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Hexagram 34: Great Vigour

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,

‘Great vigour,
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.

20 responses to Hexagram 34: Great Vigour

  1. I got 34 (unchanging) the other day in response to my questions concerning a tumultuous and protracted situation. It has haunted me and here you’ve posted 34. I’d not seen the treefulness of 34 as clearly as I do now. Thank you for making it real. Makes the response to my situation that much more effective…

    jRuthKelly’s last blog post..Telling Stories

  2. Interesting.
    I am checking up – my new Karcher book has a change of meaning on the phrase Noble one treads no path that is without ritual.
    I checked my other 2 books and they agree with you, but his might make better sense, and I wonder if in translation the double negative was misinterpeted. Karchers view can be put-
    Noble one treads no path; one that is without ritual (for ritual read precedent).
    This would tie in with your comments on the making of a hero.

  3. Hi Tricia, thank you for posting 🙂

    Yes, Karcher departs from the crowd on this one, and I have ‘tried out’ his take on it in interpretations in the past. It doesn’t fit, for me – after all, Qian is not without order or without precedent; heaven moves in cycles, and by watching heaven we create the calendar. Also, the conventional view just seems to be better advice in practice. But it’s an impressive example of how shifting the emphasis just a little can reverse the meaning.

  4. HI there 🙂 thanks for the detailed interpretation of #34.
    But Im a little puzzled when i tried asking the Iching for the gender of my 2nd child ( im 5 mths pregnant now ). My husband used the Iching on his mobile while I typed the qn on an Internet website. We both got #34.

    Maybe you can shed some light on the gender?

    Thanks in advance!

  5. Congratulations!

    I’ve never thought of using the I Ching to predict a child’s gender – I don’t think that’s what it’s designed for. But if I had to guess – 34 is a *very* masculine hexagram.

  6. Hilary, thanks for the prompt reply 🙂

    My husband is a strong believer of the Iching and he consults it for almost anything, which was why he wanted to see if we can predict the gender fr the hexagrams 🙂

    I have an appointment with my gynae soon, let’s hope I will know the gender by then. Will update u if i do know.

    Btw, for very *serious* questions, my husband will ask the Iching 3 xs…. Each hexagram for: the present situation, what can/shd be done, what the future holds.

  7. I am new to I ching. I asked the question “why am I in this situation?” and I got 34. Can you help me make sense of what it says to me.

  8. I did it the second time and got 34.4 (line changing in 4)
    I hope someone in this forum will give me some insights. I am stuck in a situation that is beyond my control.
    Thanks

  9. Hi Lydia,

    To get help with readings from the community here, you need to click the ‘Talk’ tab at the top of the page and post in ‘Shared Readings’. Sorry for the confusion.

    Without knowing anything about your situation, just looking at 34.4 – are you sure you have to stay stuck? Yi doesn’t seem to think so.

  10. Thank you Hilary for your response. I hope I did no cause “forum trespassing”, it was not intentional. BTW awesome site.

  11. A HUGE THANK YOU for this article!!!!

    I’ve found it under the ‘Learn’ section, looking for additional hints on 34.2, and it’s been like a REVELATION!!!
    No words to thank you, really!
    😀

  12. Pulled this hexagram for the first time. Bibliomancy led me to the Fifth and Sixth Wing of the I Ching, a discussion of the difficulties of Ta Chuan.
    I find it enervating and frightening at the same time I am reading the biography of Edgar Cayce, there is a river…

  13. Hi, thanks for this explanation. I was offered to publish a novel in an editorial that is just starting and I received this hexagram when asking about the convenience or not to do so. It seems to be a positive response (I use the Wilhelm edition). Wat do you think? I appreciate any help or suggestion. Thank you very much! regards from Argentina

    • Yes, I would go for it – but with some care, ensuring there is a good contract signed, for instance. That’s assuming you don’t have changing lines that would change the picture.

  14. I recently had what I found to be a hilarious experience with this hexagram. I’m in the market for a new car; one day last week I visited a Subaru dealership. The salesman led me through all the safety features, including some I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, like larger wheels and a camera that could sense an obstacle in the car’s way and inform the car’s computer to stop. “Now, it’s not self-driving technology,” he said. “If you need to drive through a hedge to avoid hitting somebody, the car will let you do that.” We went off on our test drive. Once we were all done, I went over to the Honda dealer and drove THEIR hatchback. The two cars were fairly similar, and I liked them both. Musing at home, afterward, I asked the I Ching, “What do I need to know to help me decide?” Hex 34 came up, and I read it with interest, but it wasn’t until I reached the changing lines that I started to laugh. Line 4: ‘Constancy, good fortune.
    Regrets vanish.
    The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
    Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

  15. I received 34 unchanging after asking about the effect of making a large donation to a musical group I was profoundly influenced by in a spiritual way. This part of the interpretation really stood out for me:

    “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. … not action that follows the way of heaven, but action that embodies heaven, integrates it and gives it expression.”

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