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No mistake

(Eep… this is the longest gap between blog posts in ages. Where have I been? I’m not completely sure… but it’s involved getting started writing a book (more about this in Change Circle shortly),  getting to know the excellent people who are participating in this year’s Yijing Class, and starting house-hunting – and that has a tendency to become a full-time job in itself.

Anyway… I’m sorry to disappear so comprehensively. I’ll try to do better and post more, though I somehow doubt I’ll be very prolific until after the deadline for the book, in October.)

‘No mistake’, or ‘without fault’, or ‘without blame’, in the Wilhelm/Baynes translation, can be one of Yi’s more enigmatic pronouncements. Very often it comes up in readings just when we’re increasingly convinced that something must be wrong. Often, too, it’s a comment on scenarios that any reasonable person would think were ‘mistakes’.

There’s 21 line 1, for instance –

‘Shoes locked in the stocks, feet disappear.
No mistake.’

The stocks are a punishment – surely a sign there are ‘mistakes’, and blame?

Or 55 line 3 –

‘At Feng is profusion,
Sun at noon, seeing the froth of stars
Your right arm broken,
No mistake.’

A broken arm is no mistake? (This can also be the image of the loss of your most able helper, or your greatest strength; you lose your capacity to act. And none of this is a mistake, either!)

And then, of course, there’s the utter paradox of 28 line 6 –

‘Overstepping, wading the river, head underwater.
Pitfall.
No mistake.’

Someone has probably drowned in this line. There is a disaster, and yet still there’s no mistake.

All this leads to a whole variety of interpretations – even reading it as a more-or-less meaningless emphasis, something like the expression, ‘…and no mistake!’ More useful is Wilhelm’s idea that this means there is no blame: even if things went badly wrong, you are not necessarily at fault. This can be a helpful insight in itself, and it also implies something more.

When Yi tells people something is ‘not a mistake’, their reaction is often something along the lines of, ‘Oh, really? In what universe?” In other words, ‘not a mistake’ can reveal the existence of a whole new perspective on the situation.

From one perspective, the immediate lived experience, the stocks are frustrating, the broken arm is blindingly painful and utterly incapacitating. And seen from another perspective, one in which this experience is part of a bigger story, there is no mistake. This is the best way I know to understand Hexagram 28, line 6: after the head has disappeared under water, after that ‘perspective’ is extinguished, another, different voice says, ‘Not a mistake.’

When the Dazhuan says that ‘no mistake’ means ‘mistakes can be mended’, it’s shifting perspective in a similar way, from immediate experience to longer term. And it makes a lot of sense that this should be the first line of Hexagram 40, which reads simply, ‘No mistake.’ Naturally, to be without blame (or blaming) is the first step into Release. And also, this seems to me to have the sense of being released from the whole story you were living. Yes, it asked a lot of you, it was a great struggle (Hexagram 39), but now you can draw a line under it all, understand it more as the playwright than as the actor, find what you take away from it and carry forward.

Here’s the section on ‘no mistake’ from Language of Change:

Without fault: 无咎 , wu jiu

The exact meaning of this common auspice varies between lines, and between
divinatory moments. Some possibilities:

  • Despite how you may feel (and what others might say), this is not wrong.
  • Specifically, your idea (or motivation or basic insight) is not wrong. If the results are bad, don’t leap to the conclusion that it must all go downhill from here. Mistakes can be mended; change is possible.
  • It just happened this way. Seeking to allocate blame is a waste of time.
  • Take especial care not to let things go wrong, even in small ways.
  • It’s not wrong… (but…?)

6 responses to No mistake

  1. This is so timely… No mistake. : )

    Facing possible complete financial disaster and loss of hearth and home and…all going on in my life right now. No mistake. Truly! That’s the message I’m getting and your words here make more solid how free we can be from fatal perspectives and fixation on right/wrong.

    Of course, there will be enormous efforts put forth to make things not so disastrous in their reverberations beyond the roof caving in. But I feel secure in places deep. Feels like the “disaster” is more like a revolution, the stripping away of past restrictions.

    jRuthKelly’s last blog post..Rain

  2. I’m a supporter of translating this one (wu jiu) a number of different ways, according to context, and to help “pop” or emphasize the intended tone. Among the options not mentioned, I would include the reassuring “no harm done” and the encouraging “not bad!”

  3. How can you know until the situation has completely played itself out? Strange comment. The point of divining is to rely on the divination’s assurance. If it turns out to be otherwise, give up divining.

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