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Hexagram 4, line 1

Hexagram 4, line 1

Here at the very beginning of Not Knowing, there’s a line that says,

‘Sending out the ignoramus,
Fruitful to make use of punishing people,
To make use of loosening fetters and manacles.
Going on in that way is shameful.’

Or, you know, something along those lines. It’s a little too early to be certain, when the line is only just starting to learn. Let’s take this one step at a time…

‘Sending out the ignoramus’

The first two words of the line: fa meng, 發蒙 . Fa literally means shooting an arrow, something you can see very clearly in the old form of the character. So we get a picture of launching the ignoramus into the world where she can start to learn – very fitting for the first line of Hexagram 4.

However… fa meng is also a single phrase meaning to ‘dispel ignorance’ or, with the ‘eye’ radical added to meng, to open someone’s eyes to the truth. And that also fits this moment of the hexagram. The combination of applying punishments and removing fetters should be especially eye-opening.

There are translators who follow each approach:

  • ‘to make a fool develop,’ Wilhelm
  • ‘to illuminate the naïve youth,’ Deng Ming Dao
  • ‘Enlightening an ignorant,’ Huang
  • ‘Folly is dispelled,’ Minford
  • ‘One sends out the Meng-beast,’ Schilling (a bit odd…)

I especially like R.J. Lynn’s version:

‘With the opening up of Juvenile Ignorance, it is fitting both to subject him to the awareness of punishment and to remove fetters and shackles, but if he were to set out in this way, he would find it hard going.’

‘Opening up’ seems fitting for what the archer of fa might do to meng: jettisoning its protective cover and exposing her to the open air.

Or how about Stephen Field’s ‘Letting go of ignorance’? That captures the idea of loosing an arrow – and almost makes it feel as though ignorance is only maintained if we deliberately hold on to it.

‘…making use of punishing people…’

‘Using’, yong 用, is a concept I think we as diviners can easily relate to: this line is a good moment for this; the quality of time can best be used this way. And the beginning of Not Knowing, a time for opening up ignorance, or letting it go, is a good moment for punishing people and releasing shackles and manacles.

On the face of it, that seems to be an odd combination – surely keeping people shackled is part of punishing them?

Some people resolve this with a different translation: not ‘making use of punishing people’, but ‘using punished people’ – in other words, using convict labour. Naturally, it would help to unshackle them first. Harmen Mesker translates,

Exposed ignorance.
Favourable to use prisoners (as slaves).
Remove hand- and foot shackles
As these hinder going.

This makes excellent sense in its own terms. But then I also appreciate the subtlety of the traditional view, with its tricky balance between punishing and release, and what that tells us about dispelling ignorance. First you need to learn that you don’t know everything, and discover that actions have consequences. Then you also need to be free to move – to experience as many consequences as possible, in fact.

R.J. Lynn‘s footnotes are often a treasure-trove of insights from the interpretive tradition. For this line he has…

  • Kong Yingda’s explanation: the ignoramus is acting without inhibitions, so the threat of punishment is useful – but if he set out under ‘the dao of punishment’ then ‘there would be a mean-spirited aspect to what he does.’ What’s needed is an internalised sense of what’s right.
  • Cheng Yi’s idea that removing the fetters is an image for removing ignorance. (Loosing the bow, loosening the shackles?)
  • Zhu Xi saying that you need first to punish, then to see what people do once freed.
  • And still others who solve the whole punishing vs releasing question by saying that it’s the release that means shame. (Not that I agree, but it’s interesting!)

From all this, I like the idea that both punishments and freedom are teaching/learning tools, and especially the freedom to incur punishment. We need to be unshackled to experience the real world, not just learn the rules.

Not Knowing, its Decrease – and an aside about context

The same few words in the Yi can give rise to so many translations because they lack context. If this were part of a historical account of building a city wall, then we could be sure it meant ‘use convict labour’; if we’d just read about some wrongdoers being captured, we’d opt for ‘punishing people.’ But the Yi gives us only this little vignette, thirteen words long in total, without any helpful, scene-setting context.

Except… there is context. Actually, there are two distinct kinds of context: the moment of the reading, which can always bring a different meaning to the fore, and the structure of the hexagrams.

So from the structure here, we know that this moment is the beginning of Hexagram 4 – first steps for an ignoramus – and that it’s connected with Hexagram 41, Decrease.

Sun, ‘Decrease’, means harm or weaken, so there’s a clear connection to punishment. But the hexagram also brings in the idea that decrease can be for the sake of something higher. That gives us the idea that 4.1’s punishment might be a ‘learning experience’.

(Bradford Hatcher was way ahead of me here: ‘Consequences,’ he says, ‘can diminish the options, and still not diminish the child.’)

Huang’s example

One more possibility for the xing ren, ‘punished people’. Xing is an old word for severe punishment, but it also meant ‘be a model, example, imitate.’ Alfred Huang uses this meaning:

‘Enlightening an ignorant. Favorable to set examples. Operating with shackles, going forward: humiliation.’

Maybe there are only positive examples here, no punishment at all?

What’s shameful?

Not all translators see any ‘shame’ here at all. ‘Lin’ can also be read as ‘hindrance’ or ‘distress’, and then ‘going on, shame’ turns into ‘hinder walking’. But at least tradition, common sense and reading experience all agree that any problems with this line come from leaving the shackles on. Wilhelm – not for the first time – put it best:

‘Discipline should not degenerate into drill. Continuous drill has a humiliating effect and cripples a man’s powers.’

We might add that anything that keeps us in line mindlessly, without the need to think or make a choice, is shameful.

Interestingly, practically all the different translations of this line come round to this same basic idea. ‘Remove the manacles and shackles so they can walk,’ says Field, re-punctuating; ‘punish with loosened manacles and shackles. Severity brings distress,’ says Minford. ‘While penalties are useful to illuminate the naïve youth, take off the fetters – to go too far leads to sorrow,’ says Deng Ming Dao.

The ins and outs of translation make surprisingly little difference to this: to dispel ignorance, we need freedom of movement, so we’re available for new experience.


I Ching Community discussion

One response to Hexagram 4, line 1

  1. I have gotten this Hexagram…especially when I ask a stupid question…stupid questions are in general questions I either know the answer to or should know at the very least. Now when I read your elucidation I am reminded of punishing people are those regrets of actions in the mind…ah, yes, let them be shackled until I am able to benefit from the shameful and or dreaded old acts of youth or a youthful escapade in maturity…so, in Zen it is to see that the punishing people in the mind are actually bags of gold waiting to be picked up and opened…there’s that opening…open to it and see how those punishing stupid people have actually been of great benefit.

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