I Ching Hexagram 47 - K'un / Oppression (Exhaustion)

hexagram 47
  • Above Tui the Joyous, Lake
  • Below K'an the abysmal, Water


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 line; 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.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Oppression. Success. Perseverance. The great man brings about good fortune, no blame. When one has something to say it is not believed.

Judgement Commentary

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 success. 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 goof 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.

The Image

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

Image Commentary

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 Lines

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.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 58 - Tui / The Joyous, Lake. This line has problems made worse by self pity. Do not give in to a sense of helplessness. Legge is not so critical merely stating that one is facing a period of adversity "He enters a dark valley, and for three years has no prospect of deliverance" lasting a long time. The outcome is shown in hexagram 58, The Joyous, the long period of trial mentioned above will eventually pass leading to better times.

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.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 45 - Ts'ui / Gathering Together (Massing). This line is dissatisfied with its circumstances. Soon a person in authority will offer a meaningful position so be prepared for the opportunity otherwise the opportunity will be lost with bad consequences. One must wait for this person to arrive, don't try and force the issue. Legge has capable men whose "...principles ...are denied development." The resultant hexagram is 45, Gathering Together. Great success will come from serving the needs of the King, or his equivalent. "Gathering Together. Success. The king approaches his temple. It furthers one to see the great man. This brings success. "

Six in the third place means: A man permits himself to be oppressed by stones and leans on thorns and thistles. He enters the house and does not see his wife. Misfortune.

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?

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 28 - Ta Kuo / Preponderance of the Great. This line would benefit from a more mature and considered approach to his difficulties. If one is making mountains out of molehills and not paying proper attention to the real nature of things and events, how can one expect a good outcome from ones actions? Legge puts this lines problems thusly "...graphically is there set forth the distress which reckless action brings." The resultant hexagram 28, Preponderance of the Great has the outcome of this lines situation being bad. "The ridgepole sags to the breaking point." The fact that this misfortune is at least as much due to his own attitudes and actions as external factors just adds to the poor outlook.

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 their 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.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water). This line is capable of helping those who need help, but he can not due to a desire/need to remain associated with those who could care less about helping others. This line must and will find the strength to do what he knows is right irrespective of the attitudes of his disapproving peers. Legge criticises this lines subject as "...proceeding very slowly to help the subject of the first line (those deserving of help)." The outcome is recovered as action is finally taken but the delay looks bad. The resultant hexagram 29, The Abysmal, shows a dangerous situation developing. One that requires this lines subject to be very cautious. "...if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties...the action we take will succeed. In danger all that counts is really carrying out all that has to be done."

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 nose an defeat). 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.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 40 - Hsieh / Deliverance. The start is bad but the outcome is better for this line. Here we see oppression inflicted from above and below, from power and peer. Eventually we can expect to see some improvement. Legge is vague "...the subject of line 5 gets on notwithstanding his straits, especially by his sincerity" which presumably means that despite external injury he feels that he is in the right and is not therefore embarrassed or ashamed of his fate. The resultant hexagram 40, Deliverance, predicts that we will be relieved of the causes of our problems and better times will arrive.

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.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 6 - Sung / Conflict. Self oppression can be the worst of all as it is up to us to deal with this. If we take hold of our fate we can improve it and make progress to the better. Legge's version of this line is not so critical and takes the peril facing the line as real " in a high and dangerous position, and saying to himself, If I move, I shall repent it" and merely advises prompt action to escape this extremity. The resultant hexagram 6, Conflict, is not so good an outcome "A cautious halt halfway brings good fortune. Going through to the end brings misfortune." This seems to contradict the advice above given to this line.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 47 - K'un / Oppression (Exhaustion) translation of this hexagram.