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Hexagram 28, Great Exceeding

Hexagram 28, Great Exceeding

Crossing the line: guo

Da GuoHexagram 28 shares its core concept with 62: Exceeding, guo, great or small. I wrote about this a while ago:

Hexagrams 28 and 62 are both about guo: ‘passing, going by, exceeding’. The central idea is crossing a line – whether that’s a standard of morality or of customs, or a border in time (such as the change of the year). LiSe has broken the character down into component parts: footsteps, and a mountain pass. And so in readings, these hexagrams tend to describe transitions: complete this crossing, go beyond what’s familiar or expected, and you’ll find yourself in a whole new landscape.

You cross the line, go beyond the ordinary – which can mean either transgression or transcendence, excess or exceeding. At least nowadays, the character also means ‘passing’ from life to death – and this must surely also be behind the invention credited to 28 in the Dazhuan:

‘In antiquity, for burying the dead, people wrapped them thickly with firewood and buried them out in the wilds, where they neither made grave mounds nor planted trees. For the period of mourning there was no definite amount of time. The sages of later ages had this exchanged for inner and outer coffins. They probably got the idea for this from the hexagram Daguo.’ (Lynn)

Great and small

The distinction between hexagrams 62 and 28 isn’t necessarily in the scale of the transition, though, but more in how you make the crossing and what it requires of you. Small Exceeding calls for exceeding smallness: caution, humility, and above all careful attention to present reality, so you can ‘get the message’ of each moment and respond. Great Exceeding means crossing the line in a big way – impelled by necessity, but responding with imagination, seeing how things can be different

The roofbeam

‘Great Exceeding, the ridgepole warps.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
Creating success.’

This is one of Yi’s clearest images. ‘The ridgepole,’ you say, ‘bears the whole weight of the roof…’ and at once people recognise it. Three thousand years later, on the other side of the globe, we think in the same imagery: being over-burdened, under stress, buckling under the strain, nearing breaking point.

The ridgepole hasn’t broken yet – and of course there are English houses whose timbers have been steadily warping for a few centuries and not broken yet – but this hexagram is the sign that it will break unless something’s done.  The shape of things is already changing: the roof over your head was once a straight line, but now it’s curving; it will fall. Strikingly, Yi doesn’t say ‘Disaster!’ but ‘fruitful to have a direction to go’ – a similar kind of optimism to that found in Hexagram 18, Corruption. If your house is coming down, it’s fruitful to cross the threshold and go out beyond its walls. Explore purposefully, go to the far places, test the depth of the fords.

This shows two meanings of ‘exceeding’ in these first few words: both overload, what’s happening to the ridgepole, and what you do in response: going out to explore. Kong Yingda referred to this same dual significance:

‘In Daguo there are two meanings. One refers to the natural world where something rises superior to its ordinary condition, as here where the lake submerges the tree, and the other refers to the great man who, by rising above the common run of humanity, manages to save difficult situations.’ (from RJ Lynn’s Classic of Changes)

Not that the Yijing itself says anything about who is saved – but there is this core idea of a human being who rises to the occasion.

Finally, the oracle says heng – ‘creating success’ or ‘successful offering’. That’s a word that quite often comes immediately after the name of a hexagram: ‘Small taming, creating success,’ ‘Gathering, creating success,’ implying that small taming or gathering is a way of creating success. Here, it’s the combination of the bending ridgepole and direction to go that creates success: when things are on the verge of change and you respond with purpose and curiosity, then you are joining with the spirits and getting involved in the creative process. Necessity gives birth to invention!

Tipping point: 28 in the Sequence

|::::|    :||||:

Hexagram 28 is one of those with rotational symmetry (you can turn it upside down and it’s still the same hexagram), so in the Sequence it’s paired with its complement, 27, Nourishment:

‘Great Exceeding overbalances.’

‘Nourishment nurtures correctly.’

And also,

‘With no nurturance, it is not possible to act, and so Great Exceeding follows.’

So Nourishment is a perfect contrast to Great Exceeding, but also provides the energy for that ‘direction to go’.

The name of Hexagram 27 is actually more literally translated ‘Jaws’: it’s specifically about the supporting structure that makes nourishment possible. The jaws represent a system that will work as a balanced whole to sustain you. Oddly enough, the character guo, exceeding, also contains the components ‘bone’ and ‘mouth’. The bones of the mouth, the roof of the home – these are the structures that allow life to continue, self-sustaining and in balance…

…until they don’t. Something shifts, and there must be change. (The demand for change – the idea that nourishment creates momentum – is present in 27, too, in the moving line texts.) So the Zagua says specifically that 28 overbalances. Equilibrium gets punctuated; the seesaw tips over…


…and lands. The one thing we know, as the plank shifts under our paws, is that it can’t stay the same.

Looking beyond its immediate pair, 28 is also part of the larger-scale ‘tipping point’ between the Upper and Lower Canons (between hexagrams 30 and 31), in a highly cohesive set of 10 hexagrams from 25 to 34. The big question of this decade, I think, is how to create a guided way of life that’s both stable and also alive and flexible. (For more on this see the recently-updated Sequence article available to Change Circle members.) The nourishment of hexagram 27 really demands action and new ways of being; then 28 overbalances and falls into uncertainty (29) from which new pattern and cohesiveness (30) might emerge. Already in 28’s lines there’s new willow growth, new partnership, prefiguring 31-32. Or, of course, everything might fall to rubble and meaning and structure might be lost in the waters. Things certainly won’t stay the same.


:||The inner trigram of hexagram 28 is xun, wind or wood. It represents inner nature: both its sensitivity and intuition (wind and roots feel their way into everything) and its capacity for growth and development.

||:And on the outside is dui, the lake, which has to do with social exchange and interaction. As water is to plants, so society is to human growth and development (‘without nurturance, it is not possible to act!’) –

– unless, until, there is too much of it. Just like an over-watered pot plant, a tree with its roots below the water level for too long will drown. (Funnily enough, willows – as in 28.2.5 – are one of the most water-tolerant species. Where other species could die within a week, they can survive for months in winter with their roots underwater and still put out new flowers and shoots in spring.)

‘The lake submerges the tree. Great Exceeding.
A noble one stands alone without fear,
Withdraws from the time without sadness.’

Too much water drowns the tree; too much society will drown individual growth, or intuition, or initiative. Society is a force for stability and continuity, all of us according with the culture of our ‘time’. Hexagram 28 is a time for individual initiative, and so the noble one will withdraw from the time without sadness.

Hexagram 28 in readings

I think the first question to ask when you receive 28 in a reading is, ‘What ridgepole?’

What is there that can’t go on – what’s crossing a line – what is too much? What’s at breaking point, or tipping point? It might be something you’ve been tolerating for a while, something that ‘hasn’t broken yet’, so you no longer notice it much.

The next question is for the second meaning of guo: ‘…and what do you need to do about it?’

When 28’s the relating hexagram, the beam may or may not really be at breaking point. The more important factor in these readings seems to be a mindset of ‘Something must be done!’ or ‘I must manage this somehow!’ Great Exceeding in the background might inspire resolute practicality, or it might trigger premature, compulsive action, falling over yourself in your eagerness to ‘do something’.

A few common ridgepoles I’ve seen in readings:

  • physical health (of the body as a whole, or the one weak point that’s under particular strain)
  • mental health and stress levels
  • a marriage
  • some vital piece of technology (that thing with the fraying wires that hasn’t broken yet…)
  • the cohesion of a group of people

(If you can’t see anything at breaking point in the situation you asked about, keep looking around! When I searched in my journal for 28, I found one reading that I’m fairly sure was a change of subject: nothing remarkable was happening in the situation I asked about, but Yi was drawing my attention to something more pressing. I wonder whether this kind of change of subject might not be more likely with Hexagram 28 than others. After all, a warping roofbeam, more than most situations, is something you need to notice right away.)

