The I Ching is an ancient text. As such, there are numerous descriptions of what it is and what it has become. To keep things fun and simple, we are going to use a very brief description here.

The I Ching is comprised of 64 separate entries. Each entry is associated with a hexagram along with a collection of text that reads like poetry. Let's cover a few details.

Yin and Yang

The most fundamental basis for the I Ching is the concept of Yin and Yang - the two intertwined forces that drive the universe. Can't have one without the other. Light and dark. Sweet and sour. Etc.

A common way to represent Yin and Yang is with line segments like this:

These two lines are put together to create further symbols called trigrams, a stack of 3, and hexagrams, a stack of 6.

Trigrams and Hexagrams

The two lines representing Yin and Yang are put together in groups of 3 to comprise 8 trigrams which are considered to comprise the basic elements, like "Earth" and "Mountain". The trigrams are then stacked in groups of two to create the 64 unique hexagrams.

The basis here is essentially binary, 0=Yin and 1=Yang. The prefix "tri" means 3 and "hex" means 6. So the hexagrams are like a 6 bit value (2^6 = 64). They are read from bottom to top, so you end up with something like this:

This binary interpretation is not really used in the I Ching. But it is useful for our code. We don't need any fancy storage mechanism to correlate a specific hexagram with a given number from 0 to 63 (64 total). We can simply use the binary representation of that number to generate the hexagram. For example, let's say we somehow came up with 42 as our "reading". Then we can do something like:

>>> print("0b{:06b}".format(42))

and use each of the bits to generate a corresponding line for the hexagram. Each 0 becomes a dashed line Yin and each 1 becomes a solid line Yang.

Consulting the I Ching

For each of the 64 hexagrams there is an entry in the I Ching with a bunch of vague poetic like text. These 64 entries comprise the I Ching - it's basically a reference text.

Since the I Ching itself is nothing but a collection of 64 entries, how is it used? To "consult" the I Ching you must come up with a number from 1 to 64. And then you look up the I Ching entry for that hexagram number. While this process should be something intrinsically random, the idea is that you should be involved in this randomness and thus give a "reading" that is unique to you. This is referred to a cleromancy.

There are approach that involve shaking a bundle of sticks, flipping coins, etc. But once you have the value, you then just look it up in the I Ching.

Of course making sense of what the actual words are trying to tell you is another story. Seek out an old mystic living in a cave on a mountain for help.

This guide was first published on Apr 27, 2020. It was last updated on Apr 27, 2020.

This page (I Ching Summary) was last updated on Apr 15, 2021.

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