Sometimes it pays to read how teachers explain their thoughts on the ancients. Professor Sam Crane wrote an interesting article, ‘Admonish them gently’, on how a lady tried to persuade her elderly mother to give up on her ‘untidy’ habit of hoarding discards but got a rebuff from the parent. Upon reading her suggestion on how to deal with an aging parent, Sam was reminded of what Confucius said in Book 4. 18:
The Master said, ‘In serving his parents [Fu Mu], a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they do not incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but he does not abandon his purpose; and should they punish him, he does not allow himself to murmur.’ [Analects – Legge]
Upon reading his article and the different translation provided which spelt out ‘mother and father’ instead of ‘parents’, it triggered my thoughts back to the Zhouyi. Where have I read it before?
Ah ha, Work on what has been spoiled!
I have wondered where the great Chinese sages learnt their wisdom. Perhaps the answers were there all along waiting for earnest students down the ages to carefully examine and investigate the ancient Daoist and Confucian doctrines, in order to link the teachings to their old book of wisdom – The Book of Changes. The Zhouyi had preceded both Laozi and Confucius by about five centuries.
In layman terms, let us explore what the Yi teaches in Hexagram 18 Gu / Work on what has been spoiled:
The Chinese character Gu represents a bowl in whose contents worms are breeding. This means decay. It has come about because of the gentle indifference of the lower trigram [wind] has come together with rigid inertia of the upper [mountain], and the result is stagnation. Since this implies guilt, the conditions embody a demand for removal of the cause.
The wind blows low on the mountain: The image of Decay. Thus the superior man stirs up the people and strengthens their spirit.
Six at the beginning means:
Setting right what has been spoiled by the father. If there is a son, no blame rests upon the departed father. Danger. In the end good fortune.
Comment: The departed father is not at fault, if the son compensates for the decay his father allowed to creep in.
Nine in the second place means:
Setting right what has been spoiled by the mother, one must not be too persevering.
Comment: If you love your mother, gently does it! (Take note that a woman can be more fragile than a man.)
Nine in the third place means:
Setting right what has been spoiled by the father. There will be little remorse. No great blame.
Comment: Remonstrate and even if there are minor discords and annoyances, do not abandon the purpose. Why would a son murmur when he knows what he has to do to arrest and cut away the decay?
Six in the fourth place means:
Tolerating what has been spoiled by the father. In continuing one sees humiliation.
Comment: The son is too weak to do away with the decay – and has abandoned ship!
Six in the fifth place means:
Setting right what has been spoiled by the father. One meets with praise.
Nine at the top means:
He does not serve kings and princes, sets himself higher goals. [W/B in italics]
Comment: After duly serving his parents, and having set right what has been spoiled by them, he withdraws from public life in search for excellence.
If you still cannot see the link between what Confucius had taught in Book 4. 18 and Hexagram 18 Gu, try tying up my simple commentary on the lines to the key words of the ancient sage.
Do not worry too much if the discussion appears too deep. This entry attempts to provide ‘food for thought’ for well read Yi and Confucian scholars to discuss what the great sage has learned from the Zhouyi?