Skip to content

57, Subtly Penetrating, as relating hexagram

tree roots

It probably shouldn’t surprise me to discover that 57, Subtly Penetrating, as relating hexagram is very hard to pin down. That seems to be just the nature of the hexagram. But the most general way of looking at a relating hexagram still works here: imagine how the primary hexagram is dealing with the relating hexagram’s kind of issues – in this case, with issues of integrating and internalising. Looking through readings and combinations of changing lines that point to 57, I’ve noticed a few different ways this can work out in practice…

Avoiding resistance

Wind and wood, the trigram doubled to make Hexagram 57, move through things without provoking resistance: they find a way through.

Sometimes, 57 as relating hexagram appears to be engaging with the challenges presented by the primary hexagram and finding a way to solve them without provoking resistance.

Take 26 lines 1 and 5, for example:

‘There is danger.
Fruitful to stop it.’
‘Gelded pig’s tusks.
Good fortune.’

26.1.5 to 57

These are not about adding anything – training your horse or adding a hornboard to your bullock – but about taking something away: stopping the danger, or the momentum that causes danger, and gelding the boar so that it no longer has any idea of using its tusks aggressively.

Here’s how you can do Great Taming by removing any resistance to growth. You deal with the dangers of Hexagram 18 that might otherwise have derailed progress, and effectively disarm the boar by removing the very idea of resistance.

I first noticed this pattern – 57 finding a way through that will avoid resistance – in Hexagram 18 line 5, where you deal with corruption, not by addressing it directly, but by using praise. More on that below.

Reconciliation: overcoming alienation

Looking at readings in my own journal with 57 relating, I found that several of them were about things that hadn’t happened
and were never going to happen – or at all events, not in anything like the time scale I had so fondly imagined. In these readings, Subtly Penetrating seems to me to be an underlying personal challenge. There was a reality, an unfolding process, that I hadn’t fully accepted, submitted to or integrated into my thinking about the topic. Each reading was encouraging me to accept what was real, get used to it and make it part of my approach.

This reminds me that the nuclear hexagram hidden at the heart of Subtly Penetrating is 38, Opposing: the experience of two irreconcilable points of view or desires –

Hexagrams 57 and 38

The integration and mutual permeability of Hexagram 57 is not always a given: it might have to be created. The situation might begin with alienation or denial and call for a process of internalising.

In some multiple moving line readings that go to Hexagram 57 – definitely not all of them, but some – this appears as a gradual process towards reconciliation or harmony.

Hexagram 52, for example, with lines 2 and 5 changing to 57:

‘Stilling your calves,
Not rescuing your following.
Your heart not glad.’
‘Stilling your jaws,
Words have order,
Regrets vanish.’

52.2.5 to 57

You can hear an unfolding story here, I think. Line 2 is unhappy because, despite its attempts to stop, things keep moving anyway. Regardless of your intention, events run away from you. But then at line 5, intention has joined with action. You still your jaws, you don’t speak out of turn and your words have order: things come back into harmony.

Again in hexagram 6, with lines 3 and 4 changing:

‘Feeding on ancient power and virtue.
Constancy: danger.
Ending, good fortune.
Maybe following a king’s work,
No accomplishment.’
‘Cannot master this argument,
Returning and taking up the mandate.
With a change of heart, peaceful constancy is good fortune.’

6.3.4 to 57

At first, the ancient power and virtue might be in conflict with the present reality, and constancy is dangerous. But then you recognise that you can’t master the argument. You will return (as in 9.1 changing to 57), take up the mandate, and peaceful constancy will be good fortune.

Or Hexagram 12, with lines 2, 3 and 4 changing:

‘Embracing the charge.
Small people, good fortune.
Great people, blocked. Creating success.’
‘Embracing shame.’
‘There is a mandate, no mistake.
Work with clarity, fulfilment.’ to 57

That tells quite the story, doesn’t it? First two lines of embracing and acceptance (which are also the two lines of conception that lead to Hexagram 44), and then there is mandate and work to be done – much as there was in 6 line 4, or indeed in the Image of Hexagram 57:

‘Wind follows wind, Subtly Penetrating.
A noble one conveys mandates and carries out the work.’

