This is the line Wilhelm translates as,
“If one is not extremely careful,
Somebody may come up from behind and strike him.
So reading it this way, the line would mean that you should ‘overstep the mark’ in taking care – that you should be extraordinarily defensive, constantly on guard, and never too adventurous.
I don’t think this translation or this interpretation make good sense.
The word translated here as ‘extremely’ is actually guo, ‘excess’, ‘preponderance’ or ‘passing’, as in the name of the hexagram. There are just four Chinese words in that first part of line 3:
“Not passing defending [pronoun]”
The same pattern occurs in other lines, using guo in the same way:
“Not passing meeting [pronoun]” in line 4, and
“Not meeting passing [pronoun]” in line 6.
So Wilhelm naturally has “He meets him without passing by” in line 4, and “He passes him by, not meeting him” in line 6. And line 2 uses guo in the same way: ‘Passing one’s grandfather, meeting one’s grandmother.’
I’m not a translator of Chinese, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense, when you have the same structure three times in the original, to translate it with an entirely different pattern in just one line. If line 4 means ‘Not passing by, but meeting it,’ then perhaps line 3 means ‘Not passing by, but defending it.’
I’d suggest something like:
‘Not stepping across, defending herself.
Someone following behind may kill her.
(Or ‘himself’, of course – the Chinese is neutral.)
So with this more literal translation, what’s happening here? Just as in line 4, someone hasn’t completed a transition. But whereas in line 4 she’s stopped for an encounter and to receive a message about the dangers ahead – which is ‘not a mistake’ – here she’s stopped to defend herself.
The root of that word for ‘defending’ is earth ramparts. So she’s digging in here, adopting an ‘entrenched’ position. It’s a quite different thing from the person in line 4 who must be ‘on guard’: the root there is holding a weapon in the hand, being ready to fend off dangers as you go along.
Now the picture of this line suddenly comes into focus. She’s digging in behind her ramparts, peering out over them to see what’s coming, and all the time there is someone behind her with a big stick. Perhaps she’s trying to defend an indefensible position. Perhaps she should have spent more time looking around, and less time shovelling.
This line moves towards Hexagram 16, Enthusiasm: the hexagram of big images and great, inspiring imaginings. But now our protagonist’s big imaginings have met the limitations of Small Overstepping, and the whole disconcerting experience of being â€˜small’, not having control over her environment. She doesn’t have the power or resources to make things happen as she would want to – but she still can’t let go of her idea of how things are really meant to be; she wants to defend it. The hubristic, unrealistic tendencies of Hexagram 16 may be at play here, convincing her that she can sustain this position.
So she digs in to defend her idea, sticks to her guns, and gazes out hopefully over the top of her ramparts. You can see her attitude in 16.3 – the fan yao, the line that follows the same path as this one but in the opposite direction:
“Wide-eyed enthusiasm: regrets.
Delaying means regrets.”
As you might have guessed, a fair bit of personal experience with this line goes into this interpretation. It comes up when there is a whole lot of energy and drive available (Hexagram 16), but it’s all getting channelled into defence rather than exploration.
I think this is what Joseph Campbell called ‘refusing the call’:
“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work or “culture”, the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.”
I think something very similar happens in this line. There is the challenge of Small Overstepping, both being moved by Inner Truth and finding ways to express it with limited strength in a very big world. And this is supercharged and overloaded with Enthusiasm, irrepressible and demanding inspiration.
Campbell says that people refuse the call because to accept it would be too much of a risk; better to stay safe. Except that there is ‘maybe Someone’ following behind, and it is no longer possible to stay safe. (â€˜Safe’ is overrated, anyway.)