Bob Schwartz

Category: I Ching

The I Ching on 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….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.



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.

Proper position,
Being steadfast and upright,
Good fortune,
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.


Sake Telegram

Sake Telegram

Sake chilled or warm?
Glass or cup?
Why flip one coin
When you can toss three?
The I Ching will know.
6 9 7 9 7 8
A hexagram telegram:
“During a time of great exceeding,
inevitably there is extraordinary action.
Extraordinary action needs great nourishment.
The roof is about to fall and
it is time to go somewhere or to do something
to remedy the situation.”
A glass of chilled sake
I read it again
A cup of warm sake
I read it again.
Great nourishment.
The roof is not falling
But the moon is fulling.
More sake
Not chilled or warm.
I toss the coins in the jar
But can’t read the wet heads or tails.
It is time
To go somewhere or do something
To remedy the situation.
What time is it?
Where should I go?
What should I do?
Time for another telegram.


I Ching for 2018

“Following the wind” suggests proceeding, but the proceeding should be gentle, flowing easily into wherever the wind goes.

The year 2017 was a year of change. The year 2018 will be another year of change. What year isn’t?

The I Ching—known in English as the Book of Change, Book of Changes, Canon of Change, Classic of Change, etc.—has served as a guide to changing times for thousands of years.

Today as the New Year arrives, I have asked for guidance—for myself and for people everywhere—with the simple question “What will 2018 be like?” While not a typically specific question, this should cover just about everything and everyone.

I have selected one of the 64 hexagrams by using a random number generator. There are other more traditional methods used and recommended by some, including the well-known tossing of coins or counting of yarrow stalks. I’ve used both those methods many times. Purists frown on the random number method, saying that it doesn’t allow the time and contemplative frame of mind needed to appreciate what the text says.

In general, I believe that all methods have value, since the value is in the text, not in the method. And in particular for this year and the year to come, I and many others have had plenty of time to contemplate the changes we are witnessing. We just need somebody or something wise to put it in perspective.

Hexagram 57 (Xun /Wind above, Wind below) is the generated answer. Below are excerpts from six different translations.

My best wishes for your New Year. Thank you sincerely for reading.

Hexagram 57 – Xun

The Complete I Ching by Alfred Huang 

Xun • Proceeding Humbly


Xun is one of the eight primary gua; doubled, it forms this accomplished gua. As a primary gua it represents Wind or Wood. The Commentary on the Symbol says, “Following the wind; an image of Proceeding Humbly.” “Following the wind” suggests proceeding, but the proceeding should be gentle, flowing easily into wherever the wind goes. Applied to human affairs, it means to proceed humbly, or to resign sovereign authority.

Sequence of the Gua: When the traveler has no place to take shelter, Proceeding Humbly follows.

Wilhelm translates Xun as The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind). Blofeld calls it Willing Submission, Gentleness, Penetration. Xun is an action, a proceeding. The ideograph employs the image of two snakes to represent the act of continuing. The upper part of the ideograph depicts two snakes, si. The lower part is an ideograph of gong, which means “together.” Two snakes proceed together—the power of proceeding is doubled.

The structure of the gua is Wind above, Wind below, or Wood above, Wood below. According to the structure, a yielding line lying underneath two solid lines shows the submissive, humble, and obedient personality of the yielding element. The attribute of the wind is to proceed gently. The Chinese consider a gentle breeze with bright sun or a gentle breeze with mild rain to be the best weather. When the wind blows softly, it goes everywhere. When the wood proceeds gently, it penetrates the soil deeply. Gently proceeding is the most effective way to influence events. It never violates and is therefore easily accepted.


Proceeding Humbly.
Little prosperity and smoothness.
Favorable to have somewhere to go.
Favorable to see a great person.

Commentary on the Decision

The symbol of Wind is doubled.
It is to repeat one’s order once more.
The firm proceeds humbly to the central and to the correct position.
Its will is able to be fulfilled.
The yieldings submit to the firm.
Only little prosperity and smoothness are available.
It is favorable to have somewhere to go.
It is favorable to see a great person.

