Hexagram 52

Mountain and Mountain

Mountain and Mountain

It was the late 1960s. My late friend Norm Witty, who was much closer to the hippie scene than I ever was, told me all about the I Ching, also known as The Book of Changes. I was impessed and immediately tried to use it for divination. Essentially, the system involves sixty-four possible hexagrams which involve eight different trigrams in combination. These are: Earth, Mountain, Water, Wind, Thunder, Fire, Lake, and Heaven.

Hexagram 52, for instance,  consists of the two trigrams for Mountain, one above the other. I will summarize this hexagram using diferent translations so that you can see some of the difficulties involved.

John Minford saw it thus:

The back
Is still
As a Mountain;
There is no body.
He walks
In the courtyard,
No Harm,
Nullum malum.

That Latin bit comes from early Jesuit attempts at understanding the I Ching in a Christian light. Minford called the hexagram Stillness and commented: “Stillness in your back. Expect nothing from your life. Wander the courtyard where you see no one. How could you ever go astray?”

In the famous Richard Wilhelm translation, it is called “Keeping Still, Mountain.” He goes on:

KEEPING STILL. Keeping his back still
So that he no longer feels his body.
He goes into the courtyard
And does not see his people.
No blame.

Well, that’s a bit different. As is the version by Richard John Lynn who calls Hexagram 52 Restraint: “Restraint takes place with the back, so one does not obtain [sic] the other person. He goes into that one’s courtyard but does not see him there. There is no blame.”

As there are numerous translations, one wonders whether is as much variation in the original Chinese. Apparently, there is. Although one of its uses is for divination, the vastly different interpretations in both Chinese and English, for instance, make it all but impossible to be sure.

I’ll stick with the two mountains and forget about bodies in the courtyard. There it is: mountain above mountain. One would think that would be the maximum of stability. Living as I do on the Pacific Ring of Fire, I don’t see mountains as being all that static. They may give that appearance, but there are pressures from below (volcanism) and the side (plate tectonics) that can result in unexpected cataclysms.

Stillness is a nice idea, but you can never be sure.