Willow trees by water

18 responses to Hexagram 28, Great Exceeding

  1. I love reading these interpretations. These two hexagrams in particular have always been somewhat confusing to me. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  2. Your essays are a good source of guidance for interpretations. That being said, 28 was my relating hexagram; the main hexagram was 43 and you have no essay for that yet. Do you plan to write essays for other hexagrams in the Yijing? It would be very helpful.

  3. Hilary-
    Thank you so much. This essay clarified a lot, and it helped alleviate the stress that often can accompany receiving this hexagram- (which is somewhat unrelated to the stress of the sagging ridgepole itself)

  4. I’ve read that Richard Wilhelm had recurrent 28’s after leaving China .. “The water goes over the crest. Misfortune but no blame”

  5. I asked the best way to allow my bee hive to develop and got 28 unchanging. If you think about it, a swarm from an old hive is the exact meaning of 28.

    • ‘Crossing over’ into a new hive, you mean? I know nothing about bees – I imagine readings about them would be fascinating, though.

      Come to think of it, isn’t the shape of the hexagram is somewhat reminiscent of a swarm on the move?

  6. I suffered from depression in the past (due to a lot of bad/traumatic experiences). Now that depression itself became a stigma. Because every time I try to make a brand new start and leaving the past behind, the outer world interferes and restricts me from making my changes for the better. Because I suffered from depression in the past, no employer trusts me to be stable enough to start working again.
    I asked the YiJing what I could do to free myself from those bonds/restrictions/dependencies. I really want to leave the past behind. Unfortunately the answer was 28.

    I also asked it where I could find my purpose in life. The one thing I might contribute to the world. A direction that is fruitful and gives me some happiness. The answer was even more disappointing: 54

    I feel enslaved already. And these answers feel as though I am doomed to do what others want me to do, but not being able to ever gain ownership of my life.
    Is there really no way out of this hell?
    Did I get something wrong? Is there a more optimistic way to read those signs?

  7. With gratitude for this wisdom… nurturance is key along with strong will to know it is already resolved….

  8. So interesting.. I just did two readings

    “What is best for X and me?” to 12
    “What is best for me this week?” 28.2 to 31

    So its cool reading a crossover of 27 and 28 and see how my own situations are leading into each other

  9. This is is like main hexagram condensed version of earlier heaven. You’re writing like it’s a unique situation when it’s not.
    It’s a natural course of growing up and development for most men. it’s the inner hexagram of 30, for christs sake. it’s not a unique situation , with ridgepoles or who cares what you’re trying to lie about. It relates to how alfred huang writes in his book about the stressful relationship between young and old in nature. a relationship between extreme ages is it not?

  10. This is is like main hexagram condensed version of earlier heaven. You’re writing like it’s a unique situation when it’s not.
    It’s a natural course of growing up and development for most men. it’s the inner hexagram of 30, for christs sake. it’s not a unique situation , with ridgepoles or who cares what you’re trying to lie about. It relates to how alfred huang writes in his book about the stressful relationship between young and old in nature. a relationship between extreme ages is it not?

    • Hi Andy,

      You’re obviously not a beginner with the Yijing, but you seem to be overlooking some basics. The people who created the Yi chose to call one of its 64 unique hexagrams ‘Great Exceeding’ and to make the buckling ridgepole its central image. If they had it all wrong – if this is not a unique situation and the ridgepole is ‘lies’ – what are you left with?

  11. No the buckling ridgepole makes sense , the wood element for sure is involved although they say the five elements are separate from i ching i do think they are connected . and would like to know more about the relation. As far a i know, you can look at the magic squares , for this hexagram you can see it in the nine square as well as other hexagrams similar like 49,50. ending in 54 . which is a sucky loner hexagram where you’re a robber not a suitor. 53 being a community type marriage. 51 taking action , similar. 52 i think of as above others. maybe literally upstairs.

    • These are all good thoughts and interesting ways to cast light on different aspects of a hexagram – never any limits to dimensions to explore or connections to uncover. I would recommend, though, starting at the centre with the basics: the words of the text, and the picture(s)painted by the trigrams.

  12. I think you’re right , in finding answers , it is in the text and the symbols . Although they didn’t want to make the symbols static and always changing so all the trigrams are always at work within each hexagram .

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