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Comments on whole hexagrams, individual lines and so on

Great good fortune

Great good fortune

The Yijing is an optimistic oracle: omens of good fortune come more often than those of misfortune. But on four* occasions, it goes one step further and promises great good fortune:

‘Enriching the home.
Great good fortune.’

Hexagram 37, line 4

‘Great good fortune, no mistake.’

Hexagram 45, line 4

‘Welcomed pushing upward,
Great good fortune.’

Hexagram 46, line 1

‘Small exceeding, creating success,
Constancy bears fruit.
Allows small works, does not allow great works.
A bird in flight leaves its call,
Going higher is not fitting, coming down is fitting.
Great good fortune.’

Hexagram 62, the Oracle

Why great good fortune, not just ‘good fortune’? What’s special about these four moments?

(Spoiler: as usual, I don’t know, and the Yi isn’t letting on. But if I dig in and explore, perhaps I’ll learn something…)

Great and small

To begin with, what does ‘great’ mean?

The obvious answer is probably the right one: this is big good fortune, something very auspicious. Da, ‘great’, at its simplest just means ‘big’ – as opposed to xiao, small.

However, sometimes in the Yijing there’s more to it than that. ‘Great people‘ are often thought of as those with good moral qualities – but the contrast of ‘great people’ with ‘small people’ is also bound up with power and capacity. Small people are too busy putting food on the table and dealing with whatever their ‘superiors’ have come up with now to be able to make great offerings or plan great things; great people can see further and undertake more.

Then there are great and small works (or ‘business’, or ‘affairs’) as in the Oracle of Hexagram 62, and also (just the ‘small affairs’) in Hexagram 38. These are big things as against trivia. The words ‘great’ and ‘small’ by themselves can mean much the same, as for instance in Hexagrams 11 and 12: when ‘small goes, great comes’, the small stuff vanishes into insignificance, whether because it’s possible to achieve great things, or because these are momentous, life-changing times.

All this leaves me wondering. Is ‘great good fortune’ simply ‘very lucky indeed’, or could there be more to it?

Hexagram 62: small and great

‘Small exceeding, creating success,
Constancy bears fruit.
Allows small works, does not allow great works.
A bird in flight leaves its call,
Going higher is not fitting, coming down is fitting.
Great good fortune.’

There’s certainly more to ‘great good fortune’ here. It’s the twist in the tale of a story of small exceeding, small works and flying low – the deliberate contrast with great good fortune should make us sit up and take notice.

Small exceeding has its own way of ‘creating success’: come down, join the world, use a sparrow’s eye-view instead of an eagle’s; bring excessive, over-the-top care and attention, as the Image suggests –

‘Above the mountain is thunder. Small Exceeding.
A noble one in actions exceeds in respect,
In loss exceeds in mourning,
In spending exceeds in economy.’

You might feel small and vulnerable, like the bird in the vastness of sky, but you can respond to that not by shrinking away from the world but by connecting with greater care, ‘meeting‘ it (the key verb from the moving line texts). In other words, by being ‘small’ in the sense of responsive, adapting rather than imposing your will.

I think ‘great good fortune’ here is meant to be contemplated rather than explained. Still… there’s a hint of come down here, join the world, and greatness unfolds. This doesn’t happen through your Big Idea, but through smallness that goes a little beyond the ordinary.

37.4

‘Enriching the home.
Great good fortune.’

‘Acceptance in position.’

Xiaoxiang commentary translated by Bradford Hatcher

There are just two words here to describe the ‘great good fortune’: 富家, meaning ‘enriching the home’ or just ‘a rich home’. What makes it rich?

Wilhelm said this was the wife (hence the interpretive translation ‘she is the treasure of the house’), or a faithful steward. Traditional interpretations emphasise how this is a yin line in a ‘yin place’ (lines 2, 4 and 6 are said to be ‘correct’ places for yin lines), and part of the trigram xun, wind or wood, making it especially compliant and content in its place.

You can also look at the whole trigram picture painted by Hexagram 37, with wind above fire. This yin line at the base of the outer trigram is open to receive the heat from the hearth fire inside the home, so it can translate into the movement and influence of wind. The direction of the line is onward and outward.

As this line changes, it’s also going towards Hexagram 13, People in Harmony. ‘People in the Home’ joining with ‘People in Harmony’ – two hexagrams whose meanings naturally resonate and merge into the ‘great good fortune’ of the line.

‘People in harmony in the wilds: creating success.
Fruitful to cross the great river.
A noble one’s constancy bears fruit.’

Hexagram 13, the Oracle

Hexagram 13 points us out beyond our familiar four walls, into the wilds and across the river. How does a home become wealthy? Surely through friendly relations with its neighbours – how else? (If you do imagine the wife at this line, perhaps you should think of her going out to market: the Shuogua says that xun means those who make almost threefold profit.)

45.4

‘Great good fortune, no mistake.’

The traditional understanding of this line is recognisably similar to that of 37.4. Line 4 is the line of the minister, serving the ruler at line 5, and this one (a yang line 4 supporting a yang line 5) is said to be particularly dedicated in working for his ruler, not himself.

