You don’t need to have a complex philosophical understanding of yin and yang to get an answer from the I Ching.
But some explanation of the idea is necessary, in order to have a more than superstitious grasp of what is going on here, because all the lines you will encounter are either yin or yang, or yin dynamically changing to yang, or vice versa. So before I describe how to throw the coins and obtain the Ching’s answer, let me talk a little philosophy.
Reality or the Tao, or God if you prefer, is One.
But everything in the universe is multiple, a part of a complex pattern, and everything that a human can experience has qualities that make it different from everything else.
The contrasting qualities and polarities of all things are the nature of yin and yang. They are pictured traditionally within a circle, which is the, Tao and separated by an S-shaped curve, with one side dark and the other light. The continuous curvature of the emblem means that they cannot be completely separated and they cannot exist without each other.
There is also a dot of dark on the light side and a dot of light on the dark side, and this indicates that nothing is completely one or the other, and brilliantly plants the seed of understanding upon which The Book of Changes is based. Light needs the contrast of dark to be seen, masculine and feminine require each other to exist – active and passive, hot and cold, hard and soft, the list goes on and on. In each of the examples just given, the former is a Yang quality and the latter, a Yin quality. And on it goes, ad infinitum.
Each of the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching is made up of six lines, and each line is either yin or yang, making 384 line oracles altogether.
Individual hexagrams and lines are regarded as yin or yang in their essential nature, but there is a subtle mixture of influences, depending on the situation.
A Yang line is an unbroken line:
A Yin line is broken:
This is an example of a hexagram:
Within the complex system of yin and yang possibilities, each of the sixty-four hexagrams has a specific oracle (text) and each line has a specific oracle.
The answer to your question will be either a hexagram by itself, or the hexagram plus specific lines within the hexagram, called moving lines because, not only is the hexagram an appropriate answer to your question, a moving line is also changing into its polar opposite, yielding yet another hexagram relevant to your question.
Based on how the coins fall, you will often receive more than one moving line in a reading, so that you will want to take into consideration:
Read together, they are your answer. Generally, moving lines will be the most specifically accurate answer to your question, and the rest of the reading will be more general.
Even the relatively simple process of throwing a three-coin reading is instructed very differently in different books, some oppositely, in fact, to others.
Do not be overly troubled by this, the key is consistency and sincerity.
Choose a method and stick to it, and let the intelligence of the Oracle sort things out.
This Is How I Do It
Cup three same-sized coins in your two hands. Think about your question.
Shake the coins as long as you like and then let them drop on a tabletop or other flat surface.
If you get two tails and a head, that is an unbroken (solid), or yang line.
If you get two heads and a tail, that is a broken, or yin line.
If you get three heads, that is a moving unbroken line.
If you get three tails, that is a moving broken line.
Do the same thing five more times. Record each result on a piece of paper immediately, so you don’t forget. Start at the bottom and draw each line above the previous one. Draw an unbroken line or a broken line. Put an x in the middle if it is a moving broken line. Put an o in the middle if it is a moving solid line.
When you have done this six times, that is your hexagram.
Look up the hexagram and read its Statement. How do you look it up? It’s easy. You consult the Lookup Table; find the upper half of your hexagram on the top and the lower half on the left, and follow the column and row to where they meet: that’s the number of your hexagram. Of course, you can always just draw your hexagram and thumb through the 'List of Hexagrams' in the table of contents until you find the one you have drawn.
If you have no moving lines, the Statement is your complete answer.
If you have moving lines, read the Statement and then look at the numbered lines corresponding to the moving lines you have drawn in the hexagram. (For example, if you marked the second line from the bottom as moving, read line 2.) The moving lines will have a particular bearing on your question.
Since moving lines turn into their polar opposite, you should next draw a new hexagram in which the non-moving lines stay the same, and the moving lines change, from broken to solid or from solid to broken. This new hexagram is also an aspect of your answer. Look it up and read its Statement (not its lines). Some say it is like a future card in Tarot, or what the situation is likely to turn into.
In some cases the new hexagram will be the answer to your question, in other cases the moving line or lines will seem more specifically important.
Always make your first question to the I Ching: “Are you receptive to my questioning right now?”
There is no point making a call if the line is busy.
If you insist on asking after you have been told that the Oracle is not receptive, your reading will be worthless.
What makes the I Ching work, as I contend it very definitely does? Is it a spirit, God, or synchronistic probability?
Completely define spirit, God, and synchronistic probability. That is the answer.
I am not being cute here. The answer does depend on your definition of terms. Personally, I see the I Ching as a master personality, a spirit, an irascible, hilarious and nearly all-knowing witness of human doings who cares about you spiritually and generally could not give a damn how this or that worldly matter is going to work out for you, except that spiritual compassion and some ancient, kindly etiquette have made it the project of this spirit to help you out, if you are sincere and respectful..
If all this sounds complicated, imagine trying to verbalize the act of riding a bike to someone who has never seen one before. It is better just to get on the thing and start pedaling, then it gets simple pretty quickly and soon it becomes second nature.
Keep in mind, though, that knowing how to ride a bike doesn’t make you Lance Armstrong. People have spent lifetimes contemplating and perfecting their approach to this work.
What About Contradictory Lines in a Reading?
The Book of Changes is all about the fluidity of possibilities. If you believed the future to be altogether set in stone, there would be little point in consulting the oracle at all.
So, apparently-contradictory indications really mean that an outcome is not yet inevitable.
How you and others respond to the situation is still in play, and different, even opposing, outcomes are sometimes yet possible.
In fact there are, more often than not, a lot of things that could happen in a given situation, and the blessing of the I Ching is most often the indication of what kind of conduct will most likely bring the good fortune you desire, or help you avoid a problem that might otherwise trip you up.
You are sometimes going to get oracles that you don’t like and indications about your character that you would rather not hear.
That is part of spiritual growth, and the I Ching is ultimately, for all its practical usefulness, a spiritual guide.
1. I am a fan of asking questions in the form of: “What will be the likely outcome of this action or situation?” Yes or no questions do not work well, generally, and only one possibility should be addressed at a time, because even when more than one possibility is mentioned in an answer, they are possibilities related to only one situation or course of action.
2. The I Ching is traditionally quite formal. Even in my street corner interpretation it is somewhat so, and it is not a friend or peer to be argued with. To assume too much familiarity, no matter how long you have been doing readings, is a disrespectful invitation to a confusing reading.
3. If you are comfortable praying or meditating before asking your question and lighting a candle or some incense to further set the time apart as a special, spiritual ritual or exercise, that is a fine idea.
4. You need not ask a specific question, and you may find out something more important to you, if you don’t confine your reading to any preconceptions at all.