788787Hexagram 21


Line image

Here we, identity, are involved in only one direction, which is in feeling. There is a need to feel something from the life force yet there is no emerging energy to be felt (line 1) and we do not accept the outer activity of line 3 (line 4 is yang). The top line shows that we are not accepting the inner silence so we continue to feel for something inner that we cannot quite arrive at. The common name of the hexagram is “gnawing” or “biting through”.

Trigram image

A great energy flow from the inner (Chên) is stilled in the outer world (Kên) which halts our identifying (K’an) and creates hesitancy (Li) in our inner being.

This is not an easy flow to experience, it is too blocked to be pleasant. We need to get at the root of some matter but we do not have the right energy flow to do so. Our struggle with it will eventually and indirectly give us the endowment we need.

The Chinese Oracle

Biting through.
It is time for keeping
within the law.


That it is time for following the law comes from our inability to see the essence of our problem so that we have to follow the rules laid down by experience rather than act spontaneously. Following the law is restraining; biting through might seem to indicate disregarding the convention, but we are now following it instead because we have lost our touch and it is to this that we are biting through, innerly, not outwardly.


The pattern
Grumbling discomfort.
The low is opposed on all sides.
For humans
Inner discomfort erupts,
requiring feeling.
The weak, having no escape
from the powerful,
must feel.
Feeling brings release.
In nature
The earth quakes.
Rock and fire bombard the abyss.
In forms we make
Law is formed to protect the weak,
may be used to satisfy the strong.
The wise judge knows
that wrong has no beginning,
and is fearless in administering mercy.

Changing Lines

Line 1 goes yin

life force shows more change

It might seem that if the life force became active in biting through, our troubles would disappear, but the tao is the experience of being restrained by circumstances and there being no alternative. It is natural for identity to try to avoid this, so restraint is imposed by our greater being.

The Chinese Image
His feet are shackled.
His toes are hidden.
No error.

The toes lead our step so if they are hidden we see no way forward. We step with our feet so if they are shackled we cannot go forward. This is no error but intentional restraint.

Line 2 goes yang

intuitive feeling less active

If we cannot bear an experience we lessen our feeling of it; we should not try to take more stress than we can stand, yet we should not in these circumstances avoid experience or we lose our way in the tao. Here we are tending to avoid.

The Chinese Image
He bites through tender meat until his nose is not seen.
No error.

The tender meat is the “best” part, the most comforting, and by indulging in it we lose our directing sense, the nose. This is an instinctive reaction and so no error of identity.

Line 3 goes yang

outer world changes less

In these circumstances where we are held fast by our ignoring of the life force no new experience comes to us and we use what we already have.

The Chinese Image
He bites dried meat
and comes upon unpleasantness.
Some discomfort but no error.

Old experience that we have in our identity memory is like old dried meat; it contains things we did not wish to experience and repressed, and so we come upon these, which is uncomfortable but helpful to our biting through.

Line 4 goes yin

accepting the outer state more

We identify ourselves more in outer world activity as a way of biting through, we try to take the bull by the horns.

The Chinese Image
Bites gristly meat on the bone.
Finds metal arrow.
Realize the difficulty,
then good fortune.

Trying to bite through outer circumstance is tough and not too rewarding, but searches for the core of the matter, the bone. We have taken a firm direction (the metal arrow) but the difficulty is not out there, it is inner, and realizing this brings us to the tao.

Line 5 goes yang

less awareness of intuition

We are less involved in feelings of the tao; there is less interference from identity and also less compliance.

The Chinese Image
Bites dried meat.
Finds yellow gold.
Continue firmly in the way.
Some danger, no error.

Nourishing ourselves on old experience (dried meat) we find the value (gold) of the middle way (yellow), in this case between interfering and complying with the tao; the danger is from being precariously balanced.

Line 6 goes yin

our inner being accepts more

This top line represents our inner involvement in the flow of the life force, the tao. The tao shows our inability to understand what we are feeling and this line shows that we are accepting this as a way of being.

The Chinese Image
He wears a wooden cangue.
His ears disappear.

A cangue is a wooden board worn round the neck, used as a punishment in China at one time, so we bring upon ourselves a burden which stops us from hearing what the tao, our circumstance, is saying to us.

Nuclear HexagramHexagram 39


Line image

Our identity accepts an inactive outer world (lines 4 and 3) while it does not accept our active intuitive feeling (lines 5 and 2); this does not favour our taking new directions, but acceptance by our inner being (line 6) creates change there, so although the tao restrains outer activity we are furthered by experiencing it.

Trigram image

The life force seeks to be still (Kên) and there is little flow in our outer world (K’an), so we are unable to act effectively; we hesitate (Li). The K’an, Li, K’an sequence on top of the stillness of Kên contradicts itself, giving the hexagram its common name of “obstruction” as no direction can be usefully taken.

The Chinese Oracle

South and west are favourable.
North and east are unfavourable.
There is advantage in seeing the great man.
Continuance in the way brings good fortune.


The sun traverses the south and west from midday to night; the north and east is traversed through darkness to morning; so the south and west is activity becoming tranquil and the north and east is tranquility becoming active, so it is better to complete works rather than start new ones. It is an advantage to experience widely (the great man) when obstructed and work through the situation so that our inner experience is enriched.


The pattern
The life force halts
when each tries to take
the other’s place.
For humans
They fight around him.
He does not take part,
Knowing other ways.
In nature
In upheaval.
The water is upon the land.
The mountain in the water.
Fire springs from chasms.
The life force waits its time.
In forms we make
When the outside forces
are attacking one another
form is overthrown.

Changing Lines

Line 1 goes yang

life force shows less change

When the life force is inactive less activity is possible, especially when we are in the tao of obstruction.

The Chinese Image
Going meets obstruction.
Remaining brings praise.

Remaining involves being still, being alert, being aware; more being, less doing.

Line 2 goes yang

intuitive feeling less active

The natural reaction of feeling to troubled times is to become less sensitive; it is an instinctive move to balance sensitivity with aggravating circumstance.

The Chinese Image
The king’s minister meets
obstruction upon obstruction.
He is disadvantaged but
he is not at fault.

The minister supplies the king with advice and information, as feeling does for identifying. Feeling is suffering under the stress of our circumstances but this is not a fault in the way we feel.

Line 3 goes yin

outer world changes more

Here we act out to overcome our frustration although there is no path there; our objectives cannot be reached so we will then give up the attempt.

The Chinese Image
Goes and meets trouble.
Turns back.

Line 4 goes yang

accepting the outer state less

The unflowing state of outer action appears to us to be an obstruction. By becoming less involved in this we can be more aware of what is actually going on around us.

The Chinese Image
Going leads to obstruction.
Remaining connects together.

Connecting things together is a state of awareness, not of outer activity; here we try to understand our situation instead of battling against it.

Line 5 goes yin

more awareness of intuition

The obstruction is so great that we turn to our intuitive feeling, which we have been ignoring.

The Chinese Image
When obstruction is at its height,
friends come.

Feeling our circumstances helps as a friend would, be relating innerly. Our ignorance of this feeling was part of the obstruction so this improves matters.

Line 6 goes yang

our inner being accepts less

The obstruction in this tao is about our not being able to be still nor to act. Here our inner being becomes still, which is helpful.

The Chinese Image
Going outward meets obstruction.
Remaining is good fortune.
To see the great man brings advantage.
Good fortune.

Remaining is also keeping still and to see the great man is to see widely, not narrowing our view by choice; this is the good fortune.