29. K’an / The Abysmal (Water)

This hexagram consists of a doubling of the trigram K’an. It is one of the
eight hexagrams in which doubling occurs. The trigram K’an means a
plunging in. A yang line has plunged in between two yin lines and is closed
in by them like water in a ravine. The trigram K’an is also the middle son.
The Receptive has obtained the middle line of the Creative, and thus K’an
develops. As an image it represents water, the water that comes from above
and is in motion on earth in streams and rivers, giving rise to all life on

In man’s world K’an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the
body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark—that is, reason. The name of
the hexagram, because the trigram is doubled, has the additional meaning,
“repetition of danger.” Thus the hexagram is intended to designate an
objective situation to which one must become accustomed, not a subjective
attitude. For danger due to a subjective attitude means either foolhardiness
or guile. Hence too a ravine is used to symbolize danger; it is a situation in
which a man is in the same pass as the water in a ravine, and, like the water,
he can escape if he behaves correctly.


The Abysmal repeated.
If you are sincere, you have success in your heart,
And whatever you do succeeds.

Through repetition of danger we grow accustomed to it. Water sets the
example for the right conduct under such circumstances. It flows on and on,
and merely fills up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink
from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose
its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions. Thus
likewise, if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties, the heart can
penetrate the meaning of the situation. And once we have gained inner
mastery of a problem, it will come about naturally that the action we take will
succeed. In danger all that counts is really carrying out all that has to be done-
-thoroughness—and going forward, in order not to perish through tarrying in
the danger.

Properly used, danger can have an important meaning as a protective
measure. Thus heaven has its perilous height protecting it against every
attempt at invasion, and earth has its mountains and bodies of water,
separating countries by their dangers. Thus also rulers make use of danger to
protect themselves against attacks from without and against turmoil within.


Water flows on uninterruptedly and reaches its foal:
The image of the Abysmal repeated.
Thus the superior man walks in lasting virtue
And carries on the business of teaching.

Water reaches its goal by flowing continually. It fills up every depression
before it flows on. The superior man follows its example; he is concerned
that goodness should be an established attribute of character rather than an
accidental and isolated occurrence. So likewise in teaching others everything
depends on consistency, for it is only through repetition that the pupil makes
the material his own.


Six at the beginning means:
Repetition of the Abysmal.
In the abyss one falls into a pit.

By growing used to what is dangerous, a man can easily allow it to become
part of him. He is familiar with it and grows used to evil. With this he has
lost the right way, and misfortune is the natural result.

Nine in the second place means:
The abyss is dangerous.
One should strive to attain small things only.

When we are in danger we ought not to attempt to get out of it immediately,
regardless of circumstances; at first we must content ourselves with not being
overcome by it. We must calmly weigh the conditions of the time and by
satisfied with small gains, because for the time being a great success cannot be
attained. A spring flows only sparingly at first, and tarries for some time
before it makes its way in to the open.

Six in the third place means:
Forward and backward, abyss on abyss.
In danger like this, pause at first and wait,
Otherwise you will fall into a pit in the abyss.
Do not act this way.

Here every step, forward or backward, leads into danger. Escape is out of the
question. Therefore we must not be misled into action, as a result of which
we should only bog down deeper in the danger; disagreeable as it may be to
remain in such a situation, we must wait until a way out shows itself.

Six in the fourth place means:
A jug of wine, a bowl of rice with it;
Earthen vessels
Simply handed in through the Window.
There is certainly no blame in this.

In times of danger ceremonious forms are dropped. What matters most is
sincerity. Although as a rule it is customary for an official to present certain
introductory gifts and recommendations before he is appointed, here
everything is simplified to the utmost. The gifts are insignificant, there is no
one to sponsor him, he introduces himself; yet all this need not be
humiliating if only there is the honest intention of mutual help in danger.
Still another idea is suggested. The window is the place through which light
enters the room. If in difficult times we want to enlighten someone, we must
begin with that which is in itself lucid and proceed quite simply from that
point on.

Nine in the fifth place means:
The abyss is not filled to overflowing,
It is filled only to the rim.
No blame.

Danger comes because one is too ambitious. In order to flow out of a ravine,
water does not rise higher than the lowest point of the rim. So likewise a
man when in danger has only to proceed along the line of least resistance;
thus he reaches the goal. Great labors cannot be accomplished in such times; it
is enough to get out of the danger.

Six at the top means:
Bound with cords and ropes,
Shut in between thorn-hedged prison walls:
For three years one does not find the way.

A man who in the extremity of danger has lost the right way and is
irremediably entangled in his sins has no prospect of escape. He is like a
criminal who sits shackled behind thorn hedged prison walls.