The I Ching is actually an ancient divinatory text made up of 64 chapters based on 64 for hexagrams representing “answers” to life. Hexagrams are determined using cleromancy, a process for producing random numbers in a limited sequence through a particular method. Two methods exist. The oldest method involves using 50 yarrow stalks and is quite complex. The more common, and easier method is to use three coins that have heads and tails. By following the rules for “casting” you will arrive at a hexagram that will be used to answer your question.
Choosing the Book
For this review process, I am looking at three main factors: the knowledge and wisdom of the author, the readability and delivery of the knowledge, and the usefulness of the book. There are many books on the I Ching; the book for this review is targeted at beginners, advanced students, and professional spiritual advisors.
The Book – I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times
The ISBN 13 number for this book is 978-0553354249 and it can be purchased new in hardback on Amazon for $35.00 USD. You can find used copies of the trade paperback edition (cover above) on Amazon starting at $6.95 USD and on Alibris for $1.45 USD at the time this article was written.
Published in 1974, this book “eliminates the obscure and dated references of previous translations to provide an accurate and accessible version of the ancient Chinese classic for the contemporary seeker” Further, “For everyone who seeks to better understand themselves and the world around them, this new translation of the I Ching is a practical and remarkably effective pathway to enlightenment” (back cover).
The book is well-edited, with a useful table of contents at the beginning of the book and clear, concise writing on each hexagram. Since the work promotes new interpretations, there are no endnotes or footnotes or bibliography. Quite a lot of the content appears in what can be described as a “cookbook” format, providing explanations of each hexagram in three to five pages.
The book contains seven short sections before covering all 64 hexagrams. There is an introduction, explanation of the yarrow stick casting method, the coin casting method, what moving lines are in a hexagram, forms of interpretation, the meaning of the Trigrams, and a Hexagram chart.
This book really does offer clear explanations and examples for the hexagrams and makes an excellent reference tool. The interpretations stand the test of time and the book does not feel dated in any way, a testament to the thoughtful writing and work done by Sam Reilfer.
Layout of a Hexagram Explanation – Kh-Yen: Modesty (15)
Each Hexagram number is at the top of the page for the start of the explanation. A hexagram is actually made up of two trigrams and each trigram represents a specific concept, limited to eight meanings. The trigrams are Heaven, Earth, Thunder, The Deep/Water, Mountain, Wind/Wood, Fire/Sun, and Marsh/Mist. Kh-Yen is Mountain below, Earth above.
Mountain / Source: Wikipedia
Earth / Source: Wikipedia
Hexagram 15 / Source: Wikipedia
On each page below the hexagram is the Oracle, in which Reifler states:
The mountain recedes behind the horizon.
The modest man is successful by nature.
Balance your impulses for an objective judgment. (p. 72)
After the lines of the Oracle, Reifler provides three sections of interpretation with the headings Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Artha “deals with the questioner’s relationship to other people, to authorities, and to ‘things’ in his or her practical life”. Kama deals with love relationships, either sexual, familial or involving close friends”. And the Moksha section “indicates the proper spiritual path for the questioner at this juncture and also may reveal blocks and inconsistencies in his present philosophical position” (p. 18).
After the sections with the interpretations, Reifler provides explanations for each of the 6 lines, which details the deeper meaning of the entire hexagram. So, let’s look at hexagram 15 as the answer to this question: “I have a new job opportunity; should I take it?” After performing the yarrow stick method or casting the coins your answer is hexagram 15. You consult the book and get this answer.
Artha: “You should be modest in your behavior. When you step back to observe what you are doing when you talk about what you are doing, when you think about what you are doing, then you are observing, talking, thinking – but not doing” (pp. 73-74). Take the job or stop thinking and talking about the job.
Kama: “You feel that you understand your relationship with Friend and attempt to direct it according to your understanding. As soon as lovers speak love, they limit their love by implying the possibility of not loving” (p. 74). Be careful with your assumptions about the person who is hiring you or that you would be working for.
Moksha: “If you see yourself as enlightened, then you are considered by others to be enlightened; you are both wrong. If you do not see yourself as enlightened, then you are not considered by others to be enlightened; you are both wrong. And, in either case, you are aware of the anomaly” (p. 74). You cannot assume any outcome, so accepting the job is a risk.
In the casting for the lines, a line is either solid or broken. The lines can be either stagnant or “moving”. The coin method makes it easy. You cast 3 coins. Three of the same side (heads or tails) means that the line is moving (broken or solid). If a line is moving, then you want to read the line interpretation for that line. If all the lines are stagnant, then the message is that there is no movement on your question and the outcome is blocked or very straightforward.
Let’s say that line 2, the broken line that is second from the bottom is a moving line. You would read the explanation, which says, “Modest apparent. Auspicious, if you keep your course. You are entrusted with responsibilities because you [are modest]” (p. 75). The answer favors your taking the job.
Knowing the Reviewer
I have an academic background; my PhD is in English (1996) and my concentration was rhetoric and composition. Astrologically speaking, I am an Aries Sun with Mercury, my point of communication, also in Aries. These two facts about my background and astrological identity are the two main “lenses” for how I pick and interpret books. I want them to be well-written, researched, and presented (my academic lens), and I want them to be useful, direct, and pithy (my Aries Mercury lens).