...life can be translucent

I Ching with Clarity

For some 3,000 years, people have turned to the I Ching, the Book of Changes, to help them uncover the meaning of their experience, to bring their actions into harmony with their underlying purpose, and above all to build a foundation of confident awareness for their choices.

Down the millennia, as the I Ching tradition has grown richer and deeper, the things we consult about may have changed a little, but the moment of consultation is much the same. These are the times when you’re turning in circles, hemmed in and frustrated by all the things you can’t see or don’t understand. You can think it over (and over, and over); you can ‘journal’ it; you can gather opinions.

But how can you have confidence in choosing a way to go, if you can’t quite be sure of seeing where you are?

Only understand where you are now, and you rediscover your power to make changes. This is the heart of I Ching divination. Once you can truly see into the present moment, all its possibilities open out before you – and you are free to create your future.

What is the I Ching?

The I Ching (or Yijing) is an oracle book: it speaks to you. You can call on its help with any question you have: issues with relationships of all kinds, ways to attain your personal goals, the outcomes of different choices for a key decision. It grounds you in present reality, encourages you to grow, and nurtures your self-knowledge. When things aren’t working, it opens up a space for you to get ‘off the ride’, out of the rut, and choose your own direction. And above all, it’s a wide-open, free-flowing channel for truth.

For I Ching Beginners -

How do you want to get started?

There are two different ways most people first meet the I Ching. There’s,

‘I’m fascinated by this ancient book and I want to learn all about it,’

and there’s,

‘I need help now with this thing (so I’ll learn whatever I need to know to get help with The Thing).’

Learning about the I Ching, or learning from the I Ching?

In the end, these two ways aren’t actually different. It isn’t possible to do one without the other, and people end up wanting both: the ‘learn about Yi’ people draw on its help more as their knowledge grows; the ‘learn from Yi’ people find they want to know more, once they’ve got the help they need.

But... they are different at the beginning:

To learn the I Ching

It has all you need to get started from scratch. Then if you’re familiar with the basics and want to develop your confidence in interpretation, have a look at the Foundations Course.

To get the I Ching’s help

(There’s help at hand to explain how it works.)

If you’d like my help, have a look at the I Ching reading services.

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Hello, and thank you for visiting!

I’m Hilary - I work as an I Ching diviner and teacher, and I’m the author of I Ching: Walking your path, creating your future.

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Warm wishes,


Rejecting the standard

There are two lines in Hexagram 27, Nourishment, that refer to 'rejecting the standard':

‘Unbalanced nourishment.
Rejecting the standard, looking to the hill-top for nourishment.
Setting out to bring order – pitfall.’

Hexagram 27, line 2

'Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.'

Hexagram 27, line 5

So what are 'standards', and what does it mean to reject them, and where does it leave you when you do?

Warp threads

Jing character from Uncle Hanzi

The word I've translated as 'standards' is jing 經 - which is one half of the name of the oracle, Yijing / I Ching . There, it means 'Classic book' - an honorific for works of supreme importance, also used for the Bible and the Sutras. You can see how this derives from the earliest meaning of the word, warp threads: the long, strong threads on the loom, through which all the colours of the pattern are woven. The jing form the basic framework for our culture and understanding; they hold everything else together.

warp threads on a loom

The same word also means the meridians for blood and qi in Chinese medicine, lines of longitude, menses, putting virtue into practice, imitating the ancestors, and - above all - the constant rulesJing is whatever remains in place and is always applicable.

I wanted to describe all these meanings to emphasise how radical it would be to reject the standards. This is not just a matter of being a bit unconventional, showing up barefoot to a posh restaurant or some such. The whole culture is saying, 'This is how it always has been and always must be,' and you're sweeping that aside.

('Rejecting', 拂 fu, means to brush off, as in brushing off dust, as well as going against or defying. It seems both rebellious and also dismissive. In 27.3 one rejects not the standards, but nourishment itself, which is an unmixedly Bad Idea.)

27 line 2 - unbalanced nourishment

‘Unbalanced nourishment.
Rejecting the standard, looking to the hill-top for nourishment.
Setting out to bring order – pitfall.’

