The Houses of the Yi Jing

There is a system of grouping the hexagrams known as the "houses", wherein all sixty four hexagrams are divided into eight groups, each group consisting of eight hexagrams. The houses are each given a name, the name being that of one of the Trigrams, for example, the house of "Creativity" (QIAN), or the house of "Chasm" (KAN). Accordingly, the first hexagram in each of the houses is that in which the trigram is doubled to form the hexagram of that name. In the editions of the Yi Jing in which this system is shown, the hexagrams are given with a cursory description of the constituent trigrams. For example, "Heaven with Earth is Obstructing". It seems clear from this that the arrangements are therefore based on an approach whereby the hexagrams are viewed on the basis of the trigrams.

These eight trigrams are QIAN (Creativity), KAN (Chasm), GEN (Unstirring), ZHEN (Quaking), XUN (Penetrating), LI (Radiating), KUN (Receptivity), DUI (Joy). The houses are given here in the order of the houses in which they are usually placed, from QIAN through to DUI. This is the sequence of the trigrams found in the King Wen circular arrangement of the trigrams, reading clockwise. Furthermore, the first four houses are those trigrams which represent male family members (qian, kan, gen, zhen), and the last four are those which represent female family members (xun, li, kun, dui).

At the outset it is difficult to discern any logic in the division of the hexagrams. The first hexagram in each group is always that which consists of the doubled trigram. And the first four hexagrams in each group always contain that trigram in the upper position. But following this, the groupings seem somewhat arbitrary. However, all eight houses bear certain similar characteristics in terms of the constituent trigrams, and to examine this, the house of XUN, “Penetrating”, can be used as an example. As noted above, in this house, the upper trigram of hexagrams one to four is always the one which bears the name of the house (XUN). The upper trigram of hexagrams seven and eight is always the same (GEN). The lower trigram of hexagrams four to seven is that which lies across from the former in the Fu Xi arrangement of trigrams (ZHEN). Finally, the lower trigram of the last hexagram is again the one which bears the name of the house (XUN). The lower trigram of the second hexagram is the same as the upper trigram of the fifth (QIAN), and lower trigram of the third hexagram is the same as the upper trigram of the sixth (LI). This holds for each and every house. Furthermore, in each house only five of the possible eight trigrams are present.

If the nuclear trigrams are examined, it can be seen that the upper nuclear trigram is the same in hexagrams one to three (LI), and the lower nuclear trigram is the same in the first, second and the last hexagram (DUI).

The hexagrams are therefore grouped into houses according to some sort of system. Whilst it must be borne in mind that the pristine nature of the structure of the hexagrams might be at the root of these similarities, there is an imposition here for a purpose which is not easily understood. In the Han Dynasty, attempts were made (never very satisfactorily) to equate the system of eight trigrams with the system of the Five Elements (Metal, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wood). In each of these houses only four of the five elements are ever present, but how far to proceed along this conjectural route? In each house only five of the possible eight trigrams are present, but is this intentional or simply the result of the binary possibilities of the system?

Using again the example of the House of XUN, what has happened to the other hexagrams in which XUN appears as an upper trigram? It appears once in position five in the house of QIAN, once in position six in the house of LI, and twice in positions seven and eight in the house of GEN. In all the houses, this system is closely observed, a trigram occurring in the first four positions in its own house, in position five in another house, position six in another house, and finally in positions seven and eight in a further house. When these houses are studied, there is a trigrammatic connection between the houses of XUN, QIAN, LI, and GEN. If the house of QIAN is treated in a similar fashion we see occurrences of the houses XUN, GEN, and LI. The house of GEN is connected similarly with LI, QIAN and XUN. The house of LI is connected with the houses of GEN, XUN, and QIAN. These are the four trigrams with a YANG in their uppermost place.

The houses of KAN, DUI, ZHEN, and KUN are linked in a similar fashion, with the incidence of the upper trigram observing the same implicit structure and order as with the houses above. In this case, these are the four trigrams whose uppermost place consists of a YIN line. The houses of QIAN, LI, GEN, and XUN contain between them the sum total of the thirty-two hexagrams whose top place is occupied by a Yang line, whilst the houses of KAN, DUI, ZHEN, and KUN contain between them the sum total of the thirty-two hexagrams with a Yin line in the top place. In the less well-known circular arrangement of the trigrams called the "Familial" diagram, this grouping is reflected in the incidence of the trigrams in the circle. All those trigrams with a Yang line in the uppermost position (LI, GEN, XUN, and QIAN) are on one side of the circle, whilst the four trigrams with a Yin line in the uppermost position (KAN, DUI, ZHEN, and KUN) lie on the other side of the circle.

There is another interesting feature of the system, and the house of XUN can be used again as an example, although the incidence is the same in all other houses. As stated above, in the house of XUN the first four hexagrams are those with the trigram XUN in the upper position. The house in which the trigram XUN next appears as the upper trigram is the house of QIAN, and it appears there as the fifth hexagram. If we now examine the fifth hexagram of the house of XUN, we see that the upper trigram is QIAN. The trigram XUN next appears in position six in the house of LI. The sixth hexagram in the house of XUN has LI as the upper trigram. Finally, the trigram XUN appears in positions seven and eight of the house of GEN, and positions seven and eight of the house of XUN are occupied by hexagrams with GEN as their upper trigram.

Turning now to examine the lower trigrams in the houses, there are yet more points of interest. It has been noted that there is a link between the trigram XUN, that the houses in which the trigram further ocurrs are also present as trigrams in the house of XUN. These further houses are QIAN (a XUN trigram in the fifth position), LI (a XUN trigram in the sixth position), and GEN (a XUN trigram in the seventh and eighth positions). The lower trigrams in the house of XUN are five in number: XUN in the first position, QIAN in the second position, LI in the third position, ZHEN in positions four through to seven, and then XUN again at the end. This incidence ocurs in every other house as well.

Whilst it may appear at first that the inclusion of certain hexagrams into a particular house is somewhat arbitrary, there is a system underlying which hexagrams are in each particular house. What this system meant to the school of diviners or philosophers who drew up the houses of the Yi Jing is not easy to say. Perhaps it is the remnant of an older or alternative procedure of Yi Jing consultation, or an unorthodox sequence of hexagrams

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