Previous / Contents / Next

3. Kun [Difficulty at the Beginning]


Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

Kun (indicates that in the case which it presupposes) there will be great progress and success, and the advantage will come from being correct and firm. (But) any movement in advance should not be (lightly) undertaken. There will be advantage in appointing feudal princes.

[Legge] The character called Kun is pictorial, and was intended to show us how a plant struggles with difficulty out of the earth, rising gradually above the surface. This difficulty, marking the first stages in the growth of a plant, is used to symbolise the struggles that mark the rise of a state out of a condition of disorder, consequent on a great revolution. The same thing is denoted by the combination of the trigrams that form the figure;—as will be seen in the notes on it under [Great Symbolism, below].

I have introduced within parentheses, in the translation, the words 'in the case which the hexagram presupposes.' It is necessary to introduce them. King Wan and his son wrote, as they did in every hexagram, with reference to a particular state of affairs which they had in mind. This was the unspoken text which controlled and directed all their writing; and the student must try to get hold of this, if he would make his way with comfort and success through the Yi. Wan saw the social and political world around him in great disorder, hard to be remedied. But he had faith in himself and the destinies of his House. Let there be prudence and caution, with unswerving adherence to the right; let the government of the different states be entrusted to good and able men:—then all would be well.

Comments on the Thwan

1. In Kun we have the strong (Khien) and the weak (Khwan) commencing their intercourse, and difficulties arising.

2. Movement in the midst of peril gives rise to 'great progress and success, (through) firm correctness.'

3. By the action of the thunder and rain, (which are symbols of Kan and Khan), all (between heaven and earth) is filled up. But the condition of the time is full of irregularity and obscurity. Feudal princes should be established, but the feeling that rest and peace have been secured should not be indulged (even then).

[Legge] Kun is made up of the trigrams Kan and Khan; but according to the views on king Wan's arrangement of the trigrams, as set forth especially in [Appendix 5, Par. 14], the six others come from Khien and Khwan, and are said to be their children. On the first application of Khwan to Khien, there results Kan, the first line of Khien taking the place of the last of Khwan; and on the second application, there results Khan, the middle line of Khien taking the place of that of Khwan. McClatchie renders here:—'The Thun (Kun) diagram represents the hard and the soft (air) beginning to have sexual intercourse, and bringing forth with suffering!' But there is nothing in the Yi, from the beginning to the end, to justify such an interpretation. Nor do I see how, from any account of the genesis by the component trigrams, the idea of the result as signifying a state of difficulty and distress can be readily made out.

In paragraph 2 there is an attempt from the virtues or attributes assigned to the trigrams to make out the result indicated in the Thwan. To move and excite is the quality of Kan; perilousness is the quality of Khan. The power to move is likely to produce great effects; to do this in perilous and difficult circumstances requires firmness and correctness. But neither is this explanation very satisfactory.

The first part of paragraph 3 depicts a condition of trouble and disorder in the natural world occasioned by the phenomena that are symbols of the significance of Kan and Khan; but this is symbolical again of the disorder and distress, political and social, characteristic of the time. Good princes throughout the nation would help to remedy that; but the supreme authority should not resign itself to indifference, trusting to them.

Great Symbolism

(The trigram representing) clouds and (that representing) thunder form Kun. The superior man, in accordance with this, (adjusts his measures of government) as in sorting the threads of the warp and woof.

[Legge] Khan represents water, especially in the form of rain. Here its symbol is a cloud. The whole hexagram seems to place us in the atmosphere of a thunderous sky overhung with thick and gloomy clouds, when we feel oppressed and distressed. This is not a bad emblem of the political state in the mind of the writer. When the thunder has pealed, and the clouds have discharged their burden of rain, the atmosphere is cleared, and there is a feeling of relief. But I fail again to discern clearly the connexion between the symbolism and the lesson about the superior man's administration of affairs.

Line Statements (Attributed to the Duke of Kau)

1. The first NINE, undivided, shows the difficulty (its subject has) in advancing. It will be advantageous for him to abide correct and firm; advantageous (also) to be made a feudal ruler.