Almost all translations and interpretations agree that this one is wrong to reject the standard. Wilhelm (/Baynes) translates firmly as 'deviating from the path'; Deng Ming Dao says 'you disobey the right ways,' and so on. The idea (from line theory) is that line 2 looks to be nourished by the yang line 6, which is too far away - that it is more or less begging for food rather than earning its living. Deng Ming Dao thinks the line should 'find nourishment in the nearby hills instead of journeying far away,' while some also say it's wrong to lean on the yang line 1. Bradford Hatcher describes it as alternating between valley and summit, in the spirit of 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence', and getting nowhere. But despite differences, almost all commentators are agreed that line 2 is getting it all wrong.

The exceptions I'm aware of are Karcher - who says 'Clearing the channels, rejecting the rules' and is sure this is what you should be doing - and LiSe:

6 at 2: Wholly intent jaws, Rejecting the regular path to the hill. For jaws to set things right: pitfall
Do not try to restrain what is by nature excessive. Changing a Tao causes accidents. In the world all is about the normal, but the world lives by what is abnormal. So give the excessive enough room to exist.

Hexagram 27 line 2, LiSe Heyboer's translation and commentary

Compare that with Bradford:

Subverted appetites
Dismissing the customary,
Going into the hills hungering
Going boldly into failure

Hexagram 27 line 2, Bradford Hatcher's translation

Bradford uses the (beautiful!) balance of his sentence to imply that this is all describing one thing: going into the hills hungering means going boldly into failure. But I find I'm more persuaded by LiSe: 'bringing order', originally a punitive military expedition to put down unrest and restore harmony - and by extension in readings, the effort to fix the situation and set everything to rights - is the opposite of rejecting the standard.

In practice, in readings, the message seems simpler: you can't sort this out and make it work, neither by restoring the old standard nor by overwriting it. This is just not a good time for fixing things. I've found that people described by this line tend to be moved by some unmanageable hunger that can't be immediately satisfied. It may show up as idealistic, unfeasible aspirations; it may be misplaced - onto shiny new consumer goods, for instance - but then neither buying the thing nor conquering the desire will quite resolve it. Maybe the best you can do for now is to stay hungry.

In trigram terms, this is inner thunder becoming/revealing inner lake: the inner spark of energy and initiative looking to open and connect, energetically seeking exchange and enrichment.

In hexagram terms, this is 27 changing to 41: Nourishment's Decreasing. That's true in the plainest sense: then this one rejects nourishment through regular channels with nothing within reach to replace it, it will certainly end up with less. But it may also be that you need to follow the direction of Hexagram 41 and make the offering, leave the vessel empty and the space open, not try to fill it.

27 line 5 - dwelling with constancy

'Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.'

Hexagram 27, line 5

Traditional commentary is a little easier on line 5 than line 2. This one is obliged to depart from the norm, according to which it should be providing for those below, because as a yin line it lacks the means to do so. Instead it calls on line 6 for help, and should have no major undertakings of its own:

'It is not permitted to undertake any mission that involves overcoming great difficulties, or significantly influencing the future, as one still relies on others to accomplish one's duty.'

Tuck Chang on 27.5

So perhaps it's necessary to find an unconventional route, here, in order to do what's required of you.

Bradford sees this one as experimenting with diet, rather than driven hither and yon by appetites as at line 2; LiSe sees someone 'taking the road less travelled'. And in practice, this does seem to describe people who have reasons for rejecting the conventional ways of nourishment - who need to make a change. (There are a couple of I Ching Community examples where this line describes someone incapable of receiving nourishment through a relationship, perhaps because they're not yet in a position to give.) What they need is to 'dwell here with constancy' - to hold still and establish a stable base. They're not capable of crossing rivers, taking the plunge and forging ahead into new lands: the resources just aren't available. (And if 'standards' call for such commitment, too bad.)

The trigram picture here is of mountain and wind/wood: stillness, 'dwelling here with constancy', with a view to steady, organic growth. And the hexagram picture is of Nourishment's Increasing: Hexagram 27 changing to 42. Hence the sense of positive aspirations behind this rejection - 'aspiring to a richer and broader flow,' as I put it in my book. And if you check the fan yao - the 'reverse line', 42.5 changing to 27 - you can see that the ultimate need and motivation might indeed be to have more to give -

'True and confident, with a benevolent heart,
No question: good fortune from the source.
Truth, confidence and benevolence are my own strength.'

