iching with 3 coins

in case you don’t know iching is something about prediction, not the fortune telling only.

Iching tell about change, consequence, and most of all the aspects of change.

below is the introduction of the three-coins method on the very old books of mine.

hope you like it



The night air was pregnant with rain. The room felt stuffy and close as thick clouds of incense wafted up towards the distant beams of the ceiling. His August Presence the Emperor, Son of Heaven, sat stiffly upon the Dragon Throne while his soothsayers and diviners knelt before him trembling. The Dragon’s countenance was dark as the night sky and as full of approaching storms.

The barbarian hordes were pressing once again on the north, teasing and nipping at the heels of the Emperor’s army. To the south, rebellious lords were muttering among themselves and were said to be massing armies to march upon the capital. There was even talk of insurrection within the Forbidden City itself as the eunuchs plied their secretive ways about the Precious Consort.

The Son of Heaven had put down rebellions before. He knew how to deal with traitors and pretenders to the throne. Yet this time he had no concrete evidence that anything at all was about to happen. It could simply be another case of court intrigue and petty squabbling amongst his courtiers and the devious, power-hungry eunuchs.

The ever-present trouble along the northern border tended to swell and ebb with the season. But the threat was very real. Those barbarian horsemen had been eyeing the Middle Kingdom with hunger and envy for hundreds of years. And the southern states had always been a fiery and tempestuous lot. Those southern Han, so full of hot peppers and their own sense of importance!

The problem was, his armies were already spread very thinly. The Long Wall was long indeed, and he had to keep a presence in the west as well. Those confounded southerners! His army’s presence in the south was not as strong as he would have liked. Things had been quiet for so long there that he had pulled out much of his force to send against the northern horsemen.

Now this threat within the Forbidden City itself! He wanted nothing better than to forget the whole thing and to ride off to his hunting lodge and let the court take care of itself. Yet, as the Son of Heaven, he was a father to his people. He must think not of himself, but of how best to approach his empire’s many problems.

Should he pull more troops from the south to send to the north? Or should he do the opposite, in case the rumors of rebellion were true? Should he take to the field himself, as he had in his youth so long ago? And what about the intrigue in his own court? Ordinarily, he liked to hold himself above the endless petty intrigues surrounding him  but perhaps this time he should act immediately. What to do?

He looked down upon his trembling counselors, diviners, and soothsayers. Did they with their mumbled incantations and endless conjectures, their intricate diagrams and strange brews, their trances and their flaying of live animals  have the answer?

No, he was tired of them all, tired of their subservience and insincerity. He knew that they lived only to worm themselves into his good graces. They said anything they thought he wanted to hear. No, he would get no truth from them.

His thoughts went back to the ragged sage who had recently arrived in the capital from his home in the wild and dangerous mountains. The man had approached the Forbidden City, saying that he would like to offer his services to the Emperor. Of course the guards at the outer gate had turned him away. With his long hair and wild eyes, he was too outlandish to be of any consequence. Yet somehow, word of this man had gotten back to the August Presence,  who now wondered if perhaps the guards had been a bit hasty in giving him the boot.

Rising, the Emperor waved his silken sleeves at the assembly of cowering courtiers. “Begone,” he shouted, “I have no use for your sniveling supplications.” Aghast, they fell back and, still on their knees, slid awkwardly backwards to the door. He then ordered his chief steward to send out guards to find the sage and bring the man to the Dragon Throne.

It took three days, but at last the tattered sage was located and brought to the Son of Heaven. He knelt before the throne with his head up and his back straight, almost looking straight into the eyes of the Emperor himself! The Emperor gazed down at him thoughtfully. A strange one, certainly, with his long hair knotted carelessly on top of his head, his long beard full of briars and twigs. Something about the man’s bearing, however, seemed almost regal. As if such a thing were possible, with his skin like brown parchment and his eyes like wildfires!

After sufficient time had passed, the Emperor spoke. “I have much on my mind. I am in need of counsel; genuine counsel, not self-serving drivel. They say you have offered your wisdom to serve the throne.”

“That is true,” said the man.

The Emperor was tempted to have him thrown out on his ear, if not flogged with bamboo canes, for insolence, but stopped himself. “What do you use for divination?”

“A book, Sire.”

“Is that all in a book? Why, my diviners use potions and fire, incantations and trances.”

“A book is all I need, Sire,” said the mountain sage.

“It must be a very special book,” prompted the Emperor.

“Yes, Sire, it is indeed a very special book.”

“Let’s have a look at this very special book then.”

The sage reached into his ragged robes and pulled forth a book covered in red silk. “This, Sire,” he said, laying the book on the floor before him, “is called The Book of Changes.”

“I have heard of this book,” said the Emperor, peering down, “but have never seen it.”

