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Hexagram 2 - K'un / The Receptive - James Legge Translation

  • Above K'un the Receptive, Earth
  • Below K'un the Receptive, Earth


K'un represents what is great and originating, penetrating, advantageous, correct and having the firmness of a mare. When the superior man here intended has to make any movement, if he take the initiative, he will go astray; if he follow, he will find his proper lord. The advantageousness will be seen in his getting friends in the south-west, and losing friends in the north-east. If he rest in correctness and firmness, there will be good fortune.

Meaning Commentary

The same attributes are here ascribed to K'un, as in the former hexagram to Ch'ien; but with a difference. The figure, made up of six divided lines, expresses the ideal of subordination and docility. The superior man, represented by it, must not take the initiative; and by following he will find his lord, the subject, that is of Ch'ien. Again, the correctness and firmness is defined to be that of a mare, docile and strong, but a creature for the service of man. That it is not the sex of the animal which the writer has chiefly in mind is plain from the immediate mention of the superior man, and his lord.

That superior man will seek to bring his friends along with himself to serve his ruler. But according to the arrangement of the trigrams by king Wan, the place of K'un is in the south-west, while the opposite quarter is occupied by the yang trigram Kan. All that this portion of the Thwan says is an instruction to the subject of the hexagram to seek for others of the same principles and tendencies with himself to serve their common lord. But in quietness and firmness will be his strength.

The symbolism of the lines is various. Paragraph 2 presents to us the earth itself, according to the Chinese conception of it, as a great cube. To keep his excellence under restraint, is the part of a minister or officer, seeking not his own glory, but that of his ruler. Paragraph 4 shows its subject exercising a still greater restraint on himself than in paragraph 3. There is an interpretation of the symbolism of paragraph 5 in a narrative of the Zo Kwan, under the 12th year of Duke Khao, B.C. 530. Yellow is one of the five correct colours, and the colour of the earth. The lower garment is a symbol of humility. The fifth line is the seat of honour. If its occupant possess the qualities indicated, he will be greatly fortunate.

K'un represents, submissive feminine weakness its opposite hexagram is Ch'ien meaning aggressive masculine strength in the traditional view of the feminine and the masculine, Yin and Yang.

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The Image

The earth's condition is receptive devotion. Thus the superior man who has breadth of character Carries the outer world.

Image Commentary

Just as there is only one heaven, so too there is only one earth. In the hexagram of heaven the doubling of the trigram implies duration in time, but in the hexagram of earth the doubling connotes the solidity and extension in space by virtue of which the earth is able to carry and preserve all things that live and move upon it. The earth in its devotion carries all things, good and evil, without exception. In the same way the superior man gives to his character breadth, purity, and sustaining power, so that he is able both to support and to bear with people and things.

King Wans explanation

  1. Complete is the great and originating capacity indicated by K'un! All things owe to it their birth; it receives obediently the influences of Heaven.
  2. K'un, in its largeness, supports and contains all things. Its excellent capacity matches the unlimited power of Ch'ien. Its comprehension is wide, and its brightness great. The various things obtain by it their full development.
  3. The mare is a creature of earthly kind. Its power of moving on the earth is without limit; it is mild and docile, advantageous and firm: such is the course of the superior man.
  4. If he take the initiative, he goes astray: he misses, that is, his proper course. If he follow, he is docile, and gets into his regular course. In the south-west he will get friends: the will be walking with those of his own class. In the north-east he will lose friends: but in the end there will be ground for congratulation.
  5. The good fortune arising from resting in firmness corresponds to the unlimited capacity of the earth.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

As the writer in expounding the Thwan of hexagram 1 starts from the word heaven, so here he does so from the symbolic meaning attached to earth. What I have said on the Text about the difference with which the same attributes are ascribed to Ch'ien and K'un, appears clearly in paragraph 1. It is the difference expressed by the words that I have supplied, power and capacity. Ch'ien originates; K'un produces, or gives birth to what has been originated.

The penetrating, or developing ability of K'un, as displayed in the processes of growth, is the subject of paragraph 2. The brightness refers to the beauty that shines forth in the vegetable and animal worlds.

Paragraph 3 treats of the symbol of the mare, to lead the mind to the course of the superior man, the good and faithful minister and servant.

See the note, corresponding to paragraph 4, on the Text. Resting in firmness is the normal course of K'un. Where it is pursued, the good effect will be great, great as the unlimited capacity of the earth.

The Lines

In the first SIX, divided, we see its subject treading on hoarfrost. The strong ice will come by and by.

He is treading on hoarfrost;--the strong ice will come by and by: the cold air has begun to take form. Allow it to go on quietly according to its nature, and the hoarfrost will come to strong ice.

The second SIX, divided, shows the attribute of being straight, square, and great. Its operation, without repeated efforts, will be in every respect advantageous.

The movement indicated by the second six, divided,is from the straight line to the square. Its operation, without repeated effort, in every way advantageous, shows the brilliant result of the way of earth.

The third SIX, divided, shows its subject keeping his excellence under restraint, but firmly maintaining it. If he should have occasion to engage in the king's service, though he will not claim the success for himself, he will bring affairs to a good issue.

He keeps his excellence under restraint, but firmly maintains it at the proper time he will manifest it. He may have occasion to engage in the king's service: great is the glory of his wisdom.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows the symbol of a sack tied up. There will be no ground for blame or for praise.

A sack tied up; there will be no error: this shows how, through carefulness, no injury will be received.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows the yellow lower garment. There will be great good fortune.

The Yellow lower-garment; there will be great good fortune: this follows from that ornamental colour's being in the right and central place.

The sixth SIX, divided shows dragons fighting in the wild. Their blood is purple and yellow.

The dragons fight in the wild the onward course indicated by Kuan is pursued to extremity.

When all the lines are sixes, it means: Lasting perseverance furthers.

The lines are all weak and divided, as appears from the use of the number SIX: but those who are thus represented becoming perpetually correct and firm, there will thereby be a great consummation.