Hilary Barrett, I Ching

How important are the changing lines?

(This post is about the basics. If you know them already, you can skip this and seek out something more sophisticated.)

‘How important are the changing lines?’

Someone emailed me to ask that: his ‘I Ching’ book had taught him to read one hexagram with one changing line for every reading, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) he wasn’t getting much from the changing line. He wondered how important they were – and he also wondered about the merits of this one-hexagram-one-line method.

I can sympathise. Thinking back to my very first I Ching book (Legge, picked up from the Oxfam bookshop), I found the lines alternately baffling and annoying – I’d receive a hexagram I liked and then a line within it that I really didn’t. Or, of course, a mix of lines where I couldn’t make sense of them together. I skimmed through the introduction, picked up the muddled impression that the lines were an addition by the ‘Duke of Tschou’ (whoever he was) to King Wen’s original hexagrams, and told myself it would be more authentic not to look at them at all.

Er, well… oops?

paperbag

Changed my mind a bit on that one.

The changing lines are the heart of the reading.

Receiving a hexagram is like being given a map of the territory; changing lines are like pins in that map to show where you are or could be.

In practice, this means that if the message of a changing line differs from that of the hexagram in general, the line always takes precedence. The hexagram may tell you something like, ‘You are sailing free in the middle of a vast and deep ocean.’ The line may say something like, ‘Mind the iceberg.’ It is as well to take notice of the line.

Also…

Changing lines change

By following their changes through, from solid to broken or broken to solid, you discover the second hexagram of your reading. The meaning of the reading as a whole is found in the interaction between these two hexagrams – so methods that completely discount the second one are not very helpful.

The traditional way of seeing this is to say that you receive one hexagram, some lines change, and this results in the second hexagram, later on. This should really be in another post… but in brief, I find it more helpful to see it as receiving the two hexagrams together as one – simultaneous, superimposed, mapped onto one another. The changing lines show the points of difference between the two hexagrams: they are the places of movement, or tension, or exchange. They light up because this is where energy is flowing.

(If you look only at which line positions are ‘lit up’ in this way, you see the Patterns of Change of your reading – a useful picture of the energies at work in your question, those that bring you here and those that can take you through.)

Also…

Changing lines interact…

They express relationships between different layers of the situation, or different paths or approaches within it. If they contradict one another, that’s because there are contradictory elements within the situation you asked about – conflicting desires and motivations, for instance, or opposing choices available.

…and their number varies

You might have one line changing, or six, or none. Each of these situations carries significance in itself – significance which isn’t available at all, of course, if your method only ever allows one line to change.

If Einstein said, ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler,’ then he would have appreciated the Yi. The complexity of the situation you ask about will be represented with absolute precision in the moving lines – their number, their relationships, the ‘conversations’ that go on between them.

We would, of course, like it to be simpler: then the oracle could reveal how all the complexity of human motivations and relationships is really simple, clear and logical as 2+2, a complete doddle to understand in 5 minutes flat…

(It seems that what Einstein actually said, in a lecture in 1933, was,

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”

…which is pretty much the perfect description of a Yijing reading, isn’t it?)

Obligatory rant

I don’t really need to say this, do I? I’m not a fan of methods of consultation that take all that elegant complexity and replace it with a single moving line every time. (The same goes for casting a full reading and then applying a formula so you can ignore all the lines but one.)

I think that approaching Yi with such a restrictive method is a bit like setting out to have a conversation with someone wise and interesting, but deciding first that he/she must be compelled to keep things simple and immediately understandable. How to achieve this? Well… you could gag and bind your sage, and invite her to point to flashcards with her nose. That would work.

4 Responses to “How important are the changing lines?”

  1. Alberto V. Miranda Says:

    Hello: I’m an I Ching student who has developed an I Ching-based computer. Take a look at the demonstration video. Any suggestions will be welcomed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX-Im7SCQ9M

  2. Hilary Says:

    Hi Alberto,

    Try joining the I Ching Community and posting in the ‘I Ching News’ section. That’s where people will be looking for new I Ching things.

  3. Susan Lee Says:

    Thanks for this one, Hilary! I received a question about this just today. I will be passing along the link.

    I share your opinion of reducing the message to one changing line just because it is simpler for us. I understand why Huang did it in his book; for purposes of a book, one cannot consider every combination.

    But in our personal practice, we certainly can — and I believe must.

    If one believes that the Yi is sending a message, and I certainly do, then you need to consider all of it. If you don’t, what’s the point of the whole thing? — how do you choose one, and decide that the others don’t matter?

    If you receive two changing lines, and decide that one doesn’t matter, will you not be looking at a “future” entirely different from the one intended by the Yi?

    Thanks for explaining this!

  4. Hilary Says:

    Hi Susan! Great to hear from you here.

    Mm – what you said. I’m actually more comfortable with a casting method that always and only generates one line changing than with casting a full answer and then applying a method to limit it. Seems rude…

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