Saturday, June 1, 2013

I Ching Structure

Up until now, my discussions on the I Ching could refer to any version of the I Ching. From now on, my discussion is specifically about The Christian I Ching, although much of it is also relevant to traditional versions.

The Christian I Ching, Part Four of this book, is divided into 64 sections, one for each of the 64 situational archetypes recognized by the traditional I Ching. Each one of these sections has a name, a number, and a hexagram associated with it.

The archetype name is a short mnemonic that helps us remember the archetype meaning. In the traditional translations, this name is not too helpful. It is usually an obscure translation of some ancient Chinese word. When I asked the question about this book’s outcome, the name of the situational archetype was, in the Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching, “The Arousing.” Not too informative, is it? I will try to do better in The Christian I Ching.

The archetype number serves as an index. When I asked my question about this book, I was directed to situational archetype number 51.  Once I know that my archetype is number 51, I can quickly look it up in the I Ching. So the archetype number is very important.

The archetype hexagram is a pictogram that represents the situational archetype. This archetype hexagram is useful, especially to those who are highly trained in using the I Ching. Even for those of us who will be using the I Ching informally, a basic understanding of the hexagram is helpful. So let’s take a look at those next.

A hexagram, in the context of the I Ching, is a stack of six lines. Hex means six in Greek. Any one of these lines can be either solid or open. The hexagram associated with the situational archetype I received (number 51) looks like this:
Hexagram 51
If you are mathematically inclined and figure out how many hexagrams can be constructed using six lines any of which can be either solid or open, you will find that there are exactly 64 possible hexagrams. These correspond to the 64 situational archetypes of the I Ching

The most basic element in a hexagram is a single line (either open or solid.) A solid line is called a yang line and is considered to represent the male energy. The open line is called a yin line and is considered to represent the female energy. You have probably heard of the concept of yin and yang. This is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy.
The I Ching does not assign more importance to either the yang or the yin. They are just different and they complement each other. As we will see later, either can transform into the other so what started as a yang line representing male energy can transform into a yin line representing female energy. 

The idea of male and female energy should not be seen as mapping to a man and a woman. Yin and yang does not describe a sex, it describes a type of energy. If you are a Carl Jung devotee, you may think of the yin as representing the anima and the yang as representing the animus. 

Just to be sure we are clear on this, look again at the hexagram associated with my situational archetype, number 51. The six lines starting from the bottom and working up are yang, yin, yin, yang, yin, and yin.

The next unit of organization in the hexagram is the trigram. Tri comes from the Greek word for three, so a trigram is a collection of three lines. In this perspective, we think of a hexagram as consisting of two trigrams, one lower trigram and one upper trigram. Hexagram 51 can be thought of as these two trigrams:

Notice that in this particular case, the lower and upper trigrams are the same. This is true for 8 of the 64 hexagrams, but the rest have different lower and upper trigrams.

So far, we have seen three numbers standing out in the description of a hexagram: one, three, and six.

One represents the individual line which can consist of either male or female energy. In Christian Theology, this one corresponds to the Unity, to God, which contains everything, both male and female.

Three is the number of lines in the trigram. In Christian Theology, this number represents the Trinity.

And finally, six represents the complete hexagram. In Christian Theology, six represents the number of days it took God to complete the universe.

So even at this level of detail, we can see reflections of some of the most important aspects of the I Ching to Christian Theology. Wisdom, apparently, does not recognize geographic, temporal, or theological boundaries.

In traditional translations of the I Ching, the hexagram is not seen as distinct from the archetype it represents. If I was using the language of traditional translations, I would say that in response to my query about this book I received hexagram 51. Of course, my goal in this book is not to create another version of the traditional I Ching, but to reinterpret the I Ching within the context of contemporary Christianity. From this perspective, the situational archetype is much more meaningful than the pictographic representation of that archetype.

There is one more aspect of the lines of a hexagram that we need to understand. This is the energy state of each of the lines. A line can have either low energy or high energy. Recall earlier I said that lines are fluid. The yang (solid) line can turn into the yin (open) line and visa versa. A line that has low energy is in a state of rest. A line that has high energy is moving, or in a state of flux. If a line is in flux, it is getting ready to turn into its opposite. Lines that are in flux are often called moving lines. The protocol you use to determine the lines in your hexagram will also tell you which of the lines is in flux.

Receiving a Response

Once you have your query and have completed your preparations (see next chapater), you present your query to God and request a response through the I Ching. There are a number of possible protocols you can use to receive that answer. Each is similar to the biblical (God directed) protocols discussed earlier. I will give you two possible protocols in an upcoming chapter. 

Regardless of which protocol you use, you will receive a response consisting of the six lines of the hexagram and information as to which of those lines are in flux, or “moving”. The hexagram, remember, is the pictographic representation of the situational archetype. The moving lines are pictographic representations of the energy state of the archetype. Let’s start by considering just the lines without their energy states.

Your response will consist of the six hexagram lines, any of which can be either yin (open) or yang (solid). In response to my book question (discussed previously), I was given the following hexagram:

At this point, you have been given a pictographic representation of the archetype which contains Wisdom’s answer to your query. But there are 64 archetypes. Which one does this hexagram point to?

To find the correct archetype, you start by dividing the hexagram into two halves, an upper half and a lower half. These halves are called trigrams. My hexagram response is divided as shown here:

Notice that in this particular case, the upper and lower trigrams are identical. In most cases, this will not be true, but this doesn’t change how we map hexagrams to archetypes.

