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15. Khien [Humility]


Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

Khien indicates progress and success. The superior man, (being humble as it implies), will have a (good) issue (to his undertakings).

[Legge] An essay on humility rightly follows that on abundant possessions. The third line, which is a whole line amid five others divided, occupying the topmost place in the lower trigram, is held by the Khang-hsi editors and many others to be 'the lord of the hexagram,' the representative of humility, strong, but abasing itself. There is nothing here in the text to make us enter farther on the symbolism of the figure. Humility is the way to permanent success.

Comments on the Thwan

1. Khien indicates progress and success. It is the way of heaven to send down its beneficial influences below, where they are brilliantly displayed. It is the way of earth, lying low, to send its influences upwards and (there) to act.

2. It is the way of heaven to diminish the full and augment the humble. It is the way of earth to overthrow the full and replenish the humble. Spiritual Beings inflict calamity on the full and bless the humble. It is the way of men to hate the full and love the humble. Humility in a position of honour makes that still more brilliant; and in a low position men will not (seek to) pass beyond it. Thus it is that 'the superior man will have a (good) issue (to his undertakings).'

[Legge] The Thwan on this hexagram was so brief, that the writer here deals generally with the subject of humility, showing how it is valued by heaven and earth, by spirits and by men. The descent of the heavenly influences, and the low position of the earth in paragraph 1, are both emblematic of humility. The heavenly influences have their 'display' in the beauty and fertility of the earth.

The way of heaven is seen, e.g. in the daily declining of the sun, and the waning of the moon after it is full; the way of earth in the fall of the year. On the meaning of 'Spiritual Beings (Kwei Shan),' see the Introduction, [Chapter 3, Par 4.10-4.11]. It is difficult to say what idea the writer attached to the name. What he says of man's appreciation of humility is striking, and, I believe, correct.

Great Symbolism

(The trigram for) the earth and (that of) a mountain in the midst of it form Khien. The superior man, in accordance with this, diminishes what is excessive (in himself), and increases where there is any defect, bringing about an equality, according to the nature of the case, in his treatment (of himself and others).

[Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The earth is low, and in the midst of it is a high mountain; but I fail to see how this can symbolise humility. Nor does Regis' representation of it much improve the case:—'Monte' (ait glossa) 'nihil est altius in terra, quae est summe abjecta. At cum is declivis sit, imago esse potest humilis modestiae.' I find the following note on the paragraph in my copy of the 'Daily Lessons' (see Preface):—'The five yin lines above and below symbolise the earth; the one yang line in the centre is "the mountain in the midst of the earth." The many yin lines represent men's desires; the one yang line, heavenly principle. The superior man, looking at this symbolism, diminishes the multitude of human desires within him, and increases the single shoot of heavenly principle; so does he become grandly just, and can deal with all things evenly according to the nature of each. In whatever circumstances or place he is, he will do what is right.' This is certainly very ingenious, but one shrinks from accepting a view that is not based on the component trigrams.

Line Statements

1. The first SIX, divided, shows us the superior man who adds humility to humility. (Even) the great stream may be crossed with this, and there will be good fortune.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The superior man who adds humility to humility' is one who nourishes his (virtue) in lowliness.

[Legge] A weak line, at the lowest place of the figure, is the fitting symbol of the superior man adding humility to humility. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Under line 1, 'nourishes his (virtue)' is, literally, 'pastures himself.' He is all humility. That makes him what he is.

2. The second SIX, divided, shows us humility that has made itself recognised. With firm correctness there will be good fortune.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The good fortune consequent on being firm and correct, where the humility has made itself recognised, is owing to the possessor's having (the virtue) in the core of his heart.

[Legge] Line 2 is weak, central, and in its proper place, representing a humility that has 'crowed;' that is, has proclaimed itself. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Under line 4, 'the (proper) rule' is the rule proper for the subject of the line in his circumstances so near the place of the ruler.

3. The third NINE, undivided, shows the superior man of (acknowledged) merit. He will maintain his success to the end, and have good fortune.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The superior man of (acknowledged) merit, and yet humble:'—the myriads of the people will submit to him.

[Legge] Line 3 is strong, and occupies an odd (its proper) place. It is 'the lord of the hexagram,' to whom all represented by the lines above and below turn.

[Great Appendix, Section 1] 45. 'A superior man toiling laboriously and yet humble! He will bring things to an end, and with good fortune.' The Master said on this:—'He toils with success, but does not boast of it; he achieves merit, but takes no virtue to himself from it;—this is the height of generous goodness, and speaks of the man who with (great) merit yet places himself below others. He wishes his virtue to be more and more complete, and in his intercourse with others to be more and more respectful;—he who is so humble, carrying his respectfulness to the utmost, will be able to preserve himself in his position.'

4. The fourth SIX, divided, shows one, whose action would be in every way advantageous, stirring up (the more) his humility.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'One, whose action would be in every way advantageous, stirs up his humility the more:'(but in doing so) he does not act contrary to the (proper) rule.

[Legge] Line 4 is weak and in its proper position. Its subject is sure to be successful and prosperous, but being so near the fifth line, he should still use the greatest precaution.

5. The fifth SIX, divided, shows one who, without being rich, is able to employ his neighbours. He may advantageously use the force of arms. All his movements will be advantageous.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He may advantageously use the force of arms:'—correcting, that is, those who do not submit.

[Legge] All men love and honour humility, in itself and without the adjuncts which usually command obedience and respect. Hence his neighbours follow the ruler in the fifth line, though he may not be very rich or powerful. His humility need not keep him from asserting the right, even by force of arms. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Under line 5, 'the refusal to submit' makes an appeal to force necessary. Even the best and humblest ruler bears the sword, and must not bear it in vain.

6. The sixth SIX, divided, shows us humility that has made itself recognised. The subject of it will with advantage put his hosts in motion; but (he will only) punish his own towns and state.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'His humility has made itself recognised:'—(but) all his aims have not yet been attained. He may employ the force of arms, (but only) in correcting (his own) towns and state.'

[Legge] The subject of the sixth line, which is weak, is outside the game, so to speak, that has been played out. He will use force, but only within his own sphere and to assert what is right. He will not be aggressive. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Ku Hsi bases all that is said under line 6 on its being a weak line; so that the humble ruler is unable even at the close of the action described in the figure to accomplish all his objects, and must limit his field even in appealing to arms.

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