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A shared dao of 21 and 48

Complementary hexagrams are paradoxical things. On the one hand, there is no hexagram more different from 21, Biting Through than 48, the Well:

21, Biting Through
48, the Well

Every line is changed, so they have nothing in common. If it’s time to bite through, then it is exactly not time for well-maintenance.

And on the other hand, this means that complementary hexagrams are – visibly, obviously – the same shape, like a mould and its casting are the same shape. They share a pattern, and meet at every point to form a whole.

What is that ‘whole’? The best description I have is that it’s the single dao of their shared pattern.

I believe each hexagram with its complement will express a single dao. Coming to understand each one is proving to be a slow process – but every now and then I get a hint of one.

I think the single dao of hexagrams 21 and 48 is the imperative to do whatever work’s required to connect with what sustains us, by joining above and below.

Here’s the train of thought that got me this far:

21 is generally known as a pictorial hexagram derived from Hexagram 27, which is literally called Jaws. 27 shows the upper and lower jaws and the teeth between them. (The trigrams draw the same picture: the upper jaw is still (mountain) and the lower jaw moves (thunder).)

21 shows the ‘jaws’ picture with the addition of one yang line at the fourth place, which represents both the obstacle between the teeth and the action of biting through it.

27, Nourishment/ Jaws
21 zhi 27


‘Biting into dried, bony meat,
Gains a metal arrow.
Constancy in hardship bears fruit.
Good fortune.’

(A metal arrow is not just any obstacle: it adds a whole new dimension. Find it, and not only can you swallow this mouthful, but you have the means to get your next meal.)

48 is the ‘negative’ of the picture in 21 – so you could say it’s derived from Hexagram 28, but with one extra yin line added at the fourth place.

28, Great Exceeding
48 zhi 28

21.4 is the obstacle and action between above and below – so what’s 48.4? It’s the space that connects above and below. It’s the well-shaft.


‘Well is being lined,
No mistake.’

Paralleling 21.4, this isn’t just about the space, but the activity to hold it clear. It’s a subtler, less vivid reflection of the dao of uniting above and below to reach sustenance.

The fan yao of each line shows something more about their themes –

21.4 is reflected in 27.4:

‘Biting into dried, bony meat,
Gains a metal arrow.
Constancy in hardship bears fruit.
Good fortune.’
‘Unbalanced nourishment,
Good fortune.
Tiger watches, glares and glares.
His appetites, pursues and pursues.
No mistake.’

The power behind ‘biting into dried bony meat’ and ‘constancy in hardship’ is the tiger’s fierce persistence. 27 isn’t only about finding a balanced framework of nourishment, it’s also about the blazing, transforming desires that animate the framework (and for ‘animate the framework’ you can read ‘power the jaws’).

48.4 is reflected in 28.4:

‘Well is being lined,
No mistake.’
‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

‘Sustenance’ means what sustains – what holds up. That’s a theme of 28 – what kind of structure holds up under stress, and what energies renew its strength.

These lines seem to ‘unfold’ the single dao of 21-48 (and that of 27-28) to explore the relationships it generates between desire, sustenance and structure.

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