This is the eighth part of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
Last time we made our initial foray into the wild and wooly world of hexagrams, approaching them by way of their constituent
trigrams. Today we’ll add the next layer of interpretive mojo: the Chinese character (or two) that makes up the hexagram’s name.
We left off last time with a question about the medical relevance of Hexagram 63 Jiji, Fire within Water. In order to get to the heart of that question, let’s zoom out for a moment and look at the big-picture structure of the Yi.
The standard order of the hexagrams (the “King Wen sequence”) begins with pure yang (Hexagram 1 Qian) and pure yin (Hexagram 2 Kun): heaven and earth are separate and itching with the desire to intermingle (to put it delicately). Naturally, they do so, and at the end of the day we’re left with yin and yang fully intertwined in Hexagrams 63 and 64. It’s as if the initial polarity has collapsed, and an integration been achieved. This is what we see in Hexagram 63, to be more specific. The name of the hexagram confirms it: Jiji means “already crossing” or “already completed.”
The romance begun when Qian met Kun has reached its logical end here, with Hexagram 63 Jiji.
But not an end—not quite! 63 is the second-to-last hexagram, not the ultimate one, and Hexagram 64 Weiji rocks the boat. In Weiji yin and yangagain alternate, but this time with yin underneath, Water below Fire. Weiji means “not yet crossing” or “incomplete.” What a note to end on! In classic fashion, the Yi upends any apparent linearity. But this itself is a clue to the topology of the hexagrams, that is the type of form they are pointing to—not a linear one, evidently, but something closer to circular. More on that later.
Onward. Last post discussed Hexagram 36 Mingyi, Fire within Earth and its medical significance in terms of Spleen Yang, the digestive fire, and in terms of mental health, with the shen (Fire) rooted in the body (Earth). What about Hexagram 63 Jiji? Here Fire is within Water instead of Earth. This sounds difficult to achieve, if not downright impossible, and indeed securing Fire inside Water can be said to be the goal of Daoist alchemy, a discipline not known for its ease. Fire within Water is a desirable end-state to be achieve (if only fleetingly, until Hexagram 64 comes along and so rudely sets the journey in motion again).
Whereas Hexagram 36 puts Fire into taiyin Earth (Earth = Spleen = taiyin), Hexagram 63 puts Fire into shaoyin Water (Water = Kidney = shaoyin). Hexagram 36 is a harmonious post-natal state, 63 a harmonious pre-natal one. Thus Hexagram 63 represents a state of health and integration on the deepest level. It’s a difficult state to attain, and even more difficult to maintain for long, but it exists as a goal nonetheless. Perfect integration of yin and yang; health; the end of the road (and the beginning of the next journey).
Back to the topic of hexagram names.
The point here is simply that the name of a hexagram is one of the fundamental pieces of information we have to work with, prior to any commentary or interpretation. As an example, let’s take Hexagram 48 Jing. Jing is composed of Xun below Kan: that’s Wind/Wood below Water. What are we to make of such a juxtaposition—plants growing underwater? An undersea breeze? Pretty unlikely-sounding stuff.
The character Jing sets us straight. Jing looks like a tic-tac-toe board or a pound sign: a sketchy 3×3 grid. That’s it. But dig a little deeper and it turns out that this character represents a bird’s eye view of agricultural land, with square fields abutting one another. In ancient China, the central field of the bunch would ideally have housed the communal well. And so we come to the core meaning of Hexagram 48 Jing, The Well.
And now the composition of the hexagram suddenly makes sense: Wood below Water is a picture of a bucket being lowered into a well.
The meaning was in there all along but the trigrams themselves weren’t enough to get us there. Now, though, that we understand, it won’t be so hard to remember that Wood below Water means The Well.
It’s hard to resist a quick foray into interpretation: what does The Well mean? Broadly speaking we can say it encompasses any technology for accessing life-giving sustenance. It speaks of an access-point that the community depends on, and that must be well cared for (don’t poison it, don’t pee in it…).
Famously, the Yi responded to C.G. Jung’s request for it to describe itself with…what else but Hexagram 48.
Next time, we add a juicy new layer to the hexagram sandwich: the ‘judgement’ text, those few precious phrases associated with each of the Yi’s 64 symbols. Watch for it coming soon!