What is the I Ching Saying About COVID-19?

Certainly humanity has suffered plagues before, but no one alive today has faced quite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents.

COVID-19 has been called the “perfect” virus. It is more contagious than the cold and flu, and much more lethal, killing about 1-3% of the people it infects (compared to .1% of people who contract the flu). But it is not as lethal as SARS or Ebola, meaning that it also infects many who do not themselves become sick, but can spread the disease to others. And it presents as “only” mild respiratory, flu-like illness in about 90% of the symptomatic cases. For the other 10%, the risk of death is real, and they will probably require hospital care. If there are too many of these sick people in a given community, their needs have the potential to strain local health care delivery services to the breaking point.

As a “novel” virus, nobody has immunity from it. The problem, owing to the lack of availability of testing, is that we currently don’t know who is actively spreading the virus (until they become sick), and who has developed antibodies against it (even if they never get sick).

Given the lives this virus has already taken, the damage that has been inflicted on public health, the overwhelming burden it has presented to our hospitals and medical staff, and the potential for these ravages to continue and multiply, our country’s governors have wisely issued shelter-in-place orders, and shut down much “non-essential” economic activity. And so we wait.

In times of crisis like these, the I Ching can provide especially potent wisdom for how to act and what attitudes to hold.

This is because the I Ching was developed over 3,000 years ago, during a time when ancient China was going through much turmoil as its “warring states” vied for resources and power, and it was considered one of the six books of wisdom that rulers used to guide their actions when many options were available but none seemed optimal. For decision making, it was considered the most important book, because it could read the unseen “mandate from Heaven” that spelled out the course of action appropriate for that moment in time that would ultimately spell enduring success for peoples and their rulers. And, when the inevitable hard times came, the I Ching offered wisdom for navigating the attendant dangers and uncertainty. 

However, is its advice still relevant for issues we in the U.S. face today, in the 21st century? 

Given that it is the oldest surviving divination system on the planet, the I Ching has continued to offer people across time and cultures actionable, sage advice, even though interpretation can sometimes be tricky. 

I first asked the I Ching for its general guidance on how U.S. residents should manage their health and finances during this time, and received readings that certainly spoke to the situation. For health, the I Ching indicated that there will be no easy fix; we are in a pattern that will remain in place for some time. The 2 readings indicated that we are being called to be creative and conceive innovative responses, while also not kidding ourselves that we can do too much. We need to be like birds when they’re nourishing new life: stay close to our nest. As the I Ching can be read on so many levels, I interpret this metaphor to mean both that we do literally need to be staying home at the moment, and that game-changing advances in treatment for the virus will probably not immediately occur. Only “small steps” will be effective at this time. As for finances, the I Ching indicated we will be in trouble for awhile, but that gradually we will rebuild. “Any kind of development should proceed in an orderly way and advance step by step.” *

But, given such broad diversity across communities and peoples of this country, this guidance seemed to only affirm what we’ve already been told; it did not present actionable guidance for navigating our next steps. So, today (Sunday, March 29, 2020), I decided to ask the I Ching a more pointed question: “What is U.S. society’s highest priority right now in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic?”

With the trouble we are encountering right now, the I Ching had 2 pieces of advice: restrain the negative forces by keeping to ourselves (“It is not appropriate to let it approach the guests”) but not accept a situation “with no friends gathered around.” During these times, we need to be accepting of others. “If one is magnanimous and tolerant toward others, then one can receive support from them.” To confront and overcome this peril, we need to embrace the paradox of keeping to ourselves while staying in touch with – and being accepting of – our community in all its diversity and differing views. If we allow ourselves to become too isolated, misfortune can result. Thankfully, we are already seeing this modeled on the national stage as Trump and his administration are working with Democratic and Republican governors alike to bring support and relief to afflicted communities across the country. And we saw it with the bipartisan support behind the stimulus bill that was signed into law on Friday, March 27.

Interestingly, the I Ching returned the same response for how this priority question will resolve as it did on my background question regarding finances: Gradual Development. The situation will improve, but it will take time, like the growth of a tree. No steps can be missed in this process; there will be no fast-forward.

Watch this space as I report on more readings each week!

The I Ching can provide you specific guidance to help you and your family through the pandemic. Contact me today to set up a phone or Skype meeting. 

The I Ching readings:

To make these blogs more immediately digestible, I provide the commentary first, followed by the actual readings, so that readers acquainted with the I Ching can check my interpretation. 

Background (health) (2 readings): Hexagram 1 (title: “The Creative” **), stable. Hexagram 62 (“Taming Power of the Small”), stable. 

Background (finances): Hexagram 29 (“The Abysmal”), changing to Hexagram 53 (“Gradual Development”). There were 3 change lines in the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th positions.

Highest priority: Hexagram 44 (“Coming to Meet”) changing to Hexagram 53 (“Gradual Development”). There were 2 change lines, in the 2nd and 4th positions.


*Words and passages quoted in this blog are from Huang, A.  (1998).  The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by the Taoist Master Alfred Huang.  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.  

