Hexagram 34 is Great Vigour – or Power, or Strength. The old character shows a scholar, or an impressive man, and half the character for ‘tree’. It means robust, powerful, in the prime of life. Combined with the character for ‘great’ – a man standing straight – this gives a powerful impression of virile strength and energy. For me, it also has a strong association with the uprightness and strength of trees – you can be infused with ‘great vigour’, I think, by trees.
And as a kind of ‘tree-vigour’, this isn’t an especially active power: it’s not here to bring about change. 33 Retreated to conserve and restore this power, and now it simply is, and stands firm: the ‘Contrasts’ say that ‘Great Vigour means stopping, Retreat means withdrawing.’ The time for committed action will come later.
The oracle says simply,
Constancy is fruitful.’
‘Constancy’, zhen, is steadiness, loyalty, adherence to the truth and to principle – and it also means ‘divination’. To have great vigour means this is a good moment to divine: a powerful day, one when it’s fruitful to learn the truth and hold to it. This is where you combine greatness – which can imply a certain visionary quality, as well as just a quantity of strength and influence – with vigour.
If you fail to do so, then this hexagram can come to mean ‘great injury’. The noble one is taking care to avoid this:
‘Thunder dwells above heaven. Great vigour.
Noble one treads no path that is without ritual.’
He applies Great Vigour with scrupulous care, ensuring it’s in harmony with the time by acting only with ‘ritual’. The character for ‘ritual’ shows an altar, and an offering with flowers. This isn’t just about being conventional, staying within the rules of etiquette and playing it safe: it’s about acting with reverence and attention to the sacred.
The trigrams show thunder on the outside, heaven on the inside: the noble one is using ritual to align action with heaven. The poor ram in lines 3 and 6 (and whose head appears in the hexagram’s shape) has failed to do this. He seems to have become ‘inflated’ with heaven rather than aligning with it. (Inflation: “An overexpansion of the personality through identification with an archetype or, in pathological cases, with a historical or religious figure, which exceeds individual limitations.” Marie Louise von Frantz ) He’s so overwhelmingly aware of his own strength that he doesn’t realise that anything can be stronger than he is; instead of ‘stopping’, he charges vigorously straight into the hedge.
The ram’s obviously full of himself and none too bright, and he’s there to be laughed at – maybe with rueful recognition. But I think there’s a higher potential to the hexagram than just staying out of hedges.
The other hexagram that combines thunder and heaven is 25, Without Entanglement, where thunder is on the inside and the ancient kings’ action simply follows the way of heaven. Great Vigour can seem rather yobbish compared with this sagely freedom from delusion and innocent alignment with the Dao. Yet I think Hexagram 34 is attempting something arguably more difficult than this: not action that follows the way of heaven, but action that embodies heaven, integrates it and gives it expression.
34 is a ‘Great Trigram’: each line of the trigram dui, the lake, is doubled individually to form it. These hexagrams often suggest a magnified, deepened version of the trigram – 61, for instance, is the ‘great li‘, and shows not only insight and clear perception, but being inwardly penetrated by the truth. Great Vigour shows not only joy and the mediator, but being so full of exuberant vigour that you give expression to the creative power of all things.
In other words – I think 34 is becoming or creating a kind of hero.
There are suggestions of this in the sequence of hexagrams. It’s partly in what happens next, with the cast of heroic characters who make their entrance in the 30s: 34 alludes to Wang Hai, or perhaps (since there are ‘no regrets’ at line 5) to his sons who reclaimed the herds lost at Yi; 35 refers to Prince Kang and 36 to Ji. (There’s also the evocation of Yu the Great in 39, but he’d already appeared back in Hexagram 8.)
But it’s mostly in the drama and pattern of what’s gone before. Look back at the ‘story so far’ of the trigram zhen, thunder. It sparked everything into life at the beginning, in Hexagram 3, at the first meeting of heaven and earth. It burst forth from the earth in the exuberance of Hexagram 16 (with mixed results). But then it was stored up within the lake (17), followed the light of insight (21), lived deep in the heart of the earth (24), followed heaven (25) and was contained by its mirror reflection, the mountain (27). In other words, thunder has always been stored up and contained as the inner trigram, right through until its emergence in Hexagram 32, where it suggests action moved by the inner ‘woodgrain’ of character. Then comes 34, where we have the huge challenge of letting thunder-action embody heaven-power without delusions of invincibility.
What happened, to make it possible for thunder finally to emerge and be expressed? The transition from the Upper to Lower Canon ‘happened’ – through Nourishment and Great Overstepping, Repeating Chasms and Clarity – a whole re-forging of self and ways of knowing, sculpting you into something fit to be inhabited and moved by spirits, in Hexagram 31.
(Naturally, as thunder moves outside, so its mirror trigram, the mountain, moves inside: instead of encountering it as limits and containment in the outer world, the Lower Canon will mostly experience the mountain as inner solidity. It actually only moves ‘out’ again to help create an inner lake in 41.)
Scott Davis pointed out to me that the hexagrams from 25 to 34 form a set of 10, centred on the key ‘fire and water’ pair of 29-30. There’s a full pattern of mirrored trigrams here, all focussing in on the centre: thunder-heaven-mountain in 25/26 and 33/34; thunder-mountain-wind-lake in 27/28 and 31/32. So after the drama and transformation of 27 to 30 (whose nuclear hexagram is 27), we come full circle to a second hexagram pair that combines thunder, mountain and heaven – and it’s about more than just how not to be like the ram.
34 is also about how to embody heaven’s power in your own action, experiencing great vigour as a force for liberation instead of entanglement – escaping from Yi, breaking through the hedge with the power in the axles of a great cart, letting ‘regrets vanish’ as you escape entanglement in the past. The cart stands in contrast to the ram, the perfect way of translating energy into motion.
Years ago, I met a magnificent lady of 92. She was just about to go on another solo holiday to Bordeaux, one of a series of solo trips she talked about with obvious delight. At 82, she’d ridden a horse for the first time: “The lady said, would you like to ride, and I said, oh yes!” It was abundantly clear that she went through life saying ‘yes’ to all it had to offer – not ‘yes, but’ or ‘maybe later’. She made such an impression on me that I asked Yi as soon as I came home to tell me something about her. I received 34.2: Great Vigour as it relates from the heart, constancy with the purposefulness and intensity of 55. It struck me then how very upright she was, looking the world in the eye, straight as a tree.