...life can be translucent

Menu

Blog post: Fording the river: Hexagram 11, line 2

hilary

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 8, 1970
Messages
16,571
Reaction score
2,004
Fording the river: Hexagram 11, line 2

rough river water
The second line of Hexagram 11 generates some of the most strangely varied translations. Here are two from the same bookJohn Minford’s I Ching, which contains two incarnations of the Yi, as ‘Book of Wisdom’ and ‘Bronze Age Oracle’:

‘Embrace the wilderness, ford the river. Do not forsake those far away. Friends depart. The course is held at the centre.’

and

‘Float across the river with a big gourd. No drowning, cowries lost. Reward in mid journey.’

How can these possibly be two translations of the same Chinese text?

The gourd​


The first word in the Chinese is 包 bao, which has a general meaning of containing, wrapping, embracing or bearing with – as in the Wilhelm/Baynes version of 11.2, ‘Bearing with the uncultured’. The second word, 荒 huang, means wasteland, something barren or just empty – ‘uncultured’ for Wilhelm, ‘wilderness’ for Minford.

However… some scholars think bao was meant as pao, 匏 (you can see it includes the ‘bao‘ component), meaning a gourd. Then huang can emphasise the gourd is hollow, or apparently can just mean ‘big’.

This at once makes the line more coherent, because hollow gourds are useful as floats when fording a river – and the verb used here for river-crossing means specifically fording, without a boat.

Also, when this line changes, the trigram qian, heaven, is hollowed out to become li, fire, which according to the Shuogua is associated with ‘coat of armour and helmet, … turtles, crabs, snails, mussels, tortoises, trees that are hollow and dead at the top’ (Rutt’s translation) – in other words, with things that are shaped like the trigram itself, hollow with a hard surface.

changing to​

(There’s one other gourd in the Yi, the melon at 44.5 – which is also qian changing to li.)

Adding all this up, I’m persuaded that this gourd is part of the line, not just a scholar’s fever-dream. It’s an exquisite image of emptiness that becomes lightness, of disappointment and moving on – and also, maybe, of free thinking.

Along with the gourd, Minford mentions a story of Zhuangzi. It’s worth reading the whole of the first chapter, which describes ‘the difference between small and great’ – for instance, when a little fluttering quail laughs at the great Peng bird that soars above the clouds, unable to grasp its reality at all. Since Hexagram 11 is a time when ‘small goes, great comes’, this should spark our interest.

In this chapter’s final story, a logician complains to Zhuangzi that the giant gourds he grew were too big to be of any use: filled with water, too heavy to lift; cut up to make drinking vessels, too shallow to hold liquid. He smashed the useless things to bits. Zhuangzi calls him stupid, and says he could have used the gourds to float over rivers and lakes. ‘The gourd is hollow,’ says Yi; ‘use it to ford the river.’

Actually, I think this has things in common with the traditional interpretation: that this line is about someone who ‘does not leave out those who are far away, thus cliques disappear’ (Lynn). Wang Bi says ‘the way he uses his heart and mind is so very broad, there are none he abandons at a distance.’ Zhuangzi would also like his interlocutor to use his heart-mind less narrowly.

Abandoning and leaving behind​


The next five words give rise to even more different translations:

不遐遺朋亡
Not distant/abandoning leaving-behind/abandoning friends vanished.

In itself, that suggests a paradox: if there is no distancing or abandoning, how come friends are lost?

The traditional view is that this means ‘not distancing from those left behind’ (or ‘not neglecting what is distant – Wilhelm) and the ‘friends’ that vanish are a clique or faction; the logic of the whole is that this is about being more broad-minded, less parochial.

Minford makes the problem disappear altogether by translating 朋 peng as ‘cowries’. Schilling does the same, and says this loss is contrasted with the reward gained mid-journey.

Geoffrey Redmond makes sense of it by repunctuating: ‘Wrap in gourds to cross the He River, not far off. Leaving behind friends, who will be lost.’ The river in this line is the He – at least, ‘He’ may well refer to a specific river. And the He does flow ‘not far off’ from Mt Tai – which shares its name with this hexagram.

