Someone had asked me this week what a hexagram was. It occurred to me that I may be putting the cart before the horse when telling you all about the I Ching without first explaining this important concept. My audience is not always people that have previously studied the Tao Te Ching or the I Ching, so my apologies for not writing this post sooner!
Thank you for the question.
In short, a hexagram is a linear representation of an ancient energy pattern. It looks like this…
There are six lines in total for each one and there are 64 hexagrams in the I Ching.
Each hexagram is made up of two trigrams. There are 8 different trigrams: earth, heaven, lake, wind, fire, water, thunder and mountain. The top three lines of the hexagram represent the top trigram, and the bottom three lines represent the bottom trigram. In the case above, the top three lines represent “mountain” and the bottom three lines represent “wind”. All of the possible combinations of top and bottom trigrams makes 64 (8×8 = 64).
Each trigram holds a special pattern. We all know these patterns, even if we have never even heard about the I Ching. What does a mountain represent? Close your eyes and think about that for a moment before reading the next paragraph…
Mountain represents solidity. Sometimes this is a positive trait, like family heritage that stays solid for generations… a pizza shop down the block that has been open for 150 years, for example. Sometimes it is negative, like when you are trying to get your two year old to get dressed. Mountains don’t move, but they also provide stability. All of nature has held these patterns throughout millenia. We all intuitively understand the energetic qualities of a mountain.
How did you do in guessing that? Perhaps you thought of other qualities of a mountain. None of it is wrong. Half the fun of it is finding your own interpretations.
In this particular hexagram (#18), it is WIND under MOUNTAIN. So the wind wants things to change, but it is getting stopped by the mountain. Mountains are pretty solid and unchanging, like the traditions we hold. The wind needs to blow and if it is stopped, things decay. The trigram on the top is in the dominant position so the mountain is definitely winning out over the wind.
So for each trigram, there is a specific energy pattern and when they combine it makes a unique energy combination called a hexagram. These energy patterns have been studied in Asian cultures for thousands of years through the Oracle called the I Ching. You could probably pick up a copy of the I Ching in any bookstore. They are fairly common. There are thousands of translations of the I Ching, dating back to the beginnings over 3000 years, perhaps thousands more than that. No one really knows how old it is. According to Richard Wilhelm, a leading I Ching enthusiast, it’s origin dates back to “mythical antiquity”. Gotta love that! Leave it to the I Ching to leave its origins as a mystery!
For thousands of years, the Chinese have consulted this oracle for many issues. It is believed that, by tossing coins in random combinations or picking up “yarrow sticks” to determine your six lines, you will be directed to a specific hexagram to give you advice for your situation. I have found it to be extremely accurate. For this blog, I am reviewing each of the hexagrams in order. I am learning them, too. I am not an expert on the I Ching, but I enjoy studying it and the more I study it, the more I know about it. It is very amazing how accurate the readings are, even though I am just writing a post about them. For each one so far, it has fit my situation perfectly as I read about it to write the post. I love how the I Ching is guiding my life.
Years ago, I bought my first copy of the I Ching from Hua Ching Ni. Then I had the extreme good fortune of meeting him in person. He is a very special being. He has written over 70 books on the Tao and has come from a long line of Taoist masters so he is very knowledgeable. I love his stories the best. I also love Deng Ming Dao’s books. He writes in a style that is very modern and I like his approach to the I Ching especially. I cannot imagine what they went through to create their own I Ching book! Wow. It is pretty impressive. Deng Ming Dao has a great explanation of the trigrams in the front sections of his book, The Living I Ching. Here is an interview I did with Deng Ming Dao years ago. If the topic interests you, I encourage you to explore it with me. Sign up with your email to receive my blog posts as they come out! I will walk you through the 64 hexagrams throughout the year, as well as other projects to study the Tao.
So what do you know about the I Ching? What would you like to learn about it?