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Hexagram 4 and seeking meaning

My Bluebottle courtesy of Seymoursimages on Flickrreading for this past week was hexagram 4, Not Knowing, with no changing lines.

I appreciate getting unchanging hexagrams: it seems to me that Yi’s making allowances for me, giving me just one simple thing to keep in mind. I take it as an invitation to reflect.

The issue with hexagram 4 – mine, anyway – is the need to know. Not knowing is not a problem, and nor is the willingness to learn. Looking at the text…

‘Not knowing, creating success.
I do not seek the young ignoramus, the young ignoramus seeks me.
The first consultation speaks clearly.
The second and third pollute the waters,
Polluted, and hence not speaking.
Constancy bears fruit.’

… you can see it as a simple endorsement of not knowing,

‘Not knowing, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.’

that’s interrupted by the importunity of the young ignoramus. Her repeated consultations disrupt the normal flow from ‘heng’ to ‘li zhen’ (‘creating success’ to ‘constancy bears fruit’) that you see in other hexagrams. So not knowing is fine, and even asking once receives a clear answer, but more than that muddies the waters and makes things less clear than if you’d never asked. Absolutely counter-productive.

Why would we do this? What’s behind this asking again and again?

Sometimes, in my experience, it’s because we feel embarrassed by not knowing, as if there were something wrong with it. And also – not unrelatedly – it’s because we believe we have to know before we can do anything. And that, at least in Hexagram 4 times, is absolutely backwards. You move first, and then you find out. The stream doesn’t wait for its course to come into being before it starts to flow.

So on the one hand this can be simply wanting to know.

For instance… last week I created a draft document to share with people and ask for feedback. It’s a first step along a path that’s hugely important to me. I tidied my document up a bit before sharing, so all the paragraphs were in the same font. And then I noticed that one font was more readable than the other… and then I started wondering if other fonts might be clearer still… and then… Well, it’s at such absent-minded moments that I’m particularly glad that unchanging hexagrams are so hard to forget. I caught myself just before I started Googling for ‘most readable serif font’ 😉 .

And on the other hand, I think hexagram 4 can also want to know what it means.

This is a tricky one, because the sense that we live in a communicative, eloquent world, that our experiences are significant, the way we’re wired to be in conversation with our environment, constantly receiving messages from it… all this is beautiful and authentic. Yet… well, I sat in the garden the other day, absorbing sunlight and the feel of damp grass under bare toes, but finding it hard to settle because I wanted a sign. There were swallows above, and butterflies; I could even hear a buzzard in the distance. So what deeply significant visitations would come to me?

An ant walked over my foot, and a wholly ordinary bluebottle spent a long time sunbathing on my knee. I tried, but couldn’t think of anything for this to mean. Presently the bluebottle settled on my arm, flew, settled again – at which point I suddenly thought, ‘I could just absorb how you look for the beauty of it’ – and he promptly left. (But I can report that he had subtle turquoise patterning on his back.)

A post I read this week contained a further hint for this Young Fool. Richard Reeve describes how dream imagery is ‘like a sunflower’: the importance of letting it be just what it is. He also notes some symptoms of not wanting to let it be – awkwardness, embarrassment – which I think can also give rise to Hexagram 4’s constant questioning.

Hexagram 4 asks, ‘Can I have a sign?’ or ‘Can this be a sign?’ Sometimes, it can just be itself. Dream life can continue through its own processes and changes. The insect on my knee can mean, ‘This insect.’ It’s good to seek meaning; it’s also good to allow things to be what they are. Both can be ways to participate in the flow of change.

On the last night of my ‘hexagram 4 week’, I dreamt that some young people had bought devices that they thought would be little screens. They’d returned them to the market in disappointment when they found they were just bricks. A wiser companion saw how each brick had its own unique pattern of smudges of warm, living colour, and was fascinated. We were so glad those attention-deficient youngsters had let these beautiful things go and made them available again!

