Hexagram 41 - Sun / Decrease - James Legge Translation

hexagram 41
  • Above Ken Keeping Still, Mountain
  • Below Tui the Joyous, Lake


In what is denoted by Sun, if there be sincerity in him who employs it, there will be great good fortune: freedom from error; firmness and correctness that can be maintained; and advantage in every movement that shall be made. In what shall this sincerity in the exercise of Sun be employed? Even in sacrifice two baskets of grain, though there be nothing else, may be presented.

Meaning Commentary

The interpretation of this hexagram is encompassed with great difficulties. Sun is the symbol for the idea of diminishing or diminution; and what is said in Appendix I has made it to be accepted as teaching the duty of the subject to take of what is his and contribute to his ruler, or the expenses of the government under which he lives; in other words, readily and cheerfully to pay his taxes. Canon McClatchie in translating Appendix I has: 'Diminishing by taxation for instance .. is very lucky. Possibly, king Wan may have seen in the figures the subject of taxation; but the symbolism of his son takes a much wider range. My own reading of the figure and Text comes near to the view of Khang-zze, that every diminution and repression of what we have in excess to bring it into accordance with right and reason is comprehended under Sun.

Let there be sincerity in doing this, and it will lead to the happiest results. It will lead to great success in great things; and if the correction, or it may be a contribution towards it, appear to be very small, yet it will be accepted; as in the most solemn religious service. This is substantially the view of the hexagram approved by the Khang-hsi editors.

See The Richard Wilhelm translation of this hexagram.

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The Image

At the foot of the mountain, the lake: The image of Decrease. Thus the superior man controls his anger and restrains his instincts.

Image Commentary

The lake at the foot of the mountain evaporates. In this way it decreases to the benefit of the mountain, which is enriched by its moisture. The mountain stands as the symbol of stubborn strength that can harden into anger. The lake is the symbol of unchecked gaiety that can develop into passionate drives at the expense of the life forces. Therefore decrease is necessary; anger must be decreased by keeping still, the instincts must be curbed by restriction. By this decrease of the lower powers of the psyche, the higher aspects of the soul are enriched.

King Wans explanation

  1. In Sun we see the lower trigram diminished, and the upper added to. But the method of action implied in this operates also above or, mounts upwards also and operates.
  2. If there be sincerity in this method of diminution, there will be great good fortune; freedom from error; firmness and correctness that can be maintained; and advantage in every movement that shall be made. In what shall this sincerity in the exercise of Sun be employed? Even in sacrifice, two baskets of grain, though there be nothing else, may be presented:' for these two baskets there ought to be the fitting time. There is a time when the strong should be diminished, and the weak should be strengthened. Diminution and increase, overflowing and emptiness: -these take place in harmony with the conditions of the time.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

All that we see is two undivided lines in the lower trigram, and then a divided one, and exactly the opposite in the upper. But the whole figure could not but have this form from the process of its formation, whether by the gradual addition of the two primitive lines, or by the imposition of the whole trigrams on one another. To say that the upper lines of Ch'ien and K'un changed places to express the idea of subjects contributing in taxes to the maintenance of their ruler is absurd; and if that thought were in the mind of king Wan which I very much doubt, it would only show how he projected his own idea, formed independently of the figure, into its lines.

On the second sentence, the Khang-hsi editors say: When a minister devotes his life in the service of his lord, or the people undertake their various labours in behalf of their government, these are instances of the ministering of those below to increase those above. But in this way the intercourse of the two becomes close and their aims become the same; does not the method of action of those below communicate itself to those above?

In paragraph 2 the subject of contribution, such as the payment of taxes, passes into the background. The Khang-hsi editors say: What is meant by diminishing in this hexagram is the regulation of expenditure or contribution according to the time. This would vary in a family according to its poverty or wealth; and in a state according to the abundance or scantiness of its resources. When it is said that there must be sincerity along with a diminution, it means that though such a diminution cannot be helped, yet what is given should be given sincerely. A small sacrifice sincerely offered is accepted. In the language, "There is a time when the strong should be diminished and the weak be strengthened," we are not to find the two baskets in the diminution of the strong. "The strong" is what is essential, in this case sincerity; "The weak" is what is unimportant, the amount and manner of the offering. If one supplement the insufficiency of his offering with the abundance of his sincerity, the insignificance of his two baskets will not be despised.

The Lines

The first NINE, undivided, shows its subject suspending his own affairs, and hurrying away to help the subject of the fourth line. He will commit no error, but let him consider how far he should contribute of what is his for the other.

Line 1 is strong, and its correlate in 4 is weak. Its subject will wish to help the subject of 4 but will not leave anything of his own undone in loin. so. Nor will he diminish of his own for the other without due deliberation.

The second NINE, undivided, shows that it will be advantageous for its subject to maintain a firm correctness, and that action on his part will be evil. He can give increase to his correlate without taking from himself.

Line 2 is strong, and in the central place. But it is in the place of a weak line, and its subject should maintain his position without moving to help his correlate in 5. Maintaining his own firm correctness is the best way to help him.

The third SIX, divided, shows how of three men walking together, the number is diminished by one; and how one, walking, finds his friend.

Paragraph 3 is to my mind full of obscurity. Ku Hsi, adopting the view in Appendix I, says that the lower trigram was originally Khien, three undivided lines, like three men walking together, and that the third line, taken away and made to be the topmost line, or the third, in what was originally K'un, three divided lines, was the putting away of one man; and that then the change of place by 3 and 6, while they continued their proper correlation, was, one going away, and finding his friend. I cannot lay hold of any thread of reason in this.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject diminishing the ailment under which he labours by making the subject of the first line hasten to his help, and make him glad. There will be no error.

Line 4 is weak, and in an even place; like an individual ailing and unable to perform his proper work. But the correlate in 1 is strong and is made to hasten to its relief. The joy of the line shows the desire of its subject to do his part in the work of the hexagram.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows parties adding to the stores of its subject ten pairs of tortoise shells, and accepting no refusal. There will be great good fortune.

Line 5 is the seat of the ruler, who is here humble, and welcomes the assistance of his correlate, the subject of 2. He is a ruler whom all his subjects of ability will rejoice to serve in every possible way; and the result will be great good fortune.

The topmost NINE, undivided, shows its subject giving increase to others without taking from himself. There will be no error. With firm correctness there will be good fortune. There will be advantage in every movement that shall be made. He will find ministers more than can be counted by their clans.

Line 6 has been changed from a weak into a strong line from line 3 has received therefore the greatest increase, and will carry out the idea of the hexagram in the highest degree and style. But he can give increase to others without diminishing his own resources, and of course the benefit he will confer will be incalculable. Ministers will come to serve him; and not one from each clan merely, but many. Such is the substance of what is said on this last paragraph. I confess that I only discern the meaning darkly.