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I Ching Hexagram 5 - Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment)

hexagram 5
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Ch'ien the Creative, Heaven


All beings have need of nourishment from above. But the gift of food comes in its own time, and for this one must wait. This hexagram shows the clouds in the heavens, giving rain to refresh all that grows and to provide mankind with food and drink. The rain will come in its own time. We cannot make it come; we have to wait for it. The idea of waiting is further suggested by the attributes of the two trigrams--strength within, danger in from. Strength in the face of danger does not plunge ahead but bides its time, whereas weakness in the face of danger grows agitated and has not the patience to wait.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Waiting. If you are sincere, You have light and success. Perseverance brings good fortune. It furthers one to cross the great water.

Judgement Commentary

Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty alone gives that light which leads to success. This leads to the perseverance that brings good fortune and bestows power to cross the great water. One is faced with a danger that has to be overcome. Weakness and impatience can do nothing. Only a strong man can stand up to his fate, for his inner security enables him to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness [with himself]. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action. For only the man who goes to meet his fate resolutely is equipped to deal with it adequately. Then he will be able to cross the great water--that is to say, he will be capable of making the necessary decision and of surmounting the danger.

The Image

Clouds rise up to heaven: The image of Waiting. Thus the superior man eats and drinks, Is joyous and of good cheer.

Image Commentary

When clouds rise in the sky, it is a sign that it will rain. There is nothing to do but to wait until after the rain falls. It is the same in life when destiny is at work. We should not worry and seek to shape the future by interfering in things before the time is ripe. We should quietly fortify the body with food and drink and the mind with gladness and good cheer. Fate comes when it will, and thus we are ready.

The Lines

Nine at the beginning means: Waiting in the meadow. It furthers one to abide in what endures. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 48 Ching / The Well which does not include any indication of success, supreme or otherwise, in its judgement. This line represents an initial situation where whatever we are waiting for is not near. So relax and go about your normal activities, prepare internally for the struggle to come. Legge says "The subject of the line appears at work in his distant fields, not thinking of anything but his daily work." Hexagram 48 makes clear that any carelessness in the prosecution of your aims will result in failure.

Nine in the second place means: Waiting on the sand. There is some gossip. The end brings good fortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 63 - Chi Chi / After Completion which indicates any success attained will be modest at best and even that could fail at the last hurdle through carelessness. This line shows how the failure is most likely to occur, disagreements, gossip even slander. However words are not often fatal, as Legge says "...he suffers the small injury of being spoken against... in the end good fortune". Just remember what Chi Chi means and make sure that you calmly maintain your efforts right to the end of your endeavour.

Nine in the third place means: Waiting in the mud Brings about the arrival of the enemy.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 60 - Chieh / Limitation is literally galling limitation can not be maintained. We see in this line someone who has over estimated themselves and acted prematurely. He has gotten into trouble as a consequence. This trouble produces the limitation represented by hexagram 60. Legge is concerned that we have endangered ourselves in our haste to proceed, the advance has "...provoked resistance, which may result in his injury." Learn from this.

Six in the fourth place means: Waiting in blood. Get out of the pit.

Changing only this line creates Kuai / Break-through (Resoluteness) shows the method for extricating oneself from a perilous situation. No success augury is given but one is encouraged to act "It furthers one to undertake something". This line is an unfortunate one to get but one can still escape the danger by staying calm and composed. Legge is more explicit and states that the questioner "...will get out of the cavern" which is to say escape from the danger.

Nine in the fifth place means: Waiting at meat and drink. Perseverance brings good fortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 11 - T'ai / Peace which is a wonderful result to get. The dangers described in all of the other lines of this hexagram are absent here. Good fortune and success is predicted. The only concern may be that one must not lose touch with the goal we are seeking to achieve. Legge simply says that Through his firmness and correctness there will be good fortune.

Six at the top means: One falls into the pit. Three uninvited guests arrive. Honor them, and in the end there will be good fortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 9 - Hsiao Chu / The Taming Power of the Small, no initial success and no apparent hope of same. Still this line is at the top of the hexagram and so is the culmination of it. Accept any surprising new offers of help and the danger that has finally manifested will be overcome at the last moment. Legge concurs and states "there will be good fortune in the end", if one respectfully receives the help that arrives.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 5 - Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment) translation of this hexagram.