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Hexagram 4 - Meng / Youthful Folly - James Legge Translation

hexagram 4
  • Above Ken Keeping Still, Mountain
  • Below K'an the abysmal, Water


Meng is descriptive of what is undeveloped, the young of creatures and things. Meng indicates that in the case which it presupposes there will be progress and success. I do not go and seek the youthful and inexperienced, but he comes and seeks me. When he shows the sincerity that marks the first recourse to divination, I instruct him. If he apply a second and third time, that is troublesome; and I do not instruct the troublesome. There will be advantage in being firm and correct.

Meaning Commentary

As Kun shows us plants struggling from beneath the surface, Meng suggests to us the small and. undeveloped appearance which they then present; and hence it came to be the symbol of youthful inexperience and ignorance. The object of the hexagram is to show how such a condition should be dealt with by the parent and ruler, whose authority and duty are represented by the second and sixth, the two undivided lines. All between the first and last sentences of the Thwan must be taken as an oracular response received by the party divining on the subject of enlightening the youthful ignorant. This accounts for its being more than usually enigmatical, and for its being partly rhythmical

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The Image

A spring wells up at the foot of the mountain: The image of Youth. Thus the superior man fosters his character By thoroughness in all that he does.

Image Commentary

A spring succeeds in flowing on and escapes stagnation by filling up all the hollow places in its path. In the same way character is developed by thoroughness that skips nothing but, like water, gradually and steadily fills up all gaps and so flows onward.

King Wans explanation

  1. In Meng we have the trigram for a mountain, and below it that of a rugged defile with a stream in it. The conditions of peril and arrest of progress suggested by these give the idea in Meng.
  2. Meng indicates that there will be progress and success: for there is development at work in it, and its time of action is exactly what is right. I do not seek the youthful and inexperienced; he seeks me: so does will respond to will. When he shows the sincerity that marks the first recourse to divination, I instruct him: for possessing the qualities of the undivided line and being in the central place, the subject of the second line thus speaks. A second and third application create annoyance, and I do not instruct so as to create annoyance: by annoyance he means to the ignorant.
  3. The method of dealing with the young and ignorant is to nourish the correct nature belonging to them; this accomplishes the service of the sage.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The trigram Ken has for its symbol in the natural world a mountain, which stands up frowningly, and stops or arrests the progress of the traveller. Stoppage, understood sometimes actively, and sometimes passively, is called the virtue or attribute indicated by it. Khan, as I said on has water for its symbol, and especially in the form of rain. Here, however, the water appears as a stream in a difficult defile, such as ordinarily appears on an approach to a mountain, and suggesting perilousness as the attribute of such a position. From the combination of these symbols and their attributes the writer thinks that he gets the idea of the character not the entire hexagram Meng, as symbolical of ignorance and inexperience.

Down to the last sentence of paragraph 2, all that is said is intended to show how it is that the figure indicates progress and success. The whole representation is grounded on the undivided line's being in the central place. It is the symbol of active effort for the teaching of the ignorant in the proper place and time; this being responded to by the divided fifth line, representing the ignorance to be taught as docile, will responds to will. But the subject of line 2 requires sincerity in the applicant for instruction, and feels that he must make his own teaching acceptable, and agreeable. All this serves to bring out the idea of progress and success.

Then finally in the young and ignorant there is a correct nature, a moral state made for goodness. The efficient teacher directing his efforts to bring out and nourish that, the progress and success will be 'great; the service done will be worthy of a sage.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, has respect to the dispelling of ignorance. It will be advantageous to use punishment for that purpose, and to remove the shackles from the mind. But going on in that way of punishment will give occasion for regret.

The subject of the first line, weak, and at the bottom of the figure, is in the grossest ignorance. Let him be punished. If punishment avail to loosen the shackles and manacles from the mind, well, if not, and punishment be persevered with, the effect will be had.

The second NINE, undivided, shows its subject exercising forbearance with the ignorant, in which there will be good fortune; and admitting even the goodness of women, which will also be fortunate. He may be described also as a son able to sustain the burden of his family.

On the subject of the second line, strong, and in the central place, devolves the task of enlightening the ignorant; and we have him discharging it with forbearance and humility. In proof of his generosity, it is said that he receives, or learns from, even weak and ignorant women. He appears also as a son taking the place of his father.

The third SIX, divided, seems to say that one should not marry a woman whose emblem it might be, for that, when she sees a man of wealth, she will not keep her person from him, and in no wise will advantage come from her.

The third line is weak, and occupies an odd place belonging properly to an undivided line; nor is its place in the centre. All these things give the subject of it so bad a character.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject as if bound in chains of ignorance. There will be occasion for regret.

The fourth line is far from both the second and sixth, and can get no help from its correlate, the first line, weak as itself. What good can be done with or by the subject of it?

The fifth SIX, divided, shows its subject as a simple lad without experience. There will be good fortune.

The fifth line is in the place of honour, and has for its correlate the strong line in the second place. Being weak in itself, it is taken as the symbol of a simple lad, willing to be taught.

In the topmost NINE, undivided, we see one smiting the ignorant youth. But no advantage will come from doing him an injury. Advantage would come from warding off injury from him.

The topmost line is strong, and in the highest place. It is natural, but unwise, in him to use violence in carrying on his educational measures. A better course is suggested to him.