Upper trigram: K'an The Abysmal, Water
Lower trigram: K'un The Receptive, Earth
Holding Together brings good fortune.
Inquire of the oracle once again
Whether you possess sublimity, constancy, and perseverance;
Then there is no blame.
Those who are uncertain gradually join.
Whoever comes too late
Meets with misfortune.
On the earth is water:
The image of Holding Together.
Thus the kings of antiquity
Bestowed the different states as fiefs
And cultivated friendly relations
With the feudal lords.
These texts apply only for the lines that were marked, when the hexagram was cast. Note that the lines are counted from the bottom up.
The bottom line marked means:
Hold to him in truth and loyalty;
This is without blame.
Truth, like a full earthen bowl:
Thus in the end
Good fortune comes from without.
The 2nd line marked means:
Hold to him inwardly.
Perseverance brings good fortune.
The 3rd line marked means:
You hold together with the wrong people.
The 4th line marked means:
Hold to him outwardly also.
Perseverance brings good fortune.
The 5th line marked means:
Manifestation of holding together.
In the hunt the king uses beaters on three sides only
And foregoes game that runs off in front.
The citizens need no warning.
The top line marked means:
He finds no head for holding together.
The interpretations above and comments below are from Richard Wilhelm's version of the I CHING.
Comments on the Hexagram
The waters on the surface of the earth flow together wherever they can, as for
example in the ocean, where all the rivers come together. Symbolically this
connotes holding together and the laws that regulate it. The same idea is
suggested by the fact that all the lines of the hexagram except the fifth, the
place of the ruler, are yielding. The yielding lines hold together because they
are influenced by a man of strong will in the leading position, a man who is
their center of union. Moreover, this strong and guiding personality in turn
holds together with the others, finding in them the complement of his own
What is required is that we unite with others, in order that all may
complement and aid one another through holding together. But such
holding together calls for a central figure around whom other persons may
unite. To become a center of influence holding people together is a grave
matter and fraught with great responsibility. It requires greatness of spirit,
consistency, and strength. Therefore let him who wishes to gather others
about him ask himself whether he is equal to the undertaking, for anyone
attempting the task without a real calling for it only makes confusion worse
than if no union at all had taken place.
But when there is a real rallying point, those who at first are hesitant or
uncertain gradually come in of their own accord. Late-comers must suffer the
consequences, for in holding together the question of the right time is also
important. Relationships are formed and firmly established according to
definite inner laws. Common experiences strengthen these ties, and he who
comes too late to share in these basic experiences must suffer for it if, as a
straggler, he finds the door locked.
If a man has recognized the necessity for union and does not feel strong
enough to function as the center, it is his duty to become a member of some
other organic fellowship.
Water fills up all the empty places on the earth and clings fast to it. The social
organization of ancient China was based on this principle of the holding
together of dependents and rulers. Water flows to unite with water, because
all parts of it are subject to the same laws. So too should human society hold
together through a community of interests that allows each individual to feel
himself a member of a whole. The central power of a social organization
must see to it that every member finds that his true interest lies in holding
together with it, as was the case in the paternal relationship between king and
vassals in ancient China.
The bottom line marked
Fundamental sincerity is the only proper basis for forming relationships.
This attitude, symbolized by a full earthen bowl, in which the content is
everything and the empty form nothing, shows itself not in clever words but
through the strength of what lies within the speaker. This strength is so great
that it has power to attract good fortune to itself from without.
The 2nd line from the bottom marked
If a person responds perseveringly and in the right way to the behests from
above that summon him to action, his relations with others are intrinsic and
he does not lose himself. But if a man seeks association with others as if he
were an obsequious office hunter, he throws himself away. He does not
follow the path of the superior man, who never loses his dignity.
The 3rd line from the bottom marked
We are often among people who do not belong to our own sphere. In that
case we must beware of being drawn into false intimacy through force of
habit. Needless to say, this would have evil consequences. Maintaining
sociability without intimacy is the only right attitude toward people, because
otherwise we should not be free to enter into relationship with people of our
own kind later on.
The 4th line from the bottom marked
Here the relations with a man who is the center of union are well established.
Then we may, and indeed we should, show our attachment openly. But we
must remain constant and not allow ourselves to be led astray.
The 5th line from the bottom marked
In the royal hunts of ancient China it was customary to drive up the game
from three sides, but on the fourth the animals had a chance to run off. If
they failed to do this they had to pass through a gate behind which the king
stood ready to shoot. Only animals that entered here were shot; those that
ran off in front were permitted to escape. This custom accorded with a kingly
attitude; the royal hunter did not wish to turn the chase into a slaughter, but
held that the kill should consist only of those animals which had so to speak
voluntarily exposed themselves.
There is depicted here a ruler, or influential man, to whom people are
attracted. Those who come to him he accepts, those who do not come are
allowed to go their own way. He invited none, flatters none — all come of
their own free will. In this way there develops a voluntary dependence
among those who hold him. They do not have to be constantly on their
guard but may express their opinions openly. Police measures are not
necessary, and they cleave to their ruler of their own volition. The same
principle of freedom is valid for life in general. We should not woo favor
from people. If a man cultivates within himself the purity and the strength
that are necessary for one who is the center of a fellowship, those who are
meant for him come of their own accord.
The top line marked
The head is the beginning. If the beginning is not right, there is no hope of a
right ending. If we have missed the right moment for union and go on
hesitating to give complete and full devotion, we shall regret the error when
it is too late.
Here I add some perspectives on this hexagram, as well as other methods to read its meaning, in additon to what Richard Wilhelm derives from it above.
Meaning of the Trigrams Combined
Each hexagram combines two trigrams, making one the upper and the other the lower. The meaning of the hexagram is mainly derived from that combination. Here's what it means for this hexagram:
Water upon Earth
This part of the text is being edited. It will be added shortly.
Compare to the Reversed Trigrams
It's common to compare a hexagram to the one where the lines are the opposite: a full line is broken and a broken line full. But I find it much more interesting to compare hexagrams with the trigrams reversed: the upper trigram becomes the lower, and the lower trigram becomes the upper. That deepens the understanding of the trigrams at work — when they're not identical. Click the image to see what it means for the two trigrams of this hexagram:
The hexagram with the trigrams reversed
Compare to the Reversed Lines
You can also compare this hexagram to its opposite according to the six lines, where each broken line is full, and vice versa. In some cases it leads to the same hexagram as the one where the trigrams are switched. Here is the hexagram with reversed lines (click it to get to its webpage):
Hexagram with opposite lines
Click the header to read more about the eight trigrams that are combined into the 64 hexagrams.
The 64 I Ching Hexagrams
An I Ching hexagram is composed of two trigrams. Each of the 64 hexagrams has its own name, meaning, and divinatory text. Here they all are, in the traditional order. Click on the image of an I Ching hexagram to get to its webpage.
Use the Facebook field on some of these web pages to comment the I Ching or this website.