The I Ching on Hardship
by Bob Schwartz
The ancient sages experienced the hardship of climbing a mountain as well as crossing a river. They also experienced all kinds of hardship in their life journey. Some hardships were avoidable, but others were unavoidable. If one has the right attitude, no matter what kind of hardships there are, they can be overcome….If it is not the right time to overcome hardship, one should keep still. Keeping still does not mean giving up. It is just yielding to the situation and waiting for a more auspicious time.
Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching, Hexagram 39
There are so many sincere, good-hearted and helpful messages being generated at this sad moment of some very public suicides. There is no need for me to add my own thoughts.
But I did wonder if the I Ching, that trusted well of wisdom, might have something to say. It never fails; it didn’t this time.
In answer to the question of suicide, the answer was Hexagram 39—Jian/Hardship.
NAME AND STRUCTURE
Originally, Jian meant lame or a lame person. From lame, its meaning extends to encompass difficulty in walking or hardship. Wilhelm translates Jian as obstruction; Blofeld translates it as Trouble. In this book I use Hardship.
Sequence of the Gua: If there is misunderstanding and diversity in a household, surely hardship will result. Thus, after Diversity, Hardship follows.
The ideograph of the gua shows its original meaning—a lame person having difficulty walking. At the top of the ideograph is the roof of a house with a chimney. Below it there is an ideograph of a person, ren. Between the roof and the person, there are two bundles of grass, representing bedding. These images form the upper part of the ideograph: a picture of a person under the roof of a house covered with two pieces of thick bedding to resist the cold. At the bottom, there is an ideograph of a foot. On each side of the foot and underneath the person a pair of crutches is drawn. One can visualize the crutches under the armpits of the person with a lame leg. The blood circulation of a lame leg is poor, thus the image of a cold foot was used to demonstrate a lame person’s difficulty with walking.
The structure of the gua is Water above, Mountain below. It represents a situation of hardship following hardship. Climbing a mountain and crossing a river are arduous undertakings. The attribute of Water is darkness and of Mountain is keeping still. If it is not the right time to overcome hardship, one should keep still. Keeping still does not mean giving up. It is just yielding to the situation and waiting for a more auspicious time. If the proper time comes, it is favorable to seek union or to consult a noble person for constructive advice. Any premature advance will entail risk. Overcoming hardship depends on the correct time, situation, and companions—in Chinese terms Heaven, earth, and human beings, the three primary elements….
Favorable to the southwest.
Unfavorable to the northeast.
Favorable to see a great person. Being steadfast and upright: good fortune.
Commentary on the Decision
Jian is Hardship.
Danger in front.
Seeing the danger and knowing to stand still,
Being conscious and wise.
Favorable in the southwest.
Going forward obtains the central place.
Unfavorable in the northeast.
There is no way out.
Favorable to see a great person;
Going forward, there is achievement.
Being steadfast and upright,
Rectifying the country.
Great indeed is the function and time of hardship!
Commentary on the Symbol
Water on the Mountain.
An image of Hardship.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person is introspective to cultivate his virtue.
Water above Mountain is an image of hardship following hardship. There is no way to totally avoid hardship in one’s life. Hardship should be overcome; calamity can be prevented. One should not always let things take their own course and resign oneself to one’s fate. This gua tells us how to deal with hardship. The ancient sages experienced the hardship of climbing a mountain as well as crossing a river. They also experienced all kinds of hardship in their life journey. Some hardships were avoidable, but others were unavoidable. If one has the right attitude, no matter what kind of hardships there are, they can be overcome.