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I Ching Hexagram 48 - Ching / The Well

hexagram 48
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Sun the Gentle, Wind


Wood is below, water above. The wood goes down into the earth to bring up water. The image derives from the pole-and-bucket well of ancient China. The wood represents not the buckets, which in ancient times were made of clay, but rather the wooden poles by which the water is hauled up from the well. The image also refers to the world of plants, which lift water out of the earth by means of their fibers. The well from which water is drawn conveys the further idea of an inexhaustible dispensing of nourishment.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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The Well. The town may be changed but the well cannot be changed. It neither decreases nor increases. They come and go and draw from the well. If one gets down almost to the water and the rope does not go all the way, or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.

Judgement Commentary

In ancient China the capital cities were sometimes moved, partly for the sake of more favorable location, partly because of a change in dynasties. The style of architecture changed in the course of centuries, but the shape of the well has remained the same from ancient times to this day. Thus the well is the symbol of that social structure which, evolved by mankind in meeting its most primitive needs, is independent of all political forms. Political structures change, as do nations, but the life of man with its needs remains eternally the same-this cannot be changed. Life is also inexhaustible. It grows neither less not more; it exists for one and for all. The generations come and go, and all enjoy life in its inexhaustible abundance. However, there are two prerequisites for a satisfactory political or social organization of mankind. We must go down to the very foundations of life. For any merely superficial ordering of life that leaves its deepest needs unsatisfied is as ineffectual as if no attempt at order had ever been made. Carelessness-by which the jug is broken-is also disastrous. If for instance the military defense of a state is carried to such excess that it provokes wars by which the power of the state is annihilated, this is a breaking of the jug. This hexagram applies also to the individual. However men may differ in disposition and in education, the foundations of human nature are the same in everyone. And every human being can draw in the course of his education from the inexhaustible wellspring of the divine in man's nature. But here likewise two dangers threaten: a man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain fixed in convention-a partial education of this sort is as bad as none- or he may suddenly collapse and neglect his self-development.

The Image

Water over wood: the image of The Well. Thus the superior man encourages the people at their work and exhorts them to help one another.

Image Commentary

The trigram Sun, wood, is below, and the trigram K'an, water, is above it. Wood sucks water upward. Just as wood as an organism imitates the action of the well, which benefits all parts of the plant, the superior man organizes human society, so that, as in a plant organism, its parts co-operate for the benefit of the whole.

The Lines

Six at the beginning means: One does not drink the mud of the well. No animals come to an old well.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 5 - Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment). Here we have a corrupted and unusable well, a corrupted and unusable man. Legge says this line represents the many men in authority are like such a well; corrupt, useless, unregarded."" The resultant hexagram 5, Waiting, implies that this situation will not pass by itself but must be actively dealt with. "Waiting is not mere empty hoping" We must face facts about our failings and deal with their implications for our lives.

Nine in the second place means: At the well hole one shoots fishes. The jug is broken and leaks.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 39 - Chien / Obstruction. If we are capable of good but follow the bad eventually our capability for good erodes and disappears. Legge sees the problem for this line in the same way. The resultant hexagram 39, Obstruction, further reinforces the negative outlook for this line "...an individual is confronted by obstacles that cannot be overcome directly." Take the opportunity for self development to make oneself useful.

Nine in the third place means: The well is cleaned, but no one drinks from it. This is my heart's sorrow for one might draw from it. If the king were clear-minded good fortune might be enjoyed in common.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water). Through no fault of this line no opportunity for it to be of use arrives. It is ignored. Legge has it that this line "...must represent an able minister or officer. But though the well is clear, no use is made of it (him)." The resultant hexagram 29, The Abysmal, or danger repeated means that the outlook for this line is that he must endure the realities of his circumstances. Wait for bad times to turn for the better.

Six in the fourth place means: The well is being lined. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 28 - Ta Kuo / Preponderance of the Great. Develop ones own positive attributes and eventually one will be able to be useful. There is, however no guarantee that you will be used. Legge is critical that this line is more concerned with himself than anything else "He takes care of himself, but does nothing for others." So that is a different emphasis to Wilhelm who sees nothing negative in this lines attempts at self-improvement. The resultant hexagram 28, Preponderance of the Great, shows that the outcome here is inauspicious.

Nine in the fifth place means: In the well there is a clear cold spring from which one can drink.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 46 - Sheng / Pushing Upward. This line is capable, useful and capable of being used for the purposes its best suited for. The well to produce fresh water, the official to officiate, the ruler to rule. There is, however, no indication it is actually being used. Legge is very clear "The all-important thing about a well is that its water be drawn. The best water is only a potentiality for refreshment as long as it is not brought up." The resultant hexagram 46, Pushing Upward, indicates that the well will indeed be used and such use will be very successful and generate good fortune.

Six at the top means: One draws from the well without hindrance. It is dependable. Supreme good fortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 57 Sun / The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind). Everything is good here, the well exists and is used. Legge adds the moral aspect "...the mention of sincerity suggests the inexhaustibleness of the elemental supply." The resultant hexagram 57, The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind), means that we can expect an ongoing success through modesty and the "... gradual and inconspicuous effects" of an influence as important and unobtrusive as an inexhaustible, clean water supply.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 48 Ching / The Well translation of this hexagram.