[Smaller Symbolism] Although 'there is a difficulty in advancing,' the mind (of the subject of the line) is set on doing what is correct. While noble, he humbles himself to the mean, and grandly gains the people.

[Legge] The first line is undivided, showing the strength of its subject. He will be capable of action, and his place in the trigram of mobility will the more dispose him to it. But above him is the trigram of peril; and the lowest line of that, to which especially he must look for response and co-operation, is divided and weak. Hence arise the ideas of difficulty in advancing, the necessity of caution, and the advantage of his being clothed with authority. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of the first line of the Smaller Symbolism is represented by the undivided line, and therefore is firm and correct. He is noble, but his place is below the divided lines, symbols of the weak and mean [see Appendix 4, Par. 1].

2. The second SIX, divided, shows (its subject) distressed and obliged to return; (even) the horses of her chariot (also) seem to be retreating. (But) not by a spoiler (is she assailed), but by one who seeks her to be his wife. The young lady maintains her firm correctness, and declines a union. After ten years she will be united, and have children.

[Smaller Symbolism] The difficulty (to the subject of) the second six, (divided), arises from, its place over the undivided line below it. 'The union and children after ten years' shows things resuming their regular course.

[Legge] To the subject of the second line, divided, advance is still more difficult. He is weak in himself; he is pressed by the subject of the strong line below him. But happily that subject, though strong, is correct; and above in the fifth line, in the place of authority, is the strong one, union with whom and the service of whom should be the objects pursued. All these circumstances suggested to the duke of Kau the idea of a young lady, sought in marriage by a strong wooer, when marriage was unsuitable, rejecting him, and finally, after ten years, marrying a more suitable, the only suitable, match for her. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] 'Things resume their regular course:'—the subject is now at liberty to seek a union with the subject of line 5, according to the rules of the symbolism. Lines 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6, the corresponding lilies of the trigrams, are correlates.

3. The third SIX, divided, shows one following the deer without (the guidance of) the forester, and only finding himself in the midst of the forest. The superior man, acquainted with the secret risks, thinks it better to give up the chase. If he went forward, he would regret it.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'One pursues the deer without the (guidance of the) forester:'—(he does so) in (his eagerness to) follow the game. 'The superior man gives up the chase, (knowing that) if he go forward he will regret it:'—he would be reduced to extremity.

[Legge] The third line is divided, not central, and the number of its place is appropriate to the occupancy of a strong line. All these things should affect the symbolism of the line. But the outcome of the whole hexagram being good, the superior man sees the immediate danger and avoids it.

4. The fourth SIX, divided, shows (its subject as a lady), the horses of whose chariot appear in retreat. She seeks, however, (the help of) him who seeks her to be his wife. Advance will be fortunate; all will turn out advantageously.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'Going forward after such a search (for a helper)' shows intelligence.

[Legge] The subject of the fourth line, the first of the upper trigram, has recourse to the strong suitor of line 1, the first of the lower trigram; and with his help is able to cope with the difficulties of the position, and go forward. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of line 4 naturally recurs to the correlate in line 1. He is the natural helper in the case, and he has the ability.

5. The fifth NINE, undivided, shows the difficulties in the way of (its subject's) dispensing the rich favours that might be expected from him. With firmness and correctness there will be good fortune in small things; (even) with them in great things there will be evil.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'Difficulty is experienced (by the subject of the fifth line) in bestowing his rich favours:'—the extent to which they reach will not yet be conspicuous.

[Legge] The subject of the fifth line is in the place of authority, and should show himself a ruler, dispensing benefits on a great scale. But he is in the very centre of the trigram denoting perilousness, and line 2, which responds to 5, is weak. Hence arises the symbolism, and great things should not be attempted.

6. The topmost SIX, divided, shows (its subject) with the horses of his chariot obliged to retreat, and weeping tears of blood in streams.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He weeps tears of blood in streams:'—how can the state (thus emblemed) continue long?

[Legge] The sixth line is weak; the third responding to it is also weak it is at the extremity of peril; the game is up. What can remain for its subject in such a case but terror and abject weeping?

Previous / Contents / Next


Return to Home Page

Send comments to

Editorial features of this edition © 2012 by Joseph F. Morales