Concerning Chu Hsi’s Rules of Interpretation
Chu Hsi (1130-1200), besides turning Neo-Confucianism into what would be the dominant school of Chinese philosophy for the next six centuries, in 1186 published I-hsüeh ch’i meng (Introduction to the Study of the Classic of Change). He was a firm believer in the I Ching as a book of divination, and the I-hsüeh ch’i meng is a distillation of the then-current wisdom concerning the origin of the trigrams and hexagrams, the use of yarrow stalks to consult the oracle, and rules of interpreting the outcome based on the number of changing lines. He describes his book as a collection of “old sayings,” and the examples of divination that he includes imply that the aforementioned rules had been in common use.
Two of the rules present problems of interpretation of their own. Below is a discussion of these two rules, followed by a summary of the rules which takes all factors into consideration. I am using the 2002 translation by Joseph A. Adler.
I. The rule for three changing lines
The rule for interpreting an outcome with three changing lines makes reference to the arrangement of all possible hexagrams as illustrated in 32 charts which accompany the text:
(The T’uan statement is the main text of the hexagram; chen is the question, or present situation; and hui is the prognostication.) This rule may cause some consternation to users of the I Ching, as it appears to require the availabililty of the rather voluminous charts to determine whether or not the resulting hexagram is one of the “first ten.” However, a close examination of the charts reveals a simpler way to implement the rule.
According to Chu Hsi:
|(the first of 32 charts)|
Above is the chart for hexagrams one (Ch’ien) and two (K’un). The charts all begin and end with different hexagrams, but they all follow this same pattern. The twenty hexagrams with three moving lines occupy the middle six columns of the chart. The first ten hexagrams of this sort (as described in the rule above) are shaded in the color of their original hexagram. Can you see what they all have in common? It holds true for each hexagram. (Several of the 32 charts in my edition of the book actually have a misprint or two, which in this case are identifiable because they do not contain three moving lines and are thus out of place.)
I read Chu Hsi’s invitation to examine the charts as a literary wink to the reader, challenging him/her to figure it out for himself/herself. If my understanding is correct, then the last part of the rule for three moving lines could be restated: “If the first line is a changing line we make chen the ruler; otherwise we make hui the ruler.”
II. The rule for all unchanging lines
What are these inner and outer hexagrams? I am tempted to understand the inner hexagram to be the nuclear hexagram. But Chu Hsi’s illustrative example clearly refers to lower and upper (though not strictly “inner” and “outer”) trigrams. In the previous chapter of the book, hexagrams are similarly described as a combination of inner and outer trigrams. And nuclear hexagrams are not referred to anywhere else in the book. As the word here translated “hexagram” is gua, which actually refers to either figure, my guess is that these inner and outer figures are trigrams. (Although this seems disappointing to me, as I would expect the results to include text of some sort. I must be using the wrong side of my brain.)
III. A summary of the rules
• If the hexagram has all unchanging lines, we prognosticate on the basis of the original hexagram’s T’uan statement, taking the inner trigram as chen (the question, or present situation) and the outer trigram as hui (the prognostication).
• When only one line changes, we take the statement of the original hexagram’s changing line as the prognostication.
• When two lines change, we take the statements of the two changing lines of the original hexagram as the prognostication, but we take the upper of the two as ruler.
• When three lines change, the prognostication is the T’uan statement of the original hexagram and the resulting hexagram, and we use the original hexagram as chen and the resulting hexagram as hui. If the first line is a changing line we make chen the ruler; otherwise we make hui the ruler.
• When four lines change, we use the two unchanging lines in the resulting hexagram as the prognostication. But we take the lower line as ruler.
• When five lines change, we use the unchanging line of the resulting hexagram as the prognostication.
• When six lines change, the prognostication is the T’uan statement of the resulting hexagram, except in the cases of Ch’ien and K’un (hexagrams one and two). These have additional texts appended after their line texts, which are used as the prognostication.