39 Jian3

The lower: Gen (keeping still, the mountain). The upper: Kan (the abyss, water).

Jian: difficulty (in proceeding), or a troublesome and dangerous plight. The original significance of hexagram Jian is to restrain oneself from getting stuck in peril, and to reflect on and enhance oneself while encountering difficulty. However even in such times one should bravely face challenges for a worthy cause.






Alienation (Kui) will definitely make (progress) difficult; therefore Jian is granted.  Jian signifies difficulty. Jian in Chinese means cripple and suggests difficulty in walking. In the I Ching it is annotated as difficulty (in proceeding) because one encounters trouble or peril, and is referred to as a plight.

The upper trigram Kan is water, while the lower trigram Gen is mountain; when one enters hexagram JIan, the river in front and the mountain behind indicate a predicament and difficulty (in proceeding).

Jian is constituted by the lower and internal trigram Gen, to stop, and the upper trigram Kan, peril, which signifies stopping internally when peril lies ahead, and refers to self-restraint in light of the unfavourable conditions. Hexagram Meng (4) is a hexagram of trigram Kan remaining internal and trigram Gen remaining external, depicting that peril occurs in one's interior and one must restrain one's behaviour; therefore Meng requires enlightenment and refers to education.

The inner hexagram of Jian is Wei Ji (64), not completed yet, wherein all the lines turn to stay at positions not right for them after a shuffle at the end. This signifies all has been done is in vain, requiring a fresh start.

The changing hexagram of Jian is Kui (38), alienation owing to discrepancy. When a task becomes difficult to accomplish, people’s thoughts begin to differ from one another. When reversed, i.e. when Kui is the changing hexagram of Jian, alienation is the cause of difficulty (in proceeding).


Text: (be advantageous or appropriate)西南(southwest)(not)利東北(northeast)利見(see)大人(great lord)貞吉

Jian (difficulty, or a plight): It is advantageous (or appropriate) to be in the southwest, but not advantageous (or appropriate) in the northeast.  It is advantageous (or appropriate) to see a great lord, and it is auspicious to persist.

Commentary on the text: Jian: It signifies difficulty (or plight) (), as peril of the upper trigram Kan is in front.  Jian exhibits its norm in the form of seeing peril of the upper trigram Kan and then being able to stop like the lower trigram Gen, which is wisdom!  Jian (difficulty, or a plight): It is advantageous (or appropriate) to be in the southwest, to move forward and attain the core position.  It is not advantageous (or not appropriate) to be in the northeast, as it is destitute of the norm (or, the road) () It is advantageous (or appropriate) to see a great lord (i.e. line 5).  Merit will be achieved in going forward.  It is auspicious to persist in the norm of Jian at the appropriate position, thereby rectifying the nation.  In the time of Jian to make correct use of Jian is momentous!

Text explanation:

 The mountain of the lower trigram Gen stops people from moving forward (along the timeline), and the river of the upper trigram Kan increases peril (of its crossing), which is signified as difficulty (in proceeding). On the other hand it is wise to halt an advance, like that necessitated by the lower trigram Gen when the peril of the upper trigram Kan is in front.

When proceeding is difficult, it is advantageous to be in a clear and unobstructed place like the plains, but not in a rugged and difficult place like the mountains. Or, it is appropriate to be yielding instead of rigid. When proceeding is difficult, it is advantageous to meet a great lord and receive direction to the holy land. The southwest is where trigram Kun1 (submissiveness, earth) locates; Kun1 is a tender trigram and denotes the plains. The northeast is where trigram Gen located; Gen is a rigid trigram and the mountain.

When proceeding is difficult, people should be conservative in action. However when line 5, the king, is trapped in peril and the nation is in crisis, line 2 should go forward bravely and face the peril with the king and nation. Therefore it is appropriate for line 2 to go to position 5; thereafter the upper trigram changes from Kan to Kun1, and is in the southwest. It is not appropriate for line 2 to remain still in the northeast of the lower trigram Gen, where there is no way (road) to rescue the king and no norm of hexagram Jian. After line 2 succeeds in rescuing the king from peril, the hexagram becomes Sheng (46), to rise. In hexagram Sheng talented and able people will be promoted. can be pronounced as nan2 and signified as difficulty, or nan4 and a troublesome and dangerous plight. The norm and the road in Chinese are the same character, dao4.


When facing a troublesome and dangerous situation, it is auspicious if one can persist in the norm of Jian, i.e. avoiding being plunged into peril, maintaining a low profile in adversity, but being willing to risk peril for a worthy cause. In a troublesome and dangerous plight, both lines 2 and 5 act righteously at their positions, allowing them to rectify the nation, which has great meaning.

Commentary on the image: There is water on the mountain: Jian.  A gentleman, in accordance with this, should reflect upon himself and cultivate his virtue.

Water on the mountain indicates difficulty (in proceeding because it is slippery). When encountering difficulties in realising one's aspirations, a gentleman will reflect on, and enhance, himself.


In the time of difficulty (in proceeding), it is advantageous to be in the southwest, i.e. the clear plains, but not in the northeast, i.e. the mountains, signifying choosing a smoother path rather than seeking challenges; or, it is advantageous to be flexible rather than rigid. It is advantageous to meet a person who can lead them together through their plight; or, it is advantageous to undergo difficulties together with a person who can influence one's future. To persist is auspicious.

Hexagram Jian possesses the virtues of added advantage which is off-set by the disadvantage in-between, and persistence (i.e. preservation); this reveals that one must value that which has already been achieved. .

Because everything requires a fresh start after the shuffle at the end, signified by its inner hexagram Wei Ji (64), Jian achieves little. Its changing hexagram is Kui (38), alienation, signifying people’s thoughts diverge; as a result, each person acts according to his own way.

