The "Time" of a Hexagram

This article consists of two parts, firstly what is meant by the "time" (the Chinese word is SHI) of a hexagram, and secondly the time-scale or period of time which a hexagram can be said to represent.

1) The "Time" of a Hexagram"

The situation which is represented by the hexagram as a whole is called the "time", although the term comprises several different meanings which accord to the character of the hexagrams. The Chinese character "shi2" means a calendrical season or an era, and also the right moment or time. Etymologically, it originally meant "sowing time" and was later used to include "season", thence to the four seasons, and finally to time in general. As such it can be said to mean a section of time set apart for a certain activity.

a) It may mean the movement symbolised in a particular hexagram, decrease or growth, fullness or emptiness, and it has this meaning in such hexagrams as PO, Stripping, [KW23] and FU, Returning, [KW24].

b) It may refer to the action or process characteristic of a hexagram as in hexagrams SONG, Contending, [KW06], and SHI, Army, [KW07].

c) It may similarly refer the law expressed through a hexagram as in hexagram QIAN, Modesty, [KW15] or GAN, Influencing, [KW31].

d) It may mean the symbolic situation of a hexagram as in JING, Well, [KW48], or DING, Cauldron, [KW50].

Whereas these concepts of time are implicit in the earlier strata of the Book of Changes, it's only expressed use in the basic text is found in the hexagram GUEI MEI, Transforming Maiden, [KW54]. They are, however, explicitly expressed in the Commentary on the Decision, which is to say the later layer of the text. The English word "timely" comes fairly close to this concept. If we say of someone that his "arrival was timely", we mean that he arrived at the very moment that he was needed. We are commenting upon the relationship between what the moment seemed to demand and his behaviour. The word "untimely" has a distinctly negative connotation. Therefore it can be readily understood that certain situations demand certain activities or behaviour, just as we only plant in the spring or harvest in the autumn.

The time element in the sixty four hexagrammatic situations in the Book of Changes is not always treated with the same emphasis. In some hexagrams there are other factors which dominate to the extent that no mention is made of time, despite the fact that it is present and significant. In other hexagrams the time element is of such an importance that it determines the total constellation. The Commentary of the Decision states in such cases that "the time is great", thereby stressing the weight of the time category in a given situation.

It goes almost without saying that the most advantageous relation to time is one of harmony, that behaviour or activities fit the general needs of the moment. One such example is to be found in the hexagram MENG, Immaturity, [KW04]: here immaturity has success, in that it falls to him who hits upon the right time for an undertaking. Thus the spontaneous actions of a fool enable him to act at the right time, the time element of the hexagram being so great that even the impetuousness of youth or the behaviour of a buffoon cannot prevent it.

Another example occurs in the fifth line of the hexagram [KW63], Already Crossing, where it is the timing of an undertaking which more important than the attitude of the agent. Time then has an actuality, a concreteness which is immediately experienced and perceived, it is filled with possibilities.

The importance of acting in harmony with the time, as the situation figured in the hexagram demands, is also found in the Commentary on the Decision of the hexagrams SUN, Decreasing, [KW41] and YI, Increasing, [KW42]: here it states, "In decreasing and increasing, In being full and empty, One must go with the time."

There are times when we must await the proper time to act, as in the hexagram QIAN, Creativity, [KW01]: here is says the developed man nurtures his character and works at his task, in order to do everything at the right time.

The line preceding this one reflects a similar focus of all one's energies on preserving or inducing this harmony, this accordance with time. In order to keep step with the time, we need to employ strenuous effort: "The noble man spends the day with creativity. At dusk he fears danger" (Wilhelm's trans.). As stated in the Great Treatise, "The noble man contains the means in his own person. He bides his time and then acts." (Wilhelm's trans.) The hexagram GUEI MEI, Transforming Maiden, [KW54] presents a similar situation, where she prolongs her time, puts off an early marriage and marries when the time is right. Here we see a person who recognises that the essential nature of the moment is not one in which anything can be done and desists from action. It is the only ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy situation.

Yet this harmony with the time is not something which is present in all cases, nor is it something which can be induced. There are times when such a harmony is beyond our reach, either because of fate or our attitude. Such a situation is prefigured in the hexagram JING, Well [KW48], of whose first line the Commentary on the Decision says that "Time has rejected it." No amount of personal exertion can bring about any change in this situation, the function is unfulfilled. In the second line of the hexagram JIE, Limiting, [KW60], we actually miss the right moment, and thus the failure is attributed to the incongruence of our own behaviour.

There are occasions when a bad situation can be influenced in a positive way through relating correctly to their time element and by adopting a correct attitude; from this it is possible that even good fortune may result. Such a case is provided in the hexagram TUN, Withdrawing, [KW33], where in spite of negative tendencies the Judgement promises success, "Withdrawing brings about success". The Commentary on the Decision of this hexagram goes on to state "The firm is in the right place and finds correspondence. This means that he is in accord with the time."

2) The Timescale of a Hexagram.

In that the lines enter a hexagram at the bottom and emerge from the top, a hexagram can be said to have the attribute of existing in the passage of time. The scale of such a passage of time is not fixed to a certain period which can be reckoned in minutes, days or years, but must be related to the situation itself. The first line is said to be the first stirrings of the situation, therefore it can represent the immediate past or the present or the very near future. The progression of lines from the bottom up to the top represents the unfolding of time into the future, so that the situation is ceasing or has ceased in the line at the top. In that change operates according to a fairly fixed series of patterns, and in that the hexagrams symbolically represent these patterns, the lines of the hexagrams show the tendencies of situations to develop in a certain manner. Just as a twenty four hour period contains a full cycle of light and dark, so too does the year. The tendency of natural phenomena (which includes the life of man and of mankind) to follow these patterns holds true regardless of the relative size of the cycle. Thus a hexagram may represent a cycle of a quarter of an hour, a day or a week, perhaps a month or more. Yet, in that the hexagram portrays the tendency of the situation in which we find ourselves, we therefore are in possession of a knowledge; that is to say, the knowledge of the probable development of such a situation.

Lines one and six are outside the situation, one because it has not yet entered and six because it has left. In line one, the future unfolding of events is contained in the imperceptible seed which is infiltrating into the present. To recognise the beginning of such movements is to be able to exert real influence over the development of events. It is when things are in their infancy that they are most easy to change. This point is reiterated time and again not only in the Book of Changes but in much of Chinese wisdom. Line six is the culmination of the development prefigured by the preceding five lines below it. Hence learning is accomplished with hindsight and of drawing lessons from past experiences. It is done, it has happened, recognise then that it came about from the preceding influences, those presaged by the situation portrayed in the hexagram.

The other four lines, lines two, three, four and five, are said to be in the situation proper, especially lines three and four, being central in the nuclear trigrams.

What is important however is that time is naturally conditioned, and possesses its own inner cohesion in the midst of unremitting change. By recognising the "time", the needs of the moment or situation as prefigured in the hexagram, and the inner nature of the concrete passage of time, represented by the lines entering from below and emerging through the top of a hexagram, the diviner is brought to a position of understanding where he is at a given moment. More than this, he is directed towards certain activities in accordance with the time situation and the probable tendencies of that situation.

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