Some things to try to avoid in your Yijing practice

You have to be careful of addictive questioning. While on the one hand asking a lot of questions one after the other is a good way to get to know the oracle and can be consoling during very difficult periods such as 'The Dark Night of the Soul', on the other hand such a practice can temporarily create a confusing illusory world, and even lead to you hardly taking any action at all without first consulting the Yijing. If you get very interested in the Yi, I would even go so far as to say that a phase of addictive questioning may even be inevitable. Just put the book aside for a while and it will clear of its own accord.

I read on a website a woman's comment about how some of the moving lines you can receive are 'gruesome'. A person quite rightly responded that even the supposedly 'bad' lines are not really bad since they are just states of change and not lasting situations. But the woman replied in a way that I suspect many who have brought their troubles to the Yijing can empathise with: 'No I suppose they aren't inherently gruesome, it's just that it's hard to see it that way when you're desperately shaking the coins at 3 o'clock in the morning to see if your boyfriend's run off with another woman.' (Interestingly enough, one of the hexagrams she regarded as containing gruesome lines was hexagram 47, which frequently deals with the importance of overcoming an inner delusion that is making one despondent.) The Yijing can be immensely valuable in such situations, but you need to be aware also that you can end up adding fuel to the fire since this is precisely the kind of scenario where it is only too easy to indulge addictive questioning and as a result of that completely create a very realistic delusion based on your hopes and fears leaving you with no bearings in reality any more, only the words of the Yijing, which, frankly, are not being understood ('One sits oppressed under a bare tree, strayed into a gloomy valley' – hexagram 47/1).

Another thing to try to avoid is asking questions based on a false assumption or an overly projected scenario. This can often happen if you are questioning about something close to your heart, such as a relationship breakdown. You may make all sorts of assumptions about the situation that in fact have no resemblance to reality and proceed to consult the Yijing about these things. What I have noticed in such instances is that the Yijing will often attempt, since it cannot answer a question about a fantasy as if it was real, to reflect the state of mind of the questioner. In some cases you may get an inkling that this is what the answer actually refers to, but in others you may be so tied up in self-delusion that you use what the Yijing says to further elaborate the unreal situation you have created in your mind.

Certainly in situations where there is a great desire for things to work out a certain way there is a risk of misinterpretation due to reading into the oracle what you wish it to be saying. However, this can also be a learning process. The acquisition of wisdom, in many ways, comes from learning to see life without the kinds of illusions that result from clinging to vain hopes and needless fears. The Yijing addresses this in many hexagrams, so it cannot really be said to be an 'error' when you misinterpret it, since in time, by absorbing such teachings from the oracle, you gradually come to understand the depth of the message it is impressing upon you.

Whenever you become aware of yourself attempting to squeeze hope out of a pronouncement of the Book of Changes, beware – you have become dependent upon its answer and blind to the situation. You can no longer rely upon your interpretation of its response and are likely to clutch at straws reading into the oracle what you wish to see, not what it is actually saying. Looking back on such an oracle in a day or two can be very instructive, and ultimately will prove to you just what a fine art interpretation is, since it depends upon your state of mind and 'correct' interpretation posits by its very nature… a state of mind. Hence you can conclude that the Yi wishes you to see things a certain way. Learn that and acquire that state of mind, and there is no need to consult the Yi: 'Changes like a tiger – already knowing before consulting the oracle' – hexagram 49/5.

Related to questioning over a false situation is tying the hands of the oracle behind its back, by limiting in some manner its scope for a response. Such as asking hypothetical questions when there is no real desire to follow such a course of action. You may be divided in your mind about which of two courses of action is best to follow, each being a potential thing you will actually do, but to ask about things you have absolutely no intention of doing is pointless and any answer you receive will usually be vague.

There is a popular 'rule' that one should not ask the same question of the oracle twice – based on a misunderstanding of hexagram 4 – but in actual fact it was a common practice in ancient China to repeat the enquiry when consulting the tortoise oracle, the precursor of the Yijing. However, if you don't understand the oracle's response it seems pointless to ask the same question again simply in the hope of getting a better response, since in time this will lead you to believe that sometimes the Yi doesn't really work, rather than on some occasions its meaning you cannot penetrate. The best way is to ask your question and if you don't understand the answer then rephrase the question or ask about some other aspect that is clearer in your mind. One thing you shouldn't do is ask a question, and, after receiving a response you understand, ask again just to see if you get the same response. If you do that you will erode your relationship with the oracle and eventually you will no longer understand anything it is saying to you. In general, approach the oracle with respect since its answers reflect your approach. Ask empty questions you will get empty answers.

It is common, however, to receive precisely the same hexagram when following up an initial question, but perhaps this time with a different moving line, indicative that change has already occurred between your first question and your second. The odds against receiving the same hexagram twice at the same sitting are of course vast, so when it happens it does tend to be a strong confirmation of the nature of the time. Often when I have consulted a second time because I didn't quite understand the first oracle on receiving the same hexagram again I have instantly understood and I find myself snatching up the coins and putting both them and the book away, not a doubt left in my mind.


This is the end of Introduction to Yijing, continue to the Reviews section, although see my article on Yijing hexagram sequences for an introduction to that field.