In 2010 I was happy to follow Bradford Hatcher’s example and think of ‘distant/abandoning’ and ‘leaving behind/abandoning’ as a single unit of meaning. Now I wonder whether they might be meant as a contrast: ‘Not abandoned, (just) left behind, friends vanish.’ But since no-one else has come up with that idea that I know of, it’s probably wrong.

This may be sacrilegious, but I actually don’t think it matters all that much exactly how we parse this part of the line – whether it’s ‘Not distancing or leaving behind’ or ‘Not left far behind’ or ‘Not abandoning those left behind’ or even ‘Not abandoned, only left behind’. The bigger point is the contrast between all this abandoning, distancing and losing, and moving towards the centre – deliberately setting out to cross to the opposite bank – where, after all the loss, you gain honour.

Friends, or cowries, vanish​


Swimming across, up to your eyes in river water, you can’t keep everything in view; you need to sight on something tall on the opposite bank, so as not to get disoriented. Or as the paired line, 12.5 puts it,

‘It is lost, it is lost! (其亡其亡)
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.’

As you swim across, friends vanish – 亡 wang, the same word as in 12.5 – simply because your perspective has shifted, not because you intended to leave them. ‘Friends vanishing’ could be just another instance of ‘small going’ – certainly the tradition that sees these friends as a clique would agree.

Friends, or cowries? The character, 朋 peng, is originally a picture of paired strings of cowries. (Perhaps the idea-evolution is from matched strings to matched people, friends?) So a translation of ‘cowries lost’ makes sense in theory – but in practice, 11.2 for me has always been about friends and partners lost.

I once received this line when I asked what to learn from a friend who had recently died, who was exceptionally powerfully present to many people after her death. Our friend was gone from our sight – or we had disappeared from hers – but she forded the river without abandoning those she left behind.

Brightness Hiding​


Changing this line connects Flow to Hexagram 36, Brightness Hiding, and the line pinpoints where these two hexagram pictures meet. Friends vanish from sight; the light is hidden away. 11.2’s swimmer is loyal to something distant and invisible to other people, like Prince Ji. Here’s how Flow can hide and wound the light, when its current sweeps your friends out of sight, and you’re left alone.
 

dfreed

Inactive
Joined
Feb 6, 2021
Messages
1,045
Reaction score
382
I’m persuaded that this gourd is part of the line, not just a scholar’s fever-dream. It’s an exquisite image of ...
Good gracious Hilary, are you all of a sudden going all 'modernist' (Zhouyi-like) on us :oops: ? Or are you - as I suspect - exploring the complexities / difficulties of translating and interpreting a very old oracle, where many of the words, meanings, even the Yi's usage has changed over centuries?

I looked at a few other translations of this line:
Hatcher's 'Embrace wilderness, useful to cross the river without a boat'.
Hilary's, 'Embrace emptiness .... friends disappear'.
Richard Rutt's 'Dry gourds gird (strapped) on, for fording the He (a river) ....'
For me each of these (and others I assume), carry different images and different meanings (great and/or small). If I were to do a 'comparitive interpretation' using each (standing on it's own), I'd most likely come up with a wide variety of meanings and responses.

I also looked at Wilhelm's 11.2:
"Bearing with the uncultured in gentleness, fording the river with resolution, Not neglecting what is distant; not regarding one’s companions: Thus one may manage to walk in the middle."
... and then I looked at his explanation (comments / commenary) about this line, which reads, in part:
"The trigram Ch’ien (Heaven) encloses K’un (Earth), (heaven) bears the uncultured (earth) in gentleness. The line ... is the lowest line in (11's) nuclear trigram Tui, water. It must step over those that lie between, in order to unite with the six (line) in the fifth place .... "

I do appreciate and make use of the trigrams in working with the Yi - and I also very much appreciate that Wilhelm and the Confucians also did (and maybe still do) this. But even setting aside any Bronze Age vs. Wisdom Book differences in interpretation, his explanation here is, for me, a bit of 'a stretch':

Wilhelm says Heaven, as the lower trigram, encloses Earth, the upper trigram? And that the Earth is uncultured (and not just wild as others may be suggesting). And heaven 'bares' (puts up with) this using 'gentleness'? And ... Wilhelm turns the trigram for a still Lake (11's lower nuclear trigram) into a river that must be stepped (crossed) over .... ?

