One intriguing way to learn more about hexagrams is to study them in groups: contrasts and opposites, groups that are joined in sequence, nuclear families, and so on. Recently, I’ve been looking at the groups of hexagram that share a trigram in the same position, like for instance mountain on the outside, or fire and light – the trigram li – on the inside.
Li represents both warmth and light and also awareness, understanding and clarity of perception – the whole continuum from light through to enlightenment. As the inner trigram, I think it’s especially associated with understanding (years ago, I imagined it as eyes). Only… how does this interact with different outer trigrams? Does this depend entirely on the picture the two trigrams make together or are there some commonalities?
In the Foundations Course, I wrote,
‘As an inner trigram, li suggests a light of awareness that gives you clarity, discrimination, and occasionally foresight. This light is projected into the realm of the outer trigram, where it acts in and through – and sometimes on – that context.’
Hexagram 13, People in Harmony
This is the very first appearance of the trigram li in the whole book. All the other trigrams have already been introduced, in family order, in the first decade: heaven and earth, thunder, water and mountain, and then wind and lake. But fire’s appearance is postponed until after Hexagrams 11 and 12, Flowing and Blocked, as part of the storytelling of the Sequence.
In Hexagram 12, all your best endeavours are stymied: ‘the noble one’s constancy,’ says the Oracle, ‘bears no fruit.’ The component trigrams are earth below and the skies above – impossibly distant, and seeming to move further and further away. This means especially a loss of communication: no messages are flowing between heaven and earth, and none between people either.
In Hexagram 13, you still have the skies above, but now there is fire below, and its flames can rise and join with heaven. Fire works to restore communication between inner and outer worlds – both between humans and heaven, and between people. Now, the Oracle says, a noble one’s constancy does bear fruit.
‘Heaven joins with fire. People in harmony.
In the same way, the noble one sorts the clans and differentiates between beings.’
Heaven joins with fire, but the noble one’s response seems almost the opposite of this, sorting the clans and differentiating between beings. ‘Differentiating’ is bian 辨 : the character shows a knife placed between people or between criminals. It seems almost as though the noble one is keeping the clans apart to stop them from fighting. (Another early meaning of the character is to divide.)
I wonder if this might mean bringing awareness, the inner fire, to core identities and origins. The trigram qian, heaven, might be a reminder of the way people traced their ancestry back to different constellations – or just of their essential irreducible nature that is finding expression. Qian is the reason why the stars move in their courses and why acorns don’t grow into apple trees; it’s the true inner nature of things and perhaps of people.
Often, the trigram heaven on the outside of a hexagram indicates that one is facing an ineluctable truth – something like natural law, which is not going to change for you. In Hexagram 6, inner water rebels against this; in Hexagram 10, by reflecting heaven, lake tries to join it and follow it; in Hexagram 25, the thunder moves with it freely and without entanglement – and so on. The inner trigram needs to try to align itself with that outer power if it can.
And in the history of the Zhou people, that is very much what happens in Hexagram 13. The armies may have gathered on the banks of the river, but they could not cross into Shang territory until the heavens showed them this was the right time – specifically. according to Pankenier, until Jupiter went direct. Their inner awareness needed to respond to and align with the movements of heaven above.
The people are in harmony with one another here as they form alliances between the different clans, and they are also in harmony with heaven. Inner intelligence ignites, and the dull clay of hexagram 12 lights up with awareness. The people see how the stars are moving, and they understand.
Hexagram 22, Beauty
The next appearance of inner li is in Hexagram 22, Beauty and making beautiful, where the light is shining on the mountain face above. Fire is lighting up the rules, shining on whatever is established, fixed and settled. I like to imagine this as the flickering light painting different patterns on the rock face. But China is also a seismically active place, so perhaps the fire under the mountain is creating new shapes from molten rock.
‘Below the mountain is fire. Beauty.
A noble one brings light to the many standards, but does not venture to pass judgement.’
The many standards are lit up, brought to life, relativized and humanized by inner awareness.
The Sequence here tells a similar story to that of 12 to 13, but in reverse. From Hexagram 22 to 23, the inner light is extinguished: the fire under the mountain becomes simply earth. The outer forms lose their inner liveliness; they die off, and it is time for them to be stripped away:
‘Involved in brightening the appearance; this means success will be truly exhausted, and so Stripping Away follows.’Hexagram 23, the Sequence
Goethe may not have known the Yi, but he certainly understood the trigram structure of Hexagram 22 – free nature shining in our hearts, and the laws that give freedom:
Hexagram 30, Clarity
Then at the very end of the Upper Canon comes Hexagram 30, Clarity, with both inner and outer light blazing forth.
‘Doubled light gives rise to Clarity.
Great People with continuous light illuminate the four regions.’
The inner vision of the great people translates into outer light – their vision becomes a light to the world, as it were. It’s a picture of the spread of enlightenment and culture: understanding that generates more understanding, like fire ignites more fire. (I wrote about this recently here.)
The Oracle of Hexagram 30 gives us the apparently-unrelated image of raising female cattle –
‘Clarity. Constancy bears fruit.
Raising female cattle is good fortune.’
It does specify female cattle – the ones that can give birth to calves and increase the size of your herd. And the trigram li, according to the Shuogua, represents things that are solid on the outside with space on the inside, like tortoises and snails and hollow trees – and also perhaps cows.
Fire means more fire, light means more light and female cattle mean more cattle. More than that: if you raise – nurture and nourish – your cattle, then they too will nurture and nourish their own calves. Gently fostering understanding will always grow more understanding. Clarity means nurturing your capacity for growth.