63 seems a good choice of hexagram to write about at the turn of the year, with its theme of endings-and-beginnings.
Hexagrams 63 and 64, of course, stand at the very end of the Yijing, and they deal with themes of completion and arrival – or not. Their very order in the Sequence – Already Across first, then ‘finally’ Not Yet Across – is a giant, Yi-scale joke. Despite all that’s been written about hexagram 63 showing everything complete, everything in its right place, it turns out to be all about how we are not finished and had better keep moving and looking forward.
The name of the hexagram is ji ji, already across. As you can learn at LiSe’s site, the character for ‘already’ shows a man turning away from a food pot, already fed. And ‘across’ has two parts: the river, and a sign for what is neat, together, complete, like a field of grain ready for harvest. Together, the word means ‘cross a river’ and also to help or rescue. (Though I’ve yet to see the ‘rescue’ meaning in a reading – anyone?)
River crossing is a big, important image in the Yijing, of course, with the expression ‘cross the great river’ describing a significant and risky commitment. Crossing rivers in old China was perilous in general, not something you’d undertake if still unsure of your direction. And the image also has two more specific roots: one military, one marital. The Zhou people had a great river to cross to enter the territory of the Shang regime they were called to overthrow. And as part of marriage rituals, men and women would cross rivers to be with one another. Both of these provide useful ways of thinking about what kind of commitment ‘river crossing’ can represent in readings now – in the ‘cross the great river’ idiom, and in hexagrams 63 and 64.
So when you’ve crossed the river, you’ve made a commitment and come to a new place – and this means you have begun, not that you’ve finished. In readings, it points to something already decided or already present. Unchanging it can say, ‘This is not a real question, because you’ve already taken the decision.’ As primary hexagram, it draws your attention to the commitment you’ve already made: ‘here’s what you have to work with now’. And as relating hexagram, it often seems to be saying, ‘There is no external place where you could stand to look at this: you’re inside the process.’ It’s already running – something like a background process on a computer, or maybe like the operating system.
Because of this strong feeling that 63 is about something ongoing, Stephen Karcher in Total I Ching actually translates the hexagram name as ‘Already Crossing’, and his first keywords for the hexagram are ‘begun, underway, in progress.’ There are two aspects to 63: something irrevocably decided, hence ‘complete’, and something ongoing, definitely not finished.
The oracle of Already Across –
‘Already across, creating small success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Beginnings, good fortune.
– finds an echo in Song 255:
‘Mighty is God on high,
Ruler of his people below;
Swift and terrible is God on high,
His charge has many statutes.
Heaven gives birth to the multitudes of the people,
But its charge cannot be counted upon.
To begin well is common,
To end well is rare indeed.’
(The words used for ‘beginning’ and ‘ending’ are the same, and ‘charge’ translates ming, mandate.)
After this thundering exposition, the remaining verses of the song recount the warnings of King Wen of the Zhou to the corrupt Shang, telling them to mend their ways. He concludes ominously, ‘A mirror for Yin [ie Shang] is not far off; It is the times of the Lord of Xia.’ The Xia had begun well, and ended badly, ousted by the Shang when they fell into corruption. Now the Shang had gone the same way and would suffer the same fate at the hands of the Zhou.
So the Shang found their mirror in the Xia. Now in Hexagram 63, the Zhou have crossed their river and begun well… could they too have a mirror? A hint might be found in the paired lines 63.3 and 64.4 (one of the most clearly ‘mirrored’ line pairs in the book):
‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’
‘Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.
The Thunderer uses this to attack the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and there are rewards in the great city.’
The high ancestor was a Shang ruler who subdued the Demon Country (Guifang); the Thunderer most probably a Zhou general working for a subsequent Shang leader, who had to subdue them again.
The Zhou have fought bravely, crossed the river, assumed the Mandate of Heaven… now what?
‘Beginnings, good fortune.
But in practice, this isn’t a doom-laden, ‘It’ll all go pear-shaped in the end’ – it’s better read as an alternative: if you are beginning, good fortune; if you are ending, chaos. The Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the oracle) elaborates:
‘Auspicious at the beginning, softness gains the centre [there’s a broken line in the second place]. Stopping at the end means confusion; this dao is exhausted.’
It’s the stopping that creates the disorder. If you decide to stand still when you’ve scrambled half-way up a muddy river bank (see line 1!), there’s only one outcome. And conversely, there is a sense that moving forward is what creates the path, so that as soon as you stop moving, the path runs out.
So in readings this can say – never lose your momentum. Always be beginning.
However, it can also say – expect mess, because only beginnings can be tidy. (It doesn’t say ‘endings, pitfall’, after all.) The character for ‘beginning’ shows a knife cutting cloth: for me, it’s that lovely moment, usually at the beginning of the year, when I plan things out and can see with perfect clarity the shape I intend to create. I achieve inbox zero, I work efficiently, I have beautiful insights.
And then item 59 on the 132-item checklist turns out to be something I haven’t the foggiest how to do, and items 60 through 70 make like enthusiastic bunnies so it’s really a 337-item checklist, or maybe more, who on earth knows? and I lose heart and grind to a halt and end up covered in river-mud by February. (Looking through my journal, I do mostly get 63 as primary hexagram about work. I’m still learning to be always beginning… appropriate, I suppose…)
The decision, however epic it feels at the time, is the easy part.
The trigrams provide another way to relate to th
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