Hexagram 42, line 5

Learning from the connected hexagrams

There are always lessons to be learned from the relationships between hexagrams. Hexagram 27 'rejects the standard' - the jing, the constant laws that always apply, the underlying structure that makes everything else make sense - just at the points where it intersects with Hexagrams 41 and 42, Decreasing and Increasing. These two encapsulate the whole cycle of loss and gain, and with it something of a paradox -

'Decreasing, Increasing: the beginnings of abundance and decline.'

The Zagua (contrasting hexagrams)

Gain comes through loss, loss comes through gain. To be filled up, you must first empty your vessel - have, or be, less. You will need to 'restrain desires' (according to the Image of 41) and be immensely flexible, always available for improvement (according to the Image of 42).

Hexagram 27 in this context brings a big transition - a kind of major surgery, an inner rewiring or replumbing where your whole digestive and circulatory system gets rewritten. And while this is going on, you will be in a kind of limbo, a blank space between sources of nourishment. You might be asked for commitment, or feel the need to restore balance, but you're in no position to start 'bringing order' or wading rivers; you barely know where you are, let alone where to go.

About not crossing rivers...

'Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.'


and yet

'Increasing, fruitful to have a direction to go.
Fruitful to cross the great river.'

Hexagram 42, the Oracle

And likewise, if line 2 changes as well, the relating hexagram will be 61, Inner Truth:

'Inner truth. Piglets and fishes, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.
Constancy bears fruit.'

Hexagram 61, the Oracle

So what are we to make of this 'contradiction' - can we cross that river, or not?

This all makes sense as soon as you consider the differing roles of different parts of the reading. These relating hexagrams describe an underlying purpose: to join the flow of decrease and increase, or to be centred in Inner Truth: a larger-scale, longer-term river crossing is underway. Or to look at it another way, Inner Truth is your only guide to rejecting and rewriting the jing, the external standards - and it promises 'piglets and fishes', both nourishment and the means to participate in the flow through offerings.

But as you look towards Increase, or to Inner Truth (and yes, this is one occasion when it does make sense to imagine the relating hexagram in the future!), the rules of nourishment will have to be rewritten. And this all begins with a rejection of what works, which will more or less incapacitate you for a while.

Another way to understand this: between the caterpillar and the butterfly, pupation:

As this article puts it, 'first the caterpillar digests itself'. The chrysalis doesn't go anywhere, but the insect is transformed, changing its standard of nourishment from leaves to nectar.

I Ching Community discussion

A new source of income

This episode of the podcast could also be entitled 'light dawns in the end,' as it took a while for me to join all the dots between the querent's situation and the reading. It's a great example of how Yi talks to the whole person, though, as well as answering the question.

Mukul asked, 'What would be a good next step towards getting a new source of regular income?' and Yi answered with Hexagram 13, People in Harmony, changing at line 5 to Hexagram 30, Clarity:

changing to

Crime and punishment

Some Yijing imagery is immensely straightforward to relate to. I was having the 'What do you do?' conversation a few weeks ago, and a friend asked me what kind of thing readings said, and how they answered questions. 'Imagine,' I said, 'you're asking about taking on a new voluntary role, and the answer tells you that a roof beam is bending and buckling under the weight it bears.' She got it, of course. Three thousand years later, no commentary required.

Only - also of course - some of the imagery is less immediately relatable; things that might have been part of daily life for the original users of the oracle, but bring a modern user to an abrupt standstill. The stories of crime and punishment, for instance...

'Biting through, creating success.
Fruitful to use legal proceedings.'

Hexagram 21, Biting Through - the Oracle

Legal proceedings?

Not - normally - literally. With this one, I often encourage people to think of a courtroom drama where the investigative lawyer reaches the truth. The hexagram overall is about biting through obstacles - something stuck between the teeth that prevents the jaws from meeting effectively. The idea is to gnaw and work one's way through - to truth, and to efficacity, so things work together as smoothly and easily as the grinding surfaces of healthy teeth. And on reflection... an unpunished or unsolved crime, or an injustice not righted, a dispute not yet settled, truth not discovered, are all obstacles that prevent people from connecting smoothly and easily - a spanner in society's works. Identify the problem, says Hexagram 21, whatever is getting in the way, and work through it.