Commentary on the Symbol

Following the wind;
An image of Proceeding Humbly.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person repeats his order
And carries out his command.


This gua is one of the eight gua among the sixty-four accomplished gua that is made by doubling the primary gua, here, Wind  . Proceeding Humbly explains the reason to be humble and gentle. In an unstable situation, if one is humble and gentle one is able to make friends with people, gaining their trust and obtaining their support. The ancients believed that humility and gentleness were the basic moral qualities which one should possess, but that these did not equate with inferiority and weakness.

This gua takes the image of a yielding line humbly lying underneath two solid lines. It symbolizes that one is waiting with patience for the right time to accomplish an aim. On the other hand, the winds following one upon the other symbolize the driving force continuously pushing one forward to achievement. In his Analects, Confucius says:

Before one’s mood of pleasure or anger, sorrow or joy, is released, one’s mind is in a state of equilibrium. When those feelings have been released and are at an appropriate degree, they are in a state of harmony. This equilibrium is the great basis of all human activities, and this harmony is the universal path for all to pursue. We must devote ourselves to achieving this state of equilibrium and harmony and to establishing the proper order between Heaven and Earth. Then all things will be nourished and will flourish.

Thus, equilibrium is the potential before it has been released, and harmony is the result of the proper way of releasing the potential. When we intend to do something, both before and afterward every step should be taken in the proper way. The host of the gua is the solid line at the fifth place. The Commentary on the Decision says, “The firm proceeds humbly to the central and to the correct position. Its will is able to be fulfilled.”

During King Wen’s sitting in stillness he meditated upon traveling, being humble, and proceeding. He realized that one should proceed with humility on a life journey. When only a little success can be achieved, there is still room for more. Great success is the result of the building up of little successes. The Duke of Zhou records the results of different attitudes of proceeding humbly. Progressing in this way, one still needs a warrior’s firmness and steadfastness. Being too humble and meek makes one lose self-confidence. Proceeding humbly with sincerity and trust brings good fortune. When one intends to make a change, one should consider matters carefully before taking action and reconsider after the action is completed.

The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes

57. Sun / The Gentle (Penetrating, Wind)

Sun is one of the eight doubled trigrams. It is the eldest daughter and symbolizes wind or wood; it has for its attribute gentleness, which nonetheless penetrates like the wind or like growing wood with its roots.

The dark principle, in itself rigid and immovable, is dissolved by the penetrating light principle, to which it subordinates itself in gentleness. In nature, it is the wind that disperses the gathered clouds, leaving the sky clear and serene. In human life it is penetrating clarity of judgment that thwarts all dark hidden motives. In the life of the community it is the powerful influence of a great personality that uncovers and breaks up those intrigues which shun the light of day.


THE GENTLE. Success through what is small.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.
It furthers one to see the great man.

Penetration produces gradual and inconspicuous effects. It should be effected not by an act of violation but by influence that never lapses. Results of this kind are less striking to the eye than those won by surprise attack, but they are more enduring and more complete. If one would produce such effects, one must have a clearly defined goal, for only when the penetrating influence works always in the same direction can the object be attained. Small strength can achieve its purpose only by subordinating itself to an eminent man who is capable of creating order.


Winds following one upon the other:
Thus the superior man
Spreads his commands abroad
And carries out his undertakings.

The penetrating quality of the wind depends upon its ceaselessness. This is what makes it so powerful; time is its instrument. In the same way the ruler’s thought should penetrate the soul of the people. This too requires a lasting influence brought about by enlightenment and command. Only when the command has been assimilated by the people is action in accordance with it possible. Action without preparation of the ground only frightens and repels.

I Ching: The Essential Translation by John Minford 




Slight Fortune.
A Destination
It Profits
To see a Great Man.

On the Judgment

Wind doubled,
Ventus repetitus.
Commands are issued.
Firm Lines are Centered,
In True Place.
Are fulfilled.
The Yielding
Flows with the Firm.
Slight Fortune.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Wind follows Wind,
Ventus ventum sequens.
The True Gentleman
Issues commands
In conducting his affairs.