What is also odd is that in Wilhelm's 11.2, one should 'not regard' one's companions (meaning what? ... let them drown? leave them behind?) whereas Hilary and others just say that friends are no longer present (maybe that they are not a part of our 'crossing'?); and Rutt indicates that part of the reason we're strapping on the gourds is so we don't lose our footing nor our friends (how wise of him!).

As I said ... I find much that we might / can / should question about Wilhelm's translation and interpetation of 11.2.

Stepping (way) back to the Bronze Age, and strapping on a gourd as a floatation device - as an aid to our river crossing: this seems like both a wise (en-light-ened) and also a safe option, with both of these being meanings associates with Li, (the tortoise-like) Flame - 36's lower trigram!

And Li / Flame is also about how we coexist / depend upon one another (as wind, wood, and flame do), so it makes sense that we'd strap on gourds, 'lest (our) footing's lost and friends are gone' (Rutt).

And I think of the river as a metaphor for a big, important, or difficult task (or crossing) we're attempting to make - and it's only seems wise and safe for us to ask for assistance in our endevor (There is no trigram 'river' here, unless we think that this river might be referring to the lower nuclear trigram of 36? But that's a stretch, even for me!)

the ... Zhuangzi .... describes ‘the difference between small and great’ – for instance, when a little fluttering quail laughs at the great Peng bird that soars above ... unable to grasp its reality .... (And) since Hexagram 11 is a time when ‘small goes, great comes’, this should spark our interest ....
I took a quick gander at this story from the Zhangzi. What stood out for me is when Little Quail describes his landing (at the end of his short flight):
'I ... then fall down, flopping and flailing in the midst of the weeds and brambles.'

For me this points out one imporant difference between 'small' and 'great' - that it's not necessarily about quantity (how big one is, how far one travels, how much status or power one has), but it is (or can be) about quality: e.g. how and why do we fly, and how do we land, and is what we're doing - in big or small ways - appropriate for the task / situation at hand.

A few weeks ago I was taking a beach walk (which I do 3-5 times a week) and I saw, for the first time, a Great Blue heron 'flying' in the shallows (but not really a 'crane calling in the shadows').

I usually see them either flying some distance, or standing still (and taking only a few steps), but here one was actually flying short distances, 15-20 feet, through the shallows. (These steps reminded me of the 'steps' we saw astronauts take on TV during the early Moon landings!)

And ... at certain times of the year I can also see hundreds, thousands of snow geese overhead making their 3,000 mi (4,800 km) migration along the Pacific Flyaway, between their wintering areas and the Arctic tundra.

So, in comparing these two 'flights' I clearly see that one is far, far (far) longer than the other, but I don't get that either of them is 'greater' or 'smaller' in terms of being appropiate and useful for what they (the geese or the heron) are trying to achieve.

Finally, Hilary's post brings to mind the often-posted questions: which 'translation' is right, or good, or correct and also, how do we wade through this vast sea (or cross this raging river) of many and varied translations?

A few times now, I've described how I approach this - in brief: I like to start with and focus on one translation that I feel is authentic and 'speaks to me' - and go from there. Or ... someone else might like to look at many different translations or interpretions of the same line or hexagram, and then ... come to some decision(s) or compromise(s) or? ... about what the words and images mean.

Best, D
 
Last edited:

rosada

Supporter
Clarity Supporter
Joined
Jun 3, 2006
Messages
8,653
Reaction score
1,691
Trying to see a story in the lines around 11.2

11.1 On your marks, get set, go! And they're off!!
11.2 A lot of these horses shouldn't even be in this race, be kind but stay on task: focus on the finish line. Don't worry about the other horses, just stay in your own lane.
11.3 You win some you lose some. Just keep going to the best of your ability and whatever happens you will be blameless.
 

hilary

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 8, 1970
Messages
16,571
Reaction score
2,004
Good gracious Hilary, are you all of a sudden going all 'modernist' (Zhouyi-like) on us :oops: ? Or are you - as I suspect - exploring the complexities / difficulties of translating and interpreting a very old oracle, where many of the words, meanings, even the Yi's usage has changed over centuries?