These are not Bleak House-style legal proceedings, then: they have a positive purpose. A similar idealism comes through in the Image of 21:

'Thunder and lightning. Biting through.
The ancient kings brought light to punishments and proclaimed the laws.'

Hexagram 21, the Image

Punishment should be clear; it's meant to increase people's understanding, so they can learn about consequences. And even in the much older text of the moving lines, there is often this same expectation that punishment should serve some constructive purpose. Take lines 1 and 6 of 21, for instance...

'Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
Not a mistake.'
'Shouldering a cangue so your ears disappear.

Hexagram 21, lines 1 and 6

To be prevented from moving at the outset is not a problem - not only does it keep you out of trouble, it might even be a hidden opportunity. (21.1 changes to Hexagram 35, Advancing.) But to be incapable of hearing - changing the trigram of clear perception to that of shock - is disastrous.

Lines 1 and 6 in any hexagram are traditionally described as being 'outside the situation' of the main hexagram. That makes them a natural place for mention of criminal punishment, which works by removing people from normal interaction in society, sidelining them and making their exclusion clearly visible to all. Stocks or the cangue push you 'outside' in two ways: by limiting your freedom to act and interact, and by shaming you publicly.

The same two lines, 1 and 6, refer to punishments in Hexagram 4:

'Sending out the ignoramus,
Fruitful to make use of punishing people,
To make use of loosening fetters and manacles.
Going on in that way is shameful.'
'Striking the ignoramus.
Fruitless to act like an outlaw,
Fruitful to resist outlawry.'

Hexagram 4, lines 1 and 6

I think these lines show the same preoccupation with punishment having some constructive effect. The ignoramus needs to learn from experience, so hampering his movement is a terrible idea: he needs to move freely and find out for himself. By all means shout at your child after you've rescued him from the duckpond again, but don't put him on a leash.

Line 6 needs to take great care. An 'outlaw' (or 'robber' or 'bandit', kou 寇) is someone 'beyond the pale', outside the realm of law that makes social give and take, mutual care and help, possible. In striking out at ignorance - perhaps in frustration, without too much thought - where do you stand yourself, inside or outside? And what are you teaching? Punishment should resist outlaws, not create them.

In these two lines of punishment and being 'outside the situation', the aim is always to encourage learning through better connection and communication - creating greater coherence. In readings, these lines can talk about how you relate to your own ignorance. Don't remove yourself from the flow of life with fetters or with violence; find something more constructive to do than beating yourself up for not knowing.

A few more examples...

In Hexagram 29, the Repeated Pits can be traps, places where you are cut off from the flow. And out on the edge, at line 6, you're cut off altogether by prison walls - thorn thickets were used for prison stockades:

'Bound with good rope and cords.
Shut away in a thorn thicket.
For three years, gains nothing.

Hexagram 29, line 6

This one really is 'outside the situation', unable to get anywhere or create anything.

Hexagram 38 offers a whole hexagram about being on the outside -

'Opposing means outside. People in the Home means inside.'

The Zagua

One of the nastiest ways this can happen to you is through criminalisation:

'Seeing the cart dragged back,
The oxen stopped,
Your men branded and their noses cut off.
With no beginning, there is an end.'

Hexagram 38, line 3

Branding and nose-cutting are severe punishments, permanently marking these men as outsiders.

Hexagram 47 - Oppression, Confinement - is another hexagram where you might naturally expect to meet punishment imagery. Punishment is a way you can be isolated from the world, exhausted, made unable to progress. Here punishment is specifically mentioned in lines 1 and 5.

'Buttocks oppressed with a wooden stick,
Entering into a gloomy valley,
For three years, meeting no-one.'

Hexagram 47, line 1

As in other 'outside' lines, there's the theme of being excluded and alone. It's not altogether clear what's happening here, though, and the translation is uncertain. Some think you're confined by being tied to a tree in the valley, but it seems more likely to me to be a caning. But then why enter the dark valley and stay there for three years? 29.6 was imprisoned, but this one might just be sulking, refusing to show her face. (Bradford Hatcher saw the line this way, describing the valley as 'one truly great rut, surrounded on all three sides'.)

