When I receive this hexagram, I think of a great investment, often a shared one, in a higher purpose. The original text speaks of a great sacrifice:
‘Gathering, creating success.
The king enters his temple.
Harvest in seeing great people.
Creating success, harvest in constancy.
Making use of great sacrificial animals, good fortune.
Harvest in having a direction to go.’
This Judgement is loaded with the I Ching’s most powerful concepts: ‘creating success’, ‘harvest’, ‘good fortune’, ‘seeing great people’. No other hexagram is quite so insistent, either on great vision, or on getting results.
When the king entered the ancestral temple, he made the connection with his ancestors on behalf of the whole people. He is the essential core, he completes the circuit, so that spiritual power can flow into daily life. This is the leader who taps into the group’s essential source of energy and reason for being, above and beyond ordinary concerns.
So the king provides the focal point for the gathering of people, wealth, energy and emotion. Such a concentration of force cannot be an end in itself: it has to be oriented towards a greater goal. In the following, ‘paired’ hexagram, Pushing Upward, the intense energy and optimism translates into a determined drive for growth and progress. Hence the need for great people, those who can see beyond the surface of things and ensure that the shared purpose is well-founded. The people are called on here to sacrifice the biggest and best of their livestock – something they might be reluctant to do if they did not have a ‘direction to go’ that pointed beyond immediate utility.
Such heavy investment also means high risks. Gathering Together is a response to the preceding hexagram, Coupling. That brings a fundamental challenge to ‘the way things are done’, through untameable forces of chance, fate or passion. Somehow the communal vision must expand to encompass this encounter, ‘gathering it together’ in the service of a greater purpose than the mere survival of the status quo.
‘Lake higher than the earth. Gathering together.
Noble one sets aside weapons and tools,
And warns against the unexpected.’
A lake higher than the earth is probably a reservoir for irrigation: an essential investment in life and growth, but also an ever-present risk of flooding. Its behaviour isn’t predictable, so the best advice is to be prepared. ‘Setting aside’ weapons is sometimes interpreted as readying them, sometimes as putting them away: I think it indicates being prepared to deal with possible disasters, but without brandishing your precautions where they might do damage themselves.
As you’d expect, this hexagram very often describes a group enterprise: how essential it is to have a well-defined shared vision and goal to gather around; the investment and sacrifice required of the group’s members. If you receive it with reference just to yourself, try thinking of your life as a similar ‘gathering’ of talents, motivations, roles and resources. It can mean ‘collecting yourself’ or ‘getting yourself together’: somehow you have to unite all your varied experience from moment to moment through a single, central purpose.
Whether the ‘gathering’ is of many individuals or one, it is always a high-intensity way of living. Wu Jing Nuan noted the unusual emotional intensity in the moving line texts: ‘a hug, smiles, distress, sighs and tears’. Perhaps this is because of the constant struggle to align present emotions and actions with the higher purpose. But every one of the line texts also speaks of being ‘without fault’ – I believe this is the only hexagram where this is so. Naturally, the meaning evolves from line to line, but I think the overriding message is that at each stage, the greater purpose puts the extremes of your experience into proportion, making them ‘without fault’. The ‘direction to go’ has to be right – then, its manifestations from moment to moment may be painful, but you are not locked into them.