“It was created in ancient times,” said the sage, “by Fu Hsi and then by King Wen and his son the Duke of Chou. I myself and several others, including Confucius, have been working on a commentary.”

“I have heard of Confucius,” said the Emperor. “He travels about teaching morality and ethics, does he not?”

“Yes, Sire, among other things.”

“How does this book work?” asked the Emperor.

The sage opened the book. Pointing to one of its pages, he said, “Here you see two lines ; one broken in the middle, one unbroken. They represent the yin force and the yang force. Yin is the downward, inward force. Yang is the upward, outward force. These two lines represent the constant interaction and interdependence of all life. Everything in the universe contains Ñ and is contained within Ñ this system of yin and yang. Even humans have their yin side and their yang side. Every situation calls for a strong forward movement or its opposite. It is important to know when to move forward and when to retreat Ñ or when to sit still and let the forces sort themselves out.”

“Yes,” cried the Emperor excitedly, “this is what I need to know. How does it work?”

Here the sage produced three coins, common cash of the lowest domination. “There is no need for rare or costly coins,” he said, noticing the Emperor  frowning at the worn coins in his hand. “These will do just as well.” He held them out to the Emperor who, after craning his neck to see them, suddenly got down from his throne and sat on the floor opposite the sage.

“Notice that one side of each coin is inscribed and the other is not,” continued the sage. “We will call the inscribed side the yin, and the other the yang. We take the coins like this.” Here he held them in his palm and closed his hand over them. He shook them in front of his chest, then suddenly opened his hand and allowed them to drop to the floor.

The coins fell at the Emperor’s feet with two inscribed sides up and one inscribed side down. “This gives us a yin line,” said the sage. “We will do this six times. In that way we are given a hexagram with its associated reading. Sixty-four possible combinations exist. Each combination gives us a different picture and a different reading.”

Excitedly, the Emperor began picking up the coins. “No, Sire, we cannot jump into this. We must purify and quiet our heart/minds first. The Oracle does not speak in a loud voice. We must quiet our own inner chatter before we can hear the voice of the Oracle clearly.”

So the Exalted Son of Heaven and the lowly mountain sage sat across from one another, calming and purifying their heart/minds so that the message of the Oracle could find a quiet, empty space in which to speak its wisdom.

After some time the sage opened his eyes and spoke. “Sire, now you must consider the problem set before you. You must cleanse yourself of all thinking and judgment. You must open yourself to the voice of the Oracle and promise to its guiding spirits that you will listen without reservation to its guidance. Only then will its wisdom be revealed to you, and only then will you be able to make full use of it.”

So the Emperor took three deep breaths and opened himself to the wisdom of the Oracle, no matter what its guidance might be.

The sage handed the Emperor the coins. The Son of Heaven took them in trembling fingers. So much at stake; the safety and order of an entire nation, the Middle Kingdom itself. How could this book look into his heart, into his conflicting thoughts, and make sense out of them? “How does this work?” he asked. “How do my hands know which coins to throw?”

“That is simple, my lord,” answered the sage. “Your hands are merely a means to unlock the knowledge you already possess deep within, like a great treasure hidden in a locked room. The spirit of the Oracle will unlock those doors and let the treasure out where it can shine in the full light of day. Then you will have the knowledge you seek.”

“But remember, my lord: It is one thing to know what the future holds ; another thing entirely to have the strength and wisdom to respond appropriately to that knowledge. Once the Oracle has revealed itself, you must use all the experience of your years to respond positively and decisively.”

The Son of Heaven began to feel stirrings of anger at this implied criticism. How dare this simple country bumpkin admonish the Emperor? But he held his tongue. What if this ragged sage with glittering eyes and dusty beard really did have helpful wisdom? He owed it to his people to find any means to help his kingdom.

The sage continued. “At any time, many forces or patterns converge on the present moment. By becoming sensitive to these patterns, we can not only foretell the future but also have a hand in creating it. This is the true wisdom of the Oracle. Now let us begin.”

The Emperor took several more deep slow breaths and then closed his hand upon the coins. After shaking them for a moment, he threw them down upon the carpet. One inscribed and two uninscribed sides faced upward. “This gives us a yang, or unbroken, line,” said the sage. He then produced a roll of cheap paper, brush and ink. After grinding a small portion of ink, he dipped the brush into it and wrote a single line at the bottom of the paper.

Again the Emperor shook and threw the coins. Again, they came up with one inscribed and two uninscribed sides up. “Another yang,” said the sage as he dipped his brush again and drew another unbroken line Ñ this time above the previous one.

Three more times the Emperor threw the coins and each time they came up the same, until the sage had drawn five unbroken lines on the paper, one on top of the other. Then, on the sixth throw, the coins lay with all three inscribed sides up. “Ah,” said the sage, “that is an old yin line, or a moving line. It will lead us to yet another hexagram which will give some foreshadowing of the future. If, of course,” he added, “you respond to the first hexagram in the most felicitous way.”

