I Ching Hexagram 20 - Kuan / Contemplation (View)

hexagram 20
  • Above Sun the Gentle, Wind
  • Below K'un the Receptive, Earth


A slight variation of tonal stress gives the Chinese name for this hexagram a double meaning. It means both contemplating and being seen, in the sense of being an example. These ideas are suggested by the fact that the hexagram can be understood as picturing a type of tower characteristic of ancient China. A tower of this kind commanded a wide view of the country, at the same time, when situated on a mountain, it became a landmark that could be seen for miles around. Thus the hexagram shows a ruler who contemplates the law of heaven above him and the ways of the people below, and who, by means of good government, sets a lofty example to the masses. This hexagram is linked with the eight month (September-October). The light-giving power retreats and the dark power is again on the increase. However, this aspect is not material in the interpretation of the hexagram as a whole.

See the James Legge translation hexagram.

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Contemplation. The ablution has been made, but not yet the offering. Full of trust they look up to him.

Judgement Commentary

The sacrificial ritual in China began with an ablution and a libation by which the Deity was invoked, after which the sacrifice was offered. The moment of time between these two ceremonies is the most sacred of all, the moment of deepest inner concentration. If piety is sincere and expressive of real faith, the contemplation of it has a transforming awe-inspiring effect on those who witness it. Thus also in nature a holy seriousness is to be seen in the fact that natural occurrences are uniformly subject to law. Contemplation of the divine meaning underlying the workings of the universe gives to the man who is called upon to influence others the means of producing like effects. This requires that power of inner concentration which religious contemplation develops in great men strong in faith. It enables them to apprehend the mysterious and divine laws of life, and by means of profoundest inner concentration they give expression to these laws in their own persons. Thus a hidden spiritual power emanates from them, influencing and dominating others without their being aware of how it happens.

The Image

The wind blows over the earth: The image of Contemplation. Thus the kings of old visited the regions of the world, contemplated the people and gave them instruction.

Image Commentary

When the wind blows over the earth it goes far and wide, and the grass must bend to its power. These two occurrences find confirmation in the hexagram. The two images are used to symbolize a practice of the kings of old; in making regular journeys the ruler could, in the first place, survey his realm and make certain that none of the existing usages of the people escaped notice; in the second, he could exert influence through which such customs as were unsuitable could be changed. All of this points to the power possessed by a superior personality. On the one hand, such a man will have a view of the real sentiments of the great mass of humanity and therefore cannot be deceived; on the other, he will impress the people so profoundly, by his mere existence and by the impact of his personality, that they will be swayed by him as the grass by the wind.

The Lines

Six at the beginning means: Boy like contemplation. For an inferior man, no blame. For a superior man, humiliation.

This means contemplation from a distance, without comprehension. A man of influence is at hand, abut his influence is not understood by the common people. This matters little in the case of the masses, for they benefit by the actions of the ruling sage whether they understand them or not. But for a superior man it is a disgrace. He must not content himself with a shallow, thoughtless view of prevailing forces; he must contemplate them as a connected whole and try to understand them.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 42 - I / Increase. This line is not paying proper attention to issues of importance. Legge symbolizes this as "...the symbol of a thoughtless lad...takes only superficial views." Are you a grownup or not? The resultant hexagram is 42 or increase and in this case it seems to indicate that we need to increase our wisdom and powers of discrimination.

Six in the second place means: Contemplation through the crack of the door. Furthering for the perseverance of a woman.

Through the crack of the door one has a limited outlook; one looks outward from within. Contemplation is subjectively limited. One tends to relate everything to oneself and cannot put oneself in another's place and understand his motives. This is appropriate for a good housewife. It is not necessary for her to be conversant with the affairs of the world. But for a man who must take active part in public life, such a narrow, egotistic way of contemplating things is of course harmful.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 59 - Huan / Dispersion (Dissolution). The world does not revolve around us and not all issues can be understood from that point of view. Legge is unsympathetic, he says this line "...shows one peeping out from a door". The resultant hexagram 59, Dispersion gives us an outcome that is a lesson, "only a man who is himself free of all selfish ulterior considerations...is capable of so dissolving the hardness of egotism."

Six in the third place means: Contemplation of my life Decides the choice Between advance and retreat.

This is the place of transition. We no longer look outward to receive pictures that are more or less limited and confused, but direct out contemplation upon ourselves in order to find a guideline for our decisions. This self-contemplation means the overcoming of naive egotism in the person who sees everything solely form his own standpoint. He begins to reflect and in this way acquires objectivity. However, self-knowledge does not mean preoccupation with one's own thoughts; rather, it means concern about the effects one creates. It is only the effects our lives produce that give us the right to judge whether what we have done means progress or regression.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 53 - Chien / Development (Gradual Progress). This line is progressing towards wisdom. What are the real causes of my behaviour? Self contemplation or as Legge puts it "...looking at the course of his own life, to advance or recede accordingly" is the way forward. The resultant hexagram 53, Gradual Progress, shows how this will evolve. It can not be all done at once but requires a steady persevering process of effort and growth.

Six in the fourth place means: Contemplation of the light of the kingdom. It furthers one to exert influence as the guest of a king.

This describes a man who understands the secrets by which a kingdom can be made to flourish. Such a man must be given an authoritative position, in which he can exert influence. He should be, so to speak, a guest-that is, he should be honored and act independently, and should not be used as a tool.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 12 - P'i / Standstill (Stagnation). Wisdom in action serving the proper authority is seen here. However the outcome does not seem too good as the resultant hexagram is 12 or standstill/stagnation. Perhaps this lines subject is not so wise after all? The line does not mention success or good fortune so perhaps its outcome is not so surprising. Legge merely mentions someone who should "...seek to be a guest of the king" ie. work for the king.

Nine in the fifth place means: Contemplation of my life. The superior man is without blame.

A man in an authoritative position to whom others look up must always be ready for self-examination. The right sort of self-examination, however, consists not in idle brooding over oneself but in examining the effects one produces. Only when these effects are good, and when one's influence on others is good, will the contemplation of one's own life bring the satisfaction of knowing oneself to be free of mistakes.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 23 - Po / Splitting Apart. Here the person in authority must contemplate the cause and effect of his own behaviours to make sure that he always knows why he does what does. This is what generates good decisions and actions. Legge concurs "He is a superior man, but this does not relieve him from the duty of self-contemplation or examination." The resultant hexagram 23 or Splitting Apart is another bad outcome from a good line. It seems that this lines good attributes are not enough to avoid the trouble portrayed in hexagram 23. Do not take for granted your current position or success.

Nine at the top means: Contemplation of his life. The superior man is without blame.

While the preceding line represents a man who contemplates himself, here in the highest place everything that is personal, related to the ego, is excluded. The picture is that of a sage who stands outside the affairs of the world. Liberated from his ego, he contemplates the laws of life and so realizes that knowing how to become free of blame is the highest good.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 8 - Pi / Holding Together (union). Here we have spiritual contemplation at its highest. The world and ones place in it are the subject of investigation. As Legge says "...shows its subject contemplating his character to see if it be indeed that of a superior man." The resultant hexagram is hexagram 8 which addresses the previous question by suggesting the subject "Inquire of the oracle once again Whether you possess sublimity, constancy, and perseverance" ie. whether you are really a superior man. If you aren't woe!

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 20 - Kuan / Contemplation (View) Translation hexagram.