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Hexagram 20 - Kuan / Contemplation (View) - James Legge Translation

hexagram 20
  • Above Sun the Gentle, Wind
  • Below K'un the Receptive, Earth


Kuan shows how he whom it represents should be like the worshipper who has washed his hands, but not yet presented his offerings; with sincerity and an appearance of dignity commanding reverent regard.

Meaning Commentary

The Chinese character Kuan, from which this hexagram is named, is used in it in two senses. In the Thwan, the first paragraph of the treatise on the Thwan, and the paragraph on the Great Symbolism, it denotes showing, manifesting; in all other places it denotes contemplating, looking at. The subject of the hexagram is the sovereign and his subjects, how he manifests himself to them, and how they contemplate him. The two upper, undivided, lines belong to the sovereign the four weak lines below them are his subjects, ministers and others who look up at him. Kuan is the hexagram of the eighth month.

In the Thwan king Wan symbolizes the sovereign by a worshipper when he is most solemn in his religious service, at the commencement of it, full of sincerity and with a dignified carriage.

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The Image

The wind blows over the earth: The image of Contemplation. Thus the kings of old visited the regions of the world, contemplated the people and gave them instruction.

Image Commentary

When the wind blows over the earth it goes far and wide, and the grass must bend to its power. These two occurrences find confirmation in the hexagram. The two images are used to symbolize a practice of the kings of old; in making regular journeys the ruler could, in the first place, survey his realm and make certain that none of the existing usages of the people escaped notice; in the second, he could exert influence through which such customs as were unsuitable could be changed. All of this points to the power possessed by a superior personality. On the one hand, such a man will have a view of the real sentiments of the great mass of humanity and therefore cannot be deceived; on the other, he will impress the people so profoundly, by his mere existence and by the impact of his personality, that they will be swayed by him as the grass by the wind.

King Wans explanation

There is a slight difference in the 6th paragraph from the 5th, which can hardly be expressed in a translation. By making a change in the punctuation, however, the different significance may be brought out. Line 6 is strong, and should be considered out of the work of the hexagram, but its subject is still possessed by the spirit of its idea, and is led to self-examination.

  1. The great Manifester occupies an upper place in the figure, which consists of the trigrams whose attributes are docility and flexibility. He is in the central position and his correct place, and thus exhibits his lessons to all under heaven.
  2. Kuan shows its subject like a worshipper who has washed his hands, but not yet presented his offerings; with sincerity and an appearance of dignity commanding reverent regard all beneath look to him and are transformed.
  3. When we contemplate the spirit-like way of Heaven, we see how the four seasons proceed without error. The sages, in accordance with this spirit-like way, laid down their instructions, and all under heaven yield submission to them.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The great Manifester is the ruler, the principal subject of the hexagram, and represented by line 5, near the top of the figure. In that figure the lower trigram. is Kuan, representing the earth, with the attribute of docility, and the upper is Sun, representing wind, with the attributes of flexibility and penetration. As is the place of line 5, so are the virtues of the ruler.

The spirit-like way of Heaven is the invisible and unfathomable agency ever operating by general laws, and with invariable regularity, in what we call nature.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows the looking of a lad; not blamable in men of inferior rank, but matter for regret in superior men.

Line 1 is weak, and in the lowest place, improper also for it; the symbol of a thoughtless lad, who cannot see far, and takes only superficial views.

The second SIX, divided, shows one peeping out from a door. It would be advantageous if it were merely the firm correctness of a female.

Line 2 is also weak, but in its proper place, showing a woman, living retired, and only able to peep as from her door at the subject of the fifth line. But ignorance and retirement are proper in a woman.

The third SIX, divided, shows one looking at the course of his own life, to advance or recede accordingly.

Line 3, at the top of the lower trigram Kuan, and weak, must belong to a subject of the utmost docility, and will wish to act only according to the exigency of time and circumstances.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows one contemplating the glory of the kingdom. It will be advantageous for him, being such as he is, to seek to be a guest of the king.

Line 4, in the place proper to its weakness, is yet in immediate proximity to 5, representing the sovereign. Its subject is moved accordingly, and stirred to ambition.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows its subject contemplating his own life-course. A superior man, he will thus fall into no error.

Line 5 is strong, and in the place of the ruler. He is a superior man, but this does not relieve him from the duty of self-contemplation or examination.

The sixth NINE, undivided, shows its subject contemplating his character to see if it be indeed that of a superior man. He will not fall into error.

While the preceding line represents a man who contemplates himself, here in the highest place everything that is personal, related to the ego, is excluded. The picture is that of a sage who stands outside the affairs of the world. Liberated from his ego, he contemplates the laws of life and so realizes that knowing how to become free of blame is the highest good.