Hexagrams 41 and 42, Decreasing and Increasing, are an especially clear hexagram pair: the two of them together describe a single phenomenon, seen from two perspectives. There is a single flow of energy, life and abundance, and it moves as a cycle: ‘Decrease, Increase, the beginnings of abundance and decline.’ When you receive one of these hexagrams, you have to think of is as part of that whole.
This is the main distinction between the experiences of Decrease and Stripping Away, Hexagram 23. 41/42 are about active participation in the flow; 23 in its purest form is just a loss you undergo, as something is taken from you. Hexagram 41 also means having less, but with an underlying awareness that there is no net loss.
There are two good examples in this I Ching Community thread: letting a plane journey go and gaining an upgrade to the bullet train; acknowledging the reality of deteriorating eyesight and getting corrective lenses. The energy hasn’t been lost, but it has been transferred – for instance, from the natural lens to an external, artificial one. There is loss, and life goes on.
The counterbalancing gain is by no means always as clear as in these examples, but it’s always happening somewhere. If you’re experiencing loss, that would be because it is your time to have less, to give things up. The Tuanzhuan, Commentary on the Judgement, lays especial emphasis on timeliness:
‘”Two baskets” corresponds to the times. To decrease the strong and increase the weak has its time. Decrease and increase, to fill and to empty, should be linked with time and associated actions.’
(Wu Jing Nuan’s translation)
The role of 41/42 as a unit stands out when you see their position in the Vessel pattern of hexagrams. They stand opposite 11/12, the hexagrams from which they’re ‘created’ by the migration of a single line between trigrams – in Hexagram 41, when the inner trigram of 11 is ‘decreased’ by one yang line that moves to the sixth place. With this, it encloses three yin lines with three yang, and creates a ‘container’:
Here is the vessel, now cast, ready to use for pouring out or receiving:
The Oracle’s story
As so often with Yi’s longer texts, the oracle of Hexagram 41 is telling us a story…
‘Decreasing: there is truth and confidence.
From the source, good fortune.
Not a mistake, there can be constancy.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
How to use this?
Two gui vessels may be used for the offering.’
Fu opens the way
It all opens with ‘truth and confidence’, fu. From the Language of Change Yijing glossary:
“Fu can sometimes (11.3, 44.1) mean simply ‘what is true’ or ‘the true nature of this’. But more often, it means the quality of trust and being true which opens channels and creates an interface – a way or place of connection. Relationships of all kinds happen through fu; it’s the prerequisite for both inner and outer communication. In the Songs, it unites the king with heaven’s mandate, and unites the people with the king.
Fu in readings most often describes human relationships. At its simplest, this is just an undeniable connection between people. At its fullest, it creates mutual trust and rapport such that people can act with unanimity. It allows transmission (teaching and learning) and precludes any strategising or manipulation.
Fu is also the prerequisite for another kind of relationship: offerings, which must be made with sincerity and an undivided heart. Just as in relationships between people, truth and trust are the conduit through which connection flows – and it is always important to care for the conduit.
As an inner state, fu is truth to self, often experienced as self-belief and confidence. It arises as a motive energy and awareness that enables you to take decisions – to commit yourself without reserve. It is the opposite of anxiety, defensiveness and doubt, of second thoughts or ‘being in two minds’. Because it means openness, it can support exploration and learning – crossing the great river, or having a direction to go.”
For Decrease, fu comes first, because it is the key to a true offering. You have to be fully present, not in two minds about it. All the good omens that follow come from this: if there is fu, then there is an opening to the source, good fortune without mistake, constancy is possible and a direction to go gives good results.
From trust to action
How does all that flow from fu?
The next thing we need to know: this is not a mistake. I think this is an example of Yi using this phrase for reassurance: it might feel wrong, but it isn’t. We don’t like losing things and having less, so Yi guides us step by step towards understanding and full participation. With trust. Not wrong.