14 responses to Hexagram 4 and seeking meaning

  1. I really don’t think hex 4 is just an endorsement of not knowing…its telling you you don’t have enough information to make an informed choice or decision about something……In which case you have to find out. Last time I got hex 4 I was asking about someones relation with me who it turned out I had absolutely no idea about. I don’t think that answer was for me to just go on not knowing…I needed to find out, and did in time. If I had clung to not knowing like a talisman it would be like wilfully shutting my eyes and remaining ignorant. Sometimes hex 4 is just telling you “you don’t know” but this doesn’t always mean “and don’t even try to find out”. If we are asking again and again theres something we haven’t seen because the information isn’t available yet…so to me hex 4 says ‘it isn’t possible to know yet’ but it doesn’t say “don’t explore, don’t try to understand etc etc” it only says “you don’t know yet…and you can’t found out without outside input…if you keep asking ME you will get nowhere”. I wasn’t going to find out about the motives of this person through Yi…I couldn’t imagine them. I found out through talking to others and him and so discovered what I hadn’t known.

    I’m feeling that although the angle you describe is certainly there with hexagram 4 sometimes….it really isn’t the whole picture…it really can mean ‘go and find out….out there in the world….don’t ask me…theres things you can’t see’ . I don’t think we can always take hex 4 as advice to remain contentedly vacant….quite the reverse….there is literal ignorance there sometimes, something we need to find out

  2. Of course the danger with hexagram 4 can be that as soon as its decided what it meant it can be ‘put away’

    I’m seeing it more and more as a finger pointing us away from Yi as a source of knowledge…….we have to find out ‘out there’

    If you make it mean, as in the above blog post, ‘don’t look for meaning’ you just made another meaning….for it to mean. I wouldn’t take it as don’t look for meaning. I think hex 4 is in danger of being over idealised as a state to exist in. I don’t think its a state to exist in any more than any other hexagram….I’ve had it too often about being just not being aware of something crucial to think of it as a kind of childlike nirvana …It might be a childlike nirvana sometimes….but I wouldn’t hold to that too much. You may also need to go and and find out….but not from Yi

  3. Of course it could well be “don’t look for meaning within the existing framework you have to make meanings…you’ll lead yourself up the garden path”

    oops thats 3 posts…….

  4. Oh, I didn’t mean it meant ‘don’t look for meaning’.

    (Is there an award for that sentence, please?)

    Surely the point is that you can’t get whatever answer you’re looking for without going somewhere, exploring, being in motion and maybe taking some risks (like in your example, talking to actual people).

    Secondary point: the thing you’re interrogating so energetically might not mean anything. In which case… again… to satisfy that very healthy craving for insight, you’re going to have to move.

  5. Oh I see. I understand perfectly. When you said you meant last weeks hexagram 4 meant for you not to go chasing after meanings all the time when there was no especial meaning it was just life being life, knees being knees, insects doing what insects do..(.when you thought there might be a clear direction for you in everything but there isn’t always)…you didn’t also mean hexagram 4 meant ‘don’t look for meaning…and just accept you don’t know’

    I think I understand. The main thing seems to be knowing that you don’t know

  6. I’ve received Hex 4 a couple of times lately, and took it to be a warning about my tendency to obsess because I think I need an answer. Both times I took the warning to heart and just relaxed and waited for more information (including being more open to my own part in the situation!), and both times the situation cleared and resolved.

  7. I Think for this hexagram Hilary found for herself a really valid “meaning” in it. Of course, when we ask of the I Ching we are likely to get an answer that relates to ourself, unless we asked, (indicated) otherwise. (We will have to give Hilary the “meaning” award, referring to her comment about the means of the meanings etc.)

    Like all hexagrams it can mean several things, and yes, sometimes we do try to look for too much meaning in the meaning. Other times perhaps we don’t.

    The meaning for me depends on the context. It could mean not knowing, it could mean not only not knowing, but thinking that we do. It could mean a form of arrogance (as the middle son above the eldest son in the trigrams), and in that context it could mean that some form of protocol has been broken, and we may have to pay through unpleasant life experiences. Then it also could refer to finding a teacher, physical or spiritual, who will reveal something to us we had not known before. It could mean meaning in no meaning, or no meaning in meaning. Then again, the only meaning could be involved with a lesson in life, pleasant or unpleasant.


