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Notes on Hexagram 50

Nelson emailed me after the last newsletter to say he’d been getting a lot of readings around Hexagram 50. So here are some thoughts on what’s going on in the Vessel, which I hope might help with a variety of readings.

The name of Hexagram 50 is ding: the sacred vessel, a massive food container of cast bronze, used in ritual to share food among humans and spirits. If you search Google images for ‘Zhou dynasty ding’, you’ll see a series of images that give you a good sense of the sheer weight and presence of these treasures.

A ding is for holding and cooking food: it contains and transforms. It also means ‘grasping the new’, establishing a new order on a firm foundation of understanding. And it is part of opening communication with the spirits, so they can be present and involved in the transformation.

Within the safe space of the Vessel, disparate raw ingredients are brought together and changed into a significant whole. There is a theme of total, alchemical transformation running through the hexagram’s many layers of meaning. Raw ingredients become nourishment for humans and spirits; in the constituent trigrams, wood becomes fire; the ding itself was the culmination of advanced metal-working.

The commentary (Tuanzhuan) says first of all that the Vessel is a symbol. It’s not just that the Vessel itself is powerfully symbolic; it’s also that its way of working is like that of a symbol, that ‘cooks’ the raw stuff of experience into significance. The trigrams, wood within the fire, show gentleness and inward penetration nourishing ‘clear eyes and quick ears’.

This can’t happen, though, without the preceding hexagram: 49, Radical Change. In the Zhou story that runs through the Yijing, this would be the moment of overthrowing the ruling Shang dynasty; the Vessel represents founding the new one. You can’t establish truly new ways of relating, understanding and being unless the old ways have been taken apart. So when your readings situate you between Radical Change and the Vessel, it’s a time when routine and reactions are to be overthrown. Anything in your life that runs on ‘automatic pilot’, without the enlivening presence of awareness, is like the brittle old regime where the spirits were absent.

The Vessel is both the occasion for transformation and the space for it. 50 as the primary hexagram sometimes acts as ‘Vessel’ for the change represented by the second hexagram, allowing it to become real. The noble one ‘sets the situation straight and consolidates his destiny’: this is more than just a time for good ideas, it’s a time for establishing the right context for them to become reality. We don’t just have an enticing recipe here, we have maybe 800kg of precious metal to cook it in.

In readings, Hexagram 50 talks about containing and transforming. It can signify investing money rather than buying a house; the role of a university as a container for people and ideas; a marriage as a safe space for clashing ideas and personalities to be held and changed. It can also describe the workings of the oracle itself: how a reading contains your ideas and experiences, transmutes them into symbol, and allows them to become something else.

10 responses to Notes on Hexagram 50

  1. In fact, so important was the role of the Ding vessel in the grand state sacrifices that when the Zhou conquered the Shang they beheaded the ‘makers of dings’. This is particularly interesting in light of the evidence that some of the Shang tortoise shell diviners apparently were recruited by the Zhou to man the divination posts of the new regime. So at least part of one skilled group of artisans was eliminated while the other was destroyed, at least in part.

    There is a deep significance to the grand vessels of state, like the original nine vessels of ancient legend (long lost, unfortunately). Sometimes I wonder if the Taiwanese could not buy themselves decades of independence (or at least an uncomfortable state of being a vassal), by returning the numerous ritual vessels they removed from China during their exodus. It would be a gesture of great ritual meaning to return them to the mainland. And it is reasonably safe to do so, now that there is no longer a group of wild-eyed lunatic Red Guards who want to melt the vessels down to make weapons out of them. But it is unlikely to happen, since many in Taiwan still think that someday, somehow, the Guomindang will take back control of Chinese history.

  2. That’s very interesting background, thank you.

    Wouldn’t returning ritual vessels to the mainland be a huge gesture acknowledging the Chinese government’s sovereignty? It sounds as though the Ding is still ‘a symbol’.

  3. Yes! Precisely what I mean! By returning the dings, Taiwan would acknowledge that they are an autonomous province, similar to Hong Kong, not a separate nation (one with its own state sacrifices at the imperial level, symbolically). This, of course, is not acceptable to the Guomindang mindset. But history has a way of moving things around, so we’ll see what hashes out in the long run.

    May Supreme Avatar Smile Upon You!
    Br. Taras

  4. Greetings

    to me the vessel refers to the process of inner and subtle transformation
    and becoming soft from hard internally.An ALCHEMICAL EXPERIENCE
    and in term of yoga the churning and boiling inside as a preparation 4 rise of kundalini.

    welcome views and understanding of fellow travellers

    thks
    subramani.N
    India

  5. Greetings!

    The ding incorporates all; metal(the vessel), fire (to cook), water( what all food : Or nourishment maybe processed in), air (to feed the fire), & wood for the same purpose.

    It also incorporates the past, present, & future.
    Past: It, itself was dross; just some ore lying about. Present; the contemporary well crafted method of preparing the future nourishment (the ding, & the various ingedients in the stew or soup; all of the finest available; of which both mortals & spirits may partake of!
    It is strengthens, nourishes & energizies the body, just as the i-ching so generously does for our psyche & souls.

    Peace & generosity follow you always,
    Thomas

  6. Ting the Cauldron often reminds me of the Vedic concept of having kirtan before the deities, while in the kitchen take the basic raw ingredients of the material energy of earth, fire earth air water, ether, false ego and metal and transforming those raw ingredients into sumptous, nutritious and most importantly spiritual mercy of God, after it is offered to Him on the altar for about ten minutes of chantings, offers of incense and water, flames, etc, then the food goes back to the kitchen, into the ting, which in their case is a three foot deep prasadam cooking pot, and then its mixed in with the other food and then the Sunday Spiritual Love Feast is ready to be served. And while eating and relishing the prasad, all devotees serving, or helpers ask, is there anything else you would like? Ahhh, yes, those little sweet milk ball things, what were they, ahh burfi, but this food is no longer food as I hear them stipulate to guests. Like Christians having offered wine and bread to Christ for the sake of a communion. Taking the wine and bread is the mercy of God also, and there in the I Ching, quite close, but not exaclty, the similar idea of turning raw simple ingredients, like course grain wheat, sugar, rose water, a few vegies and fruits and nuts and of course the finest, the many varieties of milk made sweets, savouries, and whatever else you could imagine, from yoghurt, cream to cheeses and fresh paneer. Sliced then deep fried, or marinated, crumbed then deep fried and drained, then drained more on paper towels, then served with some delicious apple chutney, or tomato chutney. A feast for the spirits too.

    Okay, just stretching my last two brain cells for a thought walk on the keyboard and meditative thoughts as well.

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