I Ching Hexagram 53 - Chien / Development (Gradual Progress)

hexagram 53
  • Above Sun the Gentle, Wind, Wood
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


This hexagram is made up of Sun (wood, penetration) above, ie., without, and Ken (mountain, stillness) below, i.e., within. A tree on a mountain develops slowly according to the law of its being and consequently stands firmly rooted. This gives the idea of a development that proceeds gradually, step by step. The attributes of the trigrams also point to this: within is tranquility, which guards against precipitate actions, and without is penetration, which makes development and progress possible.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Development. The maiden Is given in marriage. Good fortune. Perseverance furthers.

Judgement Commentary

The development of events that leads to a girl's following a man to his home proceeds slowly. The various formalities must be disposed of before the marriage takes place. This principle of gradual development can be applied to other situations as well; it is always applicable where it is a matter of correct relationships of co-operation, as for instance in the appointment of an official. The development must be allowed to take its proper course. Hasty action would not be wise. This is also true, finally, of any effort to exert influence on others, for here too the essential factor is a correct way of development through cultivation of one's own personality. No influence such as that exerted by agitators has a lasting effect. Within the personality too, development must follow the same course if lasting results are to be achieved. Gentleness that is adaptable, but at the same time penetrating, is the outer form that should proceed from inner calm. The very gradualness of the development makes it necessary to have perseverance, for perseverance alone prevents slow progress from dwindling to nothing.

The Image

On the mountain, a tree: The image of Development. Thus the superior man abides in dignity and virtue in order to improve the mores.

Image Commentary

The tree on the mountain is visible from afar, and its development influences the landscape of the entire region. It does not shoot up like a swamp plant; its growth proceeds gradually. Thus also the work of influencing people can be only gradual. No sudden influence or awakening is of lasting effect. Progress must be quite gradual, and in order to obtain such progress in public opinion and in the mores of the people, it is necessary for the personality to acquire influence and weight. This comes about through careful and constant work on one's own moral development.

The Lines

Six at the beginning means: The wild goose gradually draws near the shore. The young son is in danger. There is talk. No blame.

All the individual lines in this hexagram symbolize the gradual flight of the wild goose. The wild goose is the symbol of conjugal fidelity, because it is believed that this bird never takes another mate after the death of the first. The initial line suggests the first resting place in the flight of water birds from the water to the heights. The shore is reached. The situation is that of a lonely young man who is just starting out to make his way in life. Since no one comes to help him, his first steps are slow and hesitant, and he is surrounded by danger. Naturally he is subjected to much criticism. But these very difficulties keep him from being too hasty, and his progress is successful.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 37 - Chia Jen / The Family (The Clan). This line needs to exercise circumspection as it is in a weak position without any help. Very little can actually be attempted by this line and this fact is what saves this him from real harm, any damage done being limited to mere words. "A young officer...will be in a position of danger, and be spoken against, but there will be no error" is how Legge describes this lines fate. The resultant hexagram 37, The Family, means that we need to be careful to keep our proper place in all our relationships.

Six in the second place means: The wild goose gradually draws near the cliff, eating and drinking in peace and concord. Good fortune.

The cliff is a safe place on shore. The development has gone a step further. The initial insecurity has been overcome, and a safe position in life has been found, giving one enough to live on. This first success, opening up a path to activity, brings a certain joyousness of mood, and one goes to meet the future reassured. It is said of the wild goose that it calls to its comrades whenever it finds food, this is the symbol of peace and concord in good fortune. A man does not want to keep his good luck for himself only, but is ready to share it with others.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 57 Sun / The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind). Gradually things improve. This line finds friends and supporters and so is happy. There will be good fortune. Legge's meaning is "...they eat and drink joyfully and at ease. There will be good fortune." So just as in Wilhelm, things look good. The outcome is hexagram 57, The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind), counsels us to keep our aspirations under control. "Success through what is small."

Nine in the third place means: The wild goose gradually draws near the plateau. The man goes forth and does not return. The woman carries a child but does not bring it forth. Misfortune. It furthers one to fight off robbers.

The high plateau is dry and unsuitable for the wild goose. If it goes there, it has lost its way and gone too far. This is contrary to the law of development. It is the same in human life. If we do not let things develop quietly but plunge of our own choice too rashly into a struggle, misfortune results. A man jeopardizes his own life, and his family perishes thereby. However, this is not all necessary; it is only the result of transgressing the law of natural development. If one does not willfully provoke a conflict, but confines himself to vigorously maintaining his own position and to warding off unjustified attacks, all goes well.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 20 - Kuan / Contemplation (View). We will fail horribly if we were to rush off and ignore the requirements of the time to push our agenda gradually, step by step. This line can only defend itself as best it can. Legge is quite pessimistic " Its subject is likely to be violent and at the same time unsuccessful in his movements." The resultant hexagram is 20, Contemplation, which suggests the way out of this situation, look before you leap.

Six in the fourth place means: The wild goose goes gradually draws near the tree, perhaps it will find a flat branch. No blame.

A tree is not a suitable place for a wild goose. But if it is clever, it will find a flat branch on which it can get a footing. A man's life too, in the course of its development, often brings him into inappropriate situations, in which he finds it difficult to hold his own without danger. Then it is important to be sensible and yielding. This enables him to discover a safe place in which life can go on, although he may be surrounded by danger.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 33 - Tun / Retreat. We do not always enjoy the best circumstances in our lives and this lines lesson is to make the best of what you have. Legge says this lines circumstance do "...not promise a good auspice for its subject but it is the first line in the trigram of humility" so no blame can be apportioned to him for this. The resultant hexagram 33, Retreat, counsels "Conditions are such that the hostile forces favored by the time are advancing. In this case retreat is the right course".

Nine in the fifth place means: The wild goose gradually draws near the summit. For three years the woman has no child. In the end nothing can hinder her. Good fortune.

The summit is a high place. In a high position one easily becomes isolated. One is misjudged by the very person on whom one is dependent-the woman by her husband, the official by his superior. This is the work of deceitful persons who have wormed their way in. The result is that relationships remain sterile, and nothing is accomplished. But in the course of further development, such misunderstandings are cleared away, and reconciliation is achieved after all.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 52 - Ken / Keeping Still, Mountain. This line is prevented from one from achieving their goals by someone who should be helping them. No matter how laudable those goals might be, nothing can be achieved. This line will only be successful after a considerable delay, then good fortune comes. Legge sees exterior forces holding this line at bay and therefore preventing a successful outcome. Eventually things change and the outcome desired is achieved. The outcome is seen in hexagram 52, Keeping Still. All this line can do is wait and concentrate on internal development for the time being.

Nine at the top means: The wild goose gradually draws near the clouds heights. Its feathers can be used for the sacred dance. Good fortune.

Here life comes to its end. A man's work stands completed. The path rises high toward heaven, like the flight of wild geese when they have left the earth far behind. There they fly, keeping to the order of their flight in strict formation. And if their feathers fall, they can serve as ornaments in the sacred dance pantomimes performed in the temples. Thus the life of a man who has perfected himself is a bright light for the people of earth, who look up to him as an example.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 39 - Chien / Obstruction. This line has gone as far as he can, no farther advance is possible. The good fortune here is the influence his advance can have an example to others to emulate. Legge's description is just as simple "There is no more advance for him. But he may still do some good work for the state." The outcome hexagram, is 39, Obstruction. As we have reached the highest level of development any further development can only be destructive of what has already been achieved.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 53 - Chien / Development (Gradual Progress) translation of this hexagram.