Now that we have the upper and lower trigram, we use these as indexes in the Hexagram Index Table. The standard Hexagram Index Table is shown here:

Hexagram Index Table

To use a hexagram index table, use the lower and upper trigrams of your hexagram as indexes. Find the lower trigram in the first column of the hexagram index table. Find the upper trigram in the first row of the hexagram index table. Look for the intersection of the row containing your lower trigram with the column containing your upper trigram. Inside the intersection is the index number of the situational archetype that corresponds to this hexagram.

When I follow this process for my hexagram response, I found that my archetype was number 51 by looking at the intersection of the second row (containing my lower trigram) with the second column (containing my upper trigram.)
Finding Hexagram 51
It is cumbersome to always say, “the hexagram corresponding to situation archetype 51.” So I will use the shorthand notation, “hexagram 51.” You should understand these two descriptions to be identical.
Now let’s return to the topic of energy patterns. Each of the lines in my hexagram can be in a state of low or high energy. High energy lines are in flux, or moving. These are lines that are undergoing transformation into their complementary line. A high energy yin (open) line is about to transform into a yang (solid) line. A high energy yang line is about to transform into a yin line.

There are two reasons you need to know about the lines that are in flux. First, the archetype description in the I Ching will include specific information related to those lines. Second, the archetype itself undergoes a transformation into a second archetype called a resultant archetype. The resultant archetype’s hexagram has the same lines as the original archetype’s hexagram except for those lines that are in flux. Those lines all change into their opposite. 

When I was given the response to my book question, I was not only given archetype 51, I was also told that lines 1, 5, and 6 are in flux. Since we always count lines starting at the bottom of the hexagram and working up, this means that the bottom line and the top two lines are in flux. When I am writing a response, I put an asterisk after lines that are in flux. Then I draw an arrow pointing to the new resultant archetype. So the response I drew in response to my question looks like this:

You can see in the above figure that new hexagram is exactly the same as hexagram 51 except for lines 1, 5, and 6. These lines are reversed. These were the lines that I was told were in flux. 

Next you find the index number of the resulting hexagram. You use exactly the same process as you used to find the index number of the original hexagram; you divide the hexagram into a lower and upper trigram and use these as indices to the Hexagram Index Table. For my dialogue, my resulting archetype was number 12, as shown here:

Now I have complete information as to Wisdom’s response. I know the original archetype is 51. I know the resultant archetype is 12. And I know that lines 1, 5, and 6 are in a high energy state (in flux, or moving.) I complete my drawing of this response as shown here:

Next you go to the I Ching itself, part IV of this book. The I Ching is divided into 64 sections, one for each archetype. Each section has the following structure:

  • The index number and name of the archetype.
  • The pictographic representation (hexagram) of the archetype
  • A biblical reading that captures the sense of the archetype.
  • The Image: a discussion of how the reading relates to the archetype.
  • The Hexagram: a discussion of how the hexagram pictorially represents the archetype.
  • The Message: a discussion of what message this archetype is meant to deliver.
  • The Lines: Six sections, one for each line. Each of these sections has a discussion of the message that line is meant to convey.

When you dialogue with the I Ching, you start with the original archetype (before the lines are changed.) This is the starting point for Wisdom’s response. You read the entire description stopping when you reach the sections on the lines. 

Then you read the descriptions of those lines (and only those lines) you are told are in flux. 

Next you read the section on the resulting archetype, the one derived by changing the high energy lines. The resultant archetype is interpreted as where the situation is headed given the flow of energy in the original archetype. You read the entire section for the resulting archetype stopping when you reach the sections on the lines. You have already read about the high energy lines, so you ignore this section in the resulting archetype. 

Not all responses will have high energy lines. When that happens, your archetype is considered stable. You do not read any of the line discussions and you do not have a resultant archetype. 

For my dialogue, I start at the section of the I Ching that describes archetype 51. I will read the general description and the specific discussion relating to lines 1, 5, and 6. Then I will look up archetype 12 and read that description, but ignoring the section on changing lines, since I have already read about these in the first hexagram. 

The final step in the dialogue is meditating on the answer.  Sometimes the answer is immediately obvious. Other times the truth takes time to materialize. Even the most obvious answer will yield subtleties when allowed to ripen. God, whether speaking through The Bible or the I Ching, speaks in the slow moving right brain languages of imagery, metaphors, irony, and poetry to deliver the profound truths that defy literal left brain interpretations.

When you are finished with the session, blow out your candles and offer prayer of thanks to God for giving you this answer. Promise God you will reflect carefully on God’s Wisdom.

You should take notes on every I Ching session and save them. If you keep a spiritual journal, that would be a good place to keep these notes. For every reading you should note the date, the query, the hexagram, the flux lines, and the resultant hexagram. Make a note of any thoughts you had on any of the replies. You will often find that the use of the I Ching triggers dreams related to either the question or the response or both. Make a note of these as well. Don’t waste any communications from God. 

This completes the basic ideas of the I Ching. You ask the questions. God provides the answers. The I Ching provides the medium.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

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This page and the entire Christian Interpretation of the I Ching is copyright (c) 2013 by Roger Sessions. All rights are reserved. This material may not be copied or republished without permission.