21. The empty heart

The greatest power is the gift
of following the Way alone.
How the Way does things
is hard to grasp, elusive.
Elusive, yes, hard to grasp,
yet there are thoughts in it.
Hard to grasp, yes, elusive,
yet there are things in it.
Hard to make out, yes, and obscure,
yet there is spirit in it,
veritable spirit.
There is certainty in it.
From long, long ago till now
it has kept its name.
So it saw
the beginning of everything.

How do I know
anything about the beginning?
By this.

Source: Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published on June 19, 2023 at 6:00 by

Standstill > Retreat

12. P’i / Standstill [Stagnation]

above CH’IEN THE CREATIVE, HEAVEN
below K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH

This hexagram is the opposite of the preceding one. Heaven is above, drawing farther and farther away, while the earth below sinks farther into the depths. The creative powers are not in relation. It is a time of standstill and decline. This hexagram is linked with the seventh month (August-September), when the year has passed its zenith and autumnal decay is setting in.

THE JUDGMENT

STANDSTILL. Evil people do not further
The perseverance of the superior man.
The great departs; the small approaches.

Heaven and earth are out of communion and all things are benumbed. What is above has no relation to what is below, and on earth confusion and disorder prevail. The dark power is within, the light power is without. Weakness is within, harshness without. Within are the inferior, and without are the superior. The way of inferior people is in ascent; the way of superior people is one the decline. But the superior people do not allow
themselves to be turned from their principles. If the possibility of exerting influence is closed to them, they nevertheless remain faithful to their principles and withdraw into seclusion.

THE IMAGE

Heaven and earth do not unite:
The image of STANDSTILL.
Thus the superior man falls back upon his inner worth
In order to escape the difficulties.
He does not permit himself to be honored with revenue.

When, owing to the influence of inferior men, mutual mistrust prevails in public life, fruitful activity is rendered impossible, because the fundaments are wrong. Therefore the superior man knows what he must do under such circumstances; he does not allow himself to be tempted by dazzling offers to take part in public activities. This would only expose him to danger, since he cannot assent to the meanness of the others. He therefore hides his worth and withdraws into seclusion.

Six in the third place means:
They bear shame.

Inferior people who have risen to power illegitimately do not feel equal to the responsibility they have taken upon themselves. In their hearts they begin to be ashamed, although at first they do not show it outwardly. This marks a turn for the better.

33. TUN / Retreat

above CH’IEN THE CREATIVE, HEAVEN
below KêN KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN

The power of the dark is ascending. The light retreats to security, so that the dark cannot encroach upon it. This retreat is a matter not of man’s will but of natural law. Therefore in this case withdrawal is proper; it is the correct way to behave in order not to exhaust one’s forces.
In the calendar this hexagram is linked with the sixth month (July-August), in which the forces of winter are already showing their influence.

THE JUDGMENT

RETREAT. Success.
In what is small, perseverance furthers.

Conditions are such that the hostile forces favored by the time are advancing. In this case retreat is the right course, and it is not to be confused with flight. Flight means saving oneself under any circumstances, whereas retreat is a sign of strength. We must be careful not to miss the right moment while we are in full possession of power and position. Then we shall be able to interpret the signs of the time before it is too late and to prepare for provisional retreat instead of being drawn into a desperate life-and-death struggle. Thus we do not simple abandon the field to the opponent; we make it difficult for him to advance by showing perseverance in single acts of resistance. In this way we prepare, while retreating, for the counter-movement. Understanding the laws of a constructive retreat of this sort is not easy. The meaning that lies hidden in such a time is important.

THE IMAGE

Mountain under heaven: the image of RETREAT.
Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance,
Not angrily but with reserve.

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.

Published on June 12, 2023 at 6:00 by