And line 5 -

'Nose cut, feet cut.
Oppressed by the crimson knee-coverings.
Then moving slowly brings release.
Fruitful to use offerings and oblations.'

Hexagram 47, line 5

A reminder of the full brutality of ancient Chinese penalties: we can interpret as 'loss of face' and loss of agency, but this is still a nasty moment, a threat of being marked for life. But... this is at line 5, not line 6: a line, traditionally, of autonomy and choice. The officials with crimson knee-coverings lack the power to exclude you permanently: you can get free, recover the power of movement and restore connection.

Hopefully, this overview gives you some imagination food for working with this imagery in your own readings. It's good to look, in very simple terms, at the effect of the punishment. Often, that's to mark the person out as different and prevent them from participating and engaging. 4.1 can't learn freely if left in fetters; 21.1 can't get in more trouble, sitting in the stocks; 47.1 can't (or won't) interact, down in the valley. Outlaws (4.6) are outside the realm of human interaction, and so too are those with ears gone, or tied up in a thorn thicket. What excludes you, or bars you from full participation in the flow of life?

Also... isn't it interesting that, in this oracle that's supposed to have been created originally for the use of kings and lords, the lines that talk about criminal punishment are almost all about suffering it, not imposing it?

I Ching Community discussion

Hexagram 36: Hidden Pheasant?

Hexagram 36, Brightness Hiding, might be one of the easiest to connect with. Isn't there a story in the Sorrells' I Ching Made Easy of someone in an abusive relationship who received Hexagram 36 and broke down in tears of recognition and relief when she heard the story of Ji - feigning madness to avoid the attention of a dangerous, oppressive regime?

And in less extreme situations, too, we can recognise the experience of light wounded and the wisdom of hiding it under a bushel at times. Ji's strategy is mirrored in the trigram picture, too: the trigram li, fire and light, is hidden away under the earth. We might think of light under a bushel. or banking up a fire to protect it, or just of the cycle of night and day. In any case, it's a picture we can relate to.

But what about the pheasants?

However… if you look at the work of almost any of the translators who concentrate on recapturing the original, Bronze Age meaning of the text, this simple, relatable picture more or less disappears. Originally, it seems, the hexagram name didn't mean 'Brightness Hiding' at all, but

  • Crying Pheasant (Rutt)
  • The Calling Arrow-Bird (Field)
  • Pelican Calling (Minford book 2)
  • Calling Pheasant (Redmond)

Prince Ji is still there in line 5, but the hexagram name no longer has much to do with him. It's been re-translated: ming 明 means 'pheasant'; yi 夷 means 'calling'.

And this has the benefit of making some of the moving lines much more intelligible. Only compare line 1 -

'Darkening of the light during flight.
He lowers his wings…'



'A crying pheasant, flying on drooping wing.'


Or line 4:

'He penetrates the left side of the belly.
One gets at the very heart of darkening of the light.'



'Entering the left flank, finding the crying pheasant's heart.'


Pheasants have wings and hearts and are hunted (line 3); 'wounded light' just doesn't work in the same way. The translation that makes the most sense with the least explanation must be the right one, surely…?

But what about the readings

Only… where does this leave our confident, natural response to a hexagram called 'Brightness Hiding'? Imagine if the Sorrells had told their querent that her pheasant was crying…

To start with, the pheasant works rather less well in line 5:

'Darkening of the light as with Prince Chi'



'Jizi's crying pheasant.'


Is he supposed to have kept one as a pet?

Also, the reason why it's said to be impossible for the hexagram to have meant 'Brightness Hiding' originally seems fragile to me. Here's Redmond:

"The Wilhelm-Baynes translation as "Darkening of the Light" is poetic, but clearly incorrect. …This cannot have been the early meaning because, as emphasized previously, there is no evidence for trigram correlations before the Zuozhuan and Ten Wings."

He's confused the absence of evidence with evidence of absence, of course. Also, the very earliest manuscripts we have of the Yi tend to show the hexagrams written as two trigrams, with a gap between. Also, we know from the text how often line 3 is a dangerous place because it's on one side of that gap.

