This is the tenth part of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
As promised, this installment will focus on the practical aspects of the Yijing, namely how to consult the oracle using coins. We’ll also introduce the changing line texts.
Before getting into mechanics, though, setting and intention deserve a nod. While found elaborate ritual trappings are not necessary, it’s a good idea at least to clear your work surface of any distracting clutter and, for more serious readings, it can be nice to light a candle and some incense and perhaps pour a libation for the ancestors.
At the very least, before casting, take a moment to settle and center yourself, feet firmly on the ground, head floating, spine relaxed and long. In your own fashion, ask for and open yourself to guidance from the unseen realm. With your question or issue in mind, you’re now ready to cast.
So how is it done?
The Coin Method
The simplest method would be simply to flip a coin six times, counting heads as a yang line and tails as yin, and building the hexagram from the bottom up. So six heads would give you six yang lines, i.e.. Hexagram 1 Qian. Now there’s no reason you can’t do it this way.
But with this simplified method you’re limiting the possibly responses to sixty-four, leaving the oracle relatively tongue-tied.
The full-fledged method, by contrast, allows for two hexagrams to appear together, expanding the number of possible responses to a whopping 4,032 (that’s 64 squared minus 64, to account for redundancies).
The mechanism that allows for such profusion is the shapeshifting entity known as a “changing line.” With these changing lines included, we have not two but four kinds of lines: fixed yang, fixed yin, yang changing to yin, and yin changing to yang. To cover all four, we can assign the numbers 6 through 9 to the four possibilities as follows:
- 6: yin changing to yang
- 7: fixed yang
- 8: fixed yin
- 9: yang changing to yin
That’s our key, our Yijing translation code.
It’s easier to commit to memory if we notice that the odd numbers are yang (at least initially) and the even numbers yin (ditto).
Now we just need a method of generating a 6, 7, 8, or 9 for each position. The original way was to manipulate a bundle of yarrow stalks in such a way that you’re left with a pile of exactly 6, 7, 8, or 9 of them. That original method is still worth learning, as it’s a great way to slow down (it takes 10-15 minutes to generate a hexagram this way) and connect more deeply with the oracle. But—speak now, vox populi—we’re not going to cover it here unless there’s real demand.
Because we can still use coins, if we simply adopt the convention that heads = 3, tails = 2 and for each line we flip not one but three coins, summing the totals for each. For example, on the first throw, we might get heads, heads, tails (abbreviated HHT). Adding the values, we have 3 + 3 + 2 = 8, a fixed yin line. So the first (bottom) line in our hexagram would be a yin line.
Let’s take an example. Flipping the three coins a total of six times, we might get
HTH TTH THH HHH HTT TTT. Adding up the values, this gives 8 7 8 9 7 6.
There are two changing lines, the 9 in the fourth position and the 6 in the sixth (top) position. Whenever there’s one or more changing lines, the result is two hexagrams; the value of the non-changing lines simply remains the same in both hexagrams. Thus, here, the two resulting hexagrams differ in the fourth and sixth lines.
So from 8 7 8 9 7 6, building the hexagrams from the bottom up, our first hexagram is Hexagram 47 Kun. Then the changing lines (in positions four and six) do their changing act, and we get Hexagram 59 Huan.
That’s it for mechanics—it’s pretty straightforward. Do a couple of practice casts and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Now that we know what a changing line is, let’s take a look at the texts associated with them.
Changing Lines Texts
In addition to the trigram makeup, name, and judgement text, each hexagram has six terse phrases, one for each line. In an actual reading, you only read the line texts for those lines that were changing (6 or 9). So returning to our example above, 8 7 8 9 7 6, you would look up “9 in the fourth position” or “9 at fourth) and “6 in the sixth position” or “six at top” for the first hexagram, in this case Hexagram 47. Those two changing line texts—and those two only—are considered relevant to the reading.
You don’t need to worry about confusing yourself and trying to read all six changing line texts—unless you cast six changing lines! (And if you do, take solace in the fact that 666666 and 999999 are the two most auspicious of all possible Yi casts and speak of remarkable changes indeed.)
However, looking at all of the changing lines texts for a given hexagram can be a great boon when you’re getting to know that hexagram.
Typically, the changing line texts are all thematically related, either presenting variations on the main theme of the hexagram or depicting successive stages in a common process. Either way, taken together they can help to tell the hexagram’s story.
For example, Hexagram 31 Xian can be a difficult one to grasp—translations of Xian vary widely, and the image of Lake above Mountain is not (for me at least) the most evocative—but the changing line texts shed some light. From bottom to top, they include (in the late Liu Ming’s translation): “wiggling toes” (6 in the first position) and “twitching calves” (6 in the second position), “tingling spine, no regrets” (9 in the fifth position) and “flapping tongue and jaws” (6 in the top position).
Whatever’s going on here, it clearly has to do with an influence sweeping over the body from feet to head.
Liu Ming writes that this hexagram “delineates how qi moves up and through the body and is finally expressed…” and that it speaks of a “surge of inspiration.” Here, as is often the case, the changing lines texts flesh out the basic meaning of a hexagram, bringing that meaning into focus through vivid detail. And when it comes to divination, the changing lines allow for some eerily specific imagery.
Finally, we have everything we need to unpack any hexagram that should happen to come along, however surly.
Next time we’ll go through an example of how to approach an unfamiliar hexagram using the pieces we’ve covered so far—name, trigram makeup, judgement text and changing line texts—in such a way that the hexagram comes to life for us, which is the only way it can be of much interest in divination.