Hexagram 57, the Image

Of course, those three readings all begin with resistance in the primary hexagram: Stilling, Arguing or Blocked. Still, there’s a similar story in Hexagram 4, Not Knowing, lines 3 and 5: first resistance and rejection, then acceptance, harmony and good fortune:

‘Don’t take this woman.
She sees a man of bronze,
And there is no self.
No direction bears fruit.’
‘Young ignoramus.
Good fortune.’

4.3.5 to 57

Or perhaps it’s not so much resistance at line 3 as not engaging, not making contact: the woman doesn’t see the real man and the man is not to marry the woman. But when the young ignoramus uses Subtle Penetrating, he can slide gently past the trap of line 3, with its promise of an artificially polished answer, and become a real learner.

Not enough resistance

Wind and wood find a way through without provoking resistance. This is not always going to bring out the best or most creative aspects of a primary hexagram. And there are some readings with 57 in the background with really quite alarming moving lines.

Take 29, 3 and 6 for instance:

‘Coming to chasm on chasm.
Sheer sides also a resting place.
Entering into the pit within the chasm – do not act.’
‘Bound with good rope and cords.
Shut away in a thorn thicket.
For three years, gains nothing.

29.3.6 to 57

These are two very trapped lines, where action isn’t possible. On the face of it, line 3 is very similar to line 1 with its pit within the chasm –

‘Repeated chasms.
Entering into the pit within the chasm.


The distinction, though, is that in line 1 there is simply a disaster; in line 3 you are specifically told not to act. There is no engagement, nothing doing, nothing happening, no contact. This rather reminds me of 4 line 3 – and of 44 line 4, of which more in a moment.

And perhaps it also reminds me of Hexagram 1, lines 1 and 4:

‘Dragon underwater – don’t act.’
‘Someone dancing in the abyss.
No mistake.’

1.1.4 to 57

Hexagram 1, Creative Force, is always looking for a field of action in its relating hexagram – some open solid ground where it can take effect. If what it meets in the relating hexagram is purely responsive and submissive, then can anything ever emerge into tangible reality? It’s not quite clear.

What other readings might belong under this heading? Perhaps 61.1.3 to 57:

‘Guided, good fortune.
There is another, no peace.’
‘Gaining a counterpart.
Maybe drumming, maybe resting.
Maybe weeping, maybe singing.’

61.1.3 to 57

That’s a very uneasy, restless reading isn’t it? I wonder whether the issue here might be one of discrimination or the lack of it. If you are simply receiving and responding to stimuli, wholly accepting, then you could be pushed about all over the place – thoroughly buffeted by wind following wind as every external influence becomes your Inner Truth.

Line by line

Trying to understand all the two line changes that lead to 57 in the abstract – without a reading in mind – is beyond me. But individual lines are more approachable…

9, line 1

‘Returning to your own path,
How could you be wrong?
Good fortune.’

Back on your own path, how could you meet with serious resistance? This is your way; flow happens.

You need this return at the outset of Hexagram 9 to ensure that what you are tending and nurturing in this small way will grow healthily and be capable of flourishing. You could compare that to the first line of Hexagram 26, Great Taming, where before you can begin nurturing things in a big way, you need to stop a dangerous momentum in the wrong direction. That line joins with Hexagram 18 for a fully conscious interrogation of where you are headed. Hexagram 9, as you might expect, has a gentler version of this.

This is a line of avoiding resistance and also – since you are returning to your own path, getting back on track – perhaps it is a line of reconciliation. Your own path will express the inner nature that is known in Hexagram 57; you will be doing what is in your own nature to do.

53 line 2

‘Wild geese gradually progress to the rock.
Drinking and eating, feasting and feasting.
Good fortune.’