The sage then picked up the Oracle itself and, after consulting a diagram of trigrams, he wrote down the number forty three, the number of the hexagram the Emperor had received: Kuai or Break Through, sometimes called Determination. “Here you have chosen Tui, The Joyous or The Lake over Ch’ien, The Creative or Heaven. It is a most auspicious reading.”

The Emperor then eagerly listened as the sage read the judgment. “Determination dissolves evil forces. One should obtain the cooperation of all righteous forces. Isolated and hasty actions are inappropriate. The advancement of cooperative, virtuous energy is wise.” He looked up at the Son of Heaven and continued.

“This hexagram is often compared to a breakthrough after a long accumulation of tension; like a sudden cloudburst, or a swollen river breaking through its dikes. This hexagram also signifies a time when inferior people will gradually begin to disappear. Their insolence is on the wane, as a result of resolute action.” Here he stopped and looked at the Emperor, who was sitting as still as stone.

“It is important to remember, though, that you cannot fight evil directly. This would be ineffective, and would cause harm to yourself. You must find a way to approach the problem indirectly, yet with firmness and resolution. Your resolution must be based on a union of strength and friendliness. This is a difficult path which will, in the long run, most benefit the kingdom.” Here he sat up straight and looked the Son of Heaven directly in the eyes, something which no commoner had ever done before. “You must look deeply into your own heart,” said the sage. “You must find and uproot the evil and disease which dwell there, so that you will be pure enough to rule wisely and justly.”

The Emperor bowed his head;  something he had never done before any man. “I understand,” he said simply.

“Now, as to the old yin or changing line,” continued the sage. “It tells us that danger is present. As I have said, you cannot presume to attack evil head on; it will feed on force and finally overwhelm you. Instead you must use wu wei or non-action. Cultivate yourself until you have become wise enough to know when evil is afoot. Then you will be able to eradicate it before it grows too strong.”

“I understand,” said the Emperor humbly. “And what of the second reading?”

Here the sage smiled and showed the Emperor the next reading. It was The Dragon, the first hexagram in the Oracle, Heaven over Heaven. “Indeed this is most auspicious,” he said. “This reading indicates that if your lordship follows the advice of the previous reading, all will turn out well. You will not only save the kingdom but be at one with Tao. You will become a sage ruler, remembered with gratitude.”

Long after the sage had departed, the Emperor sat on the carpet in the dimming light, pondering what had been revealed to him. He felt a great opening in his soul, and a small beginning of wisdom stirring within him.

For the rest of his days, he found guidance and wisdom in the Oracle which the sage had so kindly left him. He ruled justly and prudently Ñ and never neglected his own cultivation, even as he cultivated his kingdom. As foretold, he did indeed become a sage ruler. And he passed into history as one of the great emperors of all time.

The I Ching is believed to be the oldest book extant on the planet. More commonly known in the East as The Book of Changes, it is at least five thousand years old. It is believed to have been devised in ancient times by Fu Shi. Three thousand years ago it was revised by King Wen and his son the Duke of Chou, founders of the Chou dynasty. Six hundred years later, it was edited and annotated by Confucius.

In China, divination was originally accomplished by heating the shells of tortoises and reading the cracks that appeared. From this, Fu Shi developed his method of using broken and unbroken lines.

Richard Wilhelm says that “the seasoned wisdom of thousands of years has gone into the making of the I Ching.” In 215 BCE the tyrant emperor Chin Shih Huang Ti ordered a mass burning of books (and scholars!), but spared the I Ching.

According to Hua Ching Ni, “The system of hexagrams which we call the Book of Changes or the I Ching was one of the first great successes in ancient man’s attempts to find the laws which regulate all phenomena. Most significant was their discovery that the laws of great Nature are also the laws of humanity and that since Nature and humanity are one, harmony is the key to life. This conclusion was drawn after long internal and external searching which revealed the balanced way of life as the fundamental path.”

The trigrams themselves are based on natural elements such as water, mountain, wind, thunder, and earth. They also represent various human interactions with both nature and society. The readings, often given in the form of allegories, need to be studied closely to reveal their wisdom. The more you reflect on the reading, the more you will get out of it.

The I Ching became so popular with scholars and sages in China that it has had a major influence on philosophy, statecraft, science, and medicine throughout China’s history. Great rulers; as we have seen;  used the guidance of the I Ching when making decisions about affairs of state. Yet the I Ching can be used by anyone for personal cultivation, reflection, or guidance. Whether you need to make a personal decision, a business decision, or you just want some feedback from the Tao, the I Ching is the perfect tool for the job!

The principle of yin and yang is fundamental to understanding the I Ching. Indeed, this is the principle by which the very universe came into being and continues to manifest itself.