Home Legge Hexagrams Iching reading Links

Hexagram 52 - Ken / Keeping Still, Mountain - James Legge Translation

hexagram 52
  • Above Ken Keeping Still, Mountain
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


When one's resting is like that of the back, and he loses all consciousness of self; when he walks in his courtyard, and does not see any of the persons in it, there will be no error.

Meaning Commentary

The trigram Ken represents a mountain. Mountains rise up grandly from the surface of the earth, and their masses rest on it in quiet and solemn majesty; and they serve also to arrest the onward progress of the traveller. Hence the attribute ascribed to Ken is twofold; it is both active and passive-resting and arresting. The character is used in this hexagram with both of those significations. As the name of the figure, it denotes the mental characteristic of resting in what is right; especially resting, as it is expressed by Chinese critics, in principle, that which is light, on the widest scale, and in the absolute conception of the mind; and that which is right in every different position in which a man can be placed. We find this treated of in the Great Learning Commentary, chapter 3, and in the Doctrine of the Mean, chapter 14, and other places. This is the theme of the hexagram; and the symbolism of it is all taken from different parts of the human body, as in hexagram 31, and the way in which they are dealt with. Several of the paragraphs are certainly not easy to translate and interpret.

The other parts of the body, such as the mouth, eyes, and ears, have their appetencies, which lead them to what is without themselves. The back alone has nothing to do with anything beyond itself-hardly with itself even; all that it has to do is to stand straight and strong. So should it be with, us, resting in principle, free from the intrusion of selfish thoughts and external objects. Amidst society, he who realizes the idea of the hexagram is still alone, and does not allow himself to be distracted from the contemplation and following of principle. He is not a recluse, however, who keeps aloof from social life; but his distinction is that he maintains a supreme regard to principle, when alone, and when mingling with others.

<-Prev Next->

The Image

Mountains standing close together: The image of Keeping Still. Thus the superior man does not permit his thoughts to go beyond his situation.

Image Commentary

The heart thinks constantly. This cannot be changed, but the movements of the heart-that is, a man's thoughts-should restrict themselves to the immediate situation. All thinking that goes beyond this only makes the heart sore.

King Wans explanation

  1. Ken denotes stopping or resting; resting when it is the time to rest, and acting when it is the time to act. When one's movements and restings all take place at the proper time for them, his way of proceeding is brilliant and intelligent.
  2. Resting in one's resting-point is resting in one's proper place. The upper and lower lines of the hexagram exactly correspond to each other, but are without any interaction; hence it is said that the subject of the hexagram has no consciousness of self; that when he walks in his courtyard, he does not see any of the persons in it; and that there will be no error.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The Khang-hsi editors give their opinion that what is said in the first sentence of this paragraph, after the explanation of the name, illustrates the first sentence of the Thwan, and that the other sentence illustrates the: rest of the Thwan. It may be so, but the whole of the Thwan appears in paragraph 2.

The hexagram being made up of Ken repeated, lines 1, 2, 3 are of course the same as 4, 5, and 6. But it will be seen that there is not a proper correlation among them all. I do not see, however, that this furnishes any ground for the entire obliviousness of self, which the Thwan makes out to be in the figure.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows its subject keeping his toes at rest. There will be no error; but it will be advantageous for him to be persistently firm and correct.

In the symbolism the author rises from one part of the body to the other. The first line at the bottom of the figure fitly suggests the toes. The lesson is that from the first men should rest in, and be anxious to do, what is right in all their affairs. The weakness of the line and its being in an odd place give occasion for the caution, with which the paragraph concludes.

The second SIX, divided, shows its subject keeping the calves of his legs at rest. He cannot help the subject of the line above whom he follows, and is dissatisfied in his mind. Above the toes are the calves, represented by the second line, weak, but in its proper place. Above this, again, are the loins, represented by 3, strong, and in danger of being violent.

Line 2 follows 3, and should help it but is unable to do so; and there results dissatisfaction.

The third NINE, undivided, shows its subject keeping his loins at rest, and separating the ribs from the body below.

The situation is perilous, and the heart glows with suppressed excitement. When the calves are kept at rest, advance is stopped, but no other harm ensues. Not so when the loins are kept at rest, and unable to bend, for the connection between the upper and lower parts of the body is then broken. The dissatisfaction increases to an angry heat.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject keeping his trunk at rest. There will be no error.

Line 4 is a weak line resting in a proper place; hence it gives a good auspice. The Khang-hsi editors, however, call attention to the resting of the trunk as being inferior to the resting of the back in the Thwan.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows its subject keeping his jawbones at rest, so that his words are all orderly. Occasion for repentance will disappear.

The place of the weak fifth line is not proper for it and this accounts for the mention of its subject repenting, for which, however, there is not occasion.

The sixth NINE, undivided, shows its subject devotedly maintaining his restfulness. There will be good fortune.

The third line of the trigrams, and the sixth of the hexagram, is what makes Ken what it is, the symbol of a mountain. The subject of it therefore will carry out the resting required by the whole figure in the highest style.