It doesn't follow that the trigrams originally had all the meanings that have accrued to them since - the lists in the Shuogua, for instance. Indeed, we can be pretty sure they hadn't, since the imagery of the text doesn't fit. However, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that hexagrams have been understood as two trigrams for a long, long time.

And on that note, the two characters from the hexagram name, ming ('Brightness' / 'pheasant') and yi ('hiding' or 'wounded' / 'calling'), are used both together and separately in the moving lines of this hexagram. In line 2:

'Brightness hidden, wounded in the left thigh.
For rescue, use the power of a horse.
Good fortune.'

That's 'ming yi, yi in the left thigh.' No-one is translating that as 'calling in the left thigh.'

And line 6:

'Not bright, dark.
At first rises up to heaven,
Later enters into the earth.'

That's 'not ming, dark…' - and no-one translates as 'not pheasant, dark' either. So the meanings of 'brightness' and 'hiding/wounded' have not been altogether banished.

It all depends…

So which is the right translation? 'Brightness Hiding/Wounded' or 'Calling Pheasant'? I think it all depends on what you are trying to translate. For a couple of millennia - at least since the time the Image was written - Yi has used this hexagram to talk to people about wounded, hidden light. So do you try to translate what the Yi is probably saying to people now, or what the original authors were trying to say 3,000 years ago? Both are valid; both are valuable; they're just translating different things.

But wait…

However… (this post is full of 'however's!) the original authors of the oracle were not trying to communicate anything, or not in the same way any other author might be. They did not set out to convey information to their listeners or readers about either pheasants or wounded light: they were creating a language for an oracle to communicate in.

And that oracular language stems from an oral tradition of sayings and stories. Readings are spoken aloud: they would have been originally, and they are now: I still never do a live reading without reading out the text, and I encourage people reading for themselves to read their question and the oracle's answer out loud. People need to hear their question being answered.

And spoken language naturally includes wordplay. Thinking in terms of written language, we refer to homophones: distinct, different words that sound the same, like 'hoarse' and 'horse'. Starting with spoken language, it might be better to think of sounds that have more than one meaning.

Chinese is full of these sounds, and they're not only used for groan-worthy humour, as they are in English, but carry real power. Have a look at this Wikipedia section about the influence of homophones on Spring Festival traditions and you'll see what I mean.


… is that a duck or a rabbit? It depends how you look at it. And is ming yi a wounded light or a calling pheasant?

Perhaps we can leave the binary either/or behind altogether. The pheasant in question, by the way, is probably the golden pheasant, Chrysolophus pictus: a spectacularly colourful bird that screeches loudly. And yet it's said to be 'timid', fond of hiding in dense undergrowth, and 'surprisingly difficult to find'. A bird that hides its brightness, in fact.

Since Chinese is so good at wordplay in general, the Yijing text is probably full of duckrabbits I know nothing about. But isn't it apt that this hexagram - with its play of lighting-up and hiding - should be one? The vivid golden pheasant vanishes into the undergrowth and screeches. Prince Ji hid his light, which is perfectly visible to us 3,000 years on. Hexagram 36: the Calling Hiding Bright Pheasant.

I Ching Community discussion

Manifesting desires?

The listener's reading for this episode has an unusual premise: Beebee was trying to work out why what she was trying to manifest in her life wasn't happening. Where was the block? She asked,

"What actions are needed from me in order to achieve my desires?"

And Yi responded with Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms, changing at lines 2, 3 and 6 to 53, Gradual Progress:

changing to

Not an easy one to hear...

Fire on the river: Hexagram 64

Tradition tells us that Hexagram 63, Already Crossing, has its trigrams in the right places: water is above fire, like the pan on the stove; things are cooking; everything is in good working order. And then by contrast, Hexagram 64, Not Yet Crossing, with the same two trigrams in reverse positions, has everything in exactly the wrong place. Line theory says that its lines are all wrong too: yang lines are supposed to be in odd-numbered places, and yin lines in even-numbered places, whereas Hexagram 64's lines are exactly the opposite. Of course, by this logic, Hexagram 63 would have the most consistently good omens in the book, and 64 would have the worst - which isn’t what actually happens. Still, Hexagram 64 is supposed to represent the maximum of disorder and discombobulation in general.

