I Ging - the Chinese Book of Wisdom


The I Ching is the oldest book in the world. Its origins are lost in the mythical past 6,000 years ago. It contains the wisdom of millenia and the two main branches of Chinese philosophy, Confucianism and Taoism, have their common roots here ...





Over the next nine minutes I will introduce you to the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, or The Book of Changes. It is the oldest book in the world and is certainly among the most important books of world literature.

Its origin in unknown, it lies back as far as six thousand years, and it is the philosophical source of two important schools of Chinese philosophy, Taoism and Confucianism. The I Ching has exerted great influence on daily life in China for centuries, as a source of wisdom, as a source of advice and also as an oracle consulted to predict the future.

The I Ching is comprised of groups of characters, each made with three strokes; a stroke is either continuous or it is broken. There are eight possible combinations of these characters and they form the essential elements of the I Ching. Two characters form a hexagram and there are a total of 64 possible combinations. Thus the entire book consists of 64 combined hexagrams.

The hexagrams symbolize archetypes, basic philosophical/psychological personality traits. The rest of the Book of Changes, which often runs to hundreds of pages, consists of commentaries on the hexagrams that have been written over the centuries. The most widely accepted translation of the I Ching and its commentaries was made by the German scholar Richard Wilhelm, who lived in Beijing from 1914 to 1924. But here I want to go back to the hexagrams themselves, to try and capture their original meaning. For this purpose I commissioned an artist to translate the essence of each hexagram into drawings. I would like to present a few of them to you now.


  • 01 The Creative

This is the first hexagram, made up of six unbroken lines. It symbolizes the masculine cosmic principle and is the most powerful hexagram, capturing the moment of creation. The Book of Changes advises those who draw this oracle, “You’re in the right place at the right time to undertake a major creative activity.”


  • 02 The Receptive

This hexagram, made up of only broken lines, symbolizes the feminine cosmic principle. Receptivity brings positive results, through perseverance and hard work and less by daring actions. The advice: Stay strong but yielding and success will follow.


  • 03 Growing Pains

Starting a new venture or a new relationship is a journey into the unknown. But unsettled circumstances can yield excellent returns if you know how to take advantage of this state of flux. Change may generate wealth, a simple fact that is often forgotten. The advice: Gather your resources, and people who can help you, and when the time comes to act, be brave.


  • 04 Youthful Attitude  – finding new ways

This hexagram depicts the rebellious nature of youth: a child climbing recklessly on a table, or a new spring finding its way down a valley. The advice: In unstable times those with a strong will can achieve success. This emphasis on steady, persistent effort is an ethical thread that runs throughout the Book of Changes.


  • 06 Conflict

This hexagram expresses conflict, a man looks into a mirror and sees himself. The advice: The creative resolution of differences can lead to success but only if both sides are sincere. 


  • 17 Adaptability

“Adaptability is the key to supreme success,” say the Chinese. What does that mean? As a sailor, you cannot change the direction of the wind but you can always reset your sails to reach your goal.

Those who want to rise to the top must speak the language of the followers. That’s good advice for every sales situation: listen closely to your opposite and try to express your proposal in terms he understands.


  • 21 Cutting through the Crap

The image shows the middle line being bitten through. The statement: Certain situations demand strict discipline. The advice: Your grasp should be firm, but not hasty or arbitrary.


  • 29 Facing Danger

Danger can bring good fortune to those who can overcome a threat. A danger that we master makes us stronger and that new strength enables growth. Even if pushed to the limit, keep your eye on your goal and stay oriented.


  • 33 Strategic Retreat

A strategic retreat is not a panicked flight from danger, and certainly not surrender.

Advice: When events turn against you, establish a new position before even greater damage is done. Give yourself time to rethink the big picture. Be creative: not all progress is linear.


  • 39 Temporary Obstacles

The irritating grain of sand that spawns an oyster’s pearl is a powerful symbol. We should likewise turn the obstacles and irritations we meet into positive gains.


  • 47 Hard Times 

A dry lake with a broken shoreline represents distress, or bankruptcy. Failure is the ultimate taboo in modern society, but it is inevitable that some undertakings fail in the course of a lifetime. Never to fail means never to have tried something difficult or unusual. Change is always accompanied by risk and change is part of life.


  • 48 The Well

The well is a symbol of the inexhaustible source of life; Chinese houses were often built around a well. Simplistic populist thinking was already a problem in ancient China, so the sages warned: “Beware of shallow thinking.” The also said, “The deeper the well the clearer the water.”


  • 53 A Steady Pace

Most things of lasting value evolve gradually – they have their own pace. Advice: Progress must be slow but steady: slow enough for connections to grow together firmly, steady enough to keep the undertaking on course.  


  • 55 Abundance

This image symbolizes abundance and success, also in a material sense.

“Inner clarity and outward dynamism – that brings wealth and success.”

With this sentence the Chinese mean: balanced self-esteem, a strong vision, inner clarity and outward dynamism lead to success. The image shows how to get there – with fire and thunder, that is, deep inward emotion, and outward power.


  • 60 Accepting Limitations

Choice implies limitation. Taking one path excludes another. Limitations are a normal part of life. The advice: One key to a successful life is to choose your limitations consciously and carefully.


  • 61 Inner Truth

In the drawing, both inner lines have melted through. This symbolizes a successful negotiation, where the inner truth of your counterpart has been penetrated. The Chinese say: “Where the truth lies, the contrasts are merged.” This is the true meaning of mediation.


  • 64 Nearing Completion

The drawing shows water below and fire, the sunset, above. But this is not an image of the end, rather its is a symbol of the beginning. It reminds us that the change is eternal, and the eternal wheel of life never ceases to turn.


Go from the left trigram, number 29, to the right trigram, 30. Thus, you get to Hexagram 64, Before Completion.

Slide the middle line on the right upward to get Hexagram 47: distress or bankruptcy, the dried lake – an uncomfortable situation.

But if you slide the middle line on the right downward you get Hexagram 59: the resolution or the fountain of youth – with just a small change.

Thus the hexagrams are logically linked. They change and yield a new solution for every situation we encounter.



“Inner clarity and outward dynamism – that brings wealth and success.”

I Ging - Book of Changes
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