The Book of Changes

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K'un / Oppression (Exhaustion)

The lake is above, water below; the lake is empty, dried up.
Exhaustion is expressed in yet another way: at the top, a dark
line is holding down two light lines; below, a light line is
hemmed in between two dark ones. The upper trigram
belongs to the principle of darkness, the lower to the
principle of light. Thus everywhere superior men are
oppressed and held in restraint by inferior men.


OPPRESSION. Success. Perseverance.
The great man brings about good fortune.
No blame.
When one has something to say,
It is not believed.

Times of adversity are the reverse of times of success, but they can lead
to success if they befall the right man. When a strong man meets with
adversity, he remains cheerful despite all danger, and this cheerfulness is
the source of later successes; it is that stability which is stronger than
fate. He who lets his spirit be broken by exhaustion certainly has no

But if adversity only bends a man, it creates in him a power to
react that is bound in time to manifest itself. No inferior man is capable
of this. Only the great man brings about good fortune and remains
blameless. It is true that for the time being outward influence is denied
him, because his words have no effect. Therefore in times of adversity it
is important to be strong within and sparing of words.

Good fortune means here to avoid the blame. One knows that this is a
time of impasse and that success will come if one stays firmly in a
positive attitude. The energy than can't be used in the outer world must
be canalized to cultivate the inner being.

Words are useless to ease the oppression; instead they would make
the situation worse.


There is not water in the lake:
The image of EXHAUSTION.
Thus the superior man stakes his life
On following his will.

When the water has flowed out below, the lake must dry up and become
exhausted. That is fate. This symbolizes an adverse fate in human life. In
such times there is nothing a man can do but acquiesce in his fate and
remain true to himself. This concerns the deepest stratum of his being,
for this alone is superior to all external fate.

The Oppression implies trial time. The real danger is to lose oneself, to
collapse under the pressure. Thus the superior man is ready to sacrifice
the material things in pursuit of his purpose.

The commentary on the appended phrases states that oppression is the
test of character.


Six at the beginning means:

One sits oppressed under a bare tree
And strays into a gloomy valley.
For three years one sees nothing.

When adversity befalls a man, it is important above all things for him to
be strong and to overcome the trouble inwardly. If he is weak, the trouble
overwhelms him. Instead of proceeding on his way, he remains sitting
under a bare tree and falls ever more deeply into gloom and melancholy.
This makes the situation only more and more hopeless. Such an attitude
comes from an inner delusion that he must by all means overcome.

This means that the effect of the state of oppression is a deterioration of
the will that drives towards the carelessness and the lack of forces to
continue ahead. To sit down on a bare tree means to feel overwhelmed,
depressed, not to want to continue.

The bare tree is symbol of what no longer flourishes; to sit down
oppressed on it means a depressive state. To arrive to a gloomy valley
means that, with that defeating attitude, there is not exit. For that reason
during three years it is not possible to see with clarity. This means a
long period of emotional uncertainty.

Nine in the second place means:

One is oppressed while at meat and drink.
The man with the scarlet knee bands is just coming.
It furthers one to offer sacrifice.
To set forth brings misfortune.
No blame.

This pictures a state of inner oppression. Externally, all is well, one has
meat and drink. But one is exhausted by the commonplaces of life, and
there seems to be no way of escape. Then help comes from a high place.
A prince --in ancient China princes wore scarlet knee bands-- is in
search of able helpers. But there are still obstructions to be overcome.
Therefore it is important to meet these obstructions in the visible realm
by offerings and prayer. To set forth without being prepared would be
disastrous, though not morally wrong. Here a disagreeable situation must
be overcome by patience of spirit.

To be oppressed among food and wine means internal problems, an
isolation state. The food and the wine represent a suitable social
position. The man with the scarlet knee bands is a prince, a person with
authority who has an internal link and thus is offering an opportunity to
carry out something for improving the situation of the common folks.

To offer sacrifices means to use the own wealth to help others, but one
must await the command of the prince to do it. If one willingly sets forth
there will be misfortune.