To halt when recognizing peril ahead signifies that the person who tailors his actions to current conditions is wise. However, one should bravely face challenges for a worthy cause, and the hexagram will become Sheng (46) if crisis is successfully resolved. Hexagram Jian also suggests that one should reflect on oneself and engage in self-improvement while encountering difficulties.






The upper trigram Kan is peril, i.e. the cause of difficulty, and the lower trigram Gen signifies stop; to stop when there is peril ahead signifies to remain still or retreat when it is difficult to proceed, as seen with lines 1 and 3. However in the case of a grave event, like that which line 2 encounters, it must bravely advance regardless of all risk. The crisis besetting line 5 will be alleviated once friends arrive, and then line 5 will lead line 6 to freedom.

The line moving upward along the timeline is called ‘to go (forward)’; the line moving downward is called ‘to come (back)’. The line can go forward or come back by exchanging positions with its correlate or friendly neighbour.


The 1st line

Text: (go forward)(come)(praise)

Going forward is Jian (difficult), while coming back wins praise.

Text explanation:

Line 1 is at the bottom position, i.e. there is no way to move backward; therefore 'coming back’ here is signified as 'to remain still'.

When peril lies in front, it is at the (initial) position where the line is less energetic; therefore it is better to remain still; it refrains from moving forward from the very beginning, which is wise and will be praised.

Commentary on the image: Going forward is Jian (difficult) while coming back wins praise; it is better to wait.

Line 1 has no means to move ahead (i.e. no correlate or friendly neighbour available in front) and the feminine tends to remain still; therefore it has difficulty in moving forward and is suited to remaining still, i.e. to wait for the right time, even though position 1 isn't an appropriate place for it.

Enlightenment through six one: do not act but wait for the right time. One has difficulty in going forward and going forward is perilous; it is better to remain still and wait for the right time. One will be praised because this is a wise decision, i.e. to stop right at the beginning when proceeding is difficult. If this line is activated changing to masculine, it will stays at a position right for it, and the hexagram will become Ji Ji (63), having successfully crossed the river, wherein all the lines are placed at their right positions, signifying that if the first step is right, all the following steps will be correct.


The 2nd line

Text: (ling)(subject)蹇蹇(not)(one's self)(a possessive particle)(cause)

The king and the subject are Jian Jian (in difficulty and tackling difficulties), which is not due to a personal cause.

Text explanation:

Line 5 is a king; line 2 correlates with it and acts righteously at the courtier’s position. The king is trapped in the middle of the upper trigram Kan, peril; the courtier must risk danger to rescue him; even though the courtier will also be plunged into peril.



Peril lies in front; usually one should evaluate the risks before deciding whether to move forward or not. However, while the king is in peril and the country in crisis, it goes without saying that the courtiers must go to rescue the king and save the country even though they will face peril themselves.

When Duke Ji Chang (姬昌, who was honoured as King Wen of Zhou by his descendants after his death) was imprisoned by King Zhou and trapped in peril, his sons and subjects all risked their lives without hesitation and tried every means to rescue him. Ji Chang was unjustly imprisoned for political reasons (i.e. not due to personal fault). His sons and subjects faced grave danger in rescuing him to save King and country (not for personal benefit). It was a noble and difficult task, and it took seven years.

Commentary on the image: The king and the subjects are Jian Jian (in difficulty and tackling difficulties); there will be no discontent in the end.

The subject undertakes to help his country in crisis regardless of his own personal safety; there should be no discontent if he is plunged into peril as a result because this is his responsibility and of his own volition.

Line 2 is the only line without the character lai4 (to come), signifying it has no alternative but to bravely advance.

Enlightenment through six two: do one's best and leave the decision to Heaven. To risk one's life for a worthy cause, like a courtier facing peril to rescue the endangered king and save the country in crisis; it is a matter of the value of life. Although the peril can’t be eliminated, there is no alternative and therefore no discontent. There is no personal fault as it is in the time of difficulty (in proceeding); nor is there personal interest, rather it is undertaken as a noble mission. The hexagram that forms after this line is activated is Jing (48), the well. Even though the earthen bucket breaks before reaching the top of the well, the well always provides water to people unselfishly.


The 3rd line

Text: 往蹇來反

While going forward is Jian (difficult), it is better to come back and reverse (來反).

Text explanation:

Masculine line 3 is at the position for marching upward; masculine tends to move and it is in correlation with line 6 (to reach the end of Jian). However the upper trigram Kan, peril, is right in front; once it moves forward, it might be plunged into peril. Line 3 is also the representative line of the lower trigram Gen, to stop, therefore it should be able to restrain itself from moving forward.


Literally to come and reverse (lai2fan3) also signify to reflect upon oneself, like moving backward along the timeline while encountering difficulties, as suggested by the commentary on the hexagram's image; particularly, line 3 is the representative line of hexagram Jian.

Commentary on the image: While going forward is Jian (difficult), it is better to come back and reverse; the interior (or the lines in the internal trigram) will be happy with this.

Instead of a rash advance, it remains in the internal trigram and reflects upon itself. It will feel happy with this, since the self-cultivation of trigram Gen offers it calm and composed self-restraint. Or, it can be understood that the lines in the internal trigram will be happy as it stays with them and resist peril in the front.

Enlightenment through nine three: to remain calm and composed with what one is suffering; also to reflect on, and enhance, oneself. It is difficult to go forward as peril or difficulty lies just in front; one should return to one’s stronghold and reflect upon oneself, which can lead to true happiness. The hexagram that appears when this line is activated changing to feminine and then remains still in the internal trigram with other lines is Bi3 (8), intimate interdependence for mutual assistance, which will help them undergo the difficulty.


The 4th line

Text: 往蹇來連(link, join)

While going forward is Jian (difficult), it is better to come back for alliance.

Text explanