Posted by: lecubiste | June 24, 2012

How to Consult the I Ching


A friend has asked me to please put in my Blog a brief explanation of how to do an I Ching Reading. I offer the recipe below as one way, the way I most often use with others. Like any recipe, follow the directions carefully the first time, and get creative later.

I have been doing readings for others for around 36 years.  Much of what I know is drawn from the Explanatory Material in the Middle Section of the Wilhelm-Baynes Princeton University Press Translation. The rest comes from other translations, my own experience and intuition.

The process below will get you to the edge of the precipice.  You must look over and decide your path. Cling to the Void.

Approaching the Work

The Book of Changes is a work that survived the Chinese book burning of 213 BC, when most other books were destroyed.  It was consulted by Lao-Tse and Confucius. It has directed sages for millennia.

Therefore respect it.  It is not a parlor game.  Approach it as you would any oracle: don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer.

The oracle is mercilessly honest, and its sage advice can save one’s life.  It is perfectly matched to the human mind, so relax and let it embody your being without clinging to any hope.  The reading will only be as good as you allow it to influence you, so keep an open mind.

Formulating the Question

If a leprechaun offered one wish –  that you could get the answer to any question – what would you want to know?  What is the burning issue in your life? Are you in a quandary about what choice to make in a specific situation?

If so then the I Ching can help. I like to compare it to a deck of cards, face down. Pick up the top card and turn it over:  What is that top card – what is the first issue on top of your heart?

Don’t waste energy. Ask a real question, because you will get a real answer. The question could concern a business issue, a career question, a romantic puzzle, a historical matter, or any other curiosity that you have.

Asking the Question

I like to use a ceremonial method:  place your right hand on the book, and speak the question out loud. I do this because it forces the querant to verbalize out loud the matter.  This better connects the heart to the present moment, so one is not simply spinning around in one’s head.

It is a good practice to write down the question. It is surprising how quickly one’s memory fades.  The best of intentions does not help us to remember three days after the reading what we asked and what was answered.

This is important because we may need to return to interpret the answer. Days or even weeks later we may want to revisit the answer given.  The answer deepens in meaning over time.

Throwing the Coins

Take the three coins in one or both hands and shake them. You are going to throw them six times. It is very important that you stay in touch with the feeling behind the question, and let that feeling guide your throws.

Each time you throw the coins, count the heads and tails. Heads count for three, and tails count for two. Three heads is 9, three tails is six, and the other combinations give 7 or 8.

Write the numbers on the piece of paper next to the question, starting at the bottom. There will be six numbers from bottom to top. It will look something like this.

Sample question and throw

Determining the Answer

Next to the numbers, again starting at the bottom, draw the lines represented by the numbers. The six at the bottom for example would be a broken or yin line shown as two short dashes.  An eight would also be a yin line.

The difference is that in the case of a six, one draws an X in the middle of the dashes, while the eight does not get an X.  In the case of a Nine or a Seven, one draws an unbroken or yang line. The difference is that a Nine gets a circle drawn in the middle of the unbroken dash but the seven does not.

The three upper and three lower lines determine which of the trigrams or Eight Directions have resulted. Nearly all I Ching books will have a table showing how to determine which Hexagram has been produced from the upper and lower trigrams. The Hexagram in our sample throw is the Lake above the Mountain, number 31, and one would read the judgment, the Image, and the changing lines 1, 5, and 6.

Interpreting the Answer

The two Trigrams determine Hexagram 31, which one can find in the Hexagram Table. The lines that have circles or Xs, the 6s and 9s, are the changing lines, and are read as answers to the question. The Hexagram is shown as the vertical juxtaposition of the images of the Lake and the Mountain.

The relationship of each two forces to each other produces a natural image or phenomenon. In the case of the trigrams Heaven and Earth, nothing is higher than the sky, so if the sky is below an image, then that image is said to be “in the sky”, for example in the case of 14, Fire over Heaven is the fire in the sky, or the Sun. Nothing is lower than the Earth, so an image below the earth is said to be “in the earth”, for example Number 7, where water below the earth is water in the earth, or Groundwater.

One can read the general prognostication from the Judgment of each Hexagram. One can look to the Image for how to behave generally in this time. One reads the changing lines to find and understand the specific answer or answers to your question.

Sample Reading – Influence with 3 moving lines

The relationship of the lake over the mountain is that the lake flows down while the mountain holds still. A mountain with a lake on top will cause the lake to seep into the mountain. Thus the book says that the nature of influence is that it gently, slowly seeps in where there is an opening.

Note that the term influence literally means flowing into, exactly what the lake does, flowing into the cracks in the rock of the mountain. It is no accident that the language correlates exactly.  The I Ching is not a different way to see things so much as  it is a system that shows exactly how we see things, and this is reflected in the language we use.

I selected the question and came up with the numbers at random, so let’s see what the book says. The hexagram Influence is also known as Wooing, and the judgment is for sucess, persevearance helps, and marrying brings good fortune. Next we need to look at the three changing lines.

Line one indicates that there is an opportuntity to influence but that the time is premature and any action would be a waste of time. Line 5 says that one must influence from the depth of one’s being, and as such there will be no occasion for regret.  Line 6 suggests that influencing through empty talk is just that, empty.

In this case I would counsel the querant that there are three individual situations in their career to consider.  One will be too early to influence, one requires influence through one’s will and one’s being, and one involves influencing through empty chatter and should be avoided.

Finally, since there are three changing lines, the hexgram as a whole is turning into a different one by virtue of the 1st, 5th, and 6th lines changing into their opposites. This will produce the hexagram 30, Fire, The Clinging.


The new hexagram is the result of the matter. Influence turns into Fire, The Clinging.  The Judgment is read for the new hexagram but not the lines.  The result is Success, as indicated by the Jugment of Hexagram 30.

In Closing

There are many different ways to use an oracle.  I offer this one method as one that works for me and many others that I have observed over the years. I generally don’t throw the coins for others but prefer that they use their own energy.

Thus I “teach” them how to do their own reading. This allows me to assist with many readings in a day, and not deplete my own energy. I like to empower others to be self-reliant.

To interpret these results requires study and experience.  I have many different books and will often consult several to arrive at my best understanding of how the answer pertains to the question. What I have presented here is a rough overview, and there are many nuances as one looks deeper into the I Ching.



  1. is there perhaps a method
    to ask in terms of
    a yes or no
    or maybe if the question
    is a good one to ask?

    • I generally advise against yes or no questions because they don’t provide insight into the factors involved in the situation. However, even in such a case, the answer will still provide insight even though further information is not requested. Try to articulate the question in a meaningful way that helps to understand the issue at hand.


      • to clarify perhaps
        the inquiry could be the yes or no or perhaps such as yes,but or no,
        could be in regards to a question that is not just a yes or no answer question but on a topic or question where what is sought is not just a yes or no answer

  2. The question is how to align the question and the answer. One can ask any question desired. Sometimes the challenge is in interpreting the answer. Remember that in inquiring of an oracle one must have an open mind to the answer, no matter what one’s expectations are. My counsel would be to seek an expert or refer to the many books on and off line that provide insights into the responses of the I Ching.

  3. Thank you. I see two books in the image above that I’m not familiar with – the man of many questions, and the photographic I Ching. Can you tell us more about these? Do you recommend them for understanding the I Ching? Right now I mainly refer to interpretations by Barrett, Hatcher, and Lynn for my readings and also LiSe’s website – thanks, David

    • Both the Photographic I Ching and the Man of Many Qualities can be found on Amazon. I like the Photographic I Ching for its line readings. They are simple, direct, and easy to understand. The Man of Many Qualities is a great work of art. It has quotes from world literature for each line and for the hexagram as a whole. It is quite unique and out of print now, but I have found it used on Amazon.

      • Thank you.

  4. Actually the website in my post above should be –

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