...life can be translucent

The nomads gain

Hexagram 25, line 3:

‘The calamity of Without Entanglement.
Someone tethered a cow.
Nomads’ gain,
City people’s calamity.’

You can get some insight into the background to this laconic little story from here – a very readable account of pastoral nomads in East Asia, part of Edward Kaplan’s Introduction to East Asian Civilisations.

This chapter talks about the cultural divide and relationship between settled farmers and nomadic herders. The story as he tells it is not one of evolution from a primitive or simple nomadic lifestyle to a more regimented, settled one. In fact, the nomads’ ancestors might themselves have been farmers when the land was more fertile. As it dried out, and would no longer support widespread agriculture, there were thousands of years of co-existence between nomads and farmers. When the balance of power was even, the co-existence would be peaceful: exchanges of gifts, trading of goods. When the nomads had the upper hand, they raided and harried the farmers.

Another point that casts interesting light on a good few Yijing lines: they got this ‘upper hand’ largely by domesticating horses. This meant they could move their herds greater distances, and hence get better pasturage and build bigger herds. (The Dazhuan says the ancestors “harnessed oxen and rode horses so they could conduct heavy loads to distant places. Thus they benefited all under heaven.”) Horses also gave the nomads the decisive military advantage. Later, the Western Zhou learned their horse lore and bought their horses from the nomadic tribes on their borders.

So what does Yi draw from all this? The wholly ‘disentangled’ insight that one person’s ‘calamity’ is another person’s gain. A little more humour at the expense of people with delusions of security. (I’ve an idea line 2 could also be parodying the farmers’ hectic cycle of activity as seen by an outsider – while the paired hexagram, Great Taming, takes us back to the farmer’s perspective.) And sometimes, an opportunity for the querent who receives the line to choose whether to be nomad or city person.

3 responses to The nomads gain

  1. Hi Hilary, and everyone

    Hilary, you mentioned I could write a note on your blog here and there if I chose, and I do, although it has been several days since we had that conversation, but it is something I wish to do with more regularity, as you bring up some interesting points often…

    An interesting little tidbit about the twenty fifth hexagram is that it in one of its meanings, relates to the concept of “no mind.” In otherwords, an action is taken, not as a result of premeditation, but because it is simply the action that springs from the inner, deeper, self. (hexagram 48 for example) It is not planned nor contrived. As such, the action is correct. Of course, this goes counter to the ego’s plans because the ego always wants to take control, and say, “I did it my way!” The ego plots. Since in any hexagram, we have examples of the more negative side of a given hexagram’s meaning, usually the third line, we have as well in this hexagram, a third line that talks about the wanderer’s gain, and the citizen’s loss. Now, far reaching speculations can be made about this, but the bottom line, in one meaning anyway, (all lines have several) is that something is taken away from an innocent person. He has lost something. But has he really? Take a look at the fourth line, which is often a solution to the problem in the third line. The W/B commentary says, “We cannot lose what truly belongs to us…” You see, we have to start looking at the world from a different perspective. The ego sees profit and gain. The true inner self sees nothing but gain. What seems to be a loss is really not. The ego, in attempting desperately to maintain control, demands that we keep what it thinks is its own. But nothing really belongs to us except that which inwardly belongs to us. The person acting innocently, without premeditated thought, has no concern about a lost cow. He/she knows that what is truly from heavenly sources will come his way regardless of whether it is temporarily discarded. In this way, the enlightened person, of deep inner purpose, is totally at peace in all his/her occurrences. The truly super person, regardless of what the path may bring, knows that it is truly the right path, and that as long as he/she follows the Tao, all will be well. Hexagram fifty two line six says, “…a general resignation toward life, and this confers peace and good fortune…”

    There are many more examples of this in the I Ching. One place it is well spelled out is in hexagram 39. But hexagram 25 says in effect, “do every task for its own sake, without forethought of gain or loss, simply to do the work that is bestowed upon us at the command of the highest.

    If anyone has seen the show, “The Last Samurai,” I highly recommend it, the Emperor is using the help of the United States to bring Japan into the modern world. Some of the Samurai oppose this modernization, although they feel they do so in service to the Emperor. To make a long story short, an American officer is captured, and the Samurai Lord has an instinctive, “no mind” feeling that he should spare the American’s life, and learn about his enemy. In time this “enemy” becomes his friend, and a Samurai himself. In his training, one of the young Samurai tells him, “Too many mind.” You mind the people watching, the children, this and that…” One must do every task for its own sake.


  2. Thanks, Gene.

    The ego sees profit and gain. The true inner self sees nothing but gain. What seems to be a loss is really not. The ego, in attempting desperately to maintain control, demands that we keep what it thinks is its own.

    Another way to look at this: one level of thinking says the world divides into city people and nomads. If one group gains, of course the other group have lost. But the line points to hexagram 13, where this kind of thinking is brought into question. What if there is only one kind of person? Then they can’t have lost anything.

    You could also focus this down to a personal level. The small self says, ‘You’re not me. Either I have the cow or you do. I want it, so you can’t have it.’ Bigger self might have a bigger idea of identity.

    How many of these ideas are implied in the original,simple story of 25.3? I’m not sure.

  3. Hi Hilary

    Good points.Interestingly enough the Biblical story of Cain, Able, and Seth bring up a similar scenario of nomad versus city dweller. Cain’s descendants became city dwellers, and Seth’s line became nomads. And then there is a hint of a continuing conflict between them. The story of Abraham and Lot is similar also, in that while both are shepherds, Lot moves into the cities of Sodom and Gammora, while Abraham stays on the plain.

    Much could be said about this, and I will try to keep this thread going at least a little bit, maybe some one else will join in too. It’s very late right now so I will wrap this up, but this takes us forward to hexagram 56, where thoughts are brought out about the correct way for a wanderer to act in a strange village. Here too, a story is told about some one who alternates between gain and loss. Line six says, through carelessnss he loses his cow. There are tie ins in some of these stories. And just a note in passing, in hexagram 30 it says, “Care of the cow brings good fortune.”

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