I Ching Reading: A Step-by-Step Guide
The I Ching (or Yi Jing, with Mandarin pronunciation) is an ancient Chinese text meaning The Book of Changes. It dates back more than 3,000 years to the Zhou Dynasty in China (the book provided the inspiration for the Zhou dynasty to overthrow the Shang Dynasty in 1070 BC). The book is a foundation for both Confucianism and Taoism (despite how different these two philosophies are).
Call me what you want, but the I Ching divination has given me remarkably good advice over the years. I started in mid-2002 and do a reading for myself every month or so. A reading involves tossing 3 coins six times, and recording the number of heads and tails. The pattern gives you an answer to your question.
What do I need to start?
If you want to use the traditional (non-electronic) method, you'll need:
- 3 coins, preferably those that have some meaning to you
- paper and pen
- a guidebook
I personally use three Dutch guilder coins, since my time in Netherlands has special significance to me, and with the advent of the euro, these coins are out of circulation. For my parents, I bought pennies off eBay minted on the years of their birth, of their immigration to the US, and of their marriage.
I keep the coins in a simple, small Chinese silk coin holder. As long as you don't accidentally use the coins to pay for something, you can store them however you like.
Another alternative, popular among I Ching purists, are Chinese coins. These are also available via eBay for about $5 a set (or less). You'll probably have extras to share with friends who are also interesting in trying out I Ching.
For a guidebook, I've used plenty, and strongly prefer The Everyday I Ching by Sarah Dening. It provides clear, easy-to-understand explanations of the readings in contemporary English.
(You can also do simple readings online nowadays. At the end of this article, I'll provide some links.)
Step 1: Ask your question
Ask an open-ended question (not a yes-or-no question), and if you want to reflect on it later, record it in your notebook.
The question should be something that you're currently preoccupied with, to make sure your "official question" and your "real question" (the one that you're thinking about) are one and the same. If you ask a question that's different from what you're really thinking about, the I Ching will often answer the question that's at top of mind, not the one you wrote in your notebook.
The timeframe should be over the next few weeks or months.
- What will my love life look like over the next few months?
- What should I be doing in order to get my career on track?
- How should I be balancing my work and family commitments with my need for fun and self-fulfillment?
Step 2: Toss the coins six times
Toss your coins, while thinking about your question, six times. Record the pattern of heads and tails according to the key below. The pattern of lines should go from bottom to top in your notebook. For example:
--------- X --------- = 6th/final toss; 3 tails
----------O--------- = 5th toss; 3 heads
--------- . --------- = 4th toss; 1 tail, 2 heads
--------- . --------- = 3rd toss; 1 tail, 2 heads
-------------------- = 2nd toss; 2 tails, 1 head
-------------------- = 1st toss; 2 tails, 1 head
This gives you a hexagram (6-lines).
You can also cut the hexagram in half to yield two trigrams (3-line patterns): an upper (4th through 6th toss) and lower (1st through 3rd toss).
Any changing signs?
If there are any changing signs, that means you have two readings. The first reading tells how things currently are, while the second reading tells you how they will be after the period of change/flux is over.
Let's say that all of your coin tosses yield Yin or Yang, except your fourth toss yields a "changing Yin". This means the first reading (before-change), this line is Yin, while in the second (after-change) reading, the line is Yang.
Step 3: Get numbered readings.
First, see if your resulting hexagram has any changing signs—any 3 heads or 3 tails tosses. If it does, it means you have two readings—see the note to the right on how to interpret.
Interpretation: Break up your resulting hexagram into two trigrams—your lower trigram (your first 3 tosses) and your upper trigram (your last 3 tosses). Then, find the number for the match in the grid below:
Step 4: Your hexagram's reading.
Hexagram 1 Ch'ien—The Creative
Heaven over Heaven
Be true to yourself and the creative forces of the universe will be at your disposal. Trust that fate works in ways that are sometimes difficult to understand, but that you are learning lessons that will serve you well in life.
Hexagram 2 K'un—The Receptive
Earth over Earth
Try to remain open-minded and open to criticism and feedback; they will allow you to grow and become wise. This is your time to follow since there you do not have enough experience to lead or initiate change. Maintain and develop your inner strength for when you'll need it in the future.
Hexagram 3 Chun—Initial Difficulty
Water over Thunder
You're facing a period of potential growth and a fresh start, maybe with some initial difficulty. The new situation can develop in any direction. Accept any help that is offered to you and stick to your plan. Allow the situation to resolve itself.
Hexagram 4 Meng—Innocence/Inexperience
Mountain over Water
Beginner's luck will run out. Seek support and guidance from an experienced teacher and be prepared to learn from your mistakes. (This divination sometimes comes when you keep on asking the same question again and again)
Hexagram 5 Hsu—Waiting
Water over Heaven
Now is the time to wait and have faith in the natural order of things. Take stock of yourself and your situation, and work on any insecurities that cause internal imbalance.
