The Book of Changes
I Ching

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Book of Changes

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese method of making choices. Essentially you are required to think about one specific issue and have a clear question in mind, such as "Should I take that job?"
Then you consult the I Ching and read a verse.


What you read must be considered in the context of your current issue, your frame of mind, emotional state and the question you are asking.
The Book of Changes is not foretelling the future or providing you with an answer. It serves merely to offer some perspective on the matter. Each verse is designed to broaden your perception.

No revolution in outer things is possible without prior revolution in one's inner way of being.
Whatever change you aspire to in your affairs must be preceded by a change in heart, an active deepening and strengthening of your resolve to meet every event with equanimity, detachment, and innocent goodwill.
When this spiritual poise is achieved within, magnificent things are possible without.

(I Ching)


Some people see the I Ching as being like a horoscope or an oracle. This seems rather superstitious. The Book of Changes is an effective way of considering new possibilities.
It serves as a mirror or sounding board for our own thoughts; a way to bring forth deeper concerns, ideas and doubts. In itself, it tells us nothing we did not already have within us.

How you are

The Book of Changes presents statements that are read relative to your own particular state of mind upon reading. You read it according to how you are not according to how it is.

No advice

The I Ching offers no predictions and no advice. It asks you to see what is within and intuit what happens next. You may choose to act or not-act.
An incident or event may seem problematic in the immediate moment, but over time it may seem fortuitous. What comes next may enrich your experience.

A mirror

The verses are akin to a person replying to a question. The answers are not specific or necessarily useful in themselves - is it how we use the new insight relative to what we already know that matters.
For example:
"Should I take that job?" If the I Ching urges 'caution in undertaking new endeavours', then you will interpret the reading relative to how you already feel:

  1. If uncertain: you may decide not to take the job

  2. If keen to take the job, you may take it, but with the awareness that things may not work out

The I Ching echoes our own consciousness.

Eight choices?

he I Ching operates on the premise that any given moment in time offers 8 potential courses of action. For example, we could:

  1. Sit down

  2. Do nothing

  3. Drink some water

  4. Say something

  5. Kick

  6. Punch

  7. Yield

  8. Read a book

Each one is a latent course of action. We should attach no significance to any of the eight choices.


Eight choices is simply an illustration. There may be many more choices in front of you. Eight is just a number. The important thing is to see that life is not black and white, this or that.
We can do many different things. We have many variables and choices before us.

Perseverance alone does not assure success.
No amount of stalking will lead to game in a field that has none.

(I Ching)


Every action has consequences. The opening of one door means the closing of others. Choices affect things. This cannot be avoided.
The skill is to choose carefully; allowing the greatest degree of latitude and flexibility.


We must choose appropriately. Appropriateness can be evaluated by considering how well our decision works relative to other variables: our surroundings, our situation, other people...
A good choice will benefit everyone, whilst a poor choice may have unforeseen adverse consequences.



Choosing involves some degree of foresight but is not really about planning. A plan is a fixed path. This is not.
The I Ching is more about balancing the variables and taking the best course of action at a given moment in time. Should circumstances change, you choose again.

Plans are based on assumptions

Unlike a plan, you have no fixed base. It is akin to 'thinking on your feet' except ideally you do not want to think at all.
Awareness, intuition and logic must be balanced in such a manner that the choice seems to happen by itself. Not every decision will lead to success.
There are often unexpected obstacles ahead and you must be relaxed and receptive; ready to improvise, adapt and change without hesitation.

Neutral state

At any given moment you may perform a number of actions. For the sake of simplicity, we apply the I Ching principle of eight potential actions at any point in time.
If you are getting ready for one action, you are precluding the other seven. Focussing on one thing prevents your mind and body from responding instantaneously to new stimuli.


Only a relaxed, neutral state will afford you the luxury of moving when and how you want, or perhaps not moving at all.
This neutrality is 'wu chi' - the undivided. It is represented in tai chi as 'central equilibrium'. Unattached, you are free.

Choiceless awareness

Ideally, we should reach a condition where the I Ching itself is no longer necessary. The aim is to instantaneously weight up the options and make the best choice from what is available.
Our decisions may not make sense to other people, but are they allowing for the same variables and considerations? Everyone is different and people's motives are not always going to coincide.


When your choices become harmonious, you find that situations open up and you see new opportunities that were not previously apparent. Krishnamurti spoke of 'choiceless awareness':

This journey I am proposing that we take together is not to the moon or even to the stars. The distance to the stars is much less than the distance within ourselves. The discovery of ourselves is endless, and it requires constant inquiry, a perception which is total, an awareness in which there is no choice.

This journey is really an opening of the door to the individual in his relationship with the world.



Every moment has an optimal choice; one option that is the perfect one to take. It is completely in accord with what is happening.
If we can attune to that optimal choice as an ongoing process, then there is no choice - we just act appropriately moment by moment.
The act of choosing then becomes entirely subconscious; we move spontaneously and freely.

Further reading

There are countless books available concerning the I Ching and there are many good websites.
If you want a more detailed explanation of what the Book of Changes represents and how it operates, please explore the web.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023