** Titles vary by translation. For this blog, I used those developed by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes in one of the first authoritative I Ching translations to appear in English, The I Ching, or Book of Changes, (1950/1967).  (R. Wilhelm & C.F. Baynes, trans.).  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.

OK, Who Will Win the Presidential Election?

After asking the I Ching to predict the outcome of each presidential debate, I certainly could not pass up consulting the oracle on the Question That Actually Matters.

Who is going to win this thing?

While Hillary Clinton is ahead in most polls, this lead is certainly not enough to assure a blow-out — and many states, including key ones such as Florida, remain in a statistical dead heat. Meanwhile Donald Trump is making a last-ditch effort to peel off voters in traditional Democratic strongholds, such as Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and his supporters everywhere seem more dug-in than ever in their indefatigable support for his populist candidacy.

In its response to my questions about the outcome of the third debate, the I Ching had predicted that Clinton would not emerge with a key mandate and, sure enough, she did not. While she made some modest gains in the polls following her debate performance, those were wiped out when FBI Director James Comey dropped his bombshell a little over a week later that agents had discovered new emails that might be “pertinent” to its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. As poll numbers tightened between the two candidates, suddenly, it seemed, Clinton had an actual chance of losing.

So, concerning the outcome of this hard-fought election, here were my questions, which I posed to the I Ching on the evening of Monday, November 7 (the night before the election):

What is the likelihood that…

  1. Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the U.S.?
  2. Donald Trump will be elected President of the U.S.?

While both readings were rather propitious, I’m going to commit myself here and say that the I Ching is predicting a Clinton victory. I say this because Trump’s reading concerned decrease and the importance of taking a humble stance, while Clinton’s reading talked about enlightened power coming into its own.

Trump’s first hexagram (see below) “signifies either decreasing or losing.”* Actually, according to the I Ching, this state of affairs isn’t as bleak as it sounds, for this decrease concerns diminishing one’s material concerns and entanglements to augment a focus on spiritual growth. One of the I Ching’s core philosophies, in fact, is, “What is excessive should be decreased.” A person accomplishes this by remaining “steadfast and upright” and making simple offerings. The specific guidance given in this reading via the three change lines was that Trump could find himself alone following the election, but this will afford him the opportunity to forge new relationships that will help him heal afflictions suffered during the campaign. Finally, he is being advised that if he can assume a “modest” stance, he will be able to win the loyalty and trust of others, and experience “supreme good fortune” in advancing his affairs. If, however, he adopts a stance of “conceit,” he will be dragged down.

The second (“destination”) hexagram obtained in this reading is that of pure yang, i.e., generative, creative energy. However, it is still all potentiality; the rubber has not yet met the road. Trump may well lose the election but he still will have a stellar opportunity to exert his influence in bold new directions if he can adopt a modest, conciliatory tone and sincerely endeavor to serve others. Sounds like a tall order for Trump, but you never know.

Clinton, on the other hand, received a hexagram that signifies “great strength,” representing “a positive advance for further achievement.” Recognizing, however, that such a strong person can too easily let such power go to his or her head, the I Ching includes in its judgment that it’s “Favorable to be steadfast and upright”; one most definitely should not become “too self-willed and opinionated.” This point is further emphasized in the specific guidance in this reading. Even though the querent is very strong, he or she should also employ “righteousness” when vanquishing the inferior element; relying on strength alone will bring “danger and regret.” The image accompanying this reading is a hedge that “falls apart,” enabling a wagon to move forward without employing further force.

The destination hexagram continues this theme of enlightened leadership. Here, the image is of Heaven and Earth coming together and moving in communion, and bringing peace and prosperity. It is also symbolized by spring, the season when life renews itself. “The little is departing,/ The great is arriving./ Good fortune./ Prosperous and smooth.”

So, to sum up: By giving a reading that discusses power and leadership (which certainly is consonant with being President of the United States), the I Ching is predicting that Hillary Clinton will carry this election. However, she must not gloat over her victory, but seek to promote peace and healing as soon as possible. Trump, on the other hand, may lose the election but can win another way: by allowing new connections to help him transform this humbling experience into creative, action-oriented ways for being of service.

The I Ching readings:To make these blogs more immediately digestible, I provide the commentary first, followed by the actual readings, so that readers acquainted with the I Ching can check my interpretation.

Likelihood that Trump will win the election: Hexagram 41 (title: “Decrease”*) changing to Hexagram 1 (“The Creative”). There were 3 change lines, in the third, fourth, and fifth positions.

 Likelihood that Clinton will win the election: Hex 34 (“The Power of the Great”) changing to Hex 11 (“Peace”). There was 1 change line, in the fourth position.

*Words and passages quoted in this blog are from Huang, A. (1998). The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by the Taoist Master Alfred Huang. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

*Titles vary by translation. For this blog, I used those developed by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes in one of the first authoritative I Ching translations to appear in English, The I Ching, or Book of Changes, (1950/1967). (R. Wilhelm & C.F. Baynes, trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

The I Ching predicted the Brexit vote.

brexit-1478082_640The politicos and bookmakers may not have seen this coming, but the I Ching accurately predicted the outcome of the Brexit vote.

