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Hexagram 5 - Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment) - James Legge Translation

hexagram 5
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Ch'ien the Creative, Heaven


Hsu is descriptive of the way in which meat and drink nourishment come to be supplied. Hsu intimates that, with the sincerity which is declared in it, there will be brilliant success. With firmness there will be good fortune; and it will be advantageous to cross the great stream.

Meaning Commentary

Hsu means waiting. Strength confronted by peril might be expected to advance boldly and at once to struggle with it; but it takes the wiser plan of waiting till success is sure. This is the lesson of the hexagram. That sincerity is declared in it is proved from the fifth line in the position of honour and authority, central, itself undivided and in an odd place. In such a case, nothing but firm correctness is necessary to great success.

Going through a great stream, an expression frequent in the Yi, may mean undertaking hazardous enterprises, or encountering great difficulties, without any special reference but more natural is it to understand by the great stream the Yellow river, which the lords of Kau must cross in a revolutionary movement against the dynasty of Yin and its tyrant. The passage of it by king Wu, the son of Wan in B. C. 1122, was certainly one of the greatest deeds in the history of China. It was preceded also by long waiting, till the time of assured success came.

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The Image

Clouds rise up to heaven: The image of Waiting. Thus the superior man eats and drinks, Is joyous and of good cheer.

Image Commentary

When clouds rise in the sky, it is a sign that it will rain. There is nothing to do but to wait until after the rain falls. It is the same in life when destiny is at work. We should not worry and seek to shape the future by interfering in things before the time is ripe. We should quietly fortify the body with food and drink and the mind with gladness and good cheer. Fate comes when it will, and thus we are ready.

King Wans explanation

  1. Hsu denotes waiting. The figure shows peril in front; but notwithstanding the firmness and strength indicated by the inner trigram, its subject does not allow himself to be involved in the dangerous defile it is right he should not be straitened or reduced to extremity.
  2. When it is said that, with the sincerity declared in Hsu, there will be brilliant success, and with firmness there will be good fortune, this is shown by the position of the fifth line in the place assigned by Heaven, and its being the correct position for it, and in the centre. It will be advantageous to go through the great stream; that is, going forward will be followed by meritorious achievement.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

Hsu is composed of Ch'ien, having the quality of strength, and of K'an, having the quality of perilousness. The strong one might readily dare the peril, but he restrains himself and waits. This is the lesson of the hexagram, the benefit of action well considered, of plans well matured.

The fifth line, as we have observed more than once already, is the place of honour, that due to the ruler or king. It is here called the Heavenly or Heaven-given seat, the meaning of which expression is clear from its occurrence in the Shih, III, i, ode 2. 1. Five is an odd number, and the fifth is therefore the correct place for an undivided line it is also the central place of the trigram, indicating. how its occupant is sure to walk in the due mean.

The Lines

The first NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting in the distant border. It will be well for him constantly to maintain the purpose thus shown, in which case there will be no error. The border under line 1 means the frontier territory of the state. There seems no necessity for such a symbolism. The sand and the mud are appropriate with reference to the watery defile; but it is different with the border.

The subject of the line appears at work in his distant fields, not thinking of anything but his daily work; and he is advised to abide in that state and mind.

The second NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting on the sand of the mountain stream. He will suffer the small injury of being spoken against, but in the end there will be good fortune.

The sand of paragraph 2 suggests a nearer approach to the defile, but its subject is still self-restrained and waiting. I do not see what suggests the idea of his suffering from the strife of tongues.

The third NINE, undivided, shows its subject in the mud close by the stream. He thereby invites the approach of injury.

In paragraph 3 the subject is on the brink of the stream. His advance to that position has provoked resistance, which may result in his injury.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject waiting in the place of blood. But he will get out of the cavern.

Line 4 has passed from the inner to the upper trigram, and entered on the scene of danger and strife into the place of blood. Its subject is weak and in the correct place for him he therefore retreats and escapes from the cavern, where he was engaged with his enemy.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting amidst the appliances of a feast. Through his firmness and correctness there will be good fortune.

Line 5 is strong and central, and in its correct place, being that of honour. All good qualities therefore belong to the subject of it, who has triumphed, and with firmness will triumph still more.

The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject entered into the cavern. But there are three guests coming, without being urged, to his help. If he receive them respectfully, there will be good fortune in the end.

Line 6 is weak, and has entered deeply into the defile and its caverns. What will become of its subject? His correlate is the strong line 3 below, which comes with its two companions to his help. If they are respectfully received, that help will prove effectual. P. Regis tries to find out a reference in these three guests to three princes who distinguished themselves by taking part with Kau in its struggle with Yin or Shang.