I Ching Hexagram 38 - K'uei / Opposition

hexagram 38
  • Above Li the Clinging, Flame
  • Below Tui the Joyous, Lake


This hexagram is composed of the trigram Li above, i.e., flame, which burns upward, and Tui below, i.e., the lake, which seeps downward. These two movements are indirect contrast. Furthermore, Li is the second daughter and Tui the youngest daughter, and although they live in the same house they belong to different men; hence their wills are not the same but are divergently directed.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Opposition. In small matters, good fortune.

Judgement Commentary

When people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge too widely. In such circumstances one should above all not proceed brusquely, for that would only increase the existing opposition; instead, one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters. Here success can still be expected, because the situation is such that the opposition does not preclude all agreement. In general, opposition appears as an obstruction, but when it represents polarity within a comprehensive whole, it has also its useful and important functions. The oppositions of heaven and earth, spirit and nature, man and woman, when reconciled, bring about the creation and reproduction of life. In the world of visible things, the principle of opposites makes possible the differentiation by categories through which order is brought into the world.

The Image

Above, fire; below. The lake. The image of Opposition. Thus amid all fellowship the superior man retains his individuality.

Image Commentary

The two elements, fire and water, never mingle but even when in contact retain their own natures. So the sutured man is never led into baseness or vulgarity through intercourse or community of interests with persons of another sort; regardless of all commingling, he will always preserve his individuality.

The Lines

Nine at the beginning means: Remorse disappears. If you lose your horse, do not run after it, it will come back of its own accord. When you see evil people, guard yourself against mistakes.

Even in times when oppositions prevail, mistakes can be avoided, so that remorse disappears. When opposition begins to manifest itself, a man must not try to bring about unity by force, for by so doing he would only achieve the contrary, just as a horse goes farther and farther away if one runs after it. It is one's won horse, one can safely let it go, it will come back of its own accord. So too when someone who belongs with us is momentarily estranged because of a misunderstanding, he will return of his own accord if we leave matters to him. One the other hand, it is well to be cautious when evil men who do not belong with us force themselves upon us, again as the result of a misunderstanding. Here the important thing is to avoid mistakes. We must not try to shake off these evil men by force; this would give rise to real hostility. We must simply endure them. They will eventually withdraw of their own accord.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 64 - Wei Chi / Before Completion. Those naturally opposed to you and/or your interests seek to get close to you. Do not reject them out of hand but let them realize the error of their ways themselves. Your real friends, particularly those who have left you because of the arrival of these people will return in due time, when he bad have departed. Legge is similar "Should he meet with bad men, he will not error in communicating with them" because not doing so causes more problems than it solves. The outcome here is seen in hexagram 64, Before Completion, success is almost attained but failure at the last moment due to carelessness could still happen. Take great care to see things through to their conclusion.

Nine in the second place means: One meets his lord in a narrow street. No blame.

As a result of misunderstandings, it has become impossible for people who by nature belong together to meet in the correct way. This being so, an accidental meeting under informal circumstances may serve the purpose, provided there is an inner affinity between them.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 21 - Shih Ho / Biting Through. This line is prevented (obstructed) from associating with those it would most naturally associate with. An 'accidental' meeting could still have some benefit if that is only way left to them. Legge makes it clear that the 'accidental meeting' could be quite deliberate "A casual, as it were a stolen, interview, as in a bye-lane or passage, however will be useful." The resultant hexagram 21, Biting Through, indicates that the subject of this line will need to make some substantial, possibly legally based, effort to gain his goals.

Six in the third place means: One sees the wagon dragged back, the oxen halted, a man's hair and nose cut off. Not a good beginning, but a good end.

Often it seems tot a man as though everything were conspiring against him. He sees himself checked and hindered in his progress, insulted and dishonored. However, he must not let himself be misled; despite this opposition, he must cleave to the man with whom he knows he belongs. Thus, notwithstanding the bad beginning, the matter will end well.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 14 - Ta Yu / Possession in Great Measure. This line is having a bad time, being insulted and assaulted. The powers opposing this line will have their way initially but ultimately better time are coming. Legge's interpretation says "...what is right and good is destined to triumph over what is wrong and bad. Disorder shall in the long run give place to order, and disunion to union." This can also be seen in the outcome hexagram 14, Great Possessions, which judgement says "Possession in Great Measure. Supreme success." This is a good end indeed.

Nine in the fourth place means: Isolated through opposition, one meets a like-minded man with whom one can associate in good faith. Despite the danger, no blame.

If a man finds himself in a company of people from whom he is separated by an inner opposition, he becomes isolated. But if in such a situation a man meets someone who fundamentally by the very law of his being, is kin to him, and whom he can trust completely, he overcomes all the dangers of isolation. His will achieves its aim, and he becomes free of faults.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 41 - Sun / Decrease. The prevailing values of the time are so different to this lines values that it finds itself isolated due to lack of common course with those around him. Eventually kindred spirits will be meet and one's isolation ease. Legge says this line "...shows its subject solitary amidst the prevailing disunion" but "he meets with the good man" and so "...meeting together, work with good will and success." The resultant hexagram 41, Decrease shows that this lies outcome will be positive if the subject can accept that "Decrease does not under all circumstances mean something bad" but can also show the decrease in the bad. However this will occur hexagram 41 predicts supreme good fortune without blame.

Six in the fifth place means: Remorse disappears. The companion bits his way through the wrappings, if one goes to him, How could it be a mistake?

Coming upon a sincere man, one fails to recognize him at first because of the general estrangement. However, he bites his way through the wrappings that are causing the separation. When such a companion thus reveals himself in his true character, it is one's duty to go to meet him and to work with him.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 10 - Lu / Treading (conduct). This line finds a companion of like mind after initially rejecting them. Legge's interpretation includes this "When he goes forward with this help, what error can there be?" Obviously this is a good auspice although this line does not mention good fortune. It does however say remorse disappears so our actions can not be criticised. The resultant hexagram 10, Treading (conduct), predicts that although we are in a dangerous situation we can be successful, "...one's purpose will be achieved if one behaves with decorum."

Nine at the top means: Isolated through opposition, One sees one's companion as a pig covered with dirt, as a wagon full of devils. First one draws a bow against him, then one lays the bow aside. He is not a robber; he will woo at the right time. As one goes, rain falls; then good fortune comes.

Here the isolation is due to misunderstanding, it is brought about not by outer circumstances but by inner conditions. A man misjudges his best friends, taking them to be as unclean as a dirty pig in and as dangerous as a wagon full of devils. He adopts an attitude of defense. But in the end, realizing his mistake, he lays aside the bow, perceiving that the other is approaching with the best intentions for the purpose of close union. Thus the tension is relieved. The union resolves the tension, just as falling rain relieves the sultriness preceding a thunderstorm. All goes well, for just when opposition reaches its climax it changes over to its antithesis.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 54 - Kuei Mei / The Marrying Maiden. Sometimes the opposition we feel we face is more in our minds than real. This line is telling us to be more discerning in our understanding of those around us. If we look truly we will find more friends than enemies. We are isolated because we will not let out friends approach us due to misunderstanding their true nature. Legge describes someone who "...fancies there is a carriage full of ghosts" approaching him. This is a mistake and good fortune comes when that is finally understood. The resultant hexagram 54, The Marrying Maiden, counsels us that not withstanding the good outcome predicted in the line commentary, we still need to be very careful in who we trust and allow to get closest to us.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 38 - K'uei / Opposition translation of this hexagram.