Hexagram 6 Sung—Contention Conflict
Heaven over Water
By forcing your viewpoint instead of accepting what comes, you've brought on opposition. Let go of your fears, doubts and impatience, and communicate with others to develop an understanding that will resolve conflict. Accept and respect the advice of someone wiser than you are.
Hexagram 7 Shih—The Army
Earth over Water
Be steadfast in your purpose and resolve, and exemplary in your actions. Be an inspiration to others, and enjoy their support towards achieving a worthy goal.
Hexagram 8 Pi—Union Holding Together
Water over Earth
Examination of your own actions and words for their sincerity will lead to stronger bonds with others. Be steadfast in your principles; don't give in to temptations and difficulties. Be true and sincere, and you'll achieve a lot.
Hexagram 9 Hsiao Ch'u—Taming Force
Wind over Heaven
Forcing your way will only bring misfortune. Remain focused on your plan and surpass obstacles with gentleness and decorum. Stay focused on the long term. Plant the seeds for success now, and reap a bountiful harvest in the future. Cultivate tolerance, patience, detachment and adaptability. Understand that all you have the power to change is yourself.
Hexagram 10 Lu—Treading Carefully
Heaven over Lake
Be careful not to step on others' toes and offend. Do not be subservient to those above you nor domineering to those below you. This will give you the confidence you need to succeed.
Hexagram 11 T'ai—Tranquility/Peace
Earth over Heaven
Now is a time of growing potential. It is possible to grow to great heights but keep your inner balance that has brought you here. Do not become complacent now.
Hexagram 12 P'i—Stagnation/Standstill
Heaven over Earth
A difficult period is approaching. Your run of good fortune has begun to wane. Retreat into yourself and have faith that things will improve sooner if you stick to your plans and don't give up.
Hexagram 13 T'ung Jen—Companionship
Heaven over Fire
You will work together with others towards a common goal. Deal with reservations and dissent earlier, to head off problems down the road.
Hexagram 14 Ta Yu—Great Possession
Fire over Heaven
By being to yourself and honest, you will enter a period of great abundance. Now is an opportunity for you to shine, but don't forget to keep your humility and integrity. If you abuse your strength, you will lose it.
Hexagram 15 Ch'ien—Humility
Modesty Earth over Mountain
Try to stay modest. You can deal with any challenge if you remain modest and don't lose sight of what's right.
Hexagram 16: Yu—Happiness/Enthusiasm
Thunder over Earth
Now is a good time to begin a new undertaking, but make sure your inner foundation is strong. You have the momentum and energy to see plans through. Avoid egocentricity.
Hexagram 17 Sui—Following
Lake over Thunder
Accept the way things are and stay steady in response to events. Inner truth and acceptance will lead to contagious happiness.
Hexagram 18 Ku—Disruption/Work on Corruption
Mountain over Wind
There is disorder. There is an opportunity to fix the situation by righting wrong ideas and attitudes. You need strength of character and decisive action, but first figure out where the source of disorder is. When you've identified it, work quickly.
Hexagram 19 Lin—Approach
Earth over Lake
Good times are approaching. Your undertakings will meet with success. People above you will offer help and support. Don't lose sight of what brought you here.
Hexagram 20 Kuan—Observing/Contemplation
Wind over Earth
You are receptive to the wisdom of the universe; assess yourself and the situation and see things the way they are, instead of the way you want them to be. The creative power of the universe works in mysterious ways, influencing situations and people.
Hexagram 21 Shih Ho—Biting Through
Fire over Thunder
There is an obstacle here, possibly an incorrect attitude that needs to be dealt with. Try to see the problem clearly. Forcefulness will bring misfortune. Use your inner strength to withdraw.
Hexagram 22 Pi—Adornment/Grace
Mountain over Fire
A person who does not try too hard to be attractive, but cultivates devotion to the simplicity of the inner truth possesses a grace and beauty that is obvious to everyone.
Hexagram 23: Po—Stripping Away/Splitting apart
Mountain over Earth
Everything seems to be going wrong. Attempting to influence the situation will only prolong it. Withdraw now, wait patiently, and allow everything to settle.
Hexagram 24 Fu—Returning
Earth over Thunder
Now is a time of increasing fortune. Watch and wait as things progress on their own. Consolidate your strength and energy for the time of growth that is coming soon.
Hexagram 25 Wu Wang—Correctness/Innocence
Heaven over Thunder
Do not anticipate the future or hold on to the past at this point. Nip cynicism in the bud, so intuition can flow and so that you can be receptive to the advice of a wiser adult.
