Hexagrams 9 and 26 are ‘Small Taming’ and ‘Great Taming’ – the same activity on a different scale. That activity is xu, 畜: rearing livestock, and farming in general. (Stephen Field actually translates these two hexagrams as ‘Lesser Stock’ – mostly goats – and ‘Greater Stock’, namely the horses, cattle and pigs mentioned in the lines of 26.) It involves nurturing, nourishing and raising, and also controlling and keeping in check.
The difference in experience between the two hexagrams is the difference between being ‘small’ and ‘great’. As a small farmer, you feel at the mercy of those gathering clouds, and need to keep your attention on hoeing the next row. As a big farmer, you are responsible for great resources, and you need to think ahead and have an overall vision and sense of purpose for it all.
Hexagram 25, being Without Entanglement, clears the way for Great Taming. The zagua (‘Contrasts’ Wing) says that,
In practice in readings, Hexagram 25 doesn’t often mean calamity – but it does mean that you’re not involved, and if there is calamity, the right response is generally to say, ‘Not my doing, not my responsibility – not mine.’
In its line texts, Without Entanglement suggests the mindset of a nomadic herder more than a settled farmer. It’s only a disaster for the townspeople when the tethered cow is stolen in line 3; the frenetic bustle of agricultural activity seems to be being parodied in line 2.
‘Being Without Entanglement, hence capable of Taming, and so Great Taming follows,’ says the Sequence. I think of this as disengaging from what isn’t yours in order to be completely free to engage with what is. The Great Farmer of 26 will say, ‘This is my responsibility: it’s my domain, and I have the power to act here.’
The Oracle of hexagram 26:
‘Great taming,Constancy bears fruit.Not eating at home, good fortune.Fruitful to cross the great river.’
The call to steadiness and persistence over time, or truth to insight, fits naturally with the work of the farmer. And then – ‘not eating at home, good fortune’. Why not eat at home?
Tradition explains that not eating at home means entering public office. It follows from the Tuanzhuan (Commentary Wing) which says not eating at home means ‘nourishing the talented’ or ‘nourishing talent’. (That’s one of the things also nourished in Hexagram 50, the Vessel.)
Wang Bi (in RJ Lynn’s translation) explains, “Here assets garnered by Great Domestication are used to nurture the worthy, which frees them from having to eat at home, so this means good fortune.” In other words… this is about the escape from subsistence agriculture, and how that freedom allows specialisation and the development of culture. That’s an idea you could use in readings: that in a time of Great Taming, you should be able to think beyond questions of subsistence or personal security.
More generally, ‘not eating at home’ implies that what’s nurtured in Great Taming is meant for something more – for use on a higher level. The animals in the hexagram’s lines are being highly trained, or prepared for great offerings; they’re not just for adding to the domestic stew-pot.
The last two lines of the Oracle belong together: not eating at home is good fortune, and it’s fruitful to cross the great river. This is a good moment to go outside the comfort zone, beyond what’s familiar or safe or normal. Bradford Hatcher puts it best: ‘Not dining at home, and crossing great streams, puts us in a larger world, serving higher powers.’
This makes the Sequence from Without Entanglement look like a kind of evolution of detachment. Not to eat at home is to disengage from your usual preoccupations and supports: you’re saying, ‘This is my responsibility,’ but also, ‘This isn’t all about me.’
Hexagrams 25 and 26 both contain the ‘heaven’ trigram. In Hexagram 25, thunder is below heaven, suggesting an ideal of initiative that’s spontaneously, naturally aligned with all-that-is.
‘Below heaven, thunder moves. All things interact without entanglement.
The ancient kings, with abundant growth in accord with the seasons, nourished the ten thousand things.’
In Hexagram 26, heaven is contained inside the mountain. It’s still responding to the same big question: how can we act and live in harmony with heaven – that is, with the ultimate reality? We can’t hope to create a sustainable way of life, a spiritually-grounded culture, unless we get these fundamentals right. (The same question and its ramifications run through a whole set of hexagrams that begins here and ends – with the same trigram combination – at 33-34.)
Heaven contained on the inside suggests internalising the laws and power of nature. The great farmer does this, and develops the means to ‘nourish talent’. On an individual level, this is about ‘self development’:
‘Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain. Great Taming.
A noble one uses the many annals of ancient words and past deeds,
And builds up his character.’
(‘Builds up,’ by the way, is another translation of the name of the hexagram, xu – ‘Taming’.)
Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain because heaven makes mountains. If you could penetrate into the heart of the mountain, you might see the workings of the creative principle itself. The noble one becomes a kind of geologist of humanity, taming-nurturing-nourishing his character and building up his power by studying the past.
Old Chinese kings knew about this: they would keep some advisors who specialised in remembering and applying examples from the past for present guidance – literate people who must have had a gift for pattern recognition. In readings, in practice, that also comes in useful, for learning from both other people’s experience and our own.
I ran a quick ‘cast history search’ in my journal before writing this post for hexagram 26, and found that five out of its seven appearances in the past few years were directly about teaching. Great Taming points to a store of knowledge and a way of caring for the people learning – and also to a responsibility for cultivating and nurturing something bigger, such as a ‘culture’ of people connecting and relating to Yi.
It also suggests that the teacher, like the great farmer, has some real influence. That strikes me as pretty unusual, when Yi has so many different ways of explaining how you’re not in control and do not get to choose the direction or bring order or set the schedule. (‘“I want” doesn’t get,’ as my parents would have put it.) Great Taming: take responsibility; this is your domain; develop mastery.
Then again… coiled up in the heart of Great Taming is its nuclear hexagram and core work: 54, the Marrying Maiden. Leave home and cross the river, and you may find yourself out of your depth – and however great a farmer you become, nothing ever grows because you made it grow.