Friday, December 13, 2019

How Should You Ask a Question of the I Ching?

Different western books and teachings on the I Ching tend to give different advice about how to phrase a question.  I have noted some people claiming that a "yes/no" style of question is really bad. However, I've also noted that those people tend to seem to want readings that are not very direct and straightforward, to leave them a lot of room to interpret the reading in the way they like. In other words, it seems to indicate a lack of trust in the I Ching.

In the Magician's I Ching, I point out that the question itself can be about almost anything, but that in fact in most cases (if it suits the question) it would be advisable to ask in a form where the answer could potentially be as simple as "yes/no" or "good/bad". That doesn't mean that the answer you'll receive will always be that simple, but it's good if you can allow it to be so.

For questions where a yes/no is not really a viable format, asking "should I do X" or "is it advisable to do y" are good questions.

Obviously, any way in which you ask can potentially generate a usable answer. But there are some ways to ask which could make it harder for you to obtain clarity.

For example, I do not advise "either/or" style questions being posited to the I Ching because those can on some occasions cloud the answer.

By either or I mean questions like "which of path A or path B is the best option for me"?

The reason phrasing a question in this way is a bit tricky is because first, you are not asking about one specific thing, so you might be inclined to direct the answer in the direction you would rather wish it was. This is not always a problem because sometimes the two paths are so different (if they were opposites for example, or had radically different characteristics) that you would not be able to just pick the side you like unless you were in deep denial. But when it's less clear a distinction between the two options, you might do some 'reading in' to the answer toward the direction you'd wish was best.

Second, because sometimes there is a tendency for the results to just be muddled and unclear in a casting question like this.

Third, because this doesn't easily leave open the possibility for an option C, or option D, etc.  Again, this isn't always a problem, but when you ask a question in this way you are still predirecting the I Ching to choose between only a set number of options which are what you can foresee, rather than opening to the possibility that something else could be foreseen.

In situations like this, it is sometimes better to either ask a broader question (how should I approach the overall situation? What is the best course of action in general? etc), or to ask more than one specific question (i.e. first asking "what would be the best way to approach option A" and then "what would be the best way to approach option B", and compare).


  1. If you have a yes/no question, why not just flip a coin? I don't come to the I Ching (or any Oracle) for yes or no, I want the nuances I can get. What is the benefit if I go to college? is much better than Should I go to college? because it gives me a better picture to make my decision.

    Just the act of sussing out the best way to ask the question helps to define what I am askng, what information I seek. It helps me understand what I really want to ask.

    It seems to me questions, while difficult to decide how to ask at times, are vital to the Oracle.

  2. The way you're putting those questions are alright. As long as you remember when asking about the benefits that this is what you asked. If you ask "what are the benefits if I go to college", you cannot take the answer to mean that it would be the best thing for you to go to college, because you asked only about the benefits (even so, if the answer is auspicious it seems unlikely that going would be the worst choice).