A note on hexagram 25

APRIL 02 05

I was thinking about the idea of doing each thing for its own sake, without thought of reward or over-eagerness to attain an end-result, which usually gets in the way of doing what is needed in the moment. This approach to life I first learnt from the second line of hexagram 25 in the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the Book of Changes, where it is well encapsulated:

If one does not count on the harvest while plowing,
Nor on the use of the ground while clearing it,
It furthers one to undertake something.


We should do every task for its own sake as time and place demand and not with an eye to the result. Then each task turns out well, and anything we undertake succeeds.

While this message is a sound one, I happened to be glancing at the Chinese of the bit about ploughing and clearing the ground:

I noticed that the familiar Wilhelm version didn't appear to be quite what the original said, roughly:

No-plough harvest. No-breaking-soil cultivation.

In other words, you reap a harvest without having to plough, you cultivate a field without having to break the soil. How might that come about? Well you could buy or inherit land that has already been cleared and ploughed. So actually it's saying that you receive a harvest without having to put the normal work in. That's a very different message to Wilhelm's.

There's a passage in the Da Gao chapter of the Shujing (Book of Documents) that seems to relate to this, which I mentioned in 'The Mandate of Heaven', p 98:

Not continuing the work of the dead kings is likened in the Da Gao to a son who is not willing to sow the seed after his deceased father has broken the soil: 'How much less will he be willing to reap the crop?'

What better example could one want of receiving a field that has already had the soil broken? When the deceased father was King Wen, the broken soil was the preparation he had already made in readiness for conquering the Shang, a task his son, King Wu, completed.

This motif of already-broken ground in hexagram 25 seems then to refer to continuing the legacy of the past, rather than concentrating on the task in hand.