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The genius of the Daxiang (part 2)

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Wings

In my last post, I talked about how the Daxiang paints pictures of individual hexagrams, as a whole. In this one, I’d like to try a change of perspective, zooming in and zooming out, to see what comes into focus.

Commentary on the lines

The Image builds on and humanises the Oracle text, but it’s also worth considering whether it might offer commentary on your moving line(s) – especially (though not only) if you have line 5 moving.

Hexagram 5 is the obvious example, our cue to look for more:

‘The clouds are above heaven. Waiting.
A noble one eats, drinks and relaxes with music.’

Hexagram 5, Image

‘Waiting with food and drink.
Constancy, good fortune.’

Hexagram 5, line 5

But wait: there’s more…


‘Heaven and earth do not interact. Blocked.
A noble one uses her strength sparingly to avoid hardship.
She does not allow herself honours and payment.’

12, Image

‘Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’


Why might you ‘rest when blocked’? The Image explains – to avoid hardship. And also, perhaps, to hold fast to what matters and keep it alive: tie it to the bushy mulberry, and don’t let yourself be sucked into the realm of a spiritually inert regime by accepting its rewards. Image and line text seem to dovetail.


‘In the centre of the earth there is a mountain. Integrity.
A noble one reduces what is too much and increases what is diminished,
Weighing things up to even out their distribution.’

15, Image

‘Not rich in your neighbour:
Fruitful to use this to invade and conquer.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.’


It might come as a bit of a jolt that ‘Integrity’ (or ‘Modesty’ or ‘Humility’ or ‘Authenticity’ depending on translation) is invading its neighbour for the sake of ‘riches’. But perhaps the Image shows this in a different light, as a balancing, Robin-Hood-style redistribution of wealth?


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

39, Image

This Image works as commentary on lines 1, 3, 4 and 6 – all the lines that contrast ‘going on, limping’ with coming back (always a better idea). Don’t just trudge mindlessly on and on; turn yourself around and renew your strength.

20.6 and 63.4

You’ll most often find the Image working as commentary to the fifth line – but it’s always worth a look, for any line. The Image of Hexagram 20…

‘Wind moves over the earth. Seeing.
The ancient kings studied the regions,
Saw the people,
And established their teachings.’

20, Image

…might cast most light on line 6:

‘Seeing their lives.
The noble one is without mistake.’


And the Image of 63 –

‘Stream dwells above fire. Already across.
A noble one reflects on distress and prepares to defend against it.’

63, Image

really seems to come into play with line 4:

‘The leaks are plugged with clothes of silk
For the whole day, on guard.’


The Image and hexagram relationships

What if we zoom out, and compare the Images of different hexagrams? We know that contrasts and stories are a key part of how the Zhouyi as a whole creates its meaning – not least through large-scale trigram patterns in the Sequence. What did the Daxiang authors make of this?


There are a few striking, eye-opening contrasts between the Images of contrasting hexagrams. The one I first noticed, that sent me looking for more, was the opposition between the Images of complementary hexagrams 32 and 42:

compared to

‘Thunder and wind, Lasting.
A noble one stands firm and does not change his bearings.’

32, Image

‘Wind and thunder. Increasing.
A noble one sees improvement, and so she changes.
When there is excess, she corrects it.’

42, Image

The Image of Hexagram 42 might seem to go without saying – of course you would change whatever can be changed for the better. But the message comes into clearer focus if you read it alongside its opposite, Hexagram 32, and realise that such flexibility is a response to the time, not a universal good.

Some other examples…

Hexagram 19, Nearing –

‘Above the lake is earth. Nearing.
A noble one teaches and reflects untiringly,
Accepts and protects the people without limit.’

19, Image

is the opposite of 33, Retreat –

‘Below heaven is the mountain. Retreat.
A noble one keeps small people at a distance,
Not with hatred, but through respect.’

33, Image

And they naturally have opposite attitudes – limitless acceptance, versus distancing the small people.

24, Returning –

‘Thunder dwelling in the centre of the earth. Returning.
The ancient kings closed the borders at winter solstice.
Itinerant merchants did not travel,
The prince did not tour the regions.’

24, Image

is the opposite of 44, Coupling –

‘Below heaven is the wind. Coupling.
The prince sends out mandates and commands to the four corners of the earth.’

