How to Read the I Ching

Lo pan compass inner ring hexagrams

Have you ever wondered how to read the I Ching? If you have, this article provides a basic understanding of reading this ancient method of Chinese divination.

The I Ching

Although the first written record of the I Ching is more than 3,000 years old, it is almost certain that it predates that by at least 2,000 years. Throughout the millenniums contributions were made to the I Ching, known as the Yi Jing, Zhouyi or the Book of Changes. Two of the most important contributors were the founder of the Chou Dynasty, King Wen, and Confucius.

The I Ching is an oracle that when read forms a pattern based on hexagrams. Used as a divination tool the resulting patterns -and the corresponding readings to the hexagrams- reflect significantly to the forces of the Universe at that exact time. When you ask the I Ching a question or have a concern, you receive a timeless message that provides insight and advice to the situation.

How to Read the I Ching

An I Ching reading consists of three parts:

  • Ask the question or concern.
  • Determine the hexagrams by using a divination tool such as coins or yarrow sticks and record the results.
  • Match the hexagram to the corresponding I Ching text and interpret the answer.

Translation of the I Ching

There have been many translations of the original Book of Changes, resulting in different interpretations of this great work. Some modern translations have changed the text, leaving out important sections that provide imagery essential for you to draw your own personal significance from the reading. The words of the I Ching are meant to open your mind to a creative interaction with the significance of the meanings of the hexagrams.

Many modern versions of the I Ching are often simplified, omitting sections of the Yi Jing or the Ten Wings which were added by Confucius. The best translated versions of the I Ching provide:

  • A complete translation of the original text
  • Original interpretations of each line and hexagram
  • The translators interpretation of the hexagrams and lines

Several translations of the I Ching that include all of the traditional Ten Wings and the complete I Ching include:

  • The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm and Cary Baynes
  • Zhouyi, the Book of Changes by Richard Rutt
  • The Yi Jing by Wu Jing-Nuan
  • The Classic of Changes by Richard John Lynn

Many people find that having more than one translation of the I Ching is helpful. The many differences in the translated versions occur because of the differences in the Chinese characters and their multiple meanings. The same character can be a noun, verb or adverb. There is also very little punctuation in the I Ching, leaving the translator a lot of room for personal interpretation. Having more than one version allows you the chance to read the different interpretations and apply your own personal understanding to the meanings of the hexagrams.

Today's translations of the I Ching are in the form of 64 sections or chapters each corresponding to one of the hexagrams. Each corresponding text includes a blend of:

  • Advice
  • Poetry
  • Imagery
  • Philosophy

The Hexagrams

Each hexagram consists of series of six broken or solid lines. Each one is made of two trigrams of three lines each. One trigram is made of the top three lines of the hexagram and the other from the bottom three lines.

The lines on the hexagrams represent the energies of yin and yang. As perfectly balanced polarized opposites, the energies of yin and yang create the balance of the energy forces of everything in the universe, chi energy. The broken lines of the hexagram represent the yin or feminine energy and the solid lines represent the yang or masculine energy.

Each of the hexagram patterns corresponds to one of the sections or chapters in the I Ching. According to the I Ching, each hexagram pattern also correlates to a life situation. An I Ching reading helps you to understand the progression of your life situation over a period of time.


Learning how to read the I Ching may seem confusing at first, but once you gain an understanding of the text, it is an oracle you will surely enjoy.

How to Read the I Ching