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What is Yi-jing?

The Yi Jing or I Ching is known in English as the "Book of Changes". It has been used in China and the East for well on three thousand years both as a divination tool and as a philosophical text for seekers of wisdom.

The following is a basic primer for those unacquainted with the Book of Changes and its symbols.

Basic Introduction:

The Yi Jing or Book of Changes comprises sixty-four figures known in English as "hexagrams". Each of these hexagrams has a name in Chinese, for example JIA REN, FENG or JUE. Each of these 64 hexagrams is said to represent a particular life situation or phase, and the full sixty-four are held to stand for all the possible situations in life. They are as such archetypes, and whether used in divination or as a way to wisdom, their study can help to make clear elements in life which may be at first sight confusing.

These hexagrams are constructed of six lines. These lines may be either broken in the middle or unbroken. The number sixty-four represents all the possible combinations of six of these broken or unbroken lines. The broken line is known as a YIN line and the unbroken line is known as a YANG line. The YIN line is said to stand for such qualities as darkness, passivity, yielding and receptivity. The YANG line is said to stand for such qualities as light, activity, firmness and creativity. However, these attributes are not fixed, as they are relative to each other and also relative to the situation. It is the interaction of these two basic line types in their collection of six lines which gives each of the sixty-four hexagrams its unique characteristics.

A more detailed picture of the situation represented in the hexagram is given in the text which goes with each of the hexagrams. This text clarifies the situation in terms of an image of some kind and usually an omen. It is known in Chinese as the TUAN, usually translated in English as "The Judgement". The 64 hexagrams and their texts are presented in a sequence and are numbered accordingly. This sequence is known as King Wen's sequence, named after the culture hero (around 1000BC) of the Dynasty in which the Yi Jing developed. Although alternative sequences exist, King Wen's sequence is the one in which the hexagrams are most usually given. The first two of the hexagrams in the sequence are QIAN consisting entirely of unbroken or YANG lines, followed by KUN, composed wholly of broken or YIN lines. Throughout the san shan edition, hexagrams are referred to with their Chinese (pinyin) name, followed by the translation of that name into English, and then the number of that hexagram in the King Wen sequence.

How is it used

There are two basic approaches which have existed side by side for almost three millennia: some have read it as a repository of wisdom and others have used it as a divination tool. Fashions have come and gone, and most of the great Chinese philosophers have at some point contributed to the huge corpus of literature which continues to proliferate around the Book of Changes. Some have stressed the former approach and others the latter, the debate at times becoming heated and mutually exclusive. In one's initial encounters, simply opening the book at random and reading the Judgement or line texts, while applying the overall situations of the hexagrams to one's past experiences can be of great value.


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