The Trigrams Expounded

Xun is Wood,
It scatters,
Arrays things evenly.
It is South-East,
Eldest daughter.
It enters.
It is cockerel,
Plumb line,
Carpenter’s square.
It is white,
It is Advance,
Xun has no fruit.
It has a strong odor.
Of men, it is
Broad of forehead,
Showing the whites of the eyes.
Pursuit of gain,
Seeking threefold profit.
A forceful Trigram.

Wind above Wind. The early graph shows two men Kneeling. The Yin Lines in First and Fourth Places “kneel” below the Yang Lines above them. This Hexagram is made up of the Doubled Trigram Xun, symbolizing both Wind and Wood (the gentle processes of Infiltration and Vegetation). It is both flexible and penetrating, writes Legge, following Cheng Yi. Wind finds its way into every nook and cranny. Superiors are in Harmony with the needs of inferiors; they “issue” the necessary “commands.” Inferiors, for their part, are in Harmony with the wishes of superiors; they obey them. When a Ruler is in tune with what is right, then he is in accord with the Hearts-and-Minds of the Folk. They will obey him and follow (“flow with”) him. Superiors and inferiors “kneel” to one another. The Wind blows further and further into the distance, writes Magister Liu, rising ever higher, penetrating everywhere, entering into the Tao. Its Work is unremitting, reaching a deep level of Self-Realization. This is its “Slight Fortune.” Some need a “Destination.” They need to “see a Great Man,” one who considers Inner Nature and Life-Destiny to be of supreme importance, one who values the Tao and the Power above all, one to whom the illusory body is so much dry wood, worldly wealth a mere floating cloud. His Inner Self is rich, although his Outward Appearance may seem insufficient. His Heart-and-Mind is firm; his Aspirations have distant horizons. He never ceases until he reaches the Great Tao. Such is the Great Man. Yang in Second Place and Yang in Fifth Place indicate a strong Leader, writes Professor Mun. Strong Leaders dominate their Organization. They understand the views and needs of their subordinates (the Yin Lines in First and Fourth Places). With a softer approach, the Leader can achieve greater Harmony.

The I Ching or Book of Changes by Brian Browne Walker


Consistent correctness turns every
situation to your advantage.

The image of this hexagram is that of a gentle wind dispersing storm clouds. A wind that changes direction often, even a very powerful one, will disperse nothing – it only stirs up the sky. The wind that causes real change is the one that blows consistently in the same direction. There is an important lesson for us in this example.

When faced with a difficult problem to resolve or a goal we wish to achieve, we often are tempted to take striking and energetic actions. Though it is possible to achieve temporary results in this fashion they tend to collapse when we cannot sustain the vigorous effort. More enduring accomplishments are won through gentle but ceaseless penetration, like that of a soft wind blowing steadily in the same direction. The truth of the Sage penetrates to us in this way, and this hexagram comes now to remind you that this is how you should seek to penetrate to others.

The advice given to you by the I Ching is threefold. First, establish a clear goal; the wind that continually changes direction has no real effect. Second, apply the principle of gentle penetration to yourself; by eliminating your own inferior qualities you earn an influence over others. Third, avoid aggressive or ambitious maneuvers now; those are rooted in desire and fear and will only serve to block the aid of the Creative. The desirable influence is the one that flows naturally from maintaining a proper attitude.

In your interactions with others, bend like the willow. By remaining adaptable, balanced, accepting, and independent, and by steadily moving in a single direction, you gain the clarity and strength that make possible a series of great successes.

I Ching: The Book of Change by David Hinton


Through inward reverence, you penetrate everywhere in the smallest ways. Setting out toward a destination brings forth wild bounty, and seeking advice from a great sage also brings forth wild bounty.


Inward reverence layered through reverence, that is how you further the inevitable unfolding of things.

If you live all inward reverence steely as a mountain in cloud, you live centered at the hinge of things, and your purposes will be realized.

All tender assent, you move yielding and devoted as a river through everything steely as a mountain in cloud. If you move like this, you penetrate everywhere in the smallest ways. If you move like this, setting out toward a destination brings forth wild bounty, and seeking advice from a great sage also brings forth wild bounty.


