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13, People in Harmony

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I think the name of this hexagram would be better translated as ‘Creating harmony between people’. Just looking at the moving lines reveals that peace, love and harmony are not foregone conclusions in this hexagram – and that, I think, is precisely why its creative potential is so great.

tong renLiSe’s site says that the old character for tong, harmony, means perhaps a box and its lid, probably a mould used for casting. So it is a sign of people fitting together well, or of people made in the same image, but at all events of something that is designed, rather than ‘just happening’. It means sharing, having things in common, agreeing – and is also the name of a 12-yearly meeting of feudal lords.

In readings about relationships of all kinds, this is a hexagram for co-operation. In romantic relationships, think of building friendship and enjoying one another’s company; in business readings, think of joint ventures, and getting out of the competitive, win-lose mindset.

Once in a while, this hexagram refers to the relationships within people as well as those between people. They can be relationships between inner voices (adult and child, for instance), or between different traditions and ways of knowing. Then tong would involve bringing all of these together in inner conversation.

‘People in harmony in the wilds: creating success.
Harvest in crossing the great river.
Harvest in a noble one’s constancy.’

Where and what are ‘the wilds’?

In SJ Marshall’s Mandate of Heaven you can actually see where they might be on a map: the wilds of Mu, where King Wu is said to have gathered all his newly-allied troops to address them before the final battle against the Shang.

For me, the key is that the wilds are open: way beyond the familiar physical and mental boundaries of ‘people like us’. So the people who create harmony in the wilds are deliberately meeting on neutral ground, and radically expanding their whole idea of who ‘people like us’ might be. By ‘crossing the great river’ they take the risk of going outside their own familiar territory into the unknown. They’ll need the ‘noble one’s constancy’ to make the most of the opportunity: not just dogged conservatism, but imaginative persistence that takes the longer view.

The sequence from hexagram 12, Obstruction or Standstill, has a lot to say about what is achieved in hexagram 13. In the time of Obstruction, there could be no communication at all, because of the ‘non-people’. Or, I think, because of an ‘us versus them’ mentality that could categorise some people as ‘beyond the pale’, not true individuals. Now, there are no ‘non-people’. And whereas in the trigrams of hexagram 12, the earth fell away below and heaven rose mutely above, now there is fire below flaming up to join with heaven, reflecting the lights that already shine there.


Hexagram 12:

earth below heaven


Hexagram 13:

fire below heaven


Fire represents human consciousness, our inventiveness and our capacity for ‘holding together’ and understanding. When communication can’t happen effortlessly (as it does in hexagram 11), then hexagram 13 shows what it takes:

‘Heaven joins with fire. People in harmony.
In the same way, the noble one sorts the clans and differentiates between people.’

I imagine the clans gathering around the fire under the night sky, and the noble one using clarity of vision to keep the peace. It’s interesting that he does so by recognising differences first, and how they come from people’s clannish roots. Differences need acknowledging and respecting before people’s natural defensiveness can be disarmed. (The hidden core of this hexagram is 44, Coupling, showing how joining with very different people can have far-reaching consequences and stir up ancient fears.)

The direction and purpose of all this work is the paired hexagram, Great Possession (14): creating something immeasurably greater than the sum of its parts. Hexagram 14 shows how true wealth is found in exchange; Hexagram 13 creates the environment where this becomes possible.

One final note. A member of the I Ching Community asked Yi before the 2004 US election how feasible it was for Kerry to win, and received 13 changing to 14. With hindsight, he didn’t quite know what to make of this answer, and neither did I. But I did wonder…

13, line 2:

‘People in harmony in the ancestral hall.

Shortly after the result a website sprang up, ‘SorryEverybody.com’, a whole gallery of images of Americans holding up their apologies to the rest of the world. And then came…

13, line 5:

‘People in harmony first cry out and weep, then afterwards they laugh.
Great leaders direct their coming together.’

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