I Ching

March 22, 2017


I Ching

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Acupuncture, archetype, Book of Changes, Carl Jung, chi, Chinese, Chinese medicine, Classic of Changes, Confucianism, Fu His, herbs, I Jing (Chinese), moxibustion, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychosomatics, qi, Taoism, TCM, traditional Chinese medicine, Ultimate Way, yang, Yi Ching (Chinese), Yi King (Chinese), yin.


  • The I Ching is an ancient Chinese text, which embodies the interplay of yin and yang within Chinese cosmology. The book is also popularly used as a tool of divination.

  • The I Ching describes the philosophy and cosmology that continues to be the fulcrum of Chinese cultural beliefs. The concepts inherent in this text are the inevitability of change, the evolution of events as a process, and the dynamic balance that exists between opposites. Indeed, Chinese medicine including acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese herbs were developed and their uses have co-evolved in the same political context and worldview. The I Ching describes the interconnection between these differing forces; this description is also the basis of traditional Chinese medicine.

  • The I Ching was written in the Tang Dynasty, between 2852 B.C.E. and 2738 B.C.E. Though the mythical cultural hero Fu His is given credit for writing the original I Ching, the actual author is unknown.

  • In China as well as in the West, the I Ching is used as a tool of divination. Most individuals consult the I Ching for general advice, rather than as a source of answers to yes or no questions. The process of consulting the book as an oracle involves determining the hexagram by a method of random generation and then reading the text associated with that hexagram. The translation of the title into English used to be "Book of Changes", but is more recently and accurately translated to "Classic of Changes."

  • The I Ching is embodied by the 64 hexagrams, or abstract arrangements of six lines. Each hexagram pictures six stacked horizontal lines, each of which is either a solid line (representing yang) or a broken line (representing yin). The top line of the hexagram represents heaven, and the bottom line of the hexagram represents earth. Between these lines are the affairs of man. With this understanding, the I Ching was used as a tool to discuss the place of religion, political affairs, and social responsibility within the time that it was written. Experts believe that the hexagrams were a originally a pairing of two trigrams, a less complex but very similar representational system.

  • Although the book is divided into chapters, the I Ching captures the process of one event leading into another through the 64 hexagrams. Polar opposites, the most basic of which are yin and yang, moderate, flow into, and even become one another.

  • Yin and yang are opposite and complementary qualities of life energy (chi or qi). Yin, represented by the open line, is regarded as the principle of preparation, storing, and contemplation. Yang, represented by the solid line, is the principle of acting, exerting, and using up. Every process in the universe, including every physiological process within the microcosm of the human body, can be analyzed within the context of yin-yang theory. Traditional Chinese medicine, at its most basic level, describes the balance and inherent codependence of yin and yang; when yin and yang fall out of balance, physical, spiritual, and psychological illness may occur. Therefore, the ebb and flow of yin and yang of the political and spiritual state described in the I Ching also describe the ebb and flow of energy in the human body. Death occurs when yin and yang separate, and cease to co-exist with, and influence, one another.


  • Practitioner mediated divinations: An individual typically pays a practitioner, and then poses a problem, situation, or question. The practitioner then randomly generates the six lines, creating a hexagram. The practitioner explains what the hexagram means within the context of the questioner and of the question. This explanation puts the situation described by the questioner into context, and has less to do with the outcome than with how one should proceed as events unfold.

  • Self-divination: In this method, an individual considers a circumstance of the past, present or future and randomly generates the six lines by any of the methods described above. The individual then reads the corresponding chapter of the I Ching and interprets the chapter as wise words or advice on how to proceed in the situation.


  • The concept behind the title I Ching is profound. There is no exact translation of I Ching into English. However, the character yi as an adjective means "easy" or "simple"; as a verb, this character implies the process of change. The character jing means "classic" (as in a text); this character is derived from the character, which means "persistency" or "regularity". The title has three implications: simplicity, variability, and persistency. In other words, it is thought that though yin and yang influence one another, they interact in predictable ways, even in entirely new situations.

  • Since each changing line is seen as being in the process of becoming its opposite, a new hexagram can be formed by transposing each changing yin line with a yang line, and vice versa. Thus, further insight into the process of change is gained by reading the text of this new hexagram and studying it as the result of the current change. The process of change, and the balance of yin and yang, is most eloquently captured by the fact that the hexagrams are arranged in an orderly fashion. One hexagram is the logical permutation of the previous hexagram. Eventually, the last hexagram flows into the first hexagram; in this way, the changing lines form a continuous circuit.

  • There are a vast number of methods to randomly select a hexagram. Individuals can open to a random page of the I Ching, or visit a website that randomly pulls up a hexagram. Others prefer a method of divination that involves complex mathematical calculations, by rolling dice or calculating equations involving multiple calendar systems. Other methods of divination include pulling marbles out of a bag, pulling yarrow sticks, reading the arrangements of rice grains, and tossing coins.

  • Each hexagram represents a state, a process and may represent a change in the process of unfolding. Each hexagram also has a name. Through centuries, Chinese scholars commented upon the original text of the I Ching, and their thoughts have been integrated into the text. To this end, the text captures the vigorous scholarship and political debate that co-existed with the development of Chinese medicine.

  • The I Ching was considered a Confucian text at the time it was written. However, this text also had a tremendous development of Taoism, a religion that evolved out of, and in response to, Confucianism, in China. Indeed, the belief and spiritual system of Taoism contains many of the principles discussed in the I Ching at its marrow. The interplay between yin and yang are central to the Taoist worldview. The I Ching has therefore influenced many alternative modalities, such as Taoist yoga and Chi self-massage. In a less direct way, the I Ching has also influenced the development of martial arts, practices that place physical emphasis on the movement of yin and yang between an individual and his opponent.

  • While the text is regarded primarily as a tool of divination in the West, it has greatly influenced the development of modern psychological theory in the Western hemisphere. The I Ching had a significant effect on Carl Jung, one of the forefathers of modern psychotherapy. Carl Jung was deeply inspired by the I Ching, and applied the concepts of archetypes he found there to his scholarship and practice of psychotherapy. Dr. Jung felt that universal conflicts, resulting in growth, could be described through the I Ching.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Gonzalez-Correa CA. Toward a binary interpretation of acupuncture theory: principles and practical consequences. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Jun;10(3):573-9. View Abstract

  2. Ma SS. The I Ching and the psyche-body connection. J Anal Psychol. 2005 Apr;50(2):237-50. View Abstract

  3. Ritsema R, Augusto S. The Original I Ching Oracle: The Pure and Complete Texts with Concordance. London: Watkins. 2005.

  4. Wei LY. Theoretical foundation of Chinese medicine: a modern interpretation. Am J Chin Med (Gard City N Y). 1976 Winter;4(4):355-72. View Abstract

  5. Weisglas M. The I Ching for therapeutic diagnosis and client referral. J Am Soc Psychosom Dent Med. 1981;28(1):24-8. View Abstract

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017