...life can be translucent

Category Archives: Connecting hexagrams

Speculations on relations between hexagrams: the Sequence, patterns of trigrams, nuclear hexagrams, etc

More light outside: Hexagrams 30, 35 and 38

More light outside: Hexagrams 30, 35 and 38
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Light outside

The next three hexagrams with trigram li outside are 30, Clarity (doubled li, inside and out), 35, Advancing (fire over the earth) and 38, Opposing (fire above the lake). Each one has a different kind of trigram interaction, but the outer light always seems to be expanding awareness: spreading the light of culture, revealing the opportunities in earth, and illuminating relationship and difference.

Hexagram 30, Clarity

Hexagram 30, of course, has li outside and inside, and so I wrote about it before – Light inside: hexagrams 13, 22 and 30 – and don’t have much to add.

‘Doubled light gives rise to Clarity.
Great People with continuous light illuminate the four regions.’

Light here is spreading from inside to outside: the great people’s understanding, enlightening others. It makes a good contrast with the movement of water in Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms –

‘Waters flow on and reach the end: Repeating Chasms.
A noble one, consistent in character and action, teaches things by repeating.’

Water flows in a single consistent direction; light spreads in all directions at once. The insight of the great people grows into a web of connections that gives rise to culture – and remember that the culture hero Fuxi, the same one who discovered the trigrams themselves, was inspired by Hexagram 30 to invent nets. Writing about this last year, I suggested ‘that he’s the inventor of a net of concepts that captures the whole world and creates Clarity through its patterns.’

Hexagram 35, Advancing

Here, li is above kun: the light is shining down on the earth. It’s daytime – ‘Advancing means daylight’, says the Zagua – when the sunlight acts on the earth, makes things grow, and defines the time we have for action. (Even if you imagine li here as sun, moon and stars, this is still light relative to earth – a 24 hour cycle.) It probably isn’t coincidence that the Oracle text says 畫日, ‘in the course of a day’ (or ‘by the light of a day’, in Bradford Hatcher’s translation) – and the bottom part of the hexagram name was sometimes written as the sun.

To grasp this, we need to imagine a world without electric light – no artificial prolongation of working hours – so that the sun’s light is a precious gift, not to be wasted. Confucius was most unimpressed by a student who was caught napping during daylight hours; Prince Kang is the exact opposite of this, making the very most of his gifts and his time. Seize the day.

So to begin with, the sun is casting light on the inner trigram – showing what can be done, illuminating our capacities and gifts. The other way I’ve noticed li-as-outer-trigram showing up is as a light sustained – fuelled – by the inner trigram. In Hexagram 35, the Image shifts our point of view to see from this perspective:

‘Light comes forth over the earth. Advancing
The noble one’s own light shines in her character.’

Or in other translations, the noble one…

  • ‘naturally radiates clarity of character’ (Bradford Hatcher)
  • ‘himself brightens his bright virtue’ (Wilhelm/Baynes)
  • ‘himself shines with bright powers’ (Rutt)
  • ‘illuminates himself with bright virtue’ (Lynn)

It creates an interesting shift in perspective (as the Image often does): the king gives horses to Prince Kang as the sun gives its light to the earth; the sun rises from the earth, and the noble one’s light emerges from their own nature. I’m imagining this as the raw, unshaped clay of character developed into ‘bright virtue’ and shining out.

Hexagram 38, Opposing

Light engenders light (in Hexagram 30); light shines out freely and creates opportunity (in Hexagram 35). But what if the light doesn’t meet a response, or at least, not one at the same angle? When light shines over the lake, in Hexagram 38, Opposing, the water will bend the light, or fracture it into dazzlement. The eyes squint; those other people see differently. It’s pretty clear that fire and water don’t mix: the inner trigram isn’t ‘fuelling’ the outer fire this time, though it might change and multiply our experience of it.

These trigrams probably get mentioned more often than most, because Wilhelm gives them a mention in his Book I:

‘This hexagram is composed of the trigram Li above, i.e., flame, which burns upward, and Tui below, ie.. the lake, which seeps downward. These two movements are in direct contrast. Furthermore, Li is the second daughter and Tui the youngest daughter, and although they live in the same house they belong to different men; hence their wills are not the same but are divergently directed.’

