This is the ninth part of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
Part 9 – Hexagram Anatomy: The ‘Judgement’ Text
So far we’ve looked at hexagrams in terms of their basic trigram composition and their names in Chinese. Today we look at a third crucial piece: the phrase or phrases—usually no more than a few characters—that make up the so-called “judgement text.”
The judgement text is a central part of the oracle’s pronouncement: it’s the closest thing we get to a direct answer to whatever question we posed. It’s often fairly straighforward, as in “unfavorable for expeditions” or “favorable for taking a partner” (Throughout this article, I’m quoting from Liu Ming’s indispensable Zhouyi: The Heart of the Yijing)
The judgement contains both stock phrases (ones that repeat, with some variation, across different hexagrams) and phrases unique to each hexagram.
Let’s start with the stock phrases: words like “auspicious,” “no harm,” or “great offerings” that alert us to the nature of the auspices, i.e. whether all is well. These phrases can and do also prescribe sacrifices, just as is still done today in the living West African divination tradition of Ifa.
This is a topic in itself, so suffice it to say that there’s reason to believe the Yijing performed both spiritual
diagnosis and prescription. If we’re ready to take the leap of faith and allow that there’s an oracle at work, then the voice of the oracle is telling us (a) what’s going on, (b) whether it’s problematic, and (c) what sort of thing can be done to address it.
So, the common stock phrases (“no harm,” “favorable for crossing the great river” etc.) give us what we might call the general orientation of the hexagram: auspicious, inauspicious, or somewhere in between. And, in more cases than not, they tell us what to do about it: make offerings! (Whether this fits in with the worldview of modern practitioners is another point, although I will say I’ve been part of sessions where the prescription of ritual offerings to ancestors not only made sense to the client but ended up having a healing impact when performed.
Ancestral themes actually arise in a quite a few hexagrams—including 18, 41, 45, 50, ad 59—but that again is a topic for another day.)
Onto the unique phrases…
These are more specific, thematic utterances such as “a very strong woman, do not marry her” or “the roof beam sags.” These phrases hold the keys to interpretation: they fill out and elaborate the picture that the trigrams and the hexagram name have already provided. In the case of our old friend Hexagram 48 Jing, The Well, for example, the judgement text includes “the rope is too short or the bucket broken—inauspicious.”
Although the punctuation and thus the meaning are debatable (as is so often the case with this ancient form of Chinese), the text seems to be saying that auspices are poor in case of ‘technical difficulties.’ That is, the water may be fine, but if there’s a problem accessing it, then there’s a problem. In this way the judgement text fleshes out the meaning already present in the name of the hexagram and its trigram composition.
We now have three pieces in place: trigrams, name, and judgement text. Between them they yield up the sense, image and general auspices for most any hexagram. We’ve got enough under our belts now to make major inroads into the sixty-four.
For a few hexagrams, however, it will take one last bit to crack the code: the changing lines still have a role to play.
Changing lines are best understood in the context of actual divination, so next time we’ll take a detour into practical territory and discuss how to cast the Yijing using the coin method. Then we’ll be able to see how the changing line texts tell the story of each hexagram (regardless of whether any changing lines—6’s or 9’s—actually arise during a given cast).
Soon we’ll be ready to put all the pieces together and delve into the long-promised clinical applications of the Yi.