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Hexagram 15 - Ch'ien / Modesty - James Legge Translation

hexagram 15
  • Above K'un the Receptive, Earth
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


Great possessions associated with humility. Ch'ien indicates progress and success. The superior man, being humble as it implies, will have a good issue to his undertakings.

Meaning Commentary

An essay on humility rightly follows that on abundant possessions. The third line, which is a whole line amid five others divided, occupying the topmost place in the lower trigram, is held by the Khang-hsi editors and many others to be the lord of the hexagram, the representative of humility, strong, but abasing itself. There is nothing here in the text to make us enter farther on the symbolism of the figure. Humility is the way to permanent success.

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The Image

Within the earth, a mountain: The image of Modesty. Thus the superior man reduces that which is too much, and augments that which is too little. He weighs things and makes them equal.

Image Commentary

The wealth of the earth in which a mountain is hidden is not visible to the eye, because the depths are offset by the height of the mountain. Thus high and low competent each other and the result is the plain. Here an effect that it took a long time to achieve, but that in the end seems easy of accomplishment and self-evident, is used as the image of modesty. The superior man does the same thing when he establishes order in the world; he equalizes the extremes that are the source of social discontent and thereby creates just and equable conditions.

King Wans explanation

  1. Ch'ien indicates progress and success. It is the way of heaven to send down its beneficial influences below, where they are brilliantly displayed. It is the way of earth, lying low, to send its influences upwards and there to act.
  2. It is the way of heaven to diminish the full and augment the humble. It is the way of earth to overthrow the full and replenish the humble. Spiritual Beings inflict calamity on the full and bless the humble. It is the way of men to hate the full and love the humble. Humility in a position of honour makes that still more brilliant; and in a low position men will not seek to pass beyond it. Thus it is that the superior man will have a good issue to his undertakings.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The Thwan on this hexagram was so brief, that the writer here deals generally with the subject of humility, showing how it is valued by heaven and earth, by spirits and by men. The descent of the heavenly influences, and the low position of the earth in paragraph 1, are both emblematic of humility. The heavenly influences have their display in the beauty and fertility of the earth.

The way of heaven is seen, eg. in the daily declining of the sun, and the waning of the moon after it is full; the way of earth in the fall of the year. On the meaning of Spiritual Beings Kwei Shan. What he says of man's appreciation of humility is striking, and, I believe, correct.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows us the superior man who adds humility to humility. Even the great stream may be crossed with this, and there will be good fortune.

A weak line, at the lowest place of the figure, is the fitting symbol of the superior man adding humility to humility.

The second SIX, divided, shows us humility that has made itself recognized. With firm correctness there will be good fortune.

Line 2 is weak, central, and in its proper place, representing a humility that has crowed that is, has proclaimed itself.

The third NINE, undivided, shows the superior man of acknowledged merit. He will maintain his success to the end, and have good fortune.

Line 3 is strong, and occupies an odd its proper place. It is the lord of the hexagram, to whom all represented by the lines above and below turn.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows one, whose action would be in every way advantageous, stirring up the more his humility.

Line 4 is weak and in its proper position. Its subject is sure to be successful and prosperous, but being so near the fifth line, he should still use the greatest precaution.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows one who, without being rich, is able to employ his neighbours. He may advantageously use the force of arms. All his movements will be advantageous.

All men love and honour humility, in itself and without the adjuncts which usually command obedience and respect. Hence his neighbours follow the ruler in the fifth line, though he may not be very rich or powerful. His humility need not keep him from asserting the right, even by force of arms.

The sixth SIX, divided, shows us humility that has made itself recognized. The subject of it will with advantage put his hosts in motion; but he will only punish his own towns and state.

The subject of the sixth line, which is weak, is outside the game, so to speak, that has been played out. He will use force, but only within his own sphere and to assert what is right. He will not be aggressive.