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I Ching Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water)

hexagram 29
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below K'an the abysmal, Water


This hexagram consists of a doubling of the trigram K'an. It is one of the eight hexagrams in which doubling occurs. The trigram K'an means a plunging in. A yang line has plunged in between two yin lines and is closed in by them like water in a ravine. The trigram K'an is also the middle son. The Receptive has obtained the middle line of the Creative, and thus K'an develops. As an image it represents water, the water that comes from above and is in motion on earth in streams and rivers, giving rise to all life on earth. In man's world K'an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark--that is, reason. The name of the hexagram, because the trigram is doubled, has the additional meaning, repetition of danger. Thus the hexagram is intended to designate an objective situation to which one must become accustomed, not a subjective attitude. For danger due to a subjective attitude means either foolhardiness or guile. Hence too a ravine is used to symbolize danger, it is a situation in which a man is in the same pass as the water in a ravine, and, like the water, he can escape if he behaves correctly.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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The Abysmal repeated. If you are sincere, you have success in your heart and whatever you do succeeds.

Judgement Commentary

Through repetition of danger we grow accustomed to it. Water sets the example for the right conduct under such circumstances. It flows on and on, and merely fills up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions. Thus likewise, if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties, the heart can penetrate the meaning of the situation. And once we have gained inner mastery of a problem, it will come about naturally that the action we take will succeed. In danger all that counts is really carrying out all that has to be done--thoroughness--and going forward, in order not to perish through tarrying in the danger. Properly used, danger can have an important meaning as a protective measure. Thus heaven has its perilous height protecting it against every attempt at invasion, and earth has its mountains and bodies of water, separating countries by their dangers. Thus also rulers make use of danger to protect themselves against attacks from without and against turmoil within.

The Image

Water flows on uninterruptedly and reaches its foal: The image of the Abysmal repeated. Thus the superior man walks in lasting virtue and carries on the business of teaching.

Image Commentary

Water reaches its goal by flowing continually. It fills up every depression before it flows on. The superior man follows its example; he is concerned that goodness should be an established attribute of character rather than an accidental and isolated occurrence. So likewise in teaching others everything depends on consistency, for it is only through repetition that the pupil makes the material his own.

The Lines

Six at the beginning means: Repetition of the Abysmal. In the abyss one falls into a pit. Misfortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 60 - Chieh / Limitation. Taking dangerous conditions lightly due to familiarity causes one misfortune. This lines attempts to improve just result in more problems. Legge's comment on then subject of this line is "He will by his efforts only involve himself more deeply in danger." This line ends up in a position described by hexagram 60, Limitation. We are held at a disadvantage and can only endure till times start to improve.

Nine in the second place means: The abyss is dangerous. One should strive to attain small things only.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 8 - Pi / Holding Together (union). Dangerous conditions should not be exacerbated by reckless or over confident actions. By pursuing modest goals we minimize the danger we are in. As Legge's version of this line puts it "Its subject is unable, indeed, to escape altogether from the danger, but he does not involve himself more deeply in it." The resultant hexagram 8, Union, suggests we ask the oracle again to see if we possess the attributes required for success and escape from the danger. If we have the right attitude we can be successful, else we will meet with further misfortune.

Six in the third place means: Forward and backward, abyss on abyss. In danger like this pause at first, and wait, otherwise you will fall into a pit in the abyss. Do not act this way.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 48 Ching / The Well. You can not act in any way to escape the danger you are in. Stop and wait lest you make things worse. This line is similar in auspice to line 1 above. Legge's warning is "... endeavour's will lead him into the cavern of the pit." The changed hexagram is 48, The Well which in this case seems to warn that inappropriate behaviour in our current circumstances can only lead to misfortune "If one gets down almost to the water and the rope does not go all the way, or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune."

Six in the fourth place means: A jug of wine, a bowl of rice with it; Earthen vessels simply handed in through the Window. There is certainly no blame in this.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 47 - K'un / Oppression (Exhaustion). Whilst we are ourselves unable to escape the danger perhaps others more fortunate can assist us if we approach them correctly. Legge puts it this way "Its subject is not one who can avert the danger threatening himself and others". The resultant hexagram 47, Oppression/Exhaustion, nonetheless indicates that in our case the outcome is still questionable. K'un says "Times of adversity are the reverse of times of success, but they can lead to success if they befall the right man." The question is are we the right man?

Nine in the fifth place means: The abyss is not filled to overflowing, it is filled only to the rim. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 7 - Shih / The Army. Danger has its own season and eventually times begin to change. This line is close to deliverance. Not long now. Do not make any silly mistakes. This line is "...on the eve of extrication and deliverance" according to Legge. The outcome represented by hexagram 7, The Army, suggests that we will need to exhibit the surety and bravery of an army waiting for the correct moment to strike to attain our ends.

Six at the top means: Dragons fight in the meadow. Their blood is black and yellow.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 59 - Huan / Dispersion (Dissolution). No escape from danger, it attacks us. The consequences of this are long lasting. Legge says that this line shows "danger has reached its highest point", How could this be good? The resultant hexagram 59, Dispersion/dissolution suggest that we need to look at reducing our flaws and dissolve or egotism if we are to have any hope of escape. Alternatively the suggestion could be that the lesson we learn from this line is powerful and induces change for the better.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water) translation of this hexagram.