I Ching Hexagram 60 - Chieh / Limitation

hexagram 60
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Tui the Joyous, Lake


A lake occupies a limited space. When more water comes into it, it overflows. Therefore limits must be set for the water. The image shows water below and water above, with the firmament between them as a limit. The Chinese word for limitation really denotes the joints that divide a bamboo stalk. In relation to ordinary life it means the thrift that sets fixed limits upon expenditures. In relation to the moral sphere it means the fixed limits that the superior man sets upon his actions the limits of loyalty and disinterestedness.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Limitation. Success. Galling limitation must not be persevered in.

Judgement Commentary

Limitations are troublesome, but they are effective. If we live economically in normal times, we are prepared for times of want. To be sparing saves us from humiliation. Limitations are also indispensable in the regulation of world conditions. In nature there are fixed limits for summer and winter, day and night, and these limits give the year its meaning. In the same way, economy, by setting fixed limits upon expenditures, acts to preserve property and prevent injury to the people. But in limitation we must observe due measure. If a man should seek to impose galling limitations upon his own nature, it would be injurious. And if he should go too far in imposing limitations on others, they would rebel. Therefore it is necessary to set limits even upon limitation.

The Image

Water over lake: the image of Limitation. Thus the superior man creates number and measure and examines the nature of virtue and correct conduct.

Image Commentary

A lake is something limited. Water is inexhaustible. A lake can contain only a definite amount of the infinite quantity of water; this is its peculiarity. In human life too the individual achieves significance through discrimination and the setting of limits. Therefore what concerns us here is the problem of clearly defining these discriminations, which are, so to speak, the backbone of morality. Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man, if they existed, his life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man's life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted. The individual attains significance as a free spirit only by surrounding himself with these limitations and by determining for himself what his duty is.

The Lines

Nine at the beginning means: Not going out of the door and the courtyard is without blame.

Often a man who would like to undertake something finds himself confronted by insurmountable limitations. Then he must know where to stop. If he rightly understands this and does not go beyond the limits set for him, he accumulates an energy that enables him, when the proper time comes, to act with great force. Discretion is of prime importance in preparing the way for momentous things. Concerning this, Confucius says: Where disorder develops, words are the first steps. If the prince is not discreet, he loses his servant. If the servant is not discreet he loses his life. If germinating things are not handled with discretion, the perfecting of them is impeded. Therefore the superior man is careful to maintain silence and does not go forth.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water). Banging ones head against a wall only hurts ones head. If success is impossible it is the correct option to desist and await a better time to act. Legge thinks that action at this time would be rash and serve no good purpose, "...the paragraph tells an officer not to take office rashly, but to exercise a cautious judgment in his measures." The outcome is hexagram 29, The Abysmal. This means that one likely pushes ahead anyway and falls into danger. If this line is well prepared for the danger then there is the possibility that success can still be had.

Nine in the second place means: Not going out of the gate and the courtyard brings misfortune.

When the time for action has come, the moment must be quickly seized. Just as water first collects in a lake without flowing out, yet is certain to find an outlet when the lake is full, so it is in the life of man. It is a good thing to hesitate so long as the time for action has not come, but no longer. Once the obstacles to action have been removed, anxious hesitation is a mistake that is bound to bring disaster, because one misses one's opportunity.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 3 - Chun / Difficulty at the Beginning. This line hesitates when the moment for action has arrived. Too bad, how sad! Legge says this lines "...subject keeps still, when he ought to be up and doing. There will be evil." The resultant hexagram 3, Difficulty at the Beginning, indicates that this line must "...lend his hand and participate with inspiration and guidance" but only when the time is correct. Premature action is not appropriate. Perhaps a delayed start is not so bad after all?

Six in the third place means: He who knows no limitation will have cause to lament. No blame.

If an individual is bent only on pleasures and enjoyment, it is easy for him to lose his sense of the limits that are necessary. If he gives himself over to extravagance, he will have to suffer the consequences, with accompanying regret. He must not seek to lay the blame on others. Only when we realize that our mistakes are of our own making will such disagreeable experiences free us of errors.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 5 - Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment). Limitation of our bad habits and tendencies is a good thing. This line has no self-control and this leads to bad outcomes for it. If the line learns its lesson then things can start to improve. Legge sees the same situation, "...its subject with no appearance of observing the proper regulations, in which case we shall see him lamenting." The outcome hexagram is 5, Waiting (Nourishment). This line must actively exercise self control, "Waiting is not mere empty hoping...only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion...(will)...the path to success be recognized", self control and its benefits do not come about by themselves.

Six in the fourth place means: Contented limitation. Success.

Every limitation has its value, but a limitation that requires persistent effort entails a cost of too much energy. When, however, the limitation is a natural one (as for example, the limitation by which water flows only downhill), it necessarily leads to success, for then it means a saving of energy. The energy that otherwise would be consumed in a vain struggle with the object, is applied wholly to the benefit of the matter in hand, and success is assured.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 58 - Tui / The Joyous, Lake. Real, successful self control comes from a desire to do right not a determination to stop oneself doing evil. The natural self control exercised by this line is effortless and therefore successful. Legge's version of this line is "...its subject quietly and naturally attentive to all regulations. There will be progress and success." The resultant hexagram 58, The Joyous. "True joy...rests on firmness and strength within, manifesting itself outwardly as yielding and gentle." So this lines naturally good attitudes and behaviour leads to the good outcome.

Nine in the fifth place means: Sweet limitation brings good fortune. Going brings esteem.

The limitation must be carried out in the right way if it is to be effective. If we seek to impose restrictions on others only, while evading them ourselves, these restrictions will always be resented and will provoke resistance. If, however, a man in a leading position applies the limitation first to himself, demanding little from those associated with him, and with modest means manages to achieve something, good fortune is the result. Where such an example occurs, it meets with emulation, so that whatever is undertaken must succeed

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 19 - Lin / Approach. Great people can influence by their example without needing to enforce their demands on others. This type of influence has the greatest affect due to its pure origin. Legge says this lines "...subject regulates himself...and his influence is everywhere beneficially felt." Forceable measures are not needed here. The resultant hexagram 19, Approach, predicts supreme success but a need to keep in mind that nothing lasts forever, not even this good state of affairs. "If we meet evil before it becomes reality before it has even begun to stir, we can master it."

Six at the top means: Galling limitation. Perseverance brings misfortune. Remorse disappears.

If one is too severe in setting up restrictions, people will not endure them. The more consistent such severity, the worse it is, for in the long run a reaction is unavoidable. In the same way, the tormented body will rebel against excessive asceticism. On the other hand, although ruthless severity is not to be applied persistently and systematically, there may be times when it is the only means of safeguarding against guilt and remorse. In such situations ruthlessness toward oneself is the only means of saving one's soul, which otherwise would succumb to irresolution and temptation.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 61 Chung Fu / Inner Truth. This line is almost the inverse of the previous line. This line initially goes to far in its attempt to impose order. This is counterproductive as a reaction will almost certainly be invoked that destroys all order. If one learns from ones error and limits the regulations one imposes then there is some prospect of success. Legge is just as certain about this "...its subject enacting regulations severe and difficult. Even with firmness and correctness there will be evil." The resultant hexagram 61, Inner Truth shows us the real way to bring about order out of chaos. "The force of inner truth must grow great indeed before its influence can extend to...dealing with persons as intractable and as difficult to influence as a pig or a fish."

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 60 - Chieh / Limitation translation of this hexagram.