Its Image text says,

‘Fire dwells above stream. Not yet across.
A noble one carefully differentiates between beings, so each finds its place.’

Hexagram 64, the Image

It’s not immediately apparent how the noble one’s actions correspond to the energies of the trigrams. And indeed, Wilhelm doesn’t attempt to draw any direct parallels. The noble one was ‘careful’ in Hexagram 52 as well, where this quality was attributed to the mountain, and also in Hexagram 27. ‘Differentiating between beings’ is something he also did in Hexagram 13, where li is the inner trigram. Differentiation, with its qualities of clear vision and separating and sorting, does seem to me to be an action of the trigram li - in this case, casting light on an inner river.

And speaking of rivers - there’s one causing problems for a small fox which hasn’t managed to cross it yet:

‘Not yet across, creating success.
The small fox, almost across, soaks its tail:
No direction bears fruit.’

Hexagram 64, the Oracle

The noble one’s action is the perfect opposite of the little fox’s problem, which is that his tail is no longer sufficiently differentiated from the river.

How can you imagine the trigrams?

As in Hexagram 38, you can’t very well say that inner water is fuelling or giving rise to outer fire, but the fire can still cast light on the water. You can imagine the trigram fire as the eyes and ears of an older, wiser fox, who knows how to listen to the currents under the river’s thin ice. From there, you might get the idea of developing your awareness of the inner river of experience and its endless flow of changes. That’s not a bad picture for the final hexagram of the Book of Changes.

Fire flames upward; water flows down. Awareness rises and illuminates experience, but it doesn’t need to put the water in its place. Water finds its own way to where it needs to be.

Here, I’m parting company a little from some traditional interpretation. Kong Yingda said that since everything was out of place in this hexagram, it all needed to be put back in place before anything could be helped at all. And Wilhelm follows this idea, though he adds that to try to force things into place would cause harm, and they must be handled with as much care as one would handle fire and water.

But the final words of the Image are simply ‘dwelling place’ - and ‘dwell’, ju 居, isn't primarily a transitive verb: it means living in a place, not putting something in its place. Maybe Legge’s translation is best: his noble one ‘carefully discriminates among (the qualities of) things and the (different) positions they (naturally) occupy.’ Li here can become aware of how things flow into their right places, according to their own nature.

Perhaps it’s something like listening to a foreign language, where half the struggle is to be able to divide up this unbroken flow of sound into words. Here, the inner river looks to me like the entire flow of sensory and emotional experience. People who recover some lost sight seem to experience this most directly - as 'overwhelm' and a 'torrent of information' - very kan-like imagery. But for those of us who have always had the benefit of sight, this seems to be a lot less stressful than Hexagram 63.

Only compare the Image -

‘Stream dwells above fire, Already across.
A noble one reflects on distress and prepares to defend against it.’

- where inner awareness must look outward, anticipating the distress and dangers of kan that it will have to confront in the future. That pot on the stove might boil over at any moment. But when water and fire are instead moving apart, finding their places, things are not nearly so precarious. Perhaps we only need to watch the river flow by and differentiate insight from emotion.

You can also imagine the trigrams as a portrait of the small fox. Its eyes and ears are moving on ahead with the sharp clarity of li, but its poor soaked tail is trailing behind it in the lower trigram. How could it finish crossing the river when its tail still drags it back? And if you read through the moving line texts of Hexagram 64, you can actually see this at work:

'Soaking your tail,
'Your wheels dragged back.
Constancy, good fortune.'
'Not yet across. Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
Fruitful to cross the great river.'

Hexagram 64, lines 1-3

The lower trigram is soaked, dragged back, and not yet across. And how can you hope to order anything when you’re still stuck on your own side of the river?

'Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.
The Thunderer uses this to attack the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and there are rewards in the great city.'
'Constancy, good fortune, no regrets.
A noble one's radiance.
There is truth and confidence, good fortune.'
'Being true and confident in drinking wine,
Not a mistake.
Soaking your head,
Being true and confident, losing your grip on that.'

Hexagram 64, lines 4-6

In the upper trigram, it’s time to commit to a three-year campaign to tackle demon country - to look forward so that regrets for the past will vanish. With no regrets left, you can shine out and act with confidence. Though of course, it's always possible to look so far forward that you lose touch with the present…

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