Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Casting the vessel… of state?

I’ve written very excited posts before about the pattern of complementary hexagrams in the Sequence of the Yijing. Quick recap: to find a hexagram’s complement, you change all 6 of its lines. Thus the complement of hexagram 1 is hexagram 2 -

||||||        ::::::

and the complement of Hexagram 3, Sprouting is Hexagram 50, the Vessel:

|:::|:        :|||:|

- and this is where it gets exciting, as…

  1. every hexagram between 3 and 50 finds its complement within that space, too. So it’s almost as if the Vessel and its complement were… a Vessel, in the Sequence, for containing hexagrams.
  2. if you imagine 3 and 50 as the mould to cast the vessel, and start looking at the ‘layers’ of the casting inside the mould – 5 and 6 on one side, 47 and 48 on the other, and so on all the way ‘in’, you find some lovely patterns: correlations in both shape and meaning of the hexagrams sited opposite one another.
  3. at the mid-point of this (when you’ve matched up 5/6 with 48/47, 7/8 with 46/45, and so on), you find the two sequences meet between 25-26 and 28-27. 28-27 look like (among other things) a mould and the contents poured into it.

So anyway… this is great fun to play with, and I’m barely beginning. (For instance, there must be something distinctive and unifying about the hexagrams that aren’t in the Vessel, don’t you think?) Today I’m just adding another idea to the mix: state building.

The Zhou people, when they established their rule, created a substantial sphere of influence by setting up feudal lords. Some were relatives, some were local leaders who became allies; all governed their region as representatives of Zhou authority, creating a network of trust through which information and resources could flow.

The hexagram associated with the moment of establishing Zhou rule is 50: the Vessel, embodiment of a state validated by its connection to the spirits through offering.

And hexagram 3…

‘Sprouting.
From the source, creating success, constancy bears fruit.
Don’t use this to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to establish feudal lords.’

…shows a new ruler, not travelling, but expanding his network in all directions like the roots of a seedling.

There’s a great expanse of hexagrams, and a great gulf in experience, between the clear, strong centre and the small one struggling to get a grip in the new soil – and yet they’re also the same pattern, like opposite sides of the same mould.

No other complementary hexagrams are anything like so far apart (the next largest gap is between 5 and 35, then 21 and 48). Maybe this represents the great physical distance between the centre and the states: it was a great achievement to bridge such a distance, creating true echoes of the centre far away at the periphery. (Also, of course, it wasn’t sustainable: the states grew in independence, their bonds to the centre weakened, and in the end the states held the real power.)

So now I’m seeing a second ‘layer’ of meaning in this structure of complements. It shows vessel-casting, the mould and its reverse side – but it also shows state-building.

Here in the West, especially on this small damp island, the natural image for the state is a ship. But in ancient China… perhaps the vessel of state? The state as humanity’s hugest endeavour, its biggest mirror to heaven; the Vessel, the most sophisticated product of the civilisation (just think what it takes – expert knowledge, technology, resources, support – to cast one), and also, in the shared ritual meal, at the heart of its very direct and simple relationship to the spirits. Everything we do (or almost everything – not forgetting 51-64) could be understood within the arc of that great enterprise.

This casts new light on those correlations between hexagrams further into the mould. Hexagrams 5 and 6 stand across from 48-47, and you could surely say that Hexagram 5, waiting and praying for favourable weather, is fulfilling the same basic function as the Well, bringing what the farmer needs. Only the Well is the product of complex collaboration, part of a stable civilisation. It’s just that there are faint echoes between the prayers and dances of 5 and the well-lining work of 48.

Then there’s 8, how we come together, like Yu bringing the beginnings of the first state together after the floods were conquered – sited opposite the grand ceremony of 45, renewing the same covenant, still bringing order out of chaos. (That was what Yu did – and the line texts of 45 are a reminder that bigger gatherings create more opportunities for chaos!) More echoes, I think. Or am I hearing things?

One Response to “Casting the vessel… of state?”

  1. Marriage and Mandate | Answers I Ching blog Says:

    […] speaking of long waits… the longest structural arc of the Yi is the one that casts the Vessel, from 3 to its complementary hexagram, 50, with those intriguing patterns springing across the […]

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