Wilhelm is drawing on the Tuanzhuan, the commentary on the Oracle, which happily doesn’t explain the divergence in terms of being property:

‘The fire moves, but (only) upwards
The lake moves, but (only) downwards.
Two women dwell together,
(But) their intentions do not function as one.’
Bradford’s translation

Literally, the two women live in harmony – the word used is tong 同, which we know from Hexagram 13 People in Harmony, and also from 38’s Image – but their wills (/aspirations / intentions) do not move in harmony.

Unusually for the Tuanzhuan, this is often recognisable in reading experiences with the hexagram. There’s an inner division: two people living in your head, who want to move in opposite directions. Sometimes the divergence is between emotional depths and clear awareness.

However, the commentary doesn’t stop with the two sisters. It continues…

‘Heaven and earth are in opposition, but their affairs are in harmony.
Male and female are in opposition, but their intentions are joined.
The ten thousand things are in opposition, but their affairs are related.’

That’s ‘affairs’ as in the Oracle itself –

Small affairs, good fortune.’

So the opposing elements here do more than just move apart. As the Image says,

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

‘In harmony’ is tong as in Hexagram 13, People in Harmony. And ‘different’, 異 yi, is a weird and wonderful character that you can see here in its earliest forms, thanks to Richard Sears: https://hanziyuan.net/#%E7%95%B0 . My dictionary suggests prosaically that it meant someone carrying a container on their head – but what it shows is someone with a container, or something, for a head. It means different, other, extraordinary, strange, to divide, to separate, a foreigner.

I used to translate this as ‘the noble one both harmonises and separates,’ but I think I missed the point: this is about how you yourself relate to other people, making friends but without having to be the same. I’d like to think of it as permission to be the weird one.

Like the Image of Hexagram 14, this is not laden with direct references to its trigrams’ actions; it just shows the whole picture of the two together. (Though you could say that lake harmonises and fire differentiates.) Perhaps the idea is that the light illuminates the inner life, the heart – even if that creates distortions – and all the conversation and intermingling that goes on within the lake’s currents. You can empathise with other people and still see things differently.

So… elements that diverge can still be in relationship and work in harmony; indeed, it starts to look as though all those little differences are what create relationship, interaction and good fortune in ‘small affairs’. And in the end – when we reach line 6 – if the others are sufficiently different (because you can’t marry inside your own clan), we could join our people with theirs in marriage:

‘Opposed, alone.
Seeing pigs covered in muck,
The chariot loaded with devils.
At first drawing the bow,
Then relaxing the bow.
Not robbers at all, but matrimonial allies.
Going on meets the rain, and so there is good fortune.’

It’s going to be quite some task, though, to get past the automatic perception that other = enemy.

I Ching Community discussion

Fire outside: hexagrams 14 and 21

Fire outside: hexagrams 14 and 21
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Light outside

I’ve written about the trigram li, fire and light, and the role it plays as inner trigram, inside the hexagram. Here’s a look at fire on the outside… In the ‘Trigram Associations’ pdf that’s part of the Yijing Foundations Course, I simply wrote that, The outer li illumines more expansively, with less concentrated focus than the inner. It casts… Continue Reading



The muddle If you’re new to the I Ching, you could be forgiven for wondering why there are apparently two hexagrams called ‘Obstruction’: Hexagram 12 (according to such translators as Cleary and Richter) and Hexagram 39 (according to Balkin, amongst others). Neither hexagram is one you’d generally rejoice to see in a reading – both… Continue Reading

Light inside: Hexagrams 49, 55 and 63

Light inside: Hexagrams 49, 55 and 63
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Light inside

Hexagram 49, Radical Change Fire in the lake: awareness shining through all kinds of human interaction and exchange. I’ve imagined before that this could be the shaman’s eyes shining through his mask; it’s certainly the light of astronomical awareness shining through the calendar. ‘In the centre of the lake there is fire. Radical Change.A noble… Continue Reading

Light inside: Hexagrams 36 and 37

Light inside: Hexagrams 36 and 37
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Light inside

36, Brightness Hiding With Hexagrams 13 and 22, and maybe even 30, I could build up a picture of how li inside projected its light through the outer trigram, bringing awareness and enlightenment to it. When I get to Hexagram 36, with light inside earth, this becomes altogether trickier. It’s called, at least in some translations, Brightness… Continue Reading

Light inside: Hexagrams 13, 22 and 30

Light inside: Hexagrams 13, 22 and 30
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Light inside

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… Continue Reading

57, Subtly Penetrating, as relating hexagram

57, Subtly Penetrating, as relating hexagram

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… Continue Reading

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