This allows constancy. ‘Allows’, ke 可, originally has to do with speaking or singing, words of assent. Someone/ something says ‘this can happen’ – in other words, the action is in harmony with the time. The same word is used at the end of the Oracle: ‘two gui vessels may be [ke 可] used’. It allows constancy, which is also (in the earliest meaning of the word) divination: perceiving truth, seeing what the time calls for, and loyally following through.
Then, having a direction to go bears fruit. This gives me a sense of reaching out towards the future – deliberately stretching your awareness beyond the immediate experience of loss and into the reasons why. To make an offering, you need a sense of purpose.
‘How to use this?‘
In the middle of the oracle text, a voice asking questions. Again, I think this is Yi acknowledging that giving things up is hard. The very presence of a question and answer session in the middle of the oracle suggests thoughtfulness. (Also, look at the prerequisite for Decrease in the first line text: ‘considering decreasing it,’ conscious deliberation.)
‘How to use this?’ is very much the question you are asking and Yi is answering with this hexagram. It seems to me to lie somewhere between ‘How can I use this time?’ – a respectful enquiry about being in harmony with the time – and ‘What use is this sacrifice, what is it good for?’ with an implied ‘How can I possibly do this?’ and a hint of ‘Why should I?’
‘How to use this?’
‘Two gui vessels may be used.’
The verb ‘use’ is the same; this is a direct answer to the question. With this dialogue, awareness that was stretched towards future times and distant places contracts back to the present moment. How to participate in the larger whole? By staying at your own size.
Gui vessels are not necessarily mere baskets – the word does originally mean a bamboo basket, but by Shang and Zhou times was a kind of bronze vessel. However, it was used for offerings of grain, so the message is the same: this is not a casual or trivial offering, but it is also not a vast state occasion with oxen and sheep (and maybe prisoners of war) sacrificed in their hundreds. It’s proportionate and manageable; you do not need to make exaggerated dramatic gestures of self-sacrifice.
Letting go and lightening up
In fact, Hexagram 41 can encourage us to take our sacrifices more lightly. It follows from Hexagram 40, Release:
‘Letting things take their course necessarily has occasion to let go.
And so Decrease follows.’
After untying the knots of obligation, after the relief of the thunderstorm, after letting go of the uphill struggle, then Decrease.
The Dazhuan, Great Treatise, agrees:
‘Decrease is the renewal of de.
Heaviness before, lightness afterwards.
Keeping harm at a distance.’
Becoming lighter in this way can mean becoming much less attached to the conviction that ‘I have to Do Something!’ and investing what you need to give up with less significance. Maybe you don’t need to solve everything, just give what you can. (I’ve been greatly consoled by this hexagram in situations where I had no idea how to help.)
Decrease can renew your de, your strength and energy, perhaps just because you cease to imagine that you have to control things you can’t, in fact, control. You become less attached to making things happen a certain way, and hence less vulnerable when they don’t.
The Image: reflective presence
The Image has more to say about how to handle the emotions of Decrease:
‘Below the mountain is the lake. Decreasing.
A noble one curbs anger and restrains desires.’
I’ve always liked this Image for its realism in what it doesn’t say: ‘A noble one is perfectly free of anger and feels no desire.’ The noble one, we can assume, also doesn’t like giving things up – but he will put a mountain-sized lid on his reactions and keep them in check.
And… maybe the mountain creates the lake: it forms a vessel to contain the water and prevent it from draining away. Perhaps the noble one is creating a state of deep reflection instead of getting carried away on a torrent of emotions – and perhaps anger and desire need to be checked just because they would carry you away from what’s present and real.
The Sequence – as it often does – points to a deeper significance. The lake gathered under the mountain in Hexagram 41 will become the outer trigram in hexagrams 43, 45, 47 and 49. It seems as though Hexagram 41’s Offering has deepened this capacity to communicate and share, that will lead all the way from Deciding to Radical Change.