The name of Hexagram 36, ming yi, is translated as ‘brightness hidden’ or ‘brightness wounded’. The two ideas blend together in readings: the light is hidden away to escape the danger of injury.
The wealth of layers of association in this hexagram hint at a complex relationship of light and dark. ‘Yi’, ‘hidden’ or ‘wounded’, is the name of a barbarian tribe – a threat to the light of civilisation. However, a tiny alteration to the character ming, ‘brightness’, transforms it into meng, ‘alliance’ – and Hexagram 55, line 4, which changes to 36, indicates an alliance with a ‘Yi lord’. Freeman Crouch translates ming yi as ‘Brilliance Wounded (the Yi covenant). Maybe sometimes you need to be allied with what can injure you?
And then the old form of the character yi shows a man with an arrow. This along with ming is reminiscent of a different Yi: Yi the Archer, who shot arrows at the sun. Why did he do this? One myth explains that the ten suns (one for each day of the week) rose into the sun at once, and Yi had to shoot them down to save the earth from burning. Yet the completed form of this myth is probably younger than the Yi – and in his Mandate of Heaven, Steve Marshall draws together evidence for an earlier version in which Yi shot down the crow that was ‘eating’ (eclipsing) the sun. So perhaps we must save the light, or perhaps we must be saved from the dangers of too much light.
Brightness Hiding follows from Hexagram 35, Advancing, where the sun shines out over the earth (the trigram li above the trigram kun; their positions are reversed in 36). The Sequence says,
‘Advancing necessarily has occasion for injury, and so Brightness Hidden follows; Brightness Hidden means injury.’
This suggests how in shining more brightly – either making yourself overly conspicuous, or burning the candle at both ends with ever-increasing expectations – the light can be wounded.
The Oracle says,
Constancy in hardship bears fruit.’
I would suggest this is constancy to the light – to your original, clear insight. ‘Hardship constancy’ is the capacity to stay true to what you know, not to second-guess and doubt yourself because times are hard.
And times, in Hexagram 36, are hard. The character is said to show someone with their hands tied, like a prisoner: it means hard labour, and the time of mourning for a parent’s death. It’s important, receiving this hexagram, not to gloss over the real risk of injury.
Amongst its layers of association, the clearest is with Prince Ji, who is named in the fifth line:
‘Prince Ji’s brightness hidden.
Constancy bears fruit.’
As the story goes, Ji was one of the last surviving good men at the Shang court in its decline. The king and his entourage were once so drunk that they (literally) didn’t know what day it was, and sent a messenger to ask Ji. Rather than reveal himself as the only one who knew, he feigned drunkenness and madness. In this way he hid his light, and survived without compromising his principles by cooperating with the regime.
In readings, of course, Hexagram 36 rarely describes a situation quite this extreme; being too insightful rarely incurs the risk of gruesome death. But we do find ourselves, often enough, ‘out of the loop’, exiled from power, experiencing a mismatch of standards or of character that threatens injury. There is no way our light can illuminate or change anything, and it’s safer to adopt protective camouflage. The sense of powerlessness and vulnerability leads to hiding your insight from others; it can also occasionally lead to hiding it from yourself. Sometimes it may be safer not to be fully aware.
In relationships, to ‘hide your brightness’ means not sharing all you see. The Contrast between Advancing and Brightness Hiding says that,
‘Advancing means daylight, Brightness Hidden means castigation.’
They contrast the fates of two princes: Kang, rewarded with a gift of horses; Ji, serving just as faithfully, rewarded with the threat of execution. Your light isn’t always popular; sometimes you are blamed and punished for it. Maybe you’ve encountered this situation in relationships, where any insight you offer will be rejected instantly, reflexively, just because you are the one offering it? This is the time to hide your light: the only way to protect the insight and keep alive the possibility that it might one day be recognised is to conceal it.
And on the other side of this coin, the Image says:
‘Brightness enters the earth’s centre. Brightness Hidden.
A noble one, overseeing the crowds, uses both darkness and light.’
The noble one is using the qualities of both trigrams: he has insight, clear and sharp, but contains this within the earth, with its qualities of tolerance and accommodation. Being too ostentatious about your insight doesn’t endear you to anyone – or, as Wilhelm puts it, ‘In social intercourse one should not try to be all-knowing. One should let many things pass, without being duped.’
None of this means that the light is gone: on the contrary, it is hidden and safeguarded. It’s no more extinguished than the sun at night. The nuclear hexagram of 36 is 40, Release, hinting at how hiding the light liberates it from attention and definition. Hexagram 36 can be a chance to understand what the light is in its essential nature, without being distracted by what it does or how it is to be used. (Imagine what would have happened to Ji’s light if his self-esteem had depended on having the rulers think well of him, or being seen to be ‘useful’.) It’s like the understanding that can be released in dreams, away from the light of conscious attention and intention.