Hexagram 26 Ta Ch'u—Taming Force
Mountain over Heaven
Remain calm and detached in the face of hostile provocations from others who seek to undermine your resolve. Your character is being tested. Hold on to your inner truth. Use these difficulties as opportunities to understand the situation better. Some people may be afraid and jealous of your spiritual progress. Ignore them and stay focused.
Hexagram 27 I—Nourishment
Mountain over Thunder
By feeding the desires of the ego, we encourage the growth of inferior spiritual qualities such as envy, self-pity, and distrust. Through meditation we cultivate tranquility and receptiveness that allows wisdom to flow in.
Hexagram 28 Ta Kuo—Excess
Lake over Wind
You are under unbearable stress. It is likely you'll give in. You understandably want to escape the situation, but that will only delay the inevitable. Constantly running weakens your resolve and worsens your problems. A time to stand firm. You are ready. Rely on your inner truth and integrity and you will emerge stronger. This might require a sacrifice, but you will see the fruits of your efforts if you persevere.
Hexagram 29 K'an—The Deep/The Abyss
Water over Water
Be at peace with the forces of change in life instead of struggling against them. Open your heart and adopt a detached, receptive state that will allow the universe to work everything out.
Hexagram 30 Li—Fire/The Clinging
Fire over Fire
Sticking to the right principles will give you the strength to live a joyful and fulfilling life, able to face difficulties with equanimity and attain independence.
Hexagram 31 Hsein—Sensitivity/Influence
Lake over Mountain
Following the right plan will bring about a happy union that is mutually beneficial to both parties involved. Be open-minded and diplomatic to receive benefits from external influences. To have a beneficial influence on others you need to maintain inner independence and integrity, acting from a position of quiet inner truth and humility.
Hexagram 32 Heng—Persistence/Duration
Thunder over Wind
You're facing a time of endurance, which requires perseverance and stamina. Be calm and sincere and be careful to stay true to your path and you will succeed. Remain steadfast. Do not yearn or hope for better things, and do not give in to pessimism, but remain constant and unwavering. Do what needs to be done with calmness, detachment and integrity.
Hexagram 33 Tun—Withdrawal/Retreat
Heaven over Mountain
Accept the fact that you are faced with unfavorable odds. Withdraw in order to set a strategy in place for a more favorable time to move forward.
Hexagram 34 Ta Chuang—The Power of Greatness
Thunder over Heaven
You're gaining power and strength, but beware complacency. Maintain patience, humility, calmness and detachment. Wait for the appropriate time to act and stay balanced. Avoid misguided beliefs in your power to influence things to your own benefit as the resulting misfortune will be great.
Hexagram 35 Chin—Advancement/Progress
Fire over Earth
Great progress. Keep your actions pure and simple, or your judgment will become impaired. Work on progress for its own sake rather than in the pursuit of selfish goals.
Hexagram 36 Ming I—Darkening of the Light
Earth over Fire
When surrounded by difficult circumstances, keep your inner light burning to help guide you through difficulties. Giving in to weakness or feelings of despair when progress stalls dims the brightness within. Set aside distracting emotions, and continue to work hard at maintaining your inner truth. You will enjoy slow but steady progress, so have faith in the creative power of the universe.
Hexagram 37 Chia Jen—Family
Wind over Fire
Cultivate the acceptance, humility, modesty and gentleness to attract and develop healthy relationships.
Hexagram 38 K'uei—Opposition
Fire over Lake
Resisting the flow of creative energy compounds negative attitudes inside us, which in turn increases resistance in a vicious circle. Everything we experience gives us an opportunity to learn and grow, but we must be willing to scratch beneath the surface.
Hexagram 39 Chien—Halting/Obstruction
Water over Mountain
Take a break from the situation and examine yourself for attitudes that need correcting. Seek the advice of someone whose judgment you trust.
Hexagram 40 Hsieh—Liberation/Deliverance
Thunder over Water
When faced with obstacles, look within yourself and see if there any negative attitudes that are presenting difficulties. Correcting them will bring relief. The work you have done on yourself will bring release, presenting the way clear for steady progress. Now is a time to step forward with confidence and balance. Don't brood on what has gone; just forgive and forget the past. They were lessons you needed to reach this point.
Hexagram 41 Sun—Decrease
Mountain over Lake
A period is coming which requires a return to simplicity. Restrict the demands of the ego to strive for success and the achievement of your goals. Your power is limited but by retreating inward and exercising self-discipline it is possible to rely on inner strength to get through this lean period.
Hexagram 42 I—Increase
Wind over Thunder
Great progress can be made at this time. Beware of complacency and remember the source of your good fortune. Be generous and share with others in a humble and sincere way.
