This is the seventh part of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
Part 7 – Hexagrams by Way of Trigrams
Last time we wrapped up our discussion of the bagua by introducing numerical correspondences that allowed us to practice a simple form of trigram divination. Trigram divination isn’t very specific—there are only 8 possible responses—but it’s a great way deepen our familiarity with the gua and their ranges of meaning. These symbols are the building blocks of the hexagrams, so it pays to know them inside and out.
We’re not going to dwell on trigram divination any further, but I hope you find some value in it as both a learning tool and a practical technique.
This time we’re going to build on our growing trigram familiarity to begin bridging from trigrams to hexagrams.
A quick overview of what we’ve got to work with: each hexagram comes with a few basic pieces of information. There’s (1) the name of the hexagram, (2) its ‘judgement’ text, and (3) the content of the changing line texts. But the simplest, and the only one that requires no engagement with Chinese characters themselves, is the meaning one can derive from (4) the relation of the two trigrams that compose the hexagram in question.
Today we’re going to focus on (4), the most elemental approach to coaxing meaning from a barcode-looking symbol.
Now not every hexagram yields up its secrets by way of this approach; I’ve yet to grok, for example, what the meaning of Hexagram 17 Sui has to do with its component trigrams, Zhen and Dui. But in many cases the trigram relations are intuitive and can these symbols stick in the memory.
The easiest cases of all are the eight hexagrams that consist of a single trigram, doubled: Zhen below Zhen, Xun below Xun, and so forth.
These eight are really just the hexagram versions of the trigrams; they even share the same names. Thus Hexagram 1 Qian is simply the Qian trigram doubled; Hexagram 2 Kun is the Kun trigram doubled, and so forth. (The other double-trigram hexagrams are numbers 29, 30, 51, 52, 57, and 58 for Kan, Li, Zhen, Gen, Xun and Dui, respectively.)
As one would hope, the meanings of these hexagrams are essentially the same as the meanings of the trigrams on which they’re based. So, just by virtue of knowing our trigrams, we already ‘know’ 8 out of 64 hexagrams.
Only 56 more to go 🙂
First, what is the relation between the upper and the lower trigram? The upper trigram can be regarded as just that (upper, on top of the other one). But it can also be seen as outside, with the lower trigram as inside. Thus Hexagram 36 Mingyi, consisting of Earth over Fire, can also be understood as depicting Fire within Earth. This way of thinking suggests Fire’s radiance being contained within an Earthen vessel. Here Fire is harnessed and moderated; this is no fireworks display but a practical application of firepower for cooking or heating, for example.
Now, to jump directly to a medical application, take a moment to ask yourself what Fire within Earth might represent in the body.
There are different possibilities, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the digestive fire or Spleen yang: that is, yang energy rooted in the earthen vessel of the stomach and intestines. Hexagram 36 is a beautiful picture of healthy digestive fire: not flaring or even outwardly apparent, the Fire is safely insulated by Earth.
What herb, then, might be called to mind by Hexagram 36?
Something to supplement the Spleen yang fits the bill: Ganjiang (dried ginger) is a good candidate, being spicy and strongly warming (fiery) with an affinity for the Earth organs. By another token, though, one might name Huanglian: this medicinal is specific for descending flaring Fire and helping it to remain in the Earth realm where it can act safely.
Ganjiang warms the Spleen while Huanglian clears Heart Fire, but Hexagram 36 reminds us that these are related ideas, since Fire that’s not well-contained will tend to flare upwards.
What about a formula?
Lizhong Wan is a possibility, being Spleen yang specific; perhaps even nearer the mark is Banxia Xie Xin Tang, which features
both Ganjiang and Huanglian. (Since Banxia Xie Xin Tang treats Pi, that is a sensation of obstruction at the epigastrium, we also have to keep it in mind in connection with Hexagram 12 Pi.)
What about an acupuncture point for Hexagram 36?
Or interpreting Fire more literally, we might do some moxa—where else but on the Stomach/Spleen channels, or on the abdomen itself. Abdominal moxa is a Hexagram 36 treatment par excellence.
That’s plenty by way of examples. I hope they serve to show the beauty of understanding herbs, formulas and techniques in terms of their representative hexagrams: the symbols show us the connections between what we might otherwise see as separate concepts. Here, Hexagram 36 reminds us that maintaining strong digestive fire and staying calm and grounded are two sides of the same coin.
They’re both about the relationship between Fire and Earth.
Next time we’ll wade deeper into the waters of the hexagrams and continue interpreting them in terms of their trigrams. A morsel to chew in the meantime: What’s the potential medical relevance of Hexagram 63 Jiji (Fire within Water), and how does it differ from Hexagram 36?