Six in the third place means:

A man permits himself to be oppressed by stone,
And leans on thorns and thistles.
He enters the house and does not see his wife.

This shows a man who is restless and indecisive in times of adversity. At
first he wants to push ahead, then he encounters obstructions that, it is
true, mean oppression only when recklessly dealt with. He butts his head
against a wall and in consequence feels himself oppressed by the wall.
Then he leans on things that have in themselves no stability and that are
merely a hazard for him who leans on them. Thereupon he turns back
irresolutely and retires into his house, only to find, as a fresh
disappointment, that his wife is not there. Confucius says about this line:

If a man permits himself to be oppressed by something that ought
not to oppress him, his name will certainly be disgraced. If he
leans on things upon which one cannot lean, his life will
certainly be endangered. For him who is in disgrace and danger,
the hour of death draws near; how can he then still see his wife?

To be oppressed by stone means an improper search of support that is
hardly stopped by reality. To lean on thorns and thistles may mean
wandering life, because to lean on thorns gives the idea of going for
unsuitable roads. Consistently with this he does not find his wife. The
main theme here is the despaired search of a suitable partner. He is a
weak person searching for a protector, but he is alone and only
misfortune will come.

Nine in the fourth place means:

He comes very quietly, oppressed in a golden carriage.
Humiliation, but the end is reached.

A well-to-do man sees the need of the lower classes and would like very
much to be of help. But instead of proceeding with speed and energy
where there is need, he begins in a hesitant and measured way. Then he
encounters obstructions. Powerful and wealthy acquaintances draw him
into their circle; he has to do as they do and cannot withdraw from them.
Hence he finds himself in great embarrassment. But the trouble is
transitory. The original strength of his nature offsets the mistake he has
made, and the goal is reached.

Coming very quietly is because of the movement that is hindered by
someone. One has a wealthy position but its character is a little weak
and irresolute. He wants to help his friend (symbolized by the first line),
who is in despaired situation, but fears to arouse the animosity of
powerful forces (the second yang line).

Finally he achieves his wish, without battle, but with some humiliation.

Nine in the fifth place means:

His nose and feet are cut off.
Oppression at the hands of the man with the purple knee bands.
Joy comes softly.
It furthers one to make offerings and libations.

An individual who has the good of mankind at heart is oppressed from
above and below (this is the meaning of the cutting off of the nose and
feet). He finds no help among the people whose duty it would be to aid in
the work of rescue (ministers wore purple knee bands). But little by
little, things take a turn for the better. Until that time, he should turn to
God, firm in his inner composure, and pray and offer sacrifice for the
general well-being.

The cut feet mean his movement capacity has been reduced. The cut
nose means that his fine sensibility is blot. To have the feet and nose
cut means that his action capacity is limited. This supposes a difficult
situation that goes beyond oneself that exceeds the own will and the
own forces. To be oppressed by the man with the purple knee bands
means to feel the effects of a superior power. All this implies an
oppression cycle that should be completed naturally.

It furthers to make offerings and libations, pointing to the importance of
maintaining the spiritual aspect intact because it is the only way to
avoid decaying and staying clever.

Six at the top means:

He is oppressed by creeping vines.
He moves uncertainly and says, "Movement brings remorse."
If one feels remorse over this and makes a start,
Good fortune comes.

A man is oppressed by bonds that can easily be broken. The distress is
drawing to an end. But he is still irresolute; he is still influenced by the
previous condition and fears that he may have cause for regret if he
makes a move. But as soon as he grasps the situation, changes this
mental attitude, and makes a firm decision, he masters the oppression.

The oppression has ended, although in fact it remains on the mind of a
person. This refers to ideas that tie one to the past. So he says:
"Movement brings remorse".

This means fear to change, fear to undertake a new path. However, the
key is to be conscious that the oppression is gone and that it is not
worthwhile to lose more time worrying about. For that reason, to regret
old errors will provide him a fortunate advance.