Hexagram 43 Kuai—Breakthrough
Lake over Heaven
Resist egotistical influences in order to make a breakthrough. By resisting emotional overreactions, it is possible to defuse the situation before it causes problems.
Hexagram 44 Kou—Meeting
Heaven over Wind
There is a warning here that ignoring problems or dealing with them in a half-hearted manner allows them to fester and multiply. Listen to your intuition and examine any suspicions you have closely.
Hexagram 45 Ts'ui—Gathering Together
Lake over Earth
When a group acts together in a spirit of peace and harmony, its strength is magnified making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This needs a strong leader and a need to deal with the outside world in a calm manner.
Hexagram 46 Sheng—Ascending/Pushing upwards
Earth over Wind
Great progress can be made at this time by continuing along with the right set of plans. Ask help from those willing to give it. Nothing can stand in your way if you push steadily towards completion.
Hexagram 47 K'un—Repression/Oppression
Lake over Water
These are trying times with seemingly intractable problems and little progress. Face this time of adversity with calmness and equanimity. Take the time to self-assess.
Hexagram 48 Ching—The Well
Water over Wind
The I Ching as a wellspring of spiritual sustenance that is available to anyone who wishes to draw from it. But is also a reminder to treat that deep wisdom with respect and not to muddy its waters with frivolous queries or indifference.
Hexagram 49 Ko—Change/Revolution
Lake over Fire
Changes are underway. Analyze your motives and instill the necessary change of heart that will set things in motion. By acting selflessly, success is assured.
Hexagram 50 Ting—The Cauldron
Fire over Wind
Nourish what is good within yourself for the benefit of society at large.
Hexagram 51 Chen—Thunder/The arousing
Thunder over Thunder
Do not be shaken off course by externalities; if you are, take a long, hard look at yourself and correct any deficiencies you see. The truly powerful person is unmoved by such occurrences, being in complete harmony with the laws of the universe.
Hexagram 52 Ken—Mountain/Keeping still
Mountain over Mountain
What is needed is a calm observation. It is not possible to be still with strong emotions, so abandon them. Know when to lie still, and when to act.
Hexagram 53 Chien—Growth/Development
Wind over Mountain
Your goal may seem a long way off but with patience and diligence you will achieve it. Keep at it.
Hexagram 54 Kuei Mei—Marrying Maiden
Thunder over Lake
To act on desires is to fail to follow the right principles. There will always be desires and problems in relationships but by following proper conduct their effects will be minimal.
Hexagram 55 Feng—Abundance
Thunder over Fire
Live for the present, and make the most of this time of abundance and influence to achieve great gains.
Hexagram 56 Lu—Travel/The Wanderer
Fire over Mountain
The best way to proceed is to stay alert, cautious, reserved and respectful of others that you meet. Follow your instincts and avoid the cultivation of unnecessary emotional attachments.
Hexagram 57 Sun—Gentle
Wind over Wind
Gently overcome any impasses that are in your way. Be consistent and have well defined goals to focus on. This way changes will have a long-term and far-reaching effects.
Hexagram 58 Tui—The Joyous
Lake over Lake
To make life better we must have this or must do that, but the material gains do not bring lasting joy as there will always be something else to have or do. I Ching says that to be fulfilled we need to devote ourselves to the principles of humility, detachment, modesty and acceptance.
Hexagram 59 Huan—Dispersal
Wind over Water
Be like a warm spring wind which blows gently but with great persistence over the winter ice, gradually melting it and allowing the river to flow freely again.
Hexagram 60 Chieh—Restraint-Limitation
Water over Lake
If you know and respect your personal limits, you will have greater freedom of expression within them. It is wise to restrain the desires and fears that are the cause of troubled thinking.
Hexagram 61 Chung Fu—Inmost Sincerity/Inner Truth
Wind over Lake
It is not possible to reach any kind of understanding if we indulge in such feelings as pride, anger or self-pity. I Ching counsels us to leave emotional responses behind and to try to understand the truth of a situation.
Hexagram 62 Hsiao Kua—Great Smallness
Thunder over Mountain
When faced with difficult circumstances it is tempting to be aggressively, but acting this way will only make things worse. Better to follow a course of patient non-action, relying on the principles of humility, modesty and acceptance. Difficulties will eventually reappear; they are a part of the natural order of things.
Hexagram 63 Chi Chi—Completion
Water over Fire
Out of chaos comes order. This can quickly change. Avoid complacency, don't forget what got you this far. It is necessary to be on guard against falling into chaos again.
Hexagram 64 Wei Chi—Before Completion
Fire over Water
During times of renewal and transformation, there is intense pressure to succeed but, to get anywhere worthwhile, you need to proceed carefully, affirming devotion to higher principles.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.