The Book of Changes

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K'an / The Abysmal (Water) Darkness


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

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 earth.

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.

Double abyss means maximum caution; for that reason, to accept that one is facing a double abyss
implies a state of conscience that allows to notice the risk without throwing into it.

To ride this time, the hardness and strength must be an interior quality, but the external actions only can
be successful if showing obedience and compliance as the flowing water does.


Water flows on uninterruptedly and reaches its goal:
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.

The water that, flowing unceasingly, fills all depressions represents the experience that goes forth,
adapting the actions to the circumstances.

The depressions means the situations that are presented, it is the reality which it is necessary to face
and to overcome.

The mass of water flowing means knowledge, expansion of the intelligence, for that reason, fills all
depressions, that is to say, dissipates all ignorance. That is why the superior man contemplates the
water behavior and he practices the work of teaching, that is to say, the capable man accumulates
knowledge and, with his experience, he shows the correct actions.


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.

To fall in the hole of the abyss means vertigo that attracts and that finally catches one. This gives the
idea of fascination, of losing points of reference. The abyss also represents the marginal world; then, to
fall in the hole means to become part of the underground world.

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.

Here reference is made to the little thing that can make a person when he is caught in a situation of
danger and darkness. Somebody that is immersed in an abyss symbolizes this. In such circumstance,
one cannot seek to leave in a fast way; instead it is necessary to make gradual achievements for
improving gradually the unfavorable situation.

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.

Here reference is made to an extremely delicate situation in which any action would increase it, with the
result that each movement that is carried out inside the abyss gets closer even more towards the risk. To
stop implies to relax and wait. To stop means also to be disconnected.

Six in the fourth place means:

A jug of wine, a bowl of rice(1) 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.

<$Here reference is made to the authenticity that should prevail in difficult times. The jug of wine and the
bowl of rice give the idea of non-ostentation, of adaptation to the circumstances. To prepare an austere
meal, means to make what corresponds, and this way there won't be mistakes, because it will be in
agreement with reality. To prepare an austere meal means to continue in spite of everything, and also
means to have to be restricted.

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.

This means great capacity to support the adversity, the danger, therefore it is still possible the exit. The
water that is not enough to flood the abyss means also that the situation is not as serious as it seems.

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.

To be bounded means to be immobilized. To be confined among thorny walls means that any movement
will cause an aggressive answer. It also means hostile environment, punishment. Also, all this
symbolizes that there is not exit, with the result that for three years he will not learn the correct direction.

Such a negative attitude, which does not accept reality and law, is what causes misfortune.

(1) The usual translation, "two bowls of rice," has been corrected on the basis of Chinese commentaries.