...life can be translucent

Fire above wood: Hexagram 50

Fire above wood: Hexagram 50
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Light outside

The trigram picture of Hexagram 50, the Vessel, is a dynamic one: wood in the fire, burning. The wood is becoming fire; the food in the vessel is cooking for the ritual meal.

‘The vessel.
From the source, good fortune.
Creating success.’

Hexagram 50, the Oracle

This is an exceptionally fortunate beginning, because everything is where it needs to be to invite and nourish the spirits – to foster a successful relationship with them, and hence a prosperous, peaceful realm.

The Tuanzhuan (commentary on the oracle) casts more light on the trigrams:

‘The Caldron is the image of an object. When one causes wood to penetrate (xun) fire, food is cooked. The holy man cooks in order to sacrifice to God the Lord, and he cooks feasts in order to nourish the holy and worthy.’

The Tuanzhuan, Wilhelm/Baynes

Nourishing the holy and worthy suggests not just certain people, but these qualities (Bradford Hatcher has ‘nourishing wisdom and excellence’.) And so the next phrase follows –

‘Through gentleness (xun) the ear and eye become sharp and clear…’

In other words, xun is nourishing and creating li. But of course we know this: wood makes fire, and so also gentle penetration makes for clear understanding. This could be a picture of an enlightened culture, or a fully-conscious individual.

I think that helps explain the Image –

‘Above wood there is fire. The Vessel.
A noble one sets her situation straight and makes her calling solid.’

This can sound very staid, no matter who translates it:

  • ‘Applies principles of positioning to manifest higher purpose.’ – Hatcher
  • ‘Consolidates his fate by making his position correct’ – Wilhelm.
  • ‘Keeps his stance correct, making his orders hold’ – Rutt
  • ‘Rectifies positions and makes his orders firm’ – Lynn. (Wang Bi reckoned the noble one is putting noble and base people in their right places.)

What does the noble one do? As always, the Chinese is more economical –

正 位 凝 命

正 – zheng – right, correct, straight, rectify. The character shows a foot stopped, coming to its right place.
位 – wei – place, position, status, court office
凝 – ning – to congeal, freeze, become solid. The character includes the component ‘ice’, and this seems to be especially about a liquid becoming solid.
命 – ming – mandate, destiny, or simply ‘orders’.

Perhaps she isn’t so much setting the world to rights as she is specifically coming to her own right place, finding where she stands.

How does this connect with the trigrams of wood and fire? Not with the kind of direct correspondence you find in – for instance – Hexagram 21:

‘Thunder and lightning. Biting through.
The ancient kings brought light to punishments and proclaimed the laws.’

Hexagram 21, the Image

‘Bringing light’ is the action of li, and punishing or proclaiming is the action of thunder: trigrams map to verbs. Nothing so clear happens in Hexagram 50: instead, the Image seems to derive from the picture as a whole: wood in the fire is in its right place, and so is the noble one. You don’t need to find a trigram to correspond to ‘setting straight’ or ‘consolidating’.

Still… wood becomes fire. Penetrate in, and you see clearly. So maybe getting to your right place is the action of xun: gently penetrating into the situation and accepting the seals that give you your place; xun also means submitting, complying. And the original form of the character ming shows a mouth giving a command, speaking downward to someone who kneels submissively below, along with a second mouth oriented upward, as if responding.

Perhaps this is about bringing yourself into a living, responsive relationship with your own calling. Then that calling ‘consolidates’: it goes from liquid to solid, becomes real and has its place in the world, is no longer just an idea. The wood catches light. Unlike the Vessel, wood and fire won’t last forever, but then that’s not what they – or we – are for.

I Ching Community discussion

Series Navigation<< More light outside: Hexagrams 30, 35 and 38Fire on the mountain: Hexagram 56 >>

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