Like every line of Hexagram 45, this one adds that there is ‘no mistake’. Why might we think there was one? One possibility lies in line theory: lines 2, 4 and 6 are ‘supposed’ to be yin, so this yang line 4 is out of place; its ‘position is not appropriate’, as the commentary says. Wang Bi was sufficiently disturbed by this ‘wrongly’ positioned line having such a positive omen that he took it to mean ‘only if this one were to have great good fortune would he be without blame’ (Lynn’s translation, reflecting Wang Bi’s interpretation) – a pretty extreme alteration.

But without buying into the notion of ‘wrong positions’ for lines, we can get a feel for the shape of the hexagram. There’s the yang leader at line 5, just as in Hexagram 8, Seeking Union, where five yin lines gather round the yang fifth line as if drawn by a magnet. But here the fourth line – the one that tends to ask, ‘What can I do here, how can I be of use?’ – is yang too. When a supporter has huge amounts of energy and initiative, mightn’t it be too much for the leader? (45.5 is a bit slow to come into his own and develop the trust to fit its position.)

And in the trigram picture here, of the lake higher than the earth…

‘Lake higher than the earth. Gathering.
A noble one sets aside weapons and tools,
And warns against the unexpected.’

Hexagram 45, Image

…line 4 is at the bottom of the lake, where the water pressure is greatest, and where it meets the (lower trigram) earth banks of the reservoir. We might be afraid of a breach here.

The line says ‘no mistake’ to reassure us that the banks will hold: the Gathering of commitment and meaning won’t become overwhelming. Why not? what holds it together?

I think one clue lies in the zhi gua – the hexagram this line reveals when it changes – which is 8, Seeking Union. This has to do with choosing to join, opting in, coming from the source and following the flow of your natural inclinations. As with 37 and 13, 45 and 8 are close in meaning and seem to blend and resonate together naturally – in this case, strengthening Gathering with a sense of belonging. The motivation of line 4’s devoted minister is clear, simple, and strong enough to secure ‘great good fortune’.

46.1

‘Welcomed pushing upward,
Great good fortune.’

Here, tradition says that the bottom, yin line of Hexagram 46 is joining with the two yang lines above it to move upward, with ‘a higher unifying purpose’ (Xiaoxiang, Hatcher). What strikes me is that this bottom line of the trigram xun is the softest, subtlest line of the trigram for gentle subtlety, where the growing roots penetrate into the earth.

And also, this line joins Pushing Upward with Flow in Hexagram 11 –

‘Flow.
Small goes, great comes.
Good fortune, creating success.’

Hexagram 11, the Oracle

Small goes, great comes: the world unfolds as it should, your efforts and contributions can come into alignment with it and all will enter into harmony. The roots meet responsive earth; the one striving joins a harmonious creative flow. Great good fortune – not at the summit of the mountain, but right at the very beginning, with the smallest roots.

(A point of similarity with 37.4: both zhi gua, 11 and 13, create their meaning in contrast to Hexagram 12: now your efforts will bear fruit. In Hexagram 13, Harmony with People makes this possible; in Hexagram 11, harmony with the unfolding creative dao.)

Patterns…?

So after taking this closer look at all the instances of ‘great good fortune’, what have I learned?

Each of the three changing lines is in the Lower Canon (the second half of the book, hexagrams 31-64), and each one makes a connection back to the Upper Canon.

It seems to me that each of those lines shows an unusual harmony, an especially lively and healthy meeting, with its zhi gua. People in the Home joins with People in Harmony, as co-operation among different peoples enriches the home. Gathering joins with Seeking Union/Belonging, whose clear motivation and choice strengthens the gathering. And Pushing Upward with Flow can be welcomed and true, in harmony with How It Is.

Of course, there must be plenty of lines where the zhi gua feels particularly harmonious. Still… the way these join Lower to Upper Canon gives me the sense that they’re connecting with something simpler and more fundamental that supports them.

Also, there seems to be a shared theme, at least in the commentary tradition, of coming to help – the wife/steward, the devoted minister, the first line with ‘unifying purpose’ with those above. That in turn might connect with the themes of Hexagram 62: smallness and adaptation, close connection and ‘meeting’.

What do you think?

Correction…

As helpful people at the I Ching Community pointed out (incredibly diplomatically), there are five occurrences of ‘great good fortune’. I missed out 50.6:

‘The vessel has a jade handle
Great good fortune,
Nothing that does not bear fruit.’

Hexagram 50, line 6

Where does that leave the ‘patterns’ I (thought I’d) found?

‘Great good fortune’ still only occurs in the Lower Canon. It still links backwards through the Sequence – 50.6 changes to Hexagram 32, Lasting – but not all the way into the Upper Canon.

Is this a ‘particularly harmonious’ relationship with the zhi gua? Define ‘particularly’… but it is harmonious. The Vessel is intended to Last, to be handed down through the generations, with the inscription on its inner surface commemorating – or immortalising – the moment of its casting. The jade handle will never tarnish.

And the ‘shared theme’ of coming to help? Perhaps, if you squint a little. Here is Wang Bi, translated by Lynn, describing the role of this line (he calls the handle ‘lifters’):

‘…it embodies hardness and strength yet treads the path of softness and compliance, so it uses its strength to serve as lifters. As it occupies the top position in such a way, even though it is so high, it does not in truth represent an overreacher. Because such a one achieves a regulated balance of strength and compliance, he is able to lift up that which is his responsibility. And because his response is free of partiality, there are none that he does not lift up.’

R.J. Lynn I Ching

I Ching Community discussion

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