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Danger – good fortune?

I’m just coming to the end of the ‘omens’ section as I revise and enlarge ‘Words of Change’, my Yijing glossary. This involves testing out ideas by looking at every instance of each omen, along with all the example readings I can find. Since I’m going into more detail this time around, I’ve been looking more at contexts and associations – for instance, how ‘danger’ quite often appears as ‘constancy, danger’, but sometimes as ‘danger, no mistake’ or even ‘danger, good fortune.’

So… you have a new course of action in mind, and you consult the oracle: ‘What about doing this?’
And the oracle says, ‘Danger.’

That’s a clear and helpful answer. This seems like the kind of thing that should be in the job description for oracles: warn the unsuspecting querent when they’re running into danger, so they can back off.

Only Yi may also say, ‘Danger, no mistake’ or ‘Danger, good fortune,’ and what are you to make of that?

35.6 for instance, has both:

‘Advancing with your horns.
Holding fast, use this to subjugate the city.
Danger, good fortune, not a mistake.
Constancy: shame.’

li, dangerFirst, what’s ‘danger’? The old forms of the character clearly show a hidden scorpion. It also has the early meaning of pain and illness (Richard Kunst suggests that’s illness that’s like being in bed with a scorpion), and the angry ghosts that cause illness.

The Dazhuan makes a connection between ‘danger’ and the plight of the Zhou people struggling with their more powerful opponent, the Shang. (Confusingly, the name of the last Shang king is also transcribed as ‘Zhou’.)

“Did not Yi arise at the end of Shang,
when Zhou was at the peak of its powers,
when King Wen strove with Zhouxin?

Thus, the statements speak of danger.

Danger encourages peace,
complacency provokes downfall.

This dao is very great:
no possibility is omitted.

Caution from beginning to end
looks for No misfortune.”

Richard Rutt, Zhouyi.

This makes clear why Wilhelm often translates ‘danger’ as ‘aware of danger’ when it’s coupled with a positive omen. (In 35.6. he has ‘to be conscious of danger brings good fortune.’) Whether you’re considering military perils or hidden scorpions, the most important thing is to be aware of where and what it is. (The same is true for disease demons, where the first task is to identify which ancestor is angry so they can be pacified.)

It’s natural that you’ll sometimes encounter dangerous circumstances even when your proposed action is ‘not a mistake’. A strong implication of ‘not a mistake’ is ‘there’s nothing wrong with this idea in principle.’ It may be the right thing to do; it may have the potential to yield real results – it just doesn’t go smoothly. Take 44.3, for instance –

‘Thighs without flesh,
Moving awkwardly now.
No great mistake.’

I believe that refers to Yu the Great, the Chinese flood hero, whose work is the supreme example of something worthwhile that’s also perilous. ‘Danger, no mistake’ is a time to weigh up risks against possible benefits, without losing sight of either. (One unfortunate response to these lines is to dismiss the danger – ‘Oh, now I’m aware there’s a risk I can go ahead anyway, it’ll be fine.’)

Another example, 38,4:

‘Opposed, alone.
Meet an inspiring man.
Joining together in trust,
Danger, no mistake.’

The dangerous element here (as in 24.3) is the emotion involved: loneliness and the yearning for connection. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with longing to ‘join together in trust’, nor that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the man or the relationship. It’s simply a moment to be aware of how that longing affects your choices, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice (zhi gua 41).

Danger is about immediate circumstances, which, in a way, is why it’s often associated with ‘constancy’. Danger requires you to be aware of what’s around you; constancy is being true to something within you – an insight, a commitment, sometimes (as with rams and rats) your own nature. It’s how you can endure and persevere despite encountering difficulties, and more often than not, in the Yijing, that’s a good capability to have. Only, sometimes, there’s a fine line between loyalty and bull-headedness, and you need to find a new balance between inner conviction and sensitivity to your surroundings. ‘Constancy, danger.’

When Yi says ‘danger, good fortune,’ at least it’s clear that it will be worthwhile to continue: you can survive this one. In practice, the good fortune seems to come with the increased ‘awareness of danger’ and willingness to take on present, personal responsibility. (The phrase comes in 18.1, 27.6, 35.6 and 37.3, and the assumption of responsibility is a theme in all four.)

So back to 35.6, and its long list of omen words –

‘Advancing with your horns.
Holding fast, use this to subjugate the city.
Danger, good fortune, not a mistake.
Constancy: shame.’

Advancing with the horns – with bullish determination. This is the basic ‘make hay while the sun shines’ mindset of Hexagram 35 taken to an extreme – ‘I’ll make this happen no matter what – chaaaaarrrrge!‘ This energy can well be applied to a specific, big task, like subjugating a city. It’s dangerous in all the ways that ‘no matter what’ mindset always is; it’s ‘good fortune’ because it can achieve something substantial that you might not accomplish any other way, and ‘not a mistake’ when the goal to which it’s applied is good in itself. But constancy – promoting this from a tactic to apply in a specific case, to a rule to live by or way of being – would be shameful.


2 responses to Danger – good fortune?

  1. Just a slight little bit of commentary to this.

    Often it is easy to just read the parts of a judgment, or decision, that you want to hear. We hear “good fortune” and we are ready to jump in to the deep part of the pool. Or we hear “danger” and we shrink from the challenge. In actuality, the danger or the good fortune of a situation only applies when we have considered the ramifications of the meaning of the advice in the judgment or decision. Often if we are aware of the danger, and especially ikf we are aware of what causes the situation to be dangerous we can work our way around it. We know what to be wary of and therein lies our good fortune. In the same way good fortune only applies if we understand the steps necessary to take, and we have the integrity to act honestly. Without applying the wisdom, there is no good fortune, and may be a lot of danger. It is advisable to use the best judgment and weigh our own motives before jumping too quickly into a reading.

  2. It’s true, all the omens have to be understood in context of the hexagram as a whole. Interesting that you’ve also found the importance of ‘awareness of danger’.

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