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When Yi is neutral

A couple of months ago I wrote about ‘Essentials for Yijing readings‘ and included that old favourite hobby horse of mine: the commentary is not the answer, along with some examples of commentary – Wilhelm’s, Karcher’s and mine – that was decidedly not what the oracle said.

All three examples I came up with were from lines where Yi’s original words were strictly neutral – no value judgements at all: 9.3, 17.2 and 28.5.

‘A cart losing its wheel spokes.
Husband and wife avert their eyes.’

‘Bound to the small child,
Letting the mature man go.’

‘Withered willow sprouts flowers,
Venerable woman gets an upright husband.
No blame, no praise’

It seems especially hard to talk about these lines without adding our own value judgements, even without noticing we’re doing it.

‘Withered willow sprouts flowers,
Venerable woman gets an upright husband.
No blame, no praise’

Yi clearly and specifically says no blame, no praise – that this is not a situation that can be judged. And yet it’s fantastically difficult for us not to judge. The older woman is not going to have children – so this renewal and rejuvenation isn’t productive, and unproductive things are bad. We even make unfavourable comparison between the withered willow’s flowers and the shoots of line 2: this may perhaps not be doing any harm, but it isn’t going anywhere; flowers may be nice, but they’re not productive. Which is, of course, not true – but in any case, who decided productivity was an absolute standard?

Or take 17.2  –

‘Bound to the small child,
Letting the mature man go.’

‘A mistake’ says Karcher; ‘throws himself away on unworthy friends’ says Wilhelm. Maturity and respectability, they assume, are always Good Things. And, naturally, they usually are; this is the same ‘mature man’ who brings good fortune and no mistake to the Army, in the oracle of Hexagram 7. But the line doesn’t say ‘misfortune’ or ‘shame’ or ‘constancy means regrets’ – it only describes holding to the child and letting the mature person go.

I recently saw this line describe a situation where ‘letting the mature man go’ was unquestionably the right course of action: the established confidence of an elder was not required; spontaneity and the ability to learn were.  This is probably an unusual application – maybe next time I see the line, I’ll need to change tack and cling to the mature one. The thing is – I don’t know which way will be right, and the line doesn’t say.

And back to 9.3 –

‘A cart losing its wheel spokes.
Husband and wife avert their eyes.’

Maybe I’m the only one who turned this into a sign of ‘total collapse’ – and that would be because I set a high value on clear and open communication, so its absence seems to me to be obviously a Bad Thing. Only… again… the line doesn’t say so; it doesn’t say ‘pitfall’ or ‘shame’ or even ‘constancy, regrets’. It just describes a situation where connection is lost and progress cannot be made (because the wheel without spokes won’t turn).

Here are two (originally public) readings from my logs of experiences with this line:

He has started a new company, asked for someone’s business, and is awaiting their decision. How to act until they decide?

She’s in a long distance relationship, and he’s asked her to move in with him, leaving her family and job behind to become dependent on him. She only wants to take such a big step if it’s likely to lead to marriage, but doesn’t want to ask him his intentions. Would moving in with him lead to a proposal?

You can see the basic dynamics of the line in both these situations. There is a great weight of emotion and need – for new business, for relationship security – and it’s not being communicated. We might think that in the first case it’s better not communicated (‘I really need you to decide, I have bank loans to repay!’ – true and sincere but unlikely to help matters…), while in the second, communication is vital before she even thinks about acting. But the line doesn’t say either of those things.

And that, I think, is part of what it means to get into conversation with Yi and respond to a reading: finding our own emotional-moral-intuitive response to the images it offers. Jumping to the commentary can mean missing that moment of connection altogether.

Anyway… when my publisher kindly gave me permission to include my translation/commentary in the journal software, I leapt at the opportunity to make a few changes. The commentary on Hexagram 9, line 3 now reads,

“Things come apart. The spokes are such a small component of the cart, yet when they’re lost it comes to a halt. Husband and wife avoid one another’s gaze: where you would expect communication and rapport, there is an inner disconnection.

There is more strain than the spokes can hold; there may be more truth, more emotional intensity, than the structures for communication can sustain. Sometimes it’s wise to break the connection and let the wheels stop turning.”

