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About I Ching Lines

black and white horses rubbing noses

Many people wonder which line prevails in an I Ching reading when there are many lines changing. Let me begin by saying that I do not feel that there is one way to explain the I Ching's hierarchy of lines. I have found that it is more important to be moved by the images each hexagram inspires. Each line is also a way to understand and work with the energy of each hexagram.

The Lines are Poetic

The lines of the I Ching were written in a cryptic and poetic style, not unlike the cryptic symbols in our dreams. We know that interpreting dream symbols never offers a 'one size fits all' remedy. Each line is an archetype of change that possess the same power to inspire change as the main hexagram.

In my experience with the I Ching, I observe how certain lines change because it is the only way one hexagram can be examined alongside of another. The first hexagram doesn't always 'change' into the second. Both are at play in considering the answer to your query.

The arrangement of the I Ching is very complex. It is entirely composed by the idea of Yin and Yang. The open and closed lines of the I Ching inspired Leibniz in developing the binary code. The binary code went on to become the complex information that we see by using only ones and zeros or open and closed circuits in our technology. It is an example how two simple states can evolve into life's myriad of expression.

When you combine the two, you get the Great Ultimate or the Taiji symbol of continuous movement.

Observing the Flow

It is important to visualize Tao's flowing behavior when observing the hexagrams to understand how two hexagrams flow in and out of each other. like the above image, Taiji is the state of an undifferentiated absolute or infinite potential of life. It holds both, and is the oneness before duality, from which Yin and Yang originate. Taiji can be viewed as Tao in motion through its duality (Yin and Yang) while Wuji is Tao in stillness before movement. The one becomes the two and the two become the 10,000 things.

Since September is the month that starts the transition from 18 Decay into something new, let's use Decay as an example for interpreting the lines. This will allow you to observe the deeper message of a hexagram. It is interesting that when all lines are changing in Hexagram 18 it becomes Hexagram 7 Following. We get a glimpse of how pruning and taking away leads to growth. Every avenue for remedy is closed and all we can do is Follow. This is not the same as giving up. We simply give up the illusion that change is not necessary.

Hexagram Ku (18) Decay is about remedying a situation and we are told to "work on what has been spoiled." Just like Autumn, decay and death are just points in a cycle before for the re-emergence of growth.

Change in Equal Balance

Line 1 describes a situation of neglect by the 'father.' It also asks us to investigate consequences where blame is released. If this were the only line changing, it points us to (26) Taming Power of Great or Controlled Power. Sometimes a situation is remedied by investigating actions that have been too impulsive or strong, spoiling an otherwise good situation. In this line, the 'father' is Yang or the masculine approach to change. No blame. Try again. Power should be controlled or the Stallion runs wild.

Line 2 describes a situation of neglect by the mother, where sensitivity is needed. If this line is the only one changing, it points us to (52) Keeping Still. It can suggest how emotional responses have gotten out of control and sensitivity is needed. A relationship is delicate and applying a remedy drastically might wound. Through weakness an imbalance has occurred. Someone is choosing not to act for the time being. Give the situation gentle consideration by Keeping Still and allow for the space needed for reflection. This is a Yin response and care of the Mare.

If both line 1 and 2 are changing, 18 Decay is set up alongside of 22 Grace. This inspires the idea that what is going on 'in here' is observable 'out there.' If we are sensitive to others, controlling our power and keeping still, we embody Grace.

Line 3 moves deeper into the lesson of Hexagram 18. This time, we are told 'minor' neglect of father and hasty correction brings about humiliation. This changing line creates (4) Youthful Folly, which presents the same image. Too much, too fast, too confident, too focused on winning and instead, we get egg on our face. The difference between line 1 and line 3 is the word 'minor.' Both involve Yang or aggressive behavior. Rather than the idea of trial and error and no blame of line 1, we are told we were too hasty and didn't give enough credibility to what we were attempting to remedy.

Line 1, 2 and 3 changing creates Hexagram 27 Nourishing Vision, a kind of 'time out' or repetitive theme as a nuclear hexagram that calls for reflection prior to proceeding. With only Line 2 and 3 changing, we get hexagram 23 Split Apart. The emotional insensitivity of line 2 is combined with the lack of consideration in line 3 so 23 is more of an image of cracking something open. If we imagine the lines as instructions and consequences - the discipline or punishment is in proportion to how hard headed we are. When line 3 is added to line 1 it is a similar response and we get hexagram 41 Decrease.