A succession of wind through wind: that is Reverence. Using it, the noble-minded further the inevitable unfolding of things, and so realize their life’s work.

Original I Ching: An Authentic Translation of the Book of Changes by Margaret J. Pearson

(xùn) Calculation, Choosing

Calculation, compliance: In what is small, success. It is effective to have a destination and to meet with a great one.


Wind follows wind: the image called compliance or calculation. You should fulfill your destiny by doing what you are called to do.

The various translations for the name of this hexagram (calculation, compliance, divining) are all similar in that they refer to a time when we seek to comply with what is right by consulting the oracle through a method of divination which uses numbers. The insights derived in this way may be as hard to grasp as the wind, as subtle as a gentle breeze. Yet they can help to lead us in the direction we should go if we listen with courage rather than cringing, and if we persist in moving toward this direction over time.

Another way to put this is: Wind follows wind: this is the image of true compliance. You should reiterate what you are called to do, then do it. Though air is invisible and winds are intermittent, few forces are stronger over time. A continuing wind can bend giant trees, erode earth and stone, shape landscapes and vegetation. To accomplish your greatest task, the work you are truly called to do, you must do many small things, travel, seek and heed advice, again and again. As you do this, do not look for great leaps forward, but think of one wind following another; that is, pushing softly again and again. This can be hard to do. When progress seems to be leading into danger or is blocked by more pressing demands, you may feel like hiding under your bed, and doing nothing but the bare essentials. But such slavish compliance with the more obvious powers of your world often leads in the end to regrets and personal promise unfulfilled. This is not what you are called to do. While remaining prudent, we need to remember the immense power of persistent winds. Listen to the still small voice within you, especially when a careful process of divination, consultation, and planning has led to a recognition of something you are called to do. Find another small step toward that goal and do it, and keep repeating this process. If you define your goal carefully, and persist in it, you will inevitably make progress towards it.

All this is posited on the belief that each of us, being unique, is called to do something that no one else can do as well. Identifying this goal may seem to take forever; achieving it even longer! But thoughtful, balanced seeking, without repeated seeking for a different answer, can usually help us discern whether a given action is likely to move us in the right direction or not. Repeating such steps is worthwhile, even if each one seems as small and as evanescent in effect as a puff of wind. As Xunzi said, “Achievement consists of never giving up.”

A Hundred Uglinesses or A Thousand Stupidities: The Upright Cauldron


Despite a hundred uglinesses or a thousand stupidities, the upright cauldron is naturally beneficent.
Zen Master Hongzhi

A note in Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi says:

As an idiom, “cauldrons,” means simply “uprightness.” The cauldron is a traditional Chinese implement for alchemy and cooking and so is associated with spiritual transformation. Here it is an image for the context of meditation practice and its yogic reliability. Cauldron is the name of hexagram 50 in the ancient Chinese classic Book of Changes, or I Qing: “To change things nothing compares to the cauldron; this is the vessel used to refine the wise, forge sages, cook buddhas, and purify adepts. How could it not be very auspicious and developmental?”

About I Ching Hexagram 50—Ding (Cauldron), Establishing the New—Master Alfred Huang says:

This gua [hexagram] takes the image of a sacrificial vessel to expound upon the importance of honoring and nourishing wise and virtuous persons for the growth of a new country or a new situation. The image of the gua is an inverse form of the preceding one. The preceding one is an act of revolution to abolish the old system or condition. The purpose of revolution is not merely to overthrow the old but, more important, to establish a new situation and a better order. Abolishing the old is difficult; establishing the new is even more so. Both abolishing the old and establishing the new need qualified personnel of extraordinary ability. This gua offers a proper way to reorganize the old order. The key point is to respect wise and virtuous persons and rely on them to establish the new order. On the other hand, eliminating those who are mean and unqualified for their position is equally important.

Good Fortunes


Good Fortunes

A mountain of fortune cookies
For a feast.
Cracking one then another
All good.
One then another
All bad.
You have missed
The real meal.