This is the eleventh part of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine. It’s getting pretty long, now! 🙂
Over the last few installments, we’ve set out the various elements of a hexagram: trigram makeup (two trigrams, on top top of the other), name (one or two Chinese characters), judgement text, and changing line texts.
Now it’s time to put these pieces together in the context of an actual divination. Rather than present some staged set- piece or dust off an old example, why not do it live in stere-ereo? First, though, we need a question.
Or do we? A brief detour on the Art of the Question: when not sure to ask, it’s not a bad idea to open yourself to general guidance, in effect letting the oracle take the conversational lead. The logic is, if you ask the wrong question, even the right answer won’t help. Better to ask no particular question and let the right image come. Then going forward you may have a better sense of what the next right question is.
Back to the divination at hand. We’re asking simply for a hexagram or hexagrams to focus on for pedagogical purposes, while opening ourselves up to whatever else the Yi may want to impart.
No cheating: I’m flipping coins in real time here. Here goes:
HHH THT THH HHT HHT TTT. Counting each heads as 3 and each tails as 2, we get: 9 7 8 8 8 6 – giving us….
Hexagram 19, Lin —> Hexagram 4, Meng
So we have two hexagrams (thanks to the presence of one or more changing lines) to wrangle with, as well as two changing lines (the 9 at the bottom and the 6 at the top). Assuming we’ve never seen either of these symbols before, here’s our overall strategy:
- Unpack each hexagram separately, based on their name, trigrams, judgement text, and/or changing line texts.
- Having gotten a general sense of each hexagram, turn to the two relevant changing lines of the first hexagram (Hexagram 19) for more specificity.
- Play with the two hexagrams plus changing lines until they add up to something meaningful given our current situation. And yes, I did say play! Think of this like a puzzle that may well have more than one solution.
We begin with Hexagram 19, Lin.
Even before opening my trusty copy of the late Liu Ming’s Changing: Zhouyi: The Heart of the Yijing I can see that Hexagram 19 Lin is composed Kun (earth) over Dui (lake). An underground lake? This may or may not end up being relevant, but it’s always worth considering the trigrams first.
Next up is the name, Lin.
Ming translates this character as “approach,” as do many other translators; other attempts include “nearing” and “opportunity.” Ming explains that Lin refers to a kind of ancient siege engine, a tower from which fiery projectiles were hurled over enemy walls. This may explain the martial meanings typically attributed to this hexagram: the sense seems to be of an approaching opportunity to rise above the normal obstacles and achieve success.
This is extracurricular so far, as we haven’t talked about the tidal hexagrams yet, but Hexagram 19 Lin happens to be the tidal hexagram that corresponds to the Liver organ network. As the commanding general of the organs, the Liver has its own martial themes and is indeed the organ responsible for strategizing and for pushing upwards (the normal blood circulation requiring a force contrary to gravity). WIth these organ network correspondences, all twelve tidal hexagrams are rich with added layers of symbolism.
Onto the judgement text. Ming renders it “Supreme offering : auspicious :: In the eighth moon misfortune.”
This is fairly straightforward: some sort of offering was (or is) prescribed in response to the situation, which is generally favorable, except in the 8th month.
Now is as good a time as any to mention that not every single image or phrase provided by a hexagram will be relevant in every situation.
For example, in this context of asking the Yi for guidance in learning its language, it’s probably not predicting a problem in the eight month. (I could be wrong, however; the eight month corresponds to Hexagram 20 and the Kidney in the tidal hexagram system, and there could well be a warning here having to do with a Hexagram 20 theme such as scrupulousness or storage, perhaps.)
Finally, the changing lines: glancing over all six, it is apparent that they all include the character “lin” in differing contexts. 9 in the first position has “all approach. auspicious,” whereas 6 in the third position reads “sufficient approach. Be wary. No misfortune.” 6 in the fourth has “approach won. No inauspicious omens” The other lines are similar. What’s worth noting is the image of a military advance which is present throughout.
The lines we are paying particular attention to, of course, are the 9 at first (as quoted above) and the 6 at top, which reads “Approach with sincerity and honesty. Supreme success.” Two highly auspicious changing lines that bespeak a successful approach.
That was a lot of words, but now we’ve got all our cards on the table at least for our primary hexagram. It all more or less boils down to the idea of successful approach.
Onto Hexagram 4, Meng.
Water below Mountain suggests an alpine stream, barely a trickle, which is likely where the sense of the hexagram derives from: Meng can be translated “immaturity” or “youthfulness,” a sense sometimes extended to “youthful folly’ or “difficulty at the beginning.”
Meng, the ideogram itself, contains the radicals for pig (shi), covering (mi or mao), and grass/herbs (cao). The subtleties of these components are lost on those of us (including myself) not well versed in the ancient Chinese language, and would doubtless reveal greater depth and richness to this already interesting symbol.
In any case, the judgement text for Meng highlights another aspect.
Ming translates it, “Do not consult the oracle lightly : let immaturity consult the yarrow :: One divination is sufficient, more would be impertinent : favorable auspices”. Evidently this is a hexagram that can indicate that one is abusing the oracle and in doing so, acting the fool—I think of the archetypal Fool with this hexagram, and correlate it loosely with that famous, zeroeth card of Tarot’s major arcana, for what that’s worth. Anyway, here the chastening is firm but gentle, and the overall auspices “favorable.”
The Yijing appears tolerant of foolishness, recognizing it as a natural beginning state of growth.
The various changing lines detail different shades of immaturity, or different ways of dealing with foolishness: “Punishment may be used to teach the immature,” “To embrace the immature brings good fortune,” “True innocence. Auspicious” and “Correcting immaturity. Changing a thief into a guardian.”
In this reading, however, we are looking at the changing lines only generally, to help us get a sense of the hexagram; recall that specific changing lines are not read for the secondary hexagram of a pair, only for the primary one (in this case Hexagram 19 Lin).
Summing up Hexagram 4, we come back to the sense of immaturity and the promises and pitfalls thereof.
Ming comments, “Meng describes the uneven natural growth and maturation of people and situations. It is about the potential value and the inherent problems that define immaturity…what is unformed has great potential but it also lacks clarity.”
Putting the Pieces Together
Zooming back out, we have our two themes of a favorable military approach, on the one hand, and an inexperienced person on the other. Now we play the “how do these images fit together” game. What, in essence, is the conjunction that connects these two clauses?
For instance, playing around, we might come up with:
- Approaching successfully leads to foolishness
- Successful approach means difficulty at the beginning
- The fool (inexperienced one) approaches successfully
- It is foolish to make a (successful) approach
The “right” interpretation is the one that has resonance for the situation at hand: something should click.
In this case, both the second and third statements make sense: one must be prepared to ride out some bumps in the road in order to make a successful approach to the oracle, and yet even one without experience can approach it with success. Indeed, the open-hearted innocence of the archetypal Fool may actually be a boon in approaching the oracle. Those who have grown cynical may be at a disadvantage in this work and would do well to adopt the stance of eager, open-minded exploration, to be the proverbial empty cup.