Your suspicions are quite correct.
I looked at a few other translations of this line:
Hatcher's 'Embrace wilderness, useful to cross the river without a boat'.
Hilary's, 'Embrace emptiness .... friends disappear'.
Richard Rutt's 'Dry gourds gird (strapped) on, for fording the He (a river) ....'
For me each of these (and others I assume), carry different images and different meanings (great and/or small). If I were to do a 'comparitive interpretation' using each (standing on it's own), I'd most likely come up with a wide variety of meanings and responses.

I see you didn't find Freeman Crouch's version:

"Leopards gushing in: the wall is levelled.
The Yellow River is not far behind us.
Cowries disappear - the take will be awarded on the road to the centre."

His notes explain that 'this sentence has several phonetic substitutions.' :rolleyes2:

I also looked at Wilhelm's 11.2:
"Bearing with the uncultured in gentleness, fording the river with resolution, Not neglecting what is distant; not regarding one’s companions: Thus one may manage to walk in the middle."
... and then I looked at his explanation (comments / commenary) about this line, which reads, in part:
"The trigram Ch’ien (Heaven) encloses K’un (Earth), (heaven) bears the uncultured (earth) in gentleness. The line ... is the lowest line in (11's) nuclear trigram Tui, water. It must step over those that lie between, in order to unite with the six (line) in the fifth place .... "

I do appreciate and make use of the trigrams in working with the Yi - and I also very much appreciate that Wilhelm and the Confucians also did (and maybe still do) this. But even setting aside any Bronze Age vs. Wisdom Book differences in interpretation, his explanation here is, for me, a bit of 'a stretch':

Wilhelm says Heaven, as the lower trigram, encloses Earth, the upper trigram? And that the Earth is uncultured (and not just wild as others may be suggesting). And heaven 'bares' (puts up with) this using 'gentleness'? And ... Wilhelm turns the trigram for a still Lake (11's lower nuclear trigram) into a river that must be stepped (crossed) over .... ?

I normally feel much the same way about the explanations in Wilhelm Book III. A more intuitive, broader view of trigrams still works, though - seeing it as more like a picture book, or perhaps a particularly clever popup book with all its moving parts. I mean, even if you could account for every word of the text with trigrams, what would be the point? Whereas 'li looks like a hollow gourd' or 'qian changing to li is like an eye opening' (for 1.2.5) is nice and simple and memorable.
What is also odd is that in Wilhelm's 11.2, one should 'not regard' one's companions (meaning what? ... let them drown? leave them behind?) whereas Hilary and others just say that friends are no longer present (maybe that they are not a part of our 'crossing'?); and Rutt indicates that part of the reason we're strapping on the gourds is so we don't lose our footing nor our friends (how wise of him!).

All this comes from just two words: 'friends gone'. Or possibly 'cowries gone'. 'Gone', wang, means 'disappeared' but also 'dead and gone'. So... choose what makes sense to you in the context.
As I said ... I find much that we might / can / should question about Wilhelm's translation and interpetation of 11.2.

Indeedy. Though I am also not sure where Rutt gets 'lest' in his version - unless 'distancing' becomes 'averting' or something. We may just have to wait until Harmen gets to Hexagram 11!
...

I took a quick gander at this story from the Zhangzi. What stood out for me is when Little Quail describes his landing (at the end of his short flight):
'I ... then fall down, flopping and flailing in the midst of the weeds and brambles.'

For me this points out one imporant difference between 'small' and 'great' - that it's not necessarily about quantity (how big one is, how far one travels, how much status or power one has), but it is (or can be) about quality: e.g. how and why do we fly, and how do we land, and is what we're doing - in big or small ways - appropriate for the task / situation at hand.

A few weeks ago I was taking a beach walk (which I do 3-5 times a week) and I saw, for the first time, a Great Blue heron 'flying' in the shallows (but not really a 'crane calling in the shadows').

I usually see them either flying some distance, or standing still (and taking only a few steps), but here one was actually flying short distances, 15-20 feet, through the shallows. (These steps reminded me of the 'steps' we saw astronauts take on TV during the early Moon landings!)

And ... at certain times of the year I can also see hundreds, thousands of snow geese overhead making their 3,000 mi (4,800 km) migration along the Pacific Flyaway, between their wintering areas and the Arctic tundra.

So, in comparing these two 'flights' I clearly see that one is far, far (far) longer than the other, but I don't get that either of them is 'greater' or 'smaller' in terms of being appropiate and useful for what they (the geese or the heron) are trying to achieve.

