‘Above the mountain is thunder. Small overstepping.
Noble one in actions exceeds in courtesy,
In loss exceeds in mourning,
In using resources exceeds in economy.’
This is the Image of Small Overstepping (the Daxiang of Hexagram 62). It’s advice for crossing boundaries with a â€˜small’ mindset – that is, adapting to circumstances rather than depending on one’s own power to fly high and achieve great things. So we’re advised to ‘exceed’ – that is, to ‘overstep the mark’ (guo, the name of the hexagram) in courtesy, in mourning, and in economy. Our actions – thunder – need to rest on and be proportionate to our inner foundations.
In readings, the call for thriftiness often makes a lot sense. And it’s also not so hard to explain the need to be more polite and considerate of others than ‘common sense’ or social norms might require. The call to ‘exceed in mourning’ is harder, but it often provides encouragement people need to allow themselves and others time to mourn what passes. The question, though, is what theme pulls these three things together.
I think there may be a clue in one of those articles Harmen linked to: Ideas concerning death and burial in pre-Han and Han China by Mu-Chou Poo. My ears pricked when he quoted from a biography of Confucius which describes how Confucians â€˜make elaborate preparations in funerals, show excessive emotion in mourning, and spend all their fortunes on lavish burials.â€™
Could Hexagram 62 have an Image of burial rites? Looking at the way the trigrams are described in the Shuogua, zhen (thunder) is movement and gen (mountain) is stopping, so Small Overstepping could be the movement that continues above, after an end below. Or again, zhen is a highroad and gen is a mountain or doorway, and so this is the highroad that continues on over the mountain, or on the other side of the door.
Stephen Karcher describes this hexagram as ‘the threshold of life and death’. To me, it’s always felt more like a transition back into ordinary life: the hero’s return, carrying the Inner Truth from his journeys. I wonder whether the transition might not be both of these: both death and a return to ordinary life.
The Daxiang was likely written ‘not much before 200BC’ (according to Richard Rutt), at a time when burial customs were changing and a hotly-debated topic. According to Mu-Chou Poo, Confucians were in favour of burials precisely as lavish as befitted the status of the deceased, and no more. (There was a tendency for people to use richer burials as a way to lay claim to higher status.) Mohists argued against expending such huge resources on the dead as to impoverish the living. Daoists, of course, saw the whole preoccupation with burial rites as a symptom of not understanding the nature of life and death. It’s worth noting that all these arguments were about the well-being of the living.
So maybe the Daxiang is making a more focussed point here than I’d ever realised. Observe the funeral rites with punctilious care, in the Confucian spirit of caring for social order. Go beyond the limits of what’s ‘reasonable’ in mourning. But – and here is the twist in the tail – give just as much care to conserving your own resources.
In readings, we might take this as advice for transitions of all kinds, whenever we are leaving something behind. Tread carefully, allow feelings full expression, but don’t pour resources into the grave.