King Wen Pair Symmetry in The Eight Palaces Arrangement

The "Eight Palaces" arrangement by Jing Fang is a very interesting diagram of the 64 i-Ching hexagrams dating back about 2,000 years. An analysis of the King Wen pairs within the Eight Palaces illuminates some striking thematic and structural relationships.

The sequence, is a row-based design in which each of the eight "palaces" is a row founded on one of the eight trigrams.

Each row begins with hexagram composed of a doubled trigram (1, Heaven over Heaven; 29, water over water; etc.). As you progress down each row, a single line changes in the hexagram, from bottom to top, until the last of the row, in which the lower trigram changes. I'm following the row ordering laid out by the estimable Steve Marshall at (The "undercoat" number graphics on some of these diagrams are also borrowed, with apologies, from Biroco.)

The numbering below shows the King Wen sequence numbers for each hexagram spread over the Eight Palaces grid.

I've made a diagram showing the King Wen pairs as they are distributed over the Eight Palaces grid. I believe the result illustrates some important qualities of the King Wen pair relationships.

Each line connects the members of each pair. The arrow shows the direction (i.e., for 1-2, the arrow points toward 2). The red lines are the lower canon pairs (1-2 through 29-30), the blue lines are the upper canon. The green line is 63-64, highlighted here because several lines overlap in this part of the grid.

Yin-yang complements are always in the same vertical row throughout the Eight Palaces diagram. None of the King Wen pairs in this diagram are horizontally oriented, an interesting piece of data which suggests that the pair relationships are a deliberate element in this diagram (or that the pair relationships have an intentional component that this diagram inadvertently highlights).

Let's talk about the symmetrical block in the center first, then deal with the vertical lines in three columns on the left and right.

The design within the symmetrical block is remarkably elegant. Every one of the pair sets in the section passes through one of two key hexagrams -- 11 Advance or 63 Already Completed.




Advance represents the merging of yin and yang in a dramatic positive motion. Already Completed represents the mixing of yin and yang in perfect alignment. It's instructive to look at the specific pairs passing through each of these positions. Let's start with Already Completed, because the yin-yang dynamic here is remarkably clear.

The actual hexagrams are pulled out below, which offers a very visceral and immediate illustration of the dynamic. Essentially, these two rows show a complete yin hexagram passing through a field of yang.

The arrows below show the numeric "direction" of each pair passing through "Already Completed." In contrast to the action of the hexagrams, there's no immediately apparent rhyme or reason to the directions here.

The hexagrams are all from within the complete sequence known as the "waxing and waning of yang" associated with the lunar cycle. If we go back to the overall diagram, we can easily find the two missing pieces of the "waxing and waning" sequence. Although they're clearly related to the sequence's placement here, the pair doesn't intersect the Already Completed Hexagram, which makes sense since neither hexagram mixes yin and yang in any way. Another point of note here is that the diagram is usually ordered just slightly differently from the way things are arranged here -- the sequence is usually said to begin with Hex 24, Return, and end with Hex 2, Earth.

The other nexus in the symmetrical block is 11, Advance. Let's look at the pairs passing through that central spot.

And below are the actual hexagrams:

The structural relationships here are considerably more complex, and I will save discussion for another day -- when I understand it better myself. I will, however, point out a feature I was already studying in terms of hexagram structure -- the "shell" of each hexagram, meaning the outer (top and bottom) lines. I am increasingly convinced the shell lines are central to understanding the structural relationships among various groupings of hexagrams.

In this particular set of hexagrams aligned around "Advance" there's an important pattern. The outermost hexagrams are "yin shell" -- yin on both the outer and inner lines. The middle layer is split with yang lines facing "inward" to Advance, and yin lines facing "outward." The inner layer hexagrams are all "yang shell."

I believe the shell lines are important to the context of the overall hexagram reading. Let's pull out three hexagrams from this set just for a general example of this discussion. For purposes of discussion, let's look at the easiest sequence to interpret -- 40 (Unraveling/Deliverance/Solution/Liberation depending on what translation you're looking at), 3 (Sprouting/Difficulty at the Beginning) and 26 (Great Accumulating or Taming Power of the Great) from the grid.

However you translate it, the yin-shell hexagram 40 represents a process of exiting difficulty, or leaving something behind. With one yin on top and one yang below, Hexagram three has a shell that is pointing inward and it represents the beginning of a new process. Hexagram 26 represents strong movement forward into a process that is, nevertheless, still being restrained.

Although the structual components here are less than obvious, thematically it's very clear that Advance is the natural next step in this progression.

In other cases, the progression of three hexagrams leads to reversal, such as with 32 (Duration/Continuing), 63 (Completed) and 41 (Decreasing). An old cycle completes and diminishes, until enantidromia sets in -- the process by which anything taken to its extreme becomes its opposite, a concept built into i-Ching and corresponding tai chi symbolism. After decrease, Advance marks the beginning of a new cycle. (Obviously, the forces of subjectivity come into play in making these interpretations.)