  8. Lynne – yes, I find it’s often talking to that obsessive answer-hunting, too.


    It could mean meaning in no meaning, or no meaning in meaning.

    …I think we’re in competition for that award.

    I followed up my ‘bricks, not screens’ dream the following night with one in which I climbed over a whole series of fences, then telepathically called a genius to my aid, had the genius take reams of notes trying to work out the answer… all without getting the answer… Then finally the simpleton who’d come along with me just wrote the question down in the bit of space left above all the notes, and at once received the answer ‘yes’. (Alas, the dream didn’t include seeing what the question was.)

    So there’s a lot to be said for just asking (once).

  9. How about simply “inexperienced to understand, implied more learning needed”. Being out of the know triggers a basic insecurity or basic inability to handle problems or threats – hence survival. We are programmed to do whatever is necessary to survive which in turn drives us to find out. In many cases we are not at a level to recognize the answer so it is not given. Traversing that circle leads back to the beginning.

  10. Good point, that the desire to find out is a basic survival instinct. And it’s important that Yi is not criticising/ condemning that at all – but only the repetitive questioning that muddies the waters. I don’t think it’s that we’re ‘not at a level to recognise the answer’, though – I think it’s more that the drive to know gets in the way of receiving it.

  11. Which goes to show, Hilary

    That genius’s are not always genius. Out of the mouth of babes… Why, because they are more innocent, and they allow the answer to come to them rather than try to force it. And that is an aspect of hexagram four as well, is that we simply trust. We must learn, yes, but from those who have truly gone on before us, and do not need the pen and paper. It is spiritual learning that is a must, not intellectual learning. So we learn the meaning of meaning and non meaning, not by pencil and paper, but by listening to “the still small voice.”


  12. And one final thing on this hexagram (four), not directed at anybody in any way but just general info about the hexagram, is that in order to really truly learn we must be receptive. (hexagram two) Only by being receptive can we take in the lesson to the point we are ready to move on to the next level. Being receptive requires that we humble ourselves (hexagram fifteen) to the point where we can learn with trust, recognizing the one who is higher than us. We learn the right conduct, (hexagram ten) and apply it when we approach the sage. We approach with a spirit of cooperativeness. When we find a teacher that we know has mastered the lessons and it shows in his daily life and conduct, then we simply listen without interruption. We act in full trust and admiration. Life itself is a mystery, (hexagram four). We can delve into the mystery and learn a lot, but the more we learn, the more we still need to remain humble and to realize that as much as we have learned it is still a mystery, and will always be so.


  13. hello ! I got this one casually asking the Yi about having a go at the beginners coarse on the Yi – by Hilary . So i did ! . Very good ! . And as always fully appropriate answer . And to be honest , there’s that quality , of ‘ what can we ask the Yi – next – ? ‘ , just to get that magical , yeah ! , that’s a good answer ! , wow ! . That sense of intelligence , as though the Yi realy is sentient ! .
    I am a fan of the Li Se book of Sun and Moon , or book of the Sun as she has decided , and maybe a good way to be comfortable with – Meng – is to consider Li Se’s commentary on Jian #39 , another ‘lousy hexagram ‘ ! . That’s water on the mountain , or a ravine and mountain to get through . However , eventually , the water bubbles up as a spring at the foot of the mountain having gotten through all the difficulties , and that is Meng , questions / difficulties already sorted ! no problem ! nothing to ask ! . Pure and simple . Don’t muddy it ! . Although maybe cold feet if we have a paddle .

    • Yes, I know what you mean about the sheer delight and wonder of conversation with Yi. Yes, just as though what you’re talking to were sentient… 😉

      I like the Commentary on the Judgement for 4:

      “‘I do not seek the young ignoramus, the young ignoramus seeks me.‘ Their intentions are in resonance.”

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