Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea
– T.S. Eliot
The six lines of a hexagram are layers of a situation. The Wilhelm I Ching refers to kings, rulers and common people as different strata of society. Freud and Jung described different levels of psyche with Id, Ego and Superego for the first and a more generalised subconscious and superconscious for the second.
Lines are either yin or yang, as two forces opposing or balancing. This applies in practical circumstances when lines describe a developmental process for a question. Additionally, there are three layers in a wider vision of existence:
In ancient times the holy sages made the Book of Changes thus: Their purpose was to follow the order of their nature and of fate. Therefore they determined the tao of heaven and called it the dark and the light. They determined the tao of the earth and called it the yielding and the firm. They determined the tao of man and called it love and rectitude (Wilhelm, Shuo Koa)
Yin and yang manifest differently according to the layer. Heaven means cycles of night and day, the planetary cosmos we don’t entirely understand, thus spiritual interests. Earth can be summarised with two categories, soft and hard, with constant and tangible interactions. Love and justice are complicated in practice but simple in essence, which Lao Tsu characterised as “strength of man” and “care of woman” in the Tao Te Ching. There is a yin emphasis in the Tao Te Ching which sometimes needs balancing. Psychologically, if we are subjected to hostile intent, yang and yin describes the situation. If we constitutionally or strategically lack yang resilience, healthy identity collapses. Internal yang becomes yin, and the person feels powerless in relation to others.
According to Wilhelm hexagram 31, called Influence, is a theory of the unconscious which is by definition yin (dark) having an effect on yang (light). The text reads “Influence means stimulation. The weak is above, the strong below. The forces of the two stimulate and respond to each other, so that they unite.”
The imagery for Influence is a lake relating with a mountain: “The mountain lake gives of its moisture to the mountain; the mountain collects clouds, which feed the lake. Thus their forces have a reciprocal influence.” This depends on yang mountain being receptive to yin water, with an emptiness where rain arrives. The “superior man” or woman has conscious and unconscious working together.
Moving lines are where yang or yin has become extreme and is about to change. It’s possible to view the I Ching system in terms of moving lines. There are pathways through the hexagrams based on connecting factors, most fundamentally the changes of yang and yin.
An apparently static hexagram, with no moving lines, is a moment of calm not permanence. It will eventually change, perhaps because of internal tension such as one trigram conflicting with another. Moving lines are important indicators but change occurs regardless, automatically and effortlessly, like inevitable seasons.
The six lines are in actuality six spaces, or places, containing one energy or the other. As six layers they represent a process which begins, transforms, then concludes. This is symbolised in the first hexagram with the energy of a dragon. David Hinton, who has a special interest in Chinese language, says this in his version of the I Ching: “So you see, we are descended from dragons: we have dragon hearts pumping dragon blood, dragon minds thinking dragon thoughts.” Dragons are an important symbol for power, energy, and potential.
Here is a description of developmental lines. They occur with every situation, for which these are examples:
Collective society and a new beginning. Preparation and plans more than action. The two may eventually relate, in business for example where you engage a mass market.
A moving yang line could indicate industrial action, rightly or wrongly, against structural conditions. It’s a time of potential without direction. You may have graduated from university, not sure what to do; or identify a company product which might be profitable. There’s nothing materialised yet so action is best avoided, because it won’t be nourished. Writers speak of nurturing and protecting an idea like it’s a spell which can be broken. If it’s not fully formed don’t speak about it, because no one will understand.
A moving yin line describes a situation where workers are exploited and suffering. Yin means passivity, and you feel suited for a graduate level job which alone is not enough. You recognise the need for a new product but make no attempt to develop it, while profits are falling. Writers speak of inspiration they can’t predict or control, so they wait and do nothing. This can be encouraged however, with a routine or place such as a room, library, or coffee shop.
You acquire skills which are basic but elevate you above the unskilled. Anyone can serve in a shop, but not fix a plumbing system.
This line is the beginning of productive working with demonstrable ability. You present your business plan for a product, connecting with other people and understanding the process in terms of risk and projection. As a graduate, you send your curriculum vitae to employers. As a novelist, you write the plot for your book.
A moving yang line might be working unsustainable hours. The yang will eventually change to yin. Hopefully you recognise the signs and adjust, because the change is inevitable.
A moving yin line means lack of confidence and initiative. You have the plan but don’t act. You ultimately must guide yourself, in relation to others but the source of whatever happens.
You have sufficient experience to become a middle manager. No longer occupied with plumbing or the assembly line, you understand business needs and how they apply above and below. Senior managers make deals, organise supply chains and plan production; workers supply the labour.
You have a graduate job and begin to understand the industry of journalism, engineering, or software development. You have a publishing contract and relationship with an editor, which gives your writing a new focus and energy. The third line is a place of transition and danger as you move into the trigram above of wider society, the economy, and public perception.
Decisions now extend beyond personal satisfactions. There’s a difference between an artist painting for themselves, and selling work to others. There’s an element of risk at this stage, which requires skills beyond existing abilities. A moving yang line means you have the energy for succeeding stages but not the expertise. You have to learn from experienced people.
A moving yin line means you are unduly influenced. You must retain personal vision when you encounter executive people. At this crisis third line, you might realise a workplace has a corporate culture which doesn’t recognise individual intelligence. You feel victimised, and changing yin into yang could mean changing job.
You become an assistant leader, concerned with profits, branding, and long term projection. People know you as a writer, and you give talks in libraries and bookshops. You read reviews, as your novel becomes a public imaginative experience.
A moving yang line means you want excessive control. You have some power, but not the operational decisions of the company, publishing house, or personal reading experience of others.
A moving yin line means you feel inferior to the people with ultimate power. You have your ideas but feel bad when they are overruled, or a critic doesn’t like your novel.
This is the line of company director, ruler, and successful writer. Your market value is established so criticism is irrelevant. Some people like your book, others do not, but sales are guaranteed. It’s a position of autonomy and freedom, but responsibility. You think about enduring contribution not arrival.
A moving yang line means power for the sake of it. Apparent in politics, the egotism also applies elsewhere. Directing others is necessary, but strictness creates a counter reaction. Or you may have to rest, and delegate.
A moving yin line means relaxed complacency. You entrust people with important decisions, with negative consequences.
Having achieved line 5, you withdraw from public and business life. Your reputation is such that people seek your advice. You seek no one.
A moving yang line means you remain active. Your value is strategic understanding, not direct involvement. It’s a time for retirement and reflection.
A moving yin line is a feeling of emptiness when you are not engaged. You have to find a different form of meaning, which isn’t based on action and accomplishment.
The first and final lines contain the inner four and “stand to each other as cause and effect. The judgment in the first is predominant; with the latter everything has come to completion” (Wilhelm).
The six stages describe yang potential becoming yin consummation. Outwardly this appears as withdrawal, but inwardly you become a Sage. The great poet T.S. Eliot made repeated reference to passing time, lost time, and circular time, here in Little Gidding as beginning becomes end:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Wilhelm’s I Ching is the most popular version. I refer to him because of the quality of his words. The point of doing so is not because meaning is precise, but to consider a skilled person’s interpretation. He worked for ten years with Confucian scholar Lao Nai-hsuan. He founded a Confucius Society, led by his teacher, and attracted the attention of Carl Jung.
Yang and yin have varied significance and the same applies with hexagram lines. Wilhelm’s book, fine as it is, is not directly applicable to a question you may have. The important point is to understand I Ching structure and symbolism, how one part relates to the whole. This model, among others, clarifies interpretive practice:
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.