Previous / Contents / Next

12. Phi [Distress, Obstruction]


Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

In Phi there is the want of good understanding between the (different classes of) men, and its indication is unfavourable to the firm and correct course of the superior man. We see in it the great gone and the little come.

[Legge] The form of Phi, it will be seen, is exactly the opposite of that of Thai. Much of what has been said on the interpretation of that will apply to this, or at least assist the student in making out the meaning of its symbolism. Phi is the hexagram of the seventh month. Genial influences have done their work, the processes of growth are at an end. Henceforth increasing decay must be looked for.

Comments on the Thwan

'The want of good understanding between the (different classes of) men in Phi, and its indication as unfavourable to the firm and correct course of the superior man; with the intimation that the great are gone and the little come:'—all this springs from the fact that in it heaven and earth are not in communication with each other, and all things in consequence do not have free course; and that the high and the low (superiors and inferiors) are not in communication with one another, and there are no (well-regulated) states under the sky. The inner (trigram) is made up of the weak and divided lines, and the outer of the strong and undivided: the inner is (the symbol of) weakness, and the outer of strength; the inner (represents) the small man, and the outer the superior man. Thus the way of the small man appears increasing, and that of the superior man decreasing.

[Legge] All the symbolism here springs from the trigram Khwan occupying in the figure the inner or lower place, and Khien the outer or upper. It is for the inner trigram to take the initiative; but how can earth (symbolised by Khwan) take the place of heaven (symbolised by Khien)? As in nature it is heaven that originates and not earth, so in a state the upper classes must take the initiative, and not the lower.

Great Symbolism

(The trigrams of) heaven and earth, not in intercommunication, form Phi. The superior man, in accordance with this, restrains (the manifestation) of) his virtue, and avoids the calamities (that threaten him). There is no opportunity of conferring on him the glory of emolument.

[Legge] 'The Great Symbolism' here is sufficiently explained in the ['Comments on the Thwan,' above]. The application, however, is here again difficult, though we may try to find in it a particular instance of the interruption of communication,—in great merit not meeting with its reward.

Line Statements (Attributed to the Duke of Kau)

1. The first SIX, divided, suggests the idea of grass pulled up, and bringing with it other stalks with whose roots it is connected. With firm correctness (on the part of its subject), there will be good fortune and progress.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The good fortune through firm goodness, (suggested by) the pulling up of the grass,' arises from the will (of the parties intended) being bent on (serving) the ruler.

[Legge] Naturally we should expect the advance of the subject of the first of the three weak lines to lead to evil; but if he set himself to be firm and correct, he will bring about a different issue. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of the first line is one of the cluster of small men who are able to change their mind, and set their hearts to love their ruler.

2. The second SIX, divided, shows its subject patient and obedient. To the small man (comporting himself so) there will be good fortune. If the great man (comport himself) as the distress and obstruction require, he will have success.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The great man, comporting himself as the distress and obstruction require, will have success:—'he does not allow himself to be disordered by the herd (of small men).

[Legge] Patience and obedience are proper for the small man in all circumstances. If the great man in difficulty yet cherish these attributes, he will soon have a happy issue out of the distress. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of the second line is a 'great man,' and occupies the place in the centre.

3. The third SIX, divided, shows its subject ashamed of the purpose folded (in his breast).

[Smaller Symbolism] That 'his shame is folded in his breast' is owing to the inappropriateness of his position.

[Legge] The third line is weak. Its place is odd, and therefore for it incorrect. Its subject would vent his evil purpose, but has not strength to do so. He is left therefore to the shame which he ought to feel without a word of warning. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of the third line is weak, and does not occupy his correct position;—hence the symbolism.

4. The fourth NINE, undivided, shows its subject acting in accordance with the ordination (of Heaven), and committing no error. His companions will come and share in his happiness.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He acts in accordance with the ordination (of Heaven), and commits no error:'—the purpose of his mind can be carried into effect.

[Legge] Does the ming of the fourth line mean 'the ordination of Heaven,' as Ku Hsi thinks; or the orders of the ruler, as Khang-zze says? Whichever interpretation be taken (and some critics unite the two), the action of the subject of the line, whose strength is tempered by the even position, will be good and correct, and issue in success and happiness. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The fourth line is near the fifth, the ruler's place. It is a strong line in an even place; but acting according to the will of Heaven or of the ruler, its subject gets his purpose carried out.

5. In the fifth NINE, undivided, we see him who brings the distress and obstruction to a close,—the great man and fortunate. (But let him say), 'We may perish! We may perish!' (so shall the state of things become firm, as if) bound to a clump of bushy mulberry trees.

[Smaller Symbolism] The good fortune of the great man' arises from the correctness of his position.

[Legge] The strong line in the fifth, (its correct), place, brings the distress and obstruction to a close. Yet its subject—the ruler in the hexagram—is warned to continue to be cautious in two lines of rhyme:—

'And let him say, "I die! I die !"
So to a bushy clump his fortune he shall tie.'

[Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of the fifth line is the great man, the ruler in his right place. Hence he is successful, and in the last line, we see how the distress and obstruction are come to an end. It was in the order of change that they should do so.

6. The sixth NINE, undivided, shows the overthrow (and removal of) the condition of distress and obstruction. Before this there was that condition. Hereafter there will be joy.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The distress and obstruction having reached its end, it is overthrown and removed:'—how could it be prolonged?

[Legge] There is an end of the condition of distress. It was necessary, that condition should give place to its opposite; and the strong line in the topmost place fitly represents the consequent joy.

Previous / Contents / Next


Return to Home Page

Send comments to

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