Each line is teaching us a message about how to remedy a bad situation in the correct manner.

In line 4 we correct what was spoiled by the father. If we can admit our mistake, we receive praise, otherwise humiliation. If this were the only line changing, we see hexagram (50) the Cauldron. The Cauldron or Ting is a ceremonious vessel, not unlike alchemy. It takes the punishment (correction) up a notch so we can see our error. We must really allow 'something to cook.' We boil a situation down to its base ingredient and this calls for much deeper reflection.

Break it all down - what are you really wanting to achieve in this situation?

If line 1, 2, 3 and 4 change, the hexagram of 18 Decay is set beside hexagram 21 Biting Through. Whether we are Taming our Power, Nourishing Vision, Splitting Apart or boiling the situation down to understand it, we are doing so Gracefully and are Biting Through so that we understand it.

Don't Forget the Two Hexagrams

While a reader can get overwhelmed with the meaning of each line, the more important image to consider is the first and second hexagram and how they work together. When line 1 (too much power) 3 (ignorance) and 4 (boil it down) are changing, the hexagram becomes 38 Opposition. What happened to the Mare or Yin of line 2? The situation continues to push back on us specifically because we keep pushing.

When we place hexagram 18 next to hexagram 38, why would we ask which line prevails? The reading is suggesting that we aren't seeing what is wrong (18) and that is why we are getting push back (38). We can drill into the lines as a sort of checklist.

Line 5 is often the highest expression of a hexagram's potential. In line 5, we set right the father's (power/aggression/force) corruption and receive praise. This leads to hexagram 57 Penetration. In order to have the command of Controlled Power (line 1) with sensitivity (line 2) without arrogance (line 3) and with deep insight (line 4) we can exert the type of penetrating power applied toward change that is described by 57 and the endless power and constancy it suggests. Meeting change becomes effortless.

Line 6 is often the exhaustion of the hexagram. Sometimes it is good to just let go and move on. When line 6 is active in a reading among other line changes, I often see it as the only time a hierarchy might appear. We transcend the entire situation and turn away to attend to something else. This line change would create the hexagram (46) Pushing Upward. Something important to us isn’t important to another, so we let go and move on.

Pushing Upward is exactly what happens during spring when something new emerges from the dying leaves.

I would never say that this is the only way to work with the I Ching, but this approach is how I see the blossoming of images within other images. On the main I Ching reading page I offer the line hierarchies that others have suggested. I don't see the I Ching in such a static way because it is based on the Yin and Yang and the Great Ultimate.

The I Ching is a moving intercourse of images, much like speaking with a Master makes us reflect. The answer is a give and take of information and the direction inspires, just like archetypes. If you are looking for cut and dry answers, you will discover the humor of the I Ching.

The Lines in Action

Hexagram 8 Union calls forward the image of 23 Biting Through when the top two lines change. As I mentioned, the sixth line is often the exhaustion of the energy of the first hexagram. Therefore, Union becomes a situation that requires more work or going back to the drawing table. Line 5 changed too, and it was the highest expression of 8 Union (you get more bees with honey.) With only this line changing, it would have created hexagram 2 (Receptive) which is so important to Union. Line 6 seems to have exhausted that path and Biting Through wants you to understand why.

However, the consideration of Line 5 and its appearance suggest that this path is still an option. So you can see why I don't give credibility to hierarchies. If you want to understand how 23 Biting Through applies to Union read line 5 as a possibility before the situation dissolves (line 6.)

Another example is when hexagram 6 Conflict moves toward 11 Peace. The sixth line exhausted the conflict, but all of the lines were changing except line 2. A reader may feel that line 2 has importance specifically because it was missing in action. That may be the case because line 2 offers a message that 'everywhere you go, there you are." Overcoming conflict often begins with a new perspective.

There are many lessons from each line that combine to teach us how Conflict leads to Peace. Perhaps that is why so many lines are coming forward to be explored?

When doing a reading, I recommend that you first and foremost give consideration to the two hexagrams and recognize how they are working together to answer your question. For an unchanging hexagram, the message of the hexagram is very important and calls for a high level of consideration. Read through each line to make sure you get the teaching each provides.

Consider your reading more like a mosaic, a dream or a poem. Don't look for answers from others. Trust how the oracle speaks directly to you - it will always speaks in your language.