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Non-attachment and Hexagram 25

IMG_0882You should know about Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project because it’s a beautiful gift to the world – and also because, every now and then, it provides intriguing little sparks of insight into hexagrams.

Here’s Susan talking (in the video on the left) about non-attachment, in ways that make me think of Hexagram 25, Without Entanglement. ‘Usually,’ she says, ‘what we’re doing with our minds is either holding them in a state of hope… or… a state of fear,’ pulling things towards us or pushing them away. To be ‘entangled’ in the Yi is to be caught up in futility or delusion, and this constant pulling-pushing seems like a good instance of that.

She describes two ways of conceiving of non-attachment. There’s the one that says, ‘You shouldn’t get upset, you shouldn’t care, you should be able to just let go and flow with whatever’s happening’ – which she says is ‘unkind’, and also not the true meaning. (I imagine all the ‘should’s might be a clue!) And then there’s ‘not holding any one particular mind state, even non-attachment, as the ideal, but rather allowing all mind-states, all kinds of reactions, all emotions, to be there, and to feel them fully.’

I think Hexagram 25 can refer to both of these: a strong resistance to being involved at all (which is sometimes unconvincingly disguised as impartiality), but also a natural, timely involvement.

‘Without entanglement.
Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
One who is not upright commits blunders,
And it is fruitless to have a direction to go.’

Yi describes this one with a lot of negatives, maybe to keep us on our toes, always disidentifying and disentangling. It tells us that to be without entanglement means to create success from the source and see constancy bear fruit, then about the one who is not upright, and the way of acting that bears no fruit.

Trying (probably misguidedly) to get a handle on this for a moment… to be ‘upright’ is to be correct or righteous. The word was used of advisers correcting the king, setting him straight, and of the tortoise oracle setting the right place for a town to be built. The old character is said to show a foot that comes to rest. One English word that comes to mind is grounded: feet on the ground, standing in your right place like the town that is built on the right spot, connected into the circuit of being. One who is not upright commits blunders, which are literally the errors of clouded vision: she isn’t properly aware.

We might imagine what one who is upright would be like by looking at the trigrams: inner thunder, outer heaven. Inwardly there is movement, the spark of iniative and emotion; outwardly, there is What Is. It’s very much like the idea of meditation (non-attachment practice, Susan says) as watching thoughts like clouds passing – inner weather – but keeping your attention on the sky beyond.

‘Below heaven, thunder moves. All things interact Without Entanglement.
The ancient kings, with abundant growth in accord with the seasons, nourished the ten thousand things.’

For the ancient kings, clearly, being without entanglement did not mean being uninvolved or uncaring.

But maybe this is part of the problem at line 6:

‘Without entanglement. Acting brings blunders.
No direction bears fruit.’

The text doesn’t say in so many words what has gone wrong here, but the way it echoes the oracle text makes it clear that this is someone ‘not upright’. They’re without entanglement, but not in their right place – not connected, not a working part of the whole.

Sometimes this can be a kind of repression: whatever you forcibly – purposefully, maybe – ‘disentangle’ or ‘detach’ from is not going anywhere, and is liable to jump out at you in inexplicable ways. More generally, it simply describes a state of too much detachment from an ongoing process – like that time I forgot all about the milk I’d left to boil down to make yoghourt, and boiled it down to crisp, shiny carbon…

13 responses to Non-attachment and Hexagram 25

  1. Sometimes we can be involved without being entangled. Entangled carries with it sometimes the connotation of being caught up, perhaps emotionally in the situation, or in such a way that we cannot disengage ourselves when the time comes to do so. Sometimes this happens to us before we realize what has happened, and we are not only involved, but entangled as well in a situation that shows no hope of extricating itself. The key is to be involved without being entangled. We can be part of a situation by our own choice but not because we are sucked into a situation without even realizing it.


  2. There is also another example of leaving stew to burn to carbon in wiki under 25.6 so the yoghurt incident looks like one of many !

    This, in discussion of 25 in wiki always bugged me….I don’t get it

    hilary And maybe an illustrative story for 25.1?

    A cow stopped in the street. The street was so narrow no-one could pass – and no-one could bully, persuade, coax or bribe the cow into moving. Uproar ensued.

    Then the cry went up,
    ‘The master! The master is coming! He’ll know what to do!’
    So the people fall quiet as the master approaches the end of the street. He looks down it…
    …sees the cow blocking the way…
    …and walks down a different street.


    I missed the meaning of this somewhere. It reminds me of that quote of the time the hungry hoardes were pleading for bread and Marie Antoinette is reported to have said “let them eat cake” but you used this story to illustrate 25.1…?..I didn’t understand that. Seems more like 25.6 to me…he doesn’t care but if he doesn’t care about the peoples problems yet he is their ‘master’ shouldn’t he just go off by himself somewhere and let someone who does care do his job.

    I imagine I must have missed the point or the wit of this somewhere ?

  3. Or just not put all their energy into trying to do what can’t be done, especially when there are perfectly good alternative routes open to them.

    Actually, come to think of it, it’d be a reasonable story to illustrate 39, too – the ‘not trying to pass the impassable’ thing.

  4. I asked “What should I do now?” and got 25.1.4 to 20. I’m currently in a tough situation. I’m helping someone dear to me deal with his own problems, and while doing that I stomp over issues that are painful to me personally. I was wondering whether I should refuse to be involved (it might be a healthier approach), but I Ching said 25.1.4 to 20. So I think it means I should feel what I feel, and I should digest all the emotions that come my way and still keep helping him. But I should stay impartial when talking to him, my advice should be good for him, no matter if it’s good for me or not. I shouldn’t use the situation in a self-serving way, which of course isn’t so easy to do. I may consider myself an honest person et al, but I think I Ching tells me to be doubly sure.

  5. Hi Lizzy! The best place to get feedback on a reading would be the I Ching Community – under the ‘Talk’ heading at the top of the page. But with this reading, I’d suggest being less involved, at least for a while, so you can take a more detached look at what’s happening.

  6. Thank you for your answer, Hillary. I often ask for feedback at the forums, just with this reading I was so sure I didn’t do that. But probably you’re right and I should have a second, more detached look at the situation.

  7. …just with this reading I was so sure I didn’t do that

    Good for you. Please don’t let me interfere with your understanding of your own reading!

  8. I just got 25.4.6 when asking about how to go about making some positive changes. I was a little confused that lines 4 and 6 seemed to contradict each other, but reading this I can see that 6 is just warning about that tendency to detach. What I’m thinking is that being disentangled from confusion and reaction is what is needed, but not detaching from the situation, just staying centered and grounded and aware.

  9. That’s a good distinction!

    It fits with your relating hexagram, too. Sprouting (hexagram 3) suggests getting more deeply involved, just without preconceived ideas.

  10. I ching 25 is attachment without attachment, or non-attachment with attachment. You are attached to the present moment in hopes that the future will have a better outcome. That is it. It has nothing to do with the Buddhist idea of letting go, it has more to do with the Taoist idea of creating superior function by focusing in the present moment…two radically different ideas, albeit it the difference is subtle, the trajectory of the two conclusions over the longer term is miles a part. Do not mix buddhism and new age philosophy with Taoism. A Taoist would never be speaking to enlighten the masses or crowd because he is only existing to be enlightened by them.

  11. Thank you for commenting – and for making the distinction.

    Speaking for myself… I’m always aware that the Yi is older than any of these systems of thought, Daoism included. Hence I find light cast from any direction can illuminate a new facet of the gem for me.

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