Skip to content


cats facing off

When I was preparing for our latest Well Gathering on the subject of Hexagram 6, I posted the above image to Facebook and invited people to guess the hexagram.

The first guess posted was Hexagram 38 – which is completely understandable, but it got me thinking…

The muddle

Both hexagrams are about not agreeing, one way or another. If you browse through Bradford Hatcher’s list of hexagram translations, the distinction doesn’t become quite as clear as you might like:

Hexagram 6 is called conflict, divisive conflict, lawsuit, contention, dispute, arguing…
Hexagram 38 is called opposition/ opposing, division, estrangement, alienation, and – yes – conflict.

In practice, experience says that both hexagrams can describe both outer and inner conditions: disagreeing with others, or finding yourself ‘in two minds’.

Turning to the Zagua, the contrasts between hexagrams – always a good Wing for pithy definitions – we learn that

‘Waiting means not progressing, Arguing means not connecting.’

Zagua, Hexagrams 5 and 6


‘Opposing means outside. People in the Home means inside.’

Zagua, Hexagrams 37 and 38.

And again, there seems to be some overlap. The people inside the home are surely more connected than the one outside. In practice, the same situation might well be described by both hexagrams at once. (The two hexagrams are only two lines apart, after all, so plenty of readings do involve both – if you’re a Clarity member, you can use the I Ching Community’s hexagram search to find some!)


The words

Digging a bit deeper into the names of the hexagrams, their differences start to become clearer:

Song 訟 means to dispute, argue, bring a case before a judge, lodge a complaint, contest in court to recover one’s goods – and to reproach oneself with one’s own faults. The ancient form of the character shows it is about speaking.

Kui 睽 means opposing, rebellion, foreign, contrary, discordant, divergent, and also glaring, staring and squinting. It’s apparent from the ancient character that this is about seeing.

The oracle text of Arguing has more to say, arranged like legal arguments in opposing pairs: good fortune vs pitfall, fruitful vs fruitless:

There is truth and confidence, blocked.
Vigilant and centred, good fortune. Ending, pitfall.
Fruitful to see great people,
Fruitless to cross the great river.’

Hexagram 6, the Oracle

Opposing is simpler:

Small works, good fortune.’

Hexagram 38, the Oracle

Perhaps there’s some similarity in the advice: by sticking to small works, or by staying at the centre, you avoid going to extremes and escalating disagreement. But you can start to see the difference, too: Opposing can get started on the small stuff and find good fortune directly, and the warning (‘don’t make this bigger!’) is only implicit. When Arguing, you need to be wide awake, very careful, and seek out a higher perspective before you start anything.

The pictures

compared to

Both hexagrams’ trigram pictures show water below, sinking down and away from a more celestial, upward-oriented outer trigram. In Arguing, the moving waters are in turmoil below heaven (something I can’t help associating with the chaos of the Flood, caused – according to one Chinese myth – by the rage of Gong Gong when he lost the struggle to become ruler). In Opposing, a distant sun is reflected in the surface of the lake (more on that here).

Neither shows an easy, spontaneous relationship –

‘Heaven joins with stream: contradictory movements. Arguing.
A noble one, starting work, plans how to begin.’

Hexagram 6, the Image

‘Fire above, lake below. Opposing.
A noble one is in harmony and yet different.’

Hexagram 38, the Image

The noble one in both of these hexagrams needs to think independently, and pay some attention to where she stands in relation to the status quo. But the two situations are also quite different: one calls for you to take the initiative, the other for some fine balancing of relationships.

Imaginary readings

“What to expect if I commit to this relationship?”

Arguing, or Opposing. Neither of those would be exactly encouraging as an unchanging reading would it?

Arguing’s relationship is not going to get anywhere without seeing a relationship counsellor, though they might have a reasonable chance if they do. I’d advise this imaginary querent not to take any decisions without doing that first. (No, moving in with him is not going to create the rapport you crave!)

Hexagram 38? You are chalk and cheese, Mars and Venus; you are never going to see eye to eye. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will fight all the time, though, or hate one another’s company. If you want to be seen, understood and comfortable together, you’ll be disappointed. Still, at least you won’t be bored.

What if your reading asked for advice? Probably neither hexagram encourages you to argue your corner. If I ask what to do and receive Hexagram 6, I don’t normally assume I’m being advised to Argue. It works more like 18, or 12, as scene-setting: the issue here is a state of corruption, or stasis, or conflict, and now, here’s what you can do about it…

“What best to do about this conflict at work?”

6 – find a mediator, be flexible…
38 – hm, are you sure you belong in this job, with these people?

The main difference…

The main difference between Hexagrams 6 and 38 is that Arguing is something we do. State your case, fight your corner, plan how to begin when starting work. Heaven and stream are moving in contradictory directions; fire and lake simply are above and below. Hexagram 38 is more like what – or where – we are, and how the world looks to us from there. Like the Zagua said –

‘Opposing means outside. People in the Home means inside.’

‘Waiting means not progressing, Arguing means not connecting.’

So if the two fighting cats are Arguing, what image could I have chosen for Hexagram 38? Maybe this one?

Cat meets dog: the dog play-bows, the cat arches its back.

This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, or then again it also might not.

Arguing is something we can do – and we can also stop doing it. There may be times when you feel you are absolutely obliged to argue, and if you happened to cast Hexagram 6 with the 5th line moving then you might even be right. But generally, you have the option of surrendering: of giving up arguing, and perhaps focussing on something more important. Reading through the moving lines of Hexagram 6, almost all of them indicate the argument is unwinnable, or not permanently winnable, and there may well be something much more important you could be concentrating on instead.

Opposing is more like who we are, or where we come from – the ‘On what planet does that make any sense?’ kind of disagreement. You can be kinder to your favourite Martian or Venusian, even do your utmost to understand their point of view, but you can’t change your planet of origin. In the moving lines of Hexagram 38, there’s often value in bridging the gulf, rather than avoiding it.

Each hexagram has a different kind of creative potential: Hexagram 38 might invent the iPod; Hexagram 6 might start a revolution.

‘Drinking and eating naturally mean Arguing,’ says the Sequence from 5 into 6. If we’re Arguing, I want the last burger, and so do you. We can’t have much of a conversation about that, so we’d better hope the host will take the decision for us, split it in half, or remind us that there is plenty of dessert to come so neither of us will starve, or something. If we’re Opposed, one of us is probably a vegan, so the burger doesn’t even look like food. We might get into a bitter argument, each trying to justify our way of living, neither budging an inch – or we might even each find our world enriched by containing such different points of view.

I Ching Community discussion


2 thoughts on “Differences”

Leave a reply

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