On concerns such as this where there are clear, limited options about how a situation will unfold, I generally structure the reading into discrete questions that ask about each possible outcome. In other words, I don’t try to force the I Ching into answering basically a yes-no question because the results can be hard to interpret, given the I Ching’s complexity.

So, concerning the Brexit vote, here were my two questions:

  1. What is the probability the U.K. voters will vote to exit the E.U.?
  2. What is the probability the U.K. voters will elect to remain in the E.U.?

I Ching reading in progress

Probability for voting to exit: The reading was Hexagram 18 (title: “Work on What Has Been Spoiled”*) changing to Hexagram 2 (“The Receptive”). There were 3 change lines, in the second, third, and sixth positions.

Hex 18 often signifies a situation that has gone into decay, but which the querent has an excellent chance to rectify, if he or she is patient and can wait for the right time. When it’s the first hexagram attained in the reading (as in this case), the I Ching often describes how the situation can be rectified through the change lines.

The second and third change lines of Hex 18 concern inherited problems, i.e., those attained from the “mother” (second line) and “father” (third line). Given the importance that Chinese culture (and, hence, the I Ching) placed on family relationships, the querent is advised to be as careful as possible in instituting reforms, especially for the sake of the mother. In remedying problems brought on by the father, the I Ching mentions that while these are necessary, “there is slight regret”**. The sixth line says: “Not serving kings and lords; Highly elevates his own pursuit.” At this point the querent is advised to stand outside of the situation, and pursue what he or she believes to be right, as opposed to prevailing wisdom. In other words, not to follow what the politicians advocate!

Hex 2, the destination hexagram (resulting after the 3 change lines turned to the opposite yin/yang polarity), connotes pure yin and provides specific guidance for the realms of earth and humanity. This hexagram, along with the purely yang Hex 1 (“The Creative”), form the introduction to the whole book. The querent attaining this hexagram is promised a “sublimely prosperous and smooth” path as long as he or she is able to follow the time, and not try to exert undue control over the outcome. As a side note, the text also says that while friends will be found in the southwest, they will be lost in the northeast, which maps to the areas that voted for and against Brexit! This is an example of how the I Ching sometimes weaves in additional (and concrete) information into its responses.

Probability for voting to stay: The reading was Hex 11 (“Peace”) changing to Hex 22 (“Grace”). There were 2 change lines in the second and sixth positions.

Hex 11 is generally rather propitious, as its structure depicts that yang (i.e., light) is overthrowing the darkness of yin and, therefore, a situation is improving overall. However, the 2 change lines tell a different story.

The second line talks about “fighting a tiger with bare hands.” While this indicates struggle, the outcome is not necessarily defeat if the querent is able to eliminate selfishness in relationships and not go to extremes. The sixth line, however, spells disaster: “Castle wall returns into the moat. Use no multitude. To your own country, make your self-blame known. Being steadfast: humiliation.” As events often unfold in order of the lines, the sixth line in this reading can probably be relied upon as the one that is more accurately predicting the outcome. You need not be an I Ching scholar to see the outlook is dark!

Hex 22, the destination hexagram, talks about focusing on aesthetics, with a “slightly favorable” outcome, suggesting that the losers will be able to maintain some decorum while suffering their humiliating defeat.

Final thoughts: It is important to note that my intention in performing this reading was to: 1) sharpen my own skills as a reader, and 2) satisfy a personal curiosity about the I Ching’s reaction to this important world event. My intention was not to: 1) test the I Ching, or 2) use the outcome to influence a wager. Had my intention been either of the latter two, the unstated questions would, in fact, be different:

What is the probability that the I Ching can correctly predict that U.K. voters will elect to leave the E.U.?

Or: What is the wisdom of betting that U.K. voters will elect to leave the E.U.?

You must be very clear what you’re asking! The I Ching will answer the question you intend, not the more socially desirable one that you state. I will endeavor to guide you in asking the right question — and discourage you from asking things that will elicit confused responses or, even, a rebuke. The I Ching has many ways of doing that!

Finally, it’s important to note that I asked these questions at noon U.S. Eastern time on the day of the Brexit vote, June 23, 2016. The I Ching was commenting on voting that was in progress. I had not watched the news to gain a sense of how the voting was trending. (Given current election-reporting practice, it is doubtful I would have learned much.) I agree it would have been potentially more interesting to have asked these questions a day or two before. However, I refrained because I feared the temptations to test or wager could have sullied my pure-as-possible inquiry.

However, I must confess to feeling a bit inflated that I was able to divine the correct outcome. In such moments, I must always remind myself that the wisdom derives from I Ching, not myself. With its timeless knowledge of the workings of heaven, earth, and humanity, it sees the seeds of future events, and can predict how they will grow.

*Titles vary by translation. For this blog, I used those developed by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes in one of the first authoritative I Ching translations to appear in English, The I Ching, or Book of Changes, (1950/1967). (R. Wilhelm & C.F. Baynes, trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
**Passages quoted in this blog are from Huang, A. (1998). The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by the Taoist Master Alfred Huang. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.