I love the simplicity of this line. Here is a subtly penetrating way of continuing the journey of gradual progress, of coming home.

In Bradford’s version of the line, this is something like a housewarming party, where the geese honk and call in the whole flock. But I have seen this line apply to extreme introverts too, and they are learning to participate and live where they are, even if this is only a temporary resting place.. Eating and drinking is always a sign of complete participation in your environment, wholly in the spirit of Hexagram 57: you become part of it, and you make it, quite literally, part of you. Some of the pond weed around this rock is going to turn into goose.

Maybe this line avoids encountering resistance because it expresses a purely animal nature. Most of the other lines of Hexagram 53 have explicit human activity: speech, pregnancy, dances, things that geese definitely don’t do. (The other exception is line 4, whose change points to Hexagram 33, Retreat. That’s also the trigram of wind or wood, but writ large – with each line doubled in turn.) An animal, after all, is part of the ecosystem where it finds itself; it’s only humans who imagine themselves to be in the wrong place. And the very fact that these geese are migrating reminds us that being at home is not at all the same thing as permanence.

Come to think of it, 9.1 was also about an ongoing journey: return to your own path and rejoin the process.

59, line 3

‘Dispersing your self
Without regrets.’

If you disperse yourself, you can become a part of the landscape altogether – even more so than the geese on their rock.

Unlike the other lines of Hexagram 59, there’s very little work to be done here: there are no robbers, no horses are required, no sweat, no effort, nothing to escape, no rescue needed. Also, this line says not “regrets vanish”, but “without regrets”: there never were any regrets in the first place.

That’s certainly one way to avoid resistance: to lose all distinction between self and other.

44, line 4

‘In this basket, no fish.
Rising up, pitfall.’

Imagine lowering your woven wicker trap into the flowing river. The water will flow on through the weave, and if nothing catches there, this is a perfect symbol of having no resistance.

Hexagram 44 is named Coupling, or ‘Coming To Meet’ in Wilhelm/Baynes. But if there is nothing but water flowing through the wicker work, then there is no coupling, no meeting. If you want to take an initiative, then this is really not good news: this line is no time to start anything. To find no fish in your trap is an omen that says, “Nothing doing.” It’s a bad sign for a future marriage, and also a direct representation of not conceiving.

So a Subtle Penetration of Coupling is really no coupling at all.

As the fourth line of the hexagram, this might be asking the question, “What can I do about this?” more actively than ever. Perhaps it wants to attain Hexagram 57, to be part of things and have things be part of it, to be fully at home with the powerful woman.

Well, that obviously isn’t going to work.

Rising up is a vertical motion: building or erecting something, emerging from the current. But all you can do here is to let the river flow on through.

18, line 5

‘Ancestral father’s corruption.
Use praise.’

Praise is welcomed and meets with no resistance. If you want to train a dog to lie down, you wait until it’s about to do so anyway, and then say, “Lie down, lie down, good dog!” You don’t, if you’ve got any sense, push down hard on the dog’s hindquarters. Or if you want to change your own habits, you need to start by establishing a reward for doing things in the new way. Beating yourself up every time you get it wrong only creates a new habit of getting it wrong and then beating yourself up: it sets up opposition and resistance.

Hexagram 18 is dealing with deep-seated patterns of corruption that keep creating the same negative results. Line 5 is the most conscious, clear-sighted or autonomous way of doing this, by penetrating subtly into the behaviour, and all without ever triggering the resistance.

48, line 6

‘The well gathers,
Don’t cover it.
There is truth and confidence,
Good fortune from the source.’

I agree with Bradford Hatcher that this looks like an Artesian well – in fact, this is one of those amazing line changes that looks almost like an animated film of the text. (See The Well in the Valley.) The well water, in true Hexagram 57 style, finds its way through the upper layer of rock and flows to the surface. And so we are also not to cover it, not to impose any resistance. Inhabit the flow; don’t put anything in its way; let it happen.

I Ching Community discussion

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *