18 Gu3 蠱
The lower: Xun (to enter, the wind). The upper: Gen (keeping still, the mountain).
Gu: venomous insects (used to control people); something bred a long time, bad or evil, such as a long-standing bad habit or practice which people follow unconsciously; the mission of hexagram Gu is to remove Gu.
To follow (Sui) a person according to what will please (Yu) him, (like trigram Zhen of hexagram Sui following trigram Dui and making Dui joyful) (which implies that) there are definitely some things (evil and behind it); therefore Gu is granted. Gu represents those things. Gu (蠱) depicts venomous insects (蟲chong2) that have been allowed to breed a long time in an enclosed bowl (皿min3). They become lethally poisonous as a result of eating each other. They are reputedly used to lure people into acting unconsciously to follow the wish of the user, or to control the poisoned person by offering him an antidote. Hexagram Gu steps onto the stage of I Ching after the consistent following in hexagram Sui (17). According to Confucian commentary on the paired hexagrams (Za Gua Zhuan), Sui is signified as following with no cause (or past), while hexagram Gu, its reverse and changing hexagram, means to put in order, i.e. to remove what is bad and re-arrange what is left into an orderly form. Therefore Gu is referred to as evil emanating from long decay, and controlling people to act unconsciously according to its dictates. This is like the long-standing bad habit or practice formed in the pace after Sui that is going to take root in hexagram Gu. The mission of Gu is to remove it.
Like the irresistible allure and unconscious compliance produced by Gu, an elder and experienced woman (i.e. the oldest daughter denoted by the lower trigram Xun) approaches a young man (i.e. the youngest son denoted by the upper trigram Gen) symbolizing an attempt to dominate him. Its inner hexagram Gui Mei (54), where a young girl approaches an elder man, is seen as temptation.
The wind is stopped by the mountain, so that a miasma pervades and Gu occurs. In hexagram Gu, the wind follows the contour of the mountain blowing away the miasma and Gu is removed. Its reverse and changing hexagram, Sui (17), suggests well-timed adjustments, and acting properly according to the occasion, i.e. following the trend of times without the past.
Text: Gu (to remove what is evil and long-bred, like correcting entrenched bad habits or practices), (which will) progress greatly and smoothly; it is instrumental in crossing a great river. Three days before Jia, and three days after Jia.
Commentary on the text: Gu (to remove what is evil and long-bred, like correcting entrenched bad habits or practices), (the one of) rigidity goes up and (the one of) tenderness comes down; (Gu is exhibited in the form of) Xun (to prostrate) and then stop (like the upper trigram Gen). Gu, (which will) progress greatly and smoothly; the world becomes ruled. It is instrumental in crossing a great river; to go forth where there are things (to tackle). Three days before Jia, and three days after Jia (i.e. the beginning or transit point); after an ending there is a new start, (which is the way that) Heaven behaves.
To remove something evil and long-bred will progress greatly and smoothly. Like a bad habit or practice, it has existed for a long time and people are empowered to no longer follow it after they have accomplished their mission in the previous hexagram, Sui. Carefully investigating it before action and evaluating the effect afterward is instrumental in overcoming obstacles to a great mission.
Hexagram Gu is formed after a masculine-Yang line (i.e. one of rigidity) from trigram Qian (perseverance, heaven) moves up to the top of trigram Kun (submissiveness, earth). This creates trigram Gen, to stop. A feminine-Yin line (i.e. one of tenderness) from trigram Kun moves down to the bottom of trigram Qian creating trigram Xun, to fall prostrate. The rigid one ascends, while the tender one descends; the bright Yang takes the vantage point and exhibits stopping, while the evil Yin falls prostrate below. This way evil will be stopped accordingly.
Jia is the first stem of the ten Heavenly Stems, representing the beginning and signifying that the evil must be eradicated right from the start, like action taken at position 1. Action must be adjusted for best effects; then the world will be ruled once the entrenched bad habit or practice of line 5 at the king's position is corrected.
On the other hand, the image from line 1 to 4 is similar to that of trigram Kan (the abyss, water), the river. The lower trigram Xun denotes wood, while the inner upper trigram Zhen is to move, indicating that line 3, the representative line of trigram Zhen, can make use of the wood below to cross the river, i.e. to overcome all difficulties in undertaking a great mission.
After correction takes place from the lower trigram to the upper one as if from low society to high in three phases, the old regime will end and there will be a new beginning with the sovereignty of hexagram Lin (19) descending into the world. Seven denotes a cycle, which is the way of Nature (see hexagram 24). Jia here is signified as the transit point.
Footnote: The year, month and day in the Chinese calendar are designated in the form of a Heavenly Stem with an Earthly Branch. In total there are ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches. The stem and branch are paired in sequence, one by one, as indicated below. A total of ten sets occur in the first shift. Then the first Heavenly Stem will start with the eleventh Earthly Branch for the next shift. After six shifts, one cycle will be completed.
The Heavenly Stems are shown in the top row; the Earthly Stems are shown in the bottom row.
Commentary on the image: There is wind at the foot of the mountain; Gu. A gentleman, in accordance with this, inspires people and cultivates (their) virtue.
The air is still, so that a miasma surrounds the foot of the mountain. A gentleman is as high and revered as a mountain. His hands like the wind tenderly waft over all life in the noxious atmosphere. He inspires people and cultivates their virtue by doing away with evil and engaging in goodness.
To remove the long-bred evil will progress greatly and smoothly. To repeatedly investigate the cause and evaluate the effect is instrumental in overcoming difficulties in undertaking this great mission. Or, things will progress greatly and smoothly after those long-standing bad habits and practices are corrected. This is instrumental in overcoming difficulties in undertaking a great mission.
Although the text doesn’t explicitly state a successful outcome, it provides great and smooth progress and encourages people to see it through, since after the end of the old there will definitely be a new beginning; this is the way of Nature.
Hexagram Gu doesn’t possess the virtue of persistence, signifying that preservation is not a subject in the world of Gu and one must remove all that is not righteous.
Removing long-bred evil doesn’t need to conform to etiquette as suggested by its inner hexagram Gui Mei (54). Its changing hexagram, Sui (17), suggests making adjustments at the right time, and performing properly according to the occasion.
In addition to the long-standing bad habit or practice, Gu also refers to corruption or illness existing over a long period of time, or a conspiracy long-bred in darkness.
Gu (蠱) itself doesn't include the meaning of removal. The hexagram text is paraphrased according to its context and the phrase, 幹蠱, in its line texts. 幹gan4 (to do or to fight on) originally meant the supporting wood for a newly built wall; therefore it can be annotated as to correct an evil or bad thing as if setting the wall to right. However, the venomous insect of Gu is not possible to correct; therefore 幹 of 幹蠱 is literally interpreted as removing forcibly and thoroughly. Evil, like bad habits and practices, has existed for a long time. In light of this, it is taken for what is left following the generation of the father and mother. The mission of Gu is to remove what is bad and adjust what remains into an orderly form.
A line doesn't stay at the position right to it, signifying that it doesn't act righteously because it has inherited what is evil; this needs to be corrected. The masculine line is firm and strong, signifying that it is capable of correcting itself as well as others. Although the feminine line is tender and weak, it can still self-correct, or make use of masculine strength to do so. To remain inactive will lead to resentment. Consequently, line 1, the founding line that brings long-bred evil to hexagram Gu, starts to self-correct. Line 2 doesn't necessarily act righteously but must be moderate, as that which it needs to correct holds power. Line 3 is somewhat radical; it encounters resistance but there will be no great calamity if it can last to the end. Line 4 just takes care of its own interests and tolerates what is evil and bad, which will lead to resentment. Line 5, at the king's position, must make use of a talented and moderate person to implement effective reform. Line 6 is worldly wise and plays it safe, i.e. it retires from public life after having accomplished the difficult job of removal, after which it starts to build a new, righteous model.
of removing Gu is perilous like Kan existing
along the road of correction from line
1 to 4; therefore one must cautiously investigate the cause
and evaluate the effect in order to overcome all difficulties, like
crossing a great river to carry out a mission.
The 1st line
Text: (The subject ought) to remove the father’s Gu (bad and evil things); there is a son available, (so) the deceased father will experience no calamity (or will not be blamed), (which is of) sternness and cruelty (but) eventually auspiciousness.
To remove what is bad and evil in the father can be paraphrased here as to correct those bad habits or practices that have existed for a long time as if they were left over from the father. The deceased father won’t be blamed because the job is implemented by his son who has inherited them and will set them right. The process is difficult, i.e. stern and cruel, as it involves review, confession of fault, correction, etc.; but it will become auspicious in the end if the correction is made accordingly.
Line 1, in the initial phase of hexagram Gu, isn't at a position right to it, signifying that it can’t act righteously because it is affected by preceding bad habits or practices, but they have not yet firmly rooted.
Originally line 1 was masculine and the lower trigram was Qian, the father. The feminine line 1 here is taken for what is left over from the father. After line 1 self-corrects by changing to masculine, it becomes right to its position and correlates with line 4 which is also at its right position, signifying that the bad habits or practices have been eradicated at the beginning and do not continue into the new generation. As the image of Kan (i.e. peril which leads to calamity) disappears, and the lower trigram changes back to Qian (the father) and remains intact, this is auspicious.
Commentary on the image: (Line 1 ought) to remove the father’s Gu (bad and evil things), signifying (it is) inherited from the deceased father.
To remove the father’s Gu signifies removing long-bred evils, like correcting long-standing bad habits or practices left over from the deceased father, i.e. the previous generation.
Enlightenment through six one: to stop the old and bad, and do it without affecting others. The removal of long-bred evils is carried out like a son inheriting them from his father and removing them in his person; thus those who have engaged in those bad things won’t be hurt or blamed. The process is difficult, but it will be auspicious in the end as it is self-correction carried out with less opposition, and the evil won’t affect the next generation. The hexagram that appears while this line is activated and changes to masculine is Da Chu (26), large storage and great restraint, where people are enhanced and disciplined before they act freely.
The 2nd line
Text: (The subject ought) to remove the mother’s Gu (bad and evil things), (which) doesn't permit persistence.
The long-bred evils of the mother can be taken for that which can't be corrected drastically, like that of the father. Drastic action might reverse the outcome so that the result would be even worse. Severe action should not be undertaken where tender treatment (or discretion) is required.
Neither line 2 nor line 5 stays at its right position, i.e. neither acts righteously. Line 5, the representative line of the original trigram Kun, the mother (who needs to be corrected), is at the king’s position. As the correction involves the king, it can’t be done severely; therefore the one in charge of correction doesn't necessarily act righteously but must be moderate.
Commentary on the image: (Line 2 is able) to remove the mother’s Gu (bad and evil things), (which is due to its) attaining the principle of moderation.
Line 2 is masculine and capable of carrying out the job; however line 2 isn't at the right position, it must act moderately and resist persistence, like the line at the middle position of a trigram possessing the principle of moderation.
Enlightenment through nine three: do the job in a moderate manner. Correction involves a person who holds power. This suggests that the one correcting should not do it forcibly, but moderately. It might backfire and make things even worse if he persists out of desperation. While this line is activated, changing to feminine and acting righteously in a tender way, the hexagram appears in the form of Gen (52), to keep still, signifying to move and stop according to what is appropriate, i.e. to act at the right time.
The 3rd line
Text: (The subject is eager) to remove the father’s Gu (bad and evil things); this somewhat has (cause to) regret, (but there will be) no great fault (or calamity).
One is capable of removing what is evil and bad, and eager to do it. Although there is some resistance and difficulty which will cause regret, it won’t lead to any significant calamity or fault.
Line 3 is masculine; therefore, it tends to move. It is at a position right to it and for marching upward but it is beyond the middle of the lower trigram (i.e. the principle of moderation). This signifies that it is positioned and capable of undertaking correction, but somewhat radically. On the other hand it is ridden over by line 4 which enjoys its vested interests and has no correlation with line 6. Therefore it encounters resistance and a setback which will cause regret.
It intends to correct line 6, i.e. to make it become feminine and act righteously. Though it is not possible at the moment, this won’t cause any great fault or calamity as line 6 will cultivate itself and eventually become decent and noble (see line 6). Then the upper trigram will become Kun (submissiveness, earth), the plains, and line 3, the representative line of the inner upper trigram Zhen (to move, the thunder), will leave peril as signified below.
Commentary on the image: (Line 3 is eager) to remove the father’s Gu (bad and evil things); (this turns out to be of) no fault (or calamity) in the end.
nine three: to keep on fighting despite repeated setbacks. One
acts as the leader of those below and is eager to implement reform.
This is like line 3 occupying the top position of the lower trigram
(a place outside the Court and low society) and marching toward the
high society. He will encounter resistance and a setback. There will
be some regret but no calamity if the reform also accords with the
supreme authority (i.e. line 6). Should this line changes to feminine and abandon
its mission, i.e. not act according to what is righteous, the hexagram would
appear as Meng (4), ignorance.
Here it forsakes education (line 2) but pursues wealth (line 6). It
will be badly defeated later when line 6 becomes feminine and the
hexagram further changes to Shi (7).
The 4th line
Text: (The subject is in a state of) tolerating the father’s Gu (bad and evil things); go forth and resentment will appear.
To tolerate the long-bred evil, like a person enjoying his vested interests and interrupting correction, will be resented. This signifies that if it keeps doing this, calamity will result.
Though line 4 is at a right position, line 1 at the correlative position is not and needs to be corrected. Line 4, the courtier, is feminine and tends to remain still at the resting position. This signifies that it has neither the ability nor intent to effect the correction. Line 1 in particular has the same habit or practice as line 5, the king (as both are feminine and not at their right positions). Therefore it tolerates what is evil and bad, and continues to approach and please line 5 above, like the inner lower trigram Dui (joy, the marsh) catering to the king.
The long-standing bad habit or practice cannot be corrected; therefore line 1 maintains its femininity and the image of Kan (the abyss, water, peril) remains unchanging. Peril will lead to calamity, as it will be humiliated when it changes to masculine and the hexagram appears as Ding (50) rather than Da You (14), abundant possessions.
Commentary on the image: (Line 4 is in a state of) tolerating the father’s Gu (bad and evil things); going forth will attain nothing.
That which needs to be corrected stays below; thus nothing is obtainable in going forward, i.e. moving upward to please the king.
Enlightenment through six four: to forsake self-interest and carry on the assigned task. A person, who occupies a high-ranking position and holds vested interests, ignores and tolerates what is evil and bad. If he keeps acting like this, it will cause resentment. If this line is activated, changing to masculine and occupying at a position not right to it, hexagram Ding (50), the cauldron, will forms. Here line 4 is an incompetent person who occupies an important post but cannot manage the heavy load. Therefore he fails at his job; the cauldron full of food overturns and spills on him, soiling his clothes. As a result, he is humiliated.
The 5th line
Text: (The subject ought) to remove the father’s Gu (bad and evil things), (which can be done by) making use of one's reputation.
Making use of one's reputation signifies to use one’s prestige and other people’s talent to accomplish a job.
Line 5 is the king but is the tender feminine. Normally it is not suitable for a weak and merciful king to implement reform alone or in person, especially when self-correction is involved. As it correlates with masculine line 2 which is strong, moderate and at the position of good reputation, it can assign line 2 to take charge of removing what is old and bad. In this way it will have more room to maneuver, i.e. it can choose between flexible or forceful measures, giving it a better chance to succeed.
Commentary on the image: (Line 5 ought) to set right (the bad habit or practice of) the father by making use of its reputation, (signifying) to inherit (the father’s undertaking and Gu) with virtue.
According to the performance of each line described by Xi Ci Zhuan (Confucian commentary on the text tagging), Chapter 9, line 2 enjoys a good reputation, as line 2 (i.e. a domestic official) always strives to perform well in order that one day it might be lifted to a higher position through its correlation with line 5, the king.
Or, it can
be understood that the king not only inherits his father's
undertaking, but also the responsibility to correct the bad habits
or practices inherited from the father.
The 6th line
Text: (The subject ought) not to serve the king and duke, (but) engage in what is decent and noble.
When the line has gone through all the steps of correcting the old and bad and reaches the end of the hexagram, the word Gu no longer exists in the text. This signifies that the task has been successfully accomplished. Line 6 has no correlation with line 3, the duke, and turns down the approach of line 5, the king, like its representing upper trigram Gen (keeping still, the mountain). Therefore it retires from public life and doesn't engage in worldly affairs.
It is also the moment to start establishing new and good things. Therefore, if line 6 can change to feminine and act righteously at its position, the upper trigram will become Kun which denotes cultured (things), signifying that it cultivates itself becoming decent and noble, and engages itself in the civilised work.
Commentary on the image: (Line 6 ought) not to serve the king and duke; (its) aspiration can be imitated.
The bad and evil things are removed but one claims no credit for what one has achieved. To retire from public life is worldly wise and playing it safe, i.e. a canny move after ruthless reforms. To cultivate oneself and create a new and better model is a benevolent act.
Enlightenment through nine six: 1) to stop further action after having successfully achieved the mission, and 2) to initiate a new and good order. One must stop correcting once the old and bad have been removed. Then it is time to establish the new and good. The sovereignty will descend into the world in the next hexagram Lin. The hexagram that forms after this line is activated and changes to feminine is Sheng (46), to rise, where virtuous and able people rise, a new and better world will be established.