The Basics

yi hex 29 30 laiThe I Ching consists of hexagrams (the six-line diagrams), and their accompanying texts: the “Judgment” and the “Lines.” An example is Hexagram 30, Li  (The Clinging, Fire). Its judgment reads:

The Clinging. Perseverance furthers.
It brings success.
Care of the cow brings good fortune.

Each hexagram line also has a short texts. For example, 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.

Since the texts are open to interpretation, many commentaries have been written to explain the inner meaning of the hexagrams graphics and the texts. For example, Hexagram 30 is made up of two “fire” trigrams, 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.)

A hexagram can be selected by using a method such as throwing coins.

How to throw the coins:
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, and 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.