From below, similar interpretive paths can be laid out, again with some more easily understood than others. For instance, 45 (Gathering), 50 (Vessel or Cauldron), 37 (Family or Household) can easily be seen as a process of gather people, defining the container or grouping which holds them together, and then proceeding as a unified collection of elements, which leads to Advance. Another fairly transparent series is 47 (Oppression), 56 (Sojourning), 9 (taming power of the small). Less easily reconciled, though still within reach of fairly conservative interpretation, is a sequence like 39 (Obstruction or Limping), 4 (Youthful Folly/Enveloping), and 25 (The Unexpected).

One last point of interest in this section before moving on. If you look at each layer of pairs around Advance, you may have noticed that each layer's pair-sets point in the same direction. The direction alternates. The outer layers all point up, the middle layer sets point down, and the innermost layer points up. There are two pattern breakers in here, however. Both are quite interesting.

In the innermost layer, the pattern breaker is right down the middle. 41-42, Decrease and Increase. The structural component of this will become much clearer below.

The kicker, however, is in the middle layer. Hexagram pair 59-60 bucks the directional trend in the middle layer. 59-60 is one of a handful of pair sets in which the nuclear hexagram is the same for both parts of the pair.

Let's turn to the columns of pair lines on the outsides of the diagram, which are strictly vertical. The first column is fairly straightforward -- these are the "houses" -- hexagrams which consist of doubled trigrams in the following order: Heaven, Thunder, Water, Mountain, Earth, Wind, Fire and Lake.

In this case, the "houses" are obviously an intentional part of the Eight Palaces Design, and their relationship to the rows doesn't require a great deal of analysis at the moment. Less obvious and more curious are the two columns on the right.

Although the yin-yang opposites are always vertically aligned in the Eight Palaces, not all of the hexes here are opposite pairs (35-36, for example, is just a simple inversion). But something very interesting happens when you draw a line between the hexes in the first column and the hexes in the second column where the lower trigram is the same. (I'm afraid I can't take credit for deducing this; I picked this congruence through trial and error after trying several matching techniques that produced relatively uninteresting results.)

The connections here now intersect through Advance and Already Complete, as do the central pairs, but we also see a connection now through two new hexagrams -- 41 Decrease and 42 Increase. The parallelism here is unmistakable. For instance, 29 Danger and 6 Conflict pass through Advance. Danger Advances into Conflict. Other connections are striking -- 36 Darkening of the Light or Brightness Hidden passes through Advance to become 30 Fire or Brightness.

Joy Increases to Inner Truth (or The Open Increases to Center Conforming, or vice versa). Great Exceeding Diminishes to The Root. Other pairs are somewhat less transparent, but the overall pattern strongly favors meaning here. The relationship between Brightness and Hidden Brightness, for instance, could hardly be clearer.

The final column of the diagram is somewhat perplexing in terms of how it might relate to the grid. The hexagrams in the final column feature the lower trigram returning "to the source" so to speak -- and returning to their original state. The King Wen pairs are not symmetrical within the column itself nor does it especially mirror the other columns. I hope to update this posting and revisit this issue after some consideration. For now, I simply note its aberrant nature. Perhaps a reader with keener insight will chime in before then to offer a possible context.

I'd like to close out with two brief observations, with relatively minimal comment. Marshall at Biroco comments that "Jing Fang's name is associated with the first appearance of 'nuclear trigrams.'" For that reason -- among others -- let's look at the nuclear hexagrams within the Eight Palaces grid.

It seems as if there is clearly a pattern to be divined here, but I'm not able to articulate anything useful at the moment, perhaps needing more time to digest the mass of material above.

Finally, the theme of this site is an attempt to unlock the secret of the King Wen sequence. While all of the above is of great interest to me as a student and user of the i-Ching, sadly, the Eight Palaces offers no distinct view on the ordering of King Wen's sequence. Below is a map of the "contrapuntal" sequence (i.e., the ordering of the pairs by drawing an arror from 2-3, 4-5, etc.). No clear structure emerges.

Below is an animation of the pair sets being drawn in King Wen's order. (Reload page to start from beginning.) As you can see, no immediate sense of distinct pattern.

The search goes on....

New! Eight Palaces Circular Arrangement

Pair symmetry in King Wen's circular diagram (Later Heaven)

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By J.M. Berger

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(As Contributor)

(Fall 2007)

About this site

I'm J.M. Berger. I'm a freelance writer covering a wide variety of topics, including religion, spirituality and religion-science convergence. This site is devoted to a personal obsession of mine -- figuring out the logic that informs the King Wen sequence of the i-Ching. I hope you enjoy it. I have other Web sites relevant to this material, which are linked above.

All text, images and Web design (C) 2006, J.M. Berger, all rights reserved. for permissions.