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Book of Changes

Updated on February 1, 2017

I Ching, the Book of Changes, was the oldest known book in the Chinese civilization. All Chinese ideas, philosophies, and ways of life have their origin in the writings in this book. As the title implies, this book is about changes. It is about how Nature changes to bring forth the living things from the inanimate matters. It is about how the living things change to make life meaningful. It is about how these changes can be analyzed, understood, and induced. Specifically, I Ching can show why only certain things befall upon a person and offer guidance to navigate through them. Generally, I Ching lays bare the secrets to anyone who seeks to live harmoniously with the surroundings, peacefully with the others, and contently within one’s abilities in the society. Today, most people live a life of repetitious routines that numb the senses, suppress the feelings, but indulge only physical pleasures and induce only dreamless nights. I Ching can reacquaint people with the fundamentals of the mechanics of living to empower them to be the master instead of the slave to their destiny.


Feeling powerless against the harsh environment and the unpredictable weathers, some early humans seek protections and blessing from the imaginary deities. Some early Chinese, in trying to make sense of what they saw and experienced, they observed that Nature was dominated by two opposing forces – day and night, hot and cold, sun and moon, male and female, etc. When they interacted, changes ensued, new lives were generated, and more activities flourished resulting in the ever complex world that they had to face and cope. To help them understand and have some measures of control of their destiny, they came up with the following symbolic formulation at a time of no written language.

1) O = The invisible and incomprehensible force that is responsible for all that was, is, and will be.

2) —, - - = The visible and common place opposing but complementing and inseparable elements. Through their mingling and interactions, changes occur and lives flourish.

3) see figures to the right = The 4 bigrams represent the 4 major events in people’s life –

Birth, growth, old age, and death;

Morning, noon, evening, and midnight;

Spring, summer, autumn, and winter;

East, south, west, north.

4) ☰,☱,☲,☳,☴,☵,☶,☷ = The 8 trigrams represent the 8 major sights in Nature with their implied meanings –

☰ = Heaven (strong and long lasting),

☱ = River (pleasant and satisfy),

☲ = Fire (light and separation),

☳ = Thunder (vibration and division),

☴ = Wind (penetration and justice),

☵ = Water (destruction and growth),

☶ = Mountain (reliable and peaceful),

☷ = Earth (tolerance and embrace).

5) ☰/☰,☱/☰,. . , ☶/☷,☷/☷ = The 64 hexagrams represent the most common events/advices in a person’s daily life. Each hexagram is formed with one of the 8 original trigram placed on top and bottom resulting in a total of 64 possible combinations. For example:

☰/☰ = It is made of two Heaven trigrams. Basically, it encourages the person to be strong and industrious in the endeavors, generous and impartial in the judgments.

☷/☷ = It is made of two Earth trigrams. Basically, it encourages the person to perform the assigned task morally without complaint and to be loyal to the boss under any circumstance.

☷/☰ =The top trigram is the Earth and the bottom trigram is the Heaven. Basically, it encourages the person to carry out the mandate of the heaven and earth that is to use its resources morally and wisely to benefit everyone.

☰/☷ =The top trigram is the Heaven and the bottom trigram is the Earth. The country’s economics and political situations are in dire straits. A person is advised to be frugal and not to make wave at work or greedy in business transaction.

☲/☳=The top trigram is the Fire and the bottom trigram is the Thunder. A person is advised to employ one’s righteousness and determination as an example to the others.

☶/☲ =The top trigram is the Mountain and the bottom trigram is the Fire. A person is advised not to rush to judgment and not to resort to brute force to resolve problems.

☱/☶ =The top trigram is the River and the bottom trigram is the Mountain. A person is encouraged to open one’s inhibition to listen and learn from the others.

L6,L5,L4/L3,L2,L1 = The 6 lines (the bottom line is line 1 and the top line is line 6) that make up the hexagram divide the represented event/advice into 6 time periods from the beginning (line 1) to the end (line 6) with each period lasting about 10 to 20 years. The specific hexagram explains what and why the event/advice occurs while each line describes how the event/advice is going to change in stages.


The 64 hexagrams were and still are used to foretell a person’s fortune in business, travel, relationship, or anything that a person feels the need for guidance. Many methods had been devised to perform the task in choosing which one or more of the 64 hexagrams that will foretell the outcome. The following describes a simple procedure to demonstrate how the whole thing works:

1) Get any 3 quarters with the Head = —, and Tail = - -,

2) Flip each coin one after the other to determine line 1 of the hexagram.

For HHH; line X = —, also denotes that it is a dynamic line,

HHT, HTH, THH; line X = - -, also denotes that it is a static line,

HTT, TTH, THT; line X = —, also denotes that it is a static line,

TTT; line X = - -, also denotes that it is a dynamic line,

3) Repeat step 2) to get line 2 to line 6,

4) Look up the hexagram that is formed by the 6 lines and interpret the meaning as followed:

a) If all 6 lines are static, the meaning of the whole hexagram applies,

b) If one line is dynamic, the meaning of hexagram’s dynamic line applies,

c) If 2 lines are dynamic and one is — and the other is - -, the meaning of the - - dynamic line applies,

If 2 lines are dynamic and both are — or - -, the meaning of the higher dynamic line applies,

d) If 3 lines are dynamic, the meaning of the middle dynamic line applies,

e) If 4 lines are dynamic, the meaning of the least static line applies,

f) If 5 lines are dynamic, the meaning of the remaining static line applies,

g) If 6 lines are all dynamic, the meaning of the hexagram preceding it applies.


After around 2500 BC, with the development of the Chinese written language, scholars began to write down in details and precision what each hexagram represented, why and how each hexagram explained a unique event/advice in people’s daily life. More significantly, moral values and social and family orders were annotated to stress that even though good and evil were natural occurrence, human beings were able to distinguish the difference and a harmonious society demanded more good than evil. Every living thing in Nature exited for a purpose and served a function without knowing what, why, and how. Human beings were able to comprehend their natural orders and society will fall apart without one. No living thing could survive the merciless Nature without the unconditional care and protection of the family. Human beings were no exception. A strong and united family was the building block of a healthy society. A society wherein the participants knew their places and performed their duties to the best abilities will lead to a long and lasting nation. After several hundred years and the works of many scholars, I Ching was and still is regarded as the original and essential philosophical literature to be studied by any Chinese who was and still is interested in the essence of the Chinese culture.


I Ching is the oldest known written record on how early Chinese used a symbolic system to understand and explain all the happenings in Nature and what was the role of human beings in it. Initially, I Ching’s primarily practical application was fortunetelling. With the development of written language, the symbolic system was transformed into a beautiful versed philosophical literature on how a person should conduct oneself at home and in society, how to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with the others, and how to avoid pitfalls to be successful in business. Its context has remained unchanged for 2 thousand years. Most importantly, I Ching laid the ground work for all philosophical and literary developments in China. Its influence on Taoism and Confucianism were obvious and unmistakable. It is the soul of the only civilization on Earth that has continued without interruption more than 5000 years ago to the present day.


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