexagrams in the book we have today, and each has different meanings and advice.
A hexagram is made up of six lines, and they can be broken (yin line) or solid (yang line).
You toss coins to get the pattern of the hexagram – a total of six throws of three coins. But before you do this you need to ask a very specific question and keep it in your mind while you throw the coins.
If you are choosing Chinese coins, there are no clear heads and tails so you will need to choose which one is which and stick to that.
You create your hexagram from the bottom up. So the sixth throw will be your top line. Each tail has a value of 2 and each head a value of 3. So each throw of three coins will give you a total number: 9 (three heads), 8 (two heads and one tail), 7 (one head and two tails) or 6 (three tails).
The four numbers are also broken down into old and new, so 9 is old yang, 8 is young yin, 7 is young yang, and 6 is old yin.
The changing lines are 6 and 9, so if you don’t get either of these then, overall it means that things are pretty steady with you right now.
Three heads and three tails is a special result as it produces a second hexagram.
Once you have thrown, you will divide you hexagram into an upper and lower trigram. You should have a chart in your book that helps you find your hexagram and the page to look it up.
Now comes the tricky part! Interpreting your reading. Confucius even said that he needed another 50 years to fully understand the book and he was an old man when he said it.
The readings are complex. Some things may stand out as meaningful to you instantly, while others may need you to spend some time reflecting on the answers. A few days may pass when it suddenly hits you what something meant.
Most of all, perhaps, it is about you thinking about yourself, reflecting on your circumstances and the changes that happen all the time and forever. Everything is born, develops, declines and dies before being reborn in some form. That is why it is called the Book of Changes.
Carl Jung, the famous psychotherapist, said in an introduction to the 1950 I-Ching translation, “for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom — if there be such – it seems to be the right book. To one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night.”
Each hexagram has three or four pages about it. Some say when we read the Book of Changes we find personal meaning in something that could apply to anyone. Or that we see what we want to see in the reading and ignore the stuff that doesn’t coincide with our beliefs. This is called the Barnum Effect.
The first couple of sections are the ones you should focus on as a beginner (‘name and keywords,’ ‘response’ and ‘transforming lines’). When you are more comfortable with the whole thing then you can go in depth and read ‘myths for a change ‘the scholar speaks’ and ‘the shaman speaks.’
No 45 has the name ‘Gathering them/Great works’ and keywords are ‘gather,’ ‘collect,’ ‘crowds’ and ‘a great effort brings a great reward.’
In this one we read, ‘unite people and things through a common feeling or goal.’ But there are also complex aspects in other parts of this. Later it says ‘as soon as you gather together with others, a flood of sorrow and painful memories swamps you.’ So – is the book saying coming together is positive or not?
See what I mean about needing to do some soul searching and real thinking. It may come and it may not. You can consult the Book of Changes whenever you have something on your mind.
But do not consult it for anyone else. And be very clear about your question or situation before you throw the coins. Otherwise, the answer won’t be clear either.
You can buy the Book of Changes in translation too, but some of them are more easily understood than others. Older translations into English can be pretty sexist so translators have put it into more gender-neutral language.