Yes... and that seems a Daoist sort of idea, too, that there's nothing marvellous about being 'great' for the sake of it. Zhuangzi's distinction seems to be about the ability to conceive of big things, though, and think beyond one's own limits. (I think. I'm not sure I've grasped his point.)

Finally, Hilary's post brings to mind the often-posted questions: which 'translation' is right, or good, or correct and also, how do we wade through this vast sea (or cross this raging river) of many and varied translations?

With an empty gourd, of course ;) .
 

IrfanK

Supporter
Clarity Supporter
Joined
Dec 15, 2011
Messages
552
Reaction score
344
I see you didn't find Freeman Crouch's version:

"Leopards gushing in: the wall is levelled.
The Yellow River is not far behind us.
Cowries disappear - the take will be awarded on the road to the centre."
That one would be gorgeous for my image flash cards! I'd really like to get hold of Crouch's translation, but the ebook version is not available on Amazon for purchase in Indonesia. And he doesn't make his email or other contacts readily available. I know he used to be a member here, but I don't think he's been around for a while.
 

hilary

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 8, 1970
Messages
16,571
Reaction score
2,004
I haven't been in touch with him for about a decade, but I'll try the most recent email address I have.
 

dfreed

Inactive
Joined
Feb 6, 2021
Messages
1,045
Reaction score
382
Thanks Hilary:
I normally feel much the same way about the explanations in Wilhelm Book III. A more intuitive, broader view of trigrams still works, though - seeing it as more like a picture book ....

Yes! I agree - a broader, more intuitive view of trigrams!

At times its seems that Wilhelm (and the Confucians he studied with) used trigrams in ways we might call 'broad' or 'creative'. And though I find some of his (their) explanations a bit quirky or odd (or 'out there!'), I was delightfully surprised to see how much they made use of the trigrams and the nuclear trigrams in their explanations and commentaries, and how much this is a part of this tradition.

One example of Wilhelm's creativity is with the Image for Hex. 6:
THE IMAGE
Heaven and water go their opposite ways:
The image of CONFLICT.
Thus in all his transactions the superior man
Carefully considers the beginning.

Wilhelm's commentary / explanation of this Image is:
The ... upper trigram, heaven, goes upward, ... the lower, (trigram) water, goes downward; thus the two draw ... apart, and create conflict. To avoid conflict, all transactions (nuclear trigram Wind - work, an undertaking) must be ... considered at the beginning; trigram Water (K’an) means being concerned, and the nuclear trigram Flame (Li) means clarity; Ch’ien (Heaven) is the beginning of all things.

So here he explains the Image for Hex. 6 by making use of four trigrams - the two primary and the two nuclear (bagua and huti).

Wilhem's translation of Hex. 6, Line 1 reads:
If one does not perpetuate the affair,
there is a little gossip.
In the end, good fortune comes.

And his explaination / commentary about this line:

(first, bottom line) is weak .... Therefore, although there is a brief altercation with the neighboring (2nd line), the conflict cannot continue .... Since the nuclear trigram Li, standing above, has clarity ... everything is finally decided justly .... As the (1st line) changes, there arises the trigram Tui, speech.

Here he explains what's happening with the first line in terms of the lower nuclear trigram (lines 2,3,4) that the 1st line is adjacent to - but not part of; and also in terms of trigram Lake (and it's attributes, speech and communication) which is formed when this line changes.

All this comes from just two words: 'friends gone'. Or possibly 'cowries gone'. 'Gone', wang, means 'disappeared' but also 'dead and gone'. So ... choose what makes sense to you in the context.

Yes, looking again at Wilhelm's translation of these words from 11.2:
Not neglecting what is distant,
Not regarding one’s companions:
Thus one may manage to walk in the middle.

.... I can (also) see that the advice here is: to seek a broader viewpoint means not putting one's companions (e.g. one's own nation, friends, family, business) in the forefront; we also need to see others whom are 'distant' - and that this broader perspective allows us to take a more balanced view - to walk the Middle Path.

With an empty gourd, of course ;) .

To honour our Empty Gourd gods and ancestors, I explored Line 11.2 a bit more, this time making use of Bradford Hatcher's Matrix Translation, and I came up with:
11.2 Embracing, accepting the wilderness, the uncultivated is practical; useful when fording rivers.
Avoid aloofness, neglect of (one's) companions, alliances.
Claim / learn merit and value through balanced, centered movement ....

