What is the I Ching? The I Ching consists of sixty-four hexagrams (the six-line diagrams), and their accompanying texts (the “Judgment” and the “Lines”). There are many ways to choose a hexagram text to read. An easy method is to cast with three coins.
How do you use the I Ching? Collect pencil, paper, and three coins of the same denomination. Decide on a question and write it down. Shake the coins in your hands and then drop them on the table.
If you get three heads, write down a solid ––– line and put a mark next to it: — x .
If you get two heads and one tail, write down a solid line: — .
If you get two tails and one head, write down a broken line: – – .
If you get three tails, write down a broken line and put a mark next to it: – – x .
Do this six times, building from the bottom line up, to construct your hexagram.
Look up the hexagram in your I Ching book’s reference chart. Read the “Judgment” for the hexagram, and read the texts for whichever lines you marked.
You can also make a second hexagram by changing the marked lines to their opposites. For that second hexagram, only read the opening text selections (e.g. Judgment and Image), not the line texts.
Hexagram 30, Li (The Clinging, Fire), has a main text (Judgment) that reads:
The Clinging. Perseverance furthers.
It brings success.
Care of the cow brings good fortune.
The line texts give short comments on hexagram themes. Hexagram 30, Line 1 (the solid line at the bottom of the hexagram) reads:
The footprints run crisscross.
If one is seriously intent, no blame.
What does the I Ching reading mean? Since the ancient texts are open to interpretation, many commentaries have been written to explain the inner meaning of the hexagrams graphics and the texts. In our example, Hexagram 30 is made up of two “fire” trigrams (the upper and lower three lines), so the hexagram as a whole signifies “radiance.” However, fire is dependent on fuel in order to continue to radiate. So, we will achieve success when we make ourselves “dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos.” In turn, with that radiance, we can help illuminate the world. The “footprints run crisscross” refers to the hustle and bustle of the world and of our minds. The line reminds us to stay composed and clear-headed. (Translations and commentary quotes are from I Ching Wilhelm/Baynes edition, p. 119-121.)