Hexagram 8 - Pi / Holding Together (union) - James Legge Translation

hexagram 8
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below K'un the Receptive, Earth


Pi denotes being attached to Union. Pi indicates that under the conditions which it supposes there is good fortune. But let the principal party intended in it re-examine himself, as if by divination, whether his virtue be great, unintermitting, and firm. If it be so, there will be no error. Those who have not rest will then come to him; and with those who are too late in coming it will be ill.

Meaning Commentary

The idea of union between the different members and classes of a state, and how it can be secured, is the subject of the hexagram Pi. The whole line occupying the fifth place, or that of authority, in the hexagram, represents the ruler to whom the subjects of all the other lines offer a ready submission. According to the general rules for the symbolism of the lines, the second line is the correlate of the fifth; but all the other lines are here made subject to that fifth; which is also a law of the Yi, according to the Daily Lecture. To me it has the suspicious look of being made for the occasion. The harmony of union, therefore, is to be secured by the sovereign authority of one; but he is warned to see to it that his virtue be what will beseem his place, and subjects are warned not to delay to submit to him.

See The Richard Wilhelm translation of this hexagram.

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The Image

On the earth is water: The image of Holding Together. Thus the kings of antiquity Bestowed the different states as fiefs And cultivated friendly relations With the feudal lords.

Image Commentary

Water fills up all the empty places on the earth and clings fast to it. The social organization of ancient China was based on this principle of the holding together of dependents and rulers. Water flows to unite with water, because all parts of it are subject to the same laws. So too should human society hold together through a community of interests that allows each individual to feel himself a member of a whole. The central power of a social organization must see to it that every member finds that his true interest lies in holding together with it, as was the case in the paternal relationship between king and vassals in ancient China.

King Wans explanation

  1. Pi indicates that there is good fortune: the name Pi denotes help; and we see in the figure inferiors docilely following their superior.
  2. Let the principal party intended in it reexamine himself, as if by divination, whether his virtue be great, unintermitting, and firm; if it be so, there will be no error all this follows from the position of the strong line in the centre of the upper trigram. Those who have not rest will come to him: high and low will respond to its subject. With those who are too late in coming it will be ill for them the way of good fortune here indicated has been exhausted.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

There is some error in the text here, as all the critics acknowledge. I have adopted the decision of Ku Hsi, which by a very small change makes the whole read consistently, and in harmony with other explanations of the Thwan. The inferiors are the subjects of all the other lines gathering round their superior, represented in the fifth line.

The way has been exhausted: they do not seek to promote and enjoy union till it is too late. The sentiment is the same as that in the lines of Shakespeare about the tide in the affairs of men.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows its subject seeking by his sincerity to win the attachment of his object. There will be no error. Let the breast be full of sincerity as an earthenware vessel is of its contents, and it will in the end bring other advantages.

Where does the sincerity predicated of the subject of line 1 come from? The earthenware vessel is supposed to indicate its plain, unadorned character but there is nothing in the position and nature of the line, beyond the general idea in the figure, to Suggest the attribute.

In the second SIX, divided, we see the movement towards union and attachment proceeding from the inward mind. With firm correctness there will be good fortune.

Line 2 is the proper correlate of 5. Its position in the centre of the inner or lower trigram agrees with the movement of its subject as proceeding from the inward mind.

In the third SIX, divided, we see its subject seeking for union with such as ought not to be associated with.

Line 3 is weak, not in the centre, nor in its correct place. The lines above and below it are both weak. All these things are supposed to account for what is said on it.

In the fourth SIX, divided, we see its subject seeking for union with the one beyond himself. With firm correctness there will be good fortune.

The one beyond himself in line 4 is the ruler or king, who is the subject of 5, and with whom union ought to be sought. The divided line, moreover, is in a place proper to it. If its subject be firm and correct, there will be good fortune.

The fifth NINE, undivided, affords the most illustrious instance of seeking union and attachment. We seem to see in it the king urging his pursuit of the game only in three directions, and allowing the escape of all the animals before him, while the people of his towns do not warn one another to prevent it. There will be good fortune.

The subject of line 5 is the king, who must be the centre of union. The ancient kings had their great hunting expeditions in the different seasons; and that of each season had its peculiar rules. But what is stated here was common to all. When the beating was completed, and the shooting was ready to commence, one side of the enclosure into which the game had been driven was left open and unguarded; a proof of the royal benevolence, which did not want to make an end of all the game. So well known and understood is this benevolence of the model king of the hexagram, that all his people try to give it effect. Thus the union contemplated is shown to be characterized by mutual confidence and appreciation in virtue and benevolence.

In the topmost SIX, divided, we see one seeking union and attachment without having taken the first step to such an end. There will be evil.

A weak line being in the 6th place, which is appropriate to it, its subject is supposed to be trying to promote union among and with the subjects of the lines below. It is too late. The time is past. Hence it is symbolized as without a head, that is, as not having taken the first step, from which its action should begin, and go on to the end.