Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Hexagram 9: Small Taming

(A good friend who received Hexagram 9 in response to a profound personal reading, as part of the image of her self, asked me how I saw it. So here are some pictures of Small Taming.)

The key concept for hexagram 9 and hexagram 26 is chu, ‘Taming’ or ‘Accumulating’. The old forms of the Chinese character show the silk field, or the mysterious darkness of the field. A very pervasive old meaning for it is livestock, and rearing animals.

One cluster of meanings for chu talks of fostering growth: nurturing, accumulating, rearing, cherishing, storing. Another talks of control: restraining, checking, domesticating. (And in practice, Hexagram 9 can predict a small, temporary setback.) The easiest way to hold all these concepts together in mind is by thinking of the farmer, who both nurtures growth and works to bring the forces of nature under his control.

Hexagram 9 speaks of Small Taming: doing the farmer’s work with small resources and a strategy of ‘smallness’. That is, not with overt mastery and control, not harnessing all available power to move towards a greater objective (unlike Hexagram 26, Great Taming, that finds good results in crossing the great river). The small farmer stays on the land and responds to the needs of the moment: this is more like subsistence farming than agribusiness.

It reminds me of Candide’s conclusion at the end of Voltaire’s philosophical satire. After a great many adventures, in which he’s exposed to the worst of both nature and human nature, Candide has lost interest in his mentor’s idealistic view that ‘everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’ His response to the philosopher’s argument and discourse becomes, ‘Well said – but we must cultivate our garden.’ This isn’t far from the spirit of hexagram 9.

Small Taming follows very naturally from Hexagram 8, Seeking Union. Once the demons are conquered, a whole new world opens up where we can freely choose our alliance and our place. And this ‘naturally means there is occasion to tame things’ – or ‘a place to farm’. As soon as the pioneer has staked his claim, he has to go out every morning to work his plot of land. My great-aunt and uncle would have understood this: I remember from my childhood, how she would ask him about the evening meal, and he would tell her what was in the garden. If there are a few winter parsnips left and a head of cabbage, then you’re not having sweetcorn.

‘Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from my Western altars.’

Naturally, the small farmer is out watching the sky, and as he sees the clouds gather without raining, he knows things are not quite in place yet for success. That’s one of the biggest divinatory experiences of hexagram 9, the feeling of ‘not quite yet’.

The clouds might be coming from the Western altar just because that was where you’d made offerings for rain. But this is also an allusion to the rising power of the Zhou people, whose lands were to the West, and who would eventually be able to take on the corrupt Shang dynasty and replace them. This is a time when their power is gathering, but it’s not yet time to act.

The Zhou leader, Wen, didn’t simply decide to overthrow the Shang, receive a heavenly mandate to do so, and mobilise his armies for ‘Operation Dynastic Change’. For years, he was in no position to do anything of the kind. The Zagua (the ‘contrasting hexagrams’, one of the Wings) says that Hexagram 9 means ‘few’, and Richard Rutt in his Zhouyi translates this as having ‘no backing’. The Zhou underwent a long period of ‘cultivation’, with Wen refining and ordering his kingdom such that good people were naturally drawn there. This wouldn’t happen through focus on a grand goal ‘out there’, but through ongoing, conscientious attention to every detail.

‘Wind moves above heaven. Small taming.
A noble one cultivates the natural pattern of character.’

The influence of the wind is not yet felt on the ground: no rain yet. But the wind is also naturally shaping itself to the character of heaven, following its laws, so that in time there will be rain. Wen (the word ‘pattern’ here is his name) shaped his people to heaven, and eventually its mandate would fit them. The farmer cultivates his land so that when the rain falls, it won’t be wasted; the recipient of this hexagram cultivates herself to become fertile terrain for the seeds of possibility.

The next step will be Treading close behind the tiger – deliberately moving closer to a dangerous power in order to connect with its spiritual potency. Then there will be no time to rest or cultivate any gardens.

6 Responses to “Hexagram 9: Small Taming”

  1. zjs Says:

    nice explanation.

  2. Paul Haptulap Says:

    Very Good explanation – Thank you Very Much

  3. pg Says:

    The small one is playing games with the big ones or engaged in a battle of wits rather than a contest of force.( Tuck Chang )
    An idea reinforced by H10 treading on the tail of a tiger.

  4. Hilary Says:

    I wouldn’t see it as a battle or contest – more of a dance, learning to adapt and create a relationship with something very, very big that does not swerve from its own course. (You can read the ‘story’ through the trigrams, from hexagram 9 through 14, of learning ways of relating to Heaven.)

  5. Reemence Says:

    A very interesting and clear essay on this Gua. Thank you.

  6. MariaAnna Says:

    I wonder how did the life turn out for your friend?? And how did she tackle the “treading on the tail of tiger”?

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