I hope that’s better…

© Depositphotos.com/urban_light
photo © Depositphotos.com/urban_light

8 responses to When Yi is neutral

  1. Are lines describing what you should do, or what you are doing? Once it is brought out into the light of day, you have the chance to continue doing that or do something else. If anything, the Yi is surely ‘against’ blind action. In hexagram 17/2, some who receive that line will surely continue to hold to the little boy, but then they may notice that when they want wise counsel that it has gone. They only have the little boy. That’s all it’s saying.

  2. Once it is brought out into the light of day, you have the chance to continue doing that or do something else.

    That’s a good description of Yi-conversations 101. In this case it was what I would be doing with a specific course of action.

    In hexagram 17/2, some who receive that line will surely continue to hold to the little boy, but then they may notice that when they want wise counsel that it has gone. They only have the little boy. That’s all it’s saying.

    Don’t agree. It’s saying only what it says – that someone holds to the small child and lets the elder go. I believe this implies that you can have one or the other, but not both: you have to choose. It doesn’t say that the elder offers counsel, wise or otherwise, now or in future. Of course if you’d asked about a situation where you were choosing advisors, it might well mean that. Otherwise? Plenty of other possibilities.

  3. The third line of hexagram 17 implies what is expected of the second line. The ‘neutrality’ of the second line is heavily loaded by the third line. If you read the second line as simply being a choice between one or the other you are missing what the oracle ‘expects’ you to choose. This is why all the commentary is at pains to point this out. To choose the little boy in the second line is to discover that you got it wrong later down the line. But sometimes one has to find this out for oneself. But in your particular situation, who is to say. Perhaps the one you characterise as ‘an elder’ was just a wiseacre and actually the little boy. I can’t comment on a situation I know nothing about, only on what I see in the hexagram itself.

  4. Actually, hexagram 17/2 essentially applies to those who will make the mistake of holding to the little boy. That’s why they receive that line. But for some it is a warning about what they are doing, so they can choose more wisely than that if they are able.

  5. It’s also ironic that in emphasising not following commentary over the line itself you are effectively adding your own commentary to 17/2 that choosing either is fine. So to follow your commentary gives permission to make the very mistake that you’re criticising the other commentary for pointing out. Yes, indeed, commentary has a lot to answer for and is hard to get away from in the end. Best to choose the wise commentary…

  6. I didn’t mean ‘Choosing either is fine.’ Only ‘The line does not tell you which is better.’ Which it doesn’t, not by itself.

    ‘Commentary is hard to get away from ‘ – that’s certainly true. Like ‘value judgements are hard to get away from.’

  7. Every line exists within a context. Finding the context tells you what the line intends if one is any doubt about it. In this case the context is clear.

    To act is to make a value judgment according to an implicitly limited outlook. One makes a judgment call according to the best of one’s knowledge at the time. The only thing wrong with it is wanting something, which is bound to affect one’s judgment. This is why it is better generally to act spontaneously (ziran) or do nothing (wuwei). Only if one is free from a personal agenda is one free of value judgments. There is nothing wrong with value judgment as such, it is only the degree to which one is wrong due to one’s own investment in the situation that matters.

    Hence the Yijing is about judging wisely in the interim, when seemingly one’s judgment is clouded. But if action is not occurring spontaneously then it would of course be better to be unconcerned and have no recourse to the oracle. The oracle is essentially for when one cannot do that according to one’s own judgment, because the situation calls forth need to act but doesn’t go so far as to have action naturally occurring. It is essentially an illusion due to desire for a result. So judgment will be necessary. One will either judge wrongly or rightly. And what I am saying is that in this instance choosing the little boy is judging wrongly. Why would you want to get away from that ‘value judgment’? Because you have made a different value judgment and are supposing the oracle itself supports this because the line considered in isolation seems ‘neutral’. This is your ‘value judgment’. To me it is just a rationalisation to justify sometimes choosing the little boy. In other words, the clarity of the third line is lacking in the second and you are merely illustrating that.

  8. “Husband and wife avert their eyes.” You never know. Maybe they are communicating just fine. How many times has someone done something embarrassing right in front of you — lost their lunch, say, or maybe their kid is having a major tantrum in public — and you pretend you don’t notice or that this is just a normal thing. You do this because you don’t want to embarrass them. Sometimes it looks bad but it’s just life; the best thing to do is look away, or at least pretend to do so.

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