I can see (interpret, make use of) 'embracing ... the wilderness' as a form of respect, coupled with obervation: that we should 'read the river' - and understand it's rocks, rapids, traps, tidepools - before we try to ford it. (And wearing a life vest made of gourds is also useful.)

This reminds me, many years ago I took a whitewater rafting trip down the American River in California. At one particularly challenging set of rapids, our guides climbed a large boulder overlooking the rapids so they could survey and study the rapids - to determine the best way through them; and of course we wore our life jackets the entire time we were running rapids.

Best, D
 
Last edited:

my_key

visitor
Joined
Mar 22, 1971
Messages
1,808
Reaction score
554
This reminds me, many years ago I took a whitewater rafting trip down the American River in California. At one particularly challenging set of rapids, our guides climbed a large boulder overlooking the rapids so they could survey and study the rapids - to determine the best way through them; and of course we wore our life jackets the entire time we were running rapids.
So you've read the Johnny Two-Rivers commentary too!! :rofl:
 

Liselle

Moderator
Clarity Supporter
Joined
Sep 20, 1970
Messages
8,308
Reaction score
1,181
I'd really like to get hold of Crouch's translation, but the ebook version is not available on Amazon for purchase in Indonesia.
Maybe you'd really just rather have ebooks, but as far as I can tell it's also in paperback:

(For all I know, maybe you can't access that page, either - I've seen things on Youtube that are blocked from playing in America; does Amazon do the same thing?)
 

IrfanK

Supporter
Clarity Supporter
Joined
Dec 15, 2011
Messages
552
Reaction score
344
Maybe you'd really just rather have ebooks, but as far as I can tell it's also in paperback:

(For all I know, maybe you can't access that page, either - I've seen things on Youtube that are blocked from playing in America; does Amazon do the same thing?)
I could get the book, but it would come to well over $35 with shipping to Indonesia, while the ebook costs $4. I can't really justify that much for yet another translation of the Yi right now. Also, Freeman very kindly makes the full text of the book available at Google Books:

https://books.google.co.id/books/about/I_Ching.html?id=J-xLJ-74fbIC&redir_esc=y

I'd just like to have it in a format that I can look at a bit more easily.
 

Liselle

Moderator
Clarity Supporter
Joined
Sep 20, 1970
Messages
8,308
Reaction score
1,181
Oh right, I managed to forget about shipping, duh.

I have the ebook and like it a lot.
 

hilary

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 8, 1970
Messages
16,571
Reaction score
2,004
That one would be gorgeous for my image flash cards! I'd really like to get hold of Crouch's translation, but the ebook version is not available on Amazon for purchase in Indonesia. And he doesn't make his email or other contacts readily available. I know he used to be a member here, but I don't think he's been around for a while.
See your email :) .
 

dfreed

Inactive
Joined
Feb 6, 2021
Messages
1,045
Reaction score
382
I'd really like to get hold of Crouch's translation ....

I just looked Crouch's translation, and see that he calls Hex. 4 'strangleweed' (a.k.a. 'dodder').

Strangleweed. (An) Offering.
We do not seek the boy strangleweed
- the boy strangleweed seeks us ....


At first, i was going to write this version off as a novelty, but i realize that it will be a valuable adjunct to Rutt, to help verify and confirm the accuracy of Rutt's translation. Perhaps it can also serve as source material to help me better understand Wilhelm's rather creative and at times quirky use of trigrams and nuclear trigrams. And the Kindle version is only $4 US!

I'm glad Hilary mentioned it and others of you showed interest in it!
 

hilary

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 8, 1970
Messages
16,571
Reaction score
2,004
The Chameleon Book won't tell you much about nuclear trigrams et al, but it would be a nice adjunct to Rutt. It draws on Marshall's Mandate of Heaven and reads the whole book as permeated by Zhou history, even where it isn't apparent. Genuinely original work, and with good notes!
 

Clarity,
Office 17622,
PO Box 6945,
London.
W1A 6US
United Kingdom

Phone/ Voicemail:
+44 (0)20 3287 3053 (UK)
+1 (561) 459-4758 (US).

Top