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‘Character’ hexagrams: Lasting, Decrease, Increase

‘Character’ hexagrams: Lasting, Decrease, Increase
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The 'character' hexagrams

Here are the next three ‘character’ hexagrams

32, Lasting

Lasting is de‘s steadfastness. It means [encountering] miscellany and not [feeling] disgust. It provides for a single de.

As you can see from the [square brackets], I haven’t quite managed to find English equivalents to the Chinese words for this one. Here are three versions of that second sentence:

‘varied and not wearisome’

Rutt

‘demonstrates how, faced with the complexity of things, one yet does not give way to cynicism’

Lynn

‘manifold experiences without satiety’

Wilhelm/Baynes

The idea, I think, is that life comes in a whole mixture and muddle of experiences, ‘just one damn thing after another’, and this could easily all just be too much.

How can you manage not to be overwhelmed by it all? With a single de – solid and strong, holding fast, like the noble one of 32’s Image who ‘stands firm and does not change his bearings’ – or as the Tuanzhuan puts it, by ‘enduring in your own dao’. There’s an endless variety of things, but only one of you.

Also, Hexagram 32 shows how the many phenomena of the world have a single dao. Here’s the Tuanzhuan again, from Bradford Hatcher’s translation:

‘Heaven’s and earth’s courses
Continue, going on and on without end
Worthwhile to have somewhere to go:
At the end, in due order, there will be a beginning
Sun and moon take the sky
and so are able to continue in brilliance
The four seasons evolve and turn
And so are able to continue accomplishing
The wise ones endure upon their paths
And all under heaven is transformed and completed.’

Bradford Hatcher

Continuity, it shows, is made of changes. There’s endless stuff coming at you, but a single, undivided guiding principle – and so there need be no information overload or world-weariness.

41, Decreasing

Decrease is de‘s repair. Hardship at first and then ease. It provides for keeping harm at a distance.

The word ‘ease’ here is 易, yi as in Yijing. I also wonder whether it might be pointing to 益 yi, the name of Hexagram 42, a related character which sounds the same. Hardship precedes ease; decrease makes space for increase.

Why is this the repair of de, though? The same character, 修 xiu, appears in the Image texts of Hexagrams 39 and 51 –

‘Above the mountain, there is water. Limping. Noble one turns himself around to renew his character.’

‘Rolling thunder. Shock. A noble one in fear and dread sets things in order and is watchful.’

– and in both it carries a distinct idea of mending and setting to rights. So Decrease is somehow setting de to rights.

Wilhelm draws on the Image of 41 –

‘Below the mountain is the lake. Decreasing.
A noble one curbs anger and restrains desires.’

– and says that this repair is a matter of bringing instincts under control to make it easier to avoid harm. I think it’s more straightforward than that: life gets simpler and easier when you stop trying to hang on. Decrease is not like Stripping Away (Hexagram 23): it’s not something you undergo, but something you do. You intentionally make offerings, scale down, simplify, shift your attention to higher things, and in so doing you’re mending your character. Perhaps you’re reclaiming your energy, and hence your personal strength and moral clarity, from all that stuff.

Letting things go is hard at first (the Image doesn’t say that the noble one never experiences anger or desire), easier as you shed attachments and realise you are undiminished. And what you’re not attached to, can’t hurt you: a simpler existence is less vulnerable. (That’s always true. Bacteria thrive where multi-cellular organisms perish. A computer has so many, many more ways to go wrong than pencil and paper.)

I think this is following on from Hexagram 32, showing how you get from manifold complexity to a single de.

Hexagram 42, Increase

Increase is de‘s wealth. It grows wealth with no contrivance. It is used to promote fruitfulness.

After unifying and decreasing, increase. That ‘fruitfulness’ it promotes is 利 li, the ‘bears fruit’ part of ‘constancy bears fruit’ in the Yi, that specifically means efforts are worthwhile, this course of action works. Hexagram 42 means affluence: good things flowing towards you, not through contrivance but in the natural way of things. Li appears twice in its oracle text: it is fruitful to have a direction to go, fruitful to cross the great river. The energies of the time are rising like the incoming tide, and your endeavours will float.

This isn’t a hexagram that suggests ‘anxiety about calamities’, but I think it needs including here to counterbalance 32 and 41, its complement and inverse respectively. There’s how to relate to the many with a single de, how to simplify and restore wholeness, and then there’s how to grow. It’s another way to relate to the abundance of experience: I can single-mindedly weed my garden and cultivate crops, and I can also enjoy eating the abundant nettles and willowherb!

A proliferation of squash, willowherb, tomatoes and more.
Squash plants, tomato and – yes – willowherb.

I Ching Community discussion

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