44, Image

This one calls for more thought! The opposition is clear – closing the borders, versus sending messengers out far and wide – but how does it reflect the qualities of Returning and Coupling? Perhaps Returning is inwardly contained, and Coupling expansive and uncontainable. Well-buried thunder sets the rhythm of earth’s seasons; wind joins with heaven, becoming a powerful heavenly mandate, not to be limited (as the woman is not to be married).

Jiao gua: swapped trigrams

Of course, Hexagrams 32 and 42 aren’t only complementary – they’re also jiao gua: the same trigrams, but swapped. So what about other pairs of ‘swapped trigram’ hexagrams – is there more to discover here?

One or two good ones, yes. For instance…

‘Mountain rests on the earth. Stripping Away.
The heights are generous, and there are tranquil homes below.’

23, Image

‘In the centre of the earth there is a mountain. Integrity.
A noble one reduces what is too much and increases what is diminished,
Weighing things up to even out their distribution.’

15, Image

Mountain and earth combined seem to suggest a kind of redistributive justice – perhaps because mountains (and bedrock) are always becoming earth.

And what about mountain and thunder?

‘Below the mountain is thunder. Nourishment.
The noble one reflects on his words in conversation,
And is discriminating about what he eats and drinks.’

27, Image

‘Above the mountain is thunder. Small Exceeding.
A noble one in actions exceeds in respect,
In loss exceeds in mourning,
In spending exceeds in economy.’

62, Image

Thunder echoing under the mountains or carrying over them – either way, it translates into a kind of self-conscious carefulness. With thunder contained below the mountain, the care is about what you put into circulation, with consequences that come back to you; as it rises above them, the care is more to do with what’s irrecoverable – done, or lost, or spent.

And yet…

For every example I’ve given here of a relationship between Images – whether for complements or exchanged trigrams – I can find half a dozen where there’s no apparent relationship at all, or where the connections simply come from trigram associations. There doesn’t seem to be any systematic effort to point up contrasts between hexagrams.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that, unlike the creators of the original Zhouyi, the Daxiang authors focussed their attention on one hexagram at a time; they didn’t contemplate the web of relationships. Sometimes, those relationships still come through in the texts, making the Image more resonant, even revealing hidden mysteries – but I have the feeling that’s simply because the relationships are intrinsic to the hexagrams, and these writers really knew their hexagrams.

The Image in readings

At the end of all this, how do you use the Image in readings?

At its simplest, it’s just good advice. Here is how the ideally responsive person would engage with the energies present here; this is what works.

Sometimes, people at the I Ching Community suggest inserting your own name into the Image text – ‘A noble Sally keeps small people at a distance,’ ‘A noble Jack treads no path that is without ritual,’ and so on. This may sound comical, but it’s really not a bad idea. You’re meant to put yourself in the shoes of the ‘noble one’ and do what they would do.

This still works for the other Image protagonists – ancient kings, princes and so on – though the model they offer might be more remote, and you might find yourself emulating them from a respectful distance. (I won’t be establishing temples any time soon, nor yet founding cities to connect feudal lords or developing teachings for a whole nation, but I might be dedicating my work to spirit, looking after friendships, or looking for blog post topics.)

Two provisos, though –

Just as the moving lines take precedence over the primary hexagram in general, they also take precedence over the Image’s advice. You might not be in a position to follow it. The noble one of 32 stands firm and does not change his bearings – unless, for instance, he’s at line 1, in which case it’s definitely time to rethink.

You might not have asked for advice at all. In a predictive or descriptive reading, it’s good to remember that the Image shows an ideal response, not necessarily what to expect! Not every experience of Stripping Away is generous and tranquil; not all Great Exceeding is without fear or sadness. So if your reading is a prediction/ description, the Image might be a lot less relevant, except as ‘here’s what would help’.

But in general, this is a lovely Wing, tremendously helpful and almost always approachable. Look to see if it answers your questions about the Oracle text (‘what am I supposed to do about this?’), and also whether it works as a commentary on the moving line(s). It offers you a new way of getting inside your reading, by understanding the trigrams, not as some kind of substitution cipher, but in relationship and as a way of being.

I Ching Community discussion

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