Rules of Interpretation
If you are using the I Ching at all, you are almost certainly using a set of rules
for interpreting the results. And if you have done any reading on the subject, you have probably
learned that different people use different rules. Here is a summary of a number of rule systems from
various sources. As you can see, some are very simple, while others are complex. Note that
these are just “starter” rules; some users go into much deeper layers of analysis.
Wilhelm and Blofeld
Two pages from the end of his exhaustive 724-page text, Richard Wilhelm, almost as an afterthought,
includes some brief instructions on interpreting the results of consulting the I Ching.
He does not mention sources or any sort of justification for the method.
Richard Rutt, in Zhouyi, calls it “a popular form of the Song tradition passed on by Wilhelm and Blofeld,
who both learnt it from Chinese friends.”
When a hexagram consists entirely of nonmoving lines, the oracle takes into account only the idea represented by the hexagram as a whole, as set down in the Judgment by King Wên and in the Commentary on the Decision by Confucius, together with the Image.
If there are one or more moving lines in the hexagram thus obtained, the words appended by the Duke of Chou to the given line or lines are also to be considered.
Furthermore, the movement, i.e., change in the lines, gives rise to a new hexagram, the meaning of which must also be taken into account. For instance, when we get hexagram 56 showing a moving line in the fourth place we must take into account not only the text and the Image belonging to this hexagram as a whole, but also the text that goes with the fourth line, and in addition both the text and the Image belonging to hexagram 52.
Thus hexagram 56 would be the starting point of a development leading, by reason of the situation of the nine in the fourth place and the appended counsel, to the final situation, i.e., hexagram 52.
In the second hexagram the text belonging to the moving line is disregarded.
Ritsema and Karcher
Here is almost the same thing, in a nutshell:
Read all the basic texts in the Primary Hexagram plus the texts of the specific Transforming Lines that are indicated by your consultation. Read only the Image of the Related Hexagram.
Gregory Whincup in Rediscovering the I Ching offers some very simple, but slightly
1. If [the first hexagram] has no changing lines, the hexagram as a whole is the divination. Read its opening text and the Structure and Sequence sections. The individual lines can be read as aids to understanding, but they do not specifically apply. Questioners often make the mistake of giving too much importance to a line that does not properly apply to their situation, but which they find appropriate or attractive.
2. If there is one changing line, then that line is the divination. Take your answer from its text and commentary. Read about the other lines and the hexagram as a whole only in order to understand the significant line better.
3. If there are two or more changing lines, change them to form a second hexagram. The two hexagrams together are your answer. Normally, the situation symbolized by the first hexagram is seen as changing into that symbolized by the second, but the two can be related in other ways as well. Take your divination from the hexagrams’ opening texts and Sequence and Structure sections. The individual lines do not apply, but can be read to help you understand the hexagrams.
More simple rules, from Kerson Huang.
A quick reading consists of just reacting instinctively to the changing lines.
• If there are no changing lines, read the hexagram text.
• If some lines change, but not all, read the changing lines.
• If all six lines are changing, the situation calls for special treatment. In the case of Heaven changing to Earth, or vice versa, read the dynamic lines provided. For all other hexagrams undergoing total change, read the hexagram text of the changed hexagram.
According to Alfred Huang, Master Yin handed down these rules for interpretation
when there is more than one moving line.
1. If there are two moving lines—one yin and the other yang—consult only the yin moving line.
2. If the two moving lines are both yin or both yang, consult the lower one.
3. If there are three moving lines, consult only the middle one.
4. If there are four moving lines, consult only the upper of the two nonmoving lines.
5. If there are five moving lines, consult only the other, nonmoving line.
6. If six lines are all moving, consult the Decision of the new gua, the approached gua.
7. Since there is a seventh invisible line in the first and second gua, Qian and Kun, for these gua consult the seventh Yao Text, called All Nines or All Sixes.
[If six lines are all moving.]
Henry Wei includes these rules in The Authentic I-Ching. He makes reference
to Chu Hsi’s rules (see below) but his own rules are slightly different.
(1) When the hexagram obtained consists entirely of non-moving lines (none of its lines are to be transformed), the diviner takes into account only the idea represented by the hexagram as a whole as set down in the Major Symbolism (symbolic significance of the hexagram), and in the judgment on it by King Wen and the explanation by Confucius of the judgment.
(2) When the hexagram obtained shows one moving line (when one line is to be transformed), not only the Major Symbolism and King Wen’s judgment must be taken into account, but also the Duke of Chou’s explanation of the moving line and, in addition, both King Wen’s judgment and the Major Symbolism of the hexagram into which the original hexagram is transformed. In such a case, the original hexagram indicates the starting point of the development which, by reason of the influences of the moving line, will later change into the situation represented by the transformed hexagram.
(3) When two lines in the hexagram obtained are to be transformed, not only the Major Symbolism of the hexagram and King Wen’s judgment must be considered, but also the Duke’s explanations of the two changing lines, with special attention given to the significance of the upper line.
(4) If the hexagram obtained shows three lines to be transformed, its treatment is the same as in Rule 3. The three moving lines represent the three principal stages in the development of the situation of the consulting party.
(5) If the hexagram obtained shows four moving lines, the treatment is the same as in Rule 3, with special attention paid to the lower of the two untransformed lines in the transformed hexagram. (This rule is given by Chu Hsi in his I Hsueh Ch’i Meng; however, many experienced diviners believe that the meanings of the two hexagrams as a whole and of the four moving lines should also be studied for probable revelations.)
(6) If the hexagram obtained shows five moving lines, its treatment is relatively simple. According to Chu Hsi, only the Duke’s explanation of the untransformed line of the transformed hexagram should be studied for guidance. However, most experienced diviners disagree with Chu Hsi here, too, and maintain that the meanings of the two hexagrams as a whole and of the five moving lines should also be taken into account.
(7) If the hexagram obtained consists entirely of moving lines, its treatment is also relatively simple. Although it is advisable to consider the meaning of the original hexagram and of its lines, only King Wen’s judgment on the transformed hexagram need be considered in interpreting the prognosis for the consulting party.
Henry Wei has essentially rephrased the rules previously described by his brother, Wei Tat.
The only difference is the omission by the former from rule 3 of the text and “Great Symbolism” of the
transformed as well as the original hexagram; this carries over to rules 4 and 5 as well.
Chu Hsi’s rules
Chu Hsi was a founding father of Neo-Confucianism. In 1186 he published his
“Introduction to the Study of the Classic of Change” which contains one of the oldest set of rules
that we have. I have summarized them at the
Chu Hsi’s rules page.
The Nanjing rules
The Nanjing rules are a monument to human ingenuity.
How useful they are is another matter.
They were invented to explain the results of a number of examples of divination from the
Spring and Autumn period (722-464 B.C.) as recorded in
the Zuo Commentary and a work called Guoyu, “State Speeches.”
I have placed a summary of them at the Nanjing rules page.
So what to do with multiple moving lines?
Especially when they seem to conflict? Opinion is far from unanimous on this point, as evidenced by the varied rules above.
One might think of changing lines as progressing in sequence, with the transformed hexagram indicating the
direction of change.
Or multiple changing lines may be seen as reflecting multiple facets of a complex situation.
Transitional hexagrams and the steps of change can be used to explore this further; The Virtual Yarrow Stalks I Ching generates them automatically. For example, lines which alternately indicate fortune
and misfortune may be read as indicating that even though the outcome will be favorable, there may be trouble along the way.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but I have become used to experiencing situations which include both fortune
and misfortune simultaneously.
I think that this is why I am a Taoist; it helps makes sense of things. Remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for,
because you might get it”? Or the parable of the farmer’s horse, here taken from Alan Watts, Psychedelics and
A Chinese story, kind of a Taoistic story about a farmer. One day, his horse ran away, and all the neighbors gathered in the evening and said ‘that's too bad.’ He said ‘maybe.’ Next day, the horse came back and brought with it seven wild horses. ‘Wow!’ they said, ‘Aren’t you lucky!’ He said ‘maybe.’ The next day, his son grappled with one of these wild horses and tried to break it in, and he got thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors said ‘oh, that’s too bad that your son broke his leg.’ He said, ‘maybe.’ The next day, the conscription officers came around, gathering young men for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And the visitors all came around and said ‘Isn’t that great! Your son got out.’ He said, ‘maybe.’
Or, if you really want just one moving line, you could “punt” and use a method that generates
just one moving line.
There are a number of these, and the concept evidently goes way back. One pitfall with this method is to oversimplify, and
take a “fortune cookie” approach to the outcome.
For more discussion of this topic, do an internet search for “multiple moving lines.”
You will find a number of results on the
Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes.
The I Ching or Book of Changes.
Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher.
I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change: The First Complete Translation With Concordance.
Rediscovering the I Ching.
Kerson and Rosemary Huang.
The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation..
The Authentic I-Ching: A New Translation with Commentary.
An Exposition of the I-Ching or Book of Changes.
I-hsüeh ch’i meng (Introduction to the Study of the Classic of Change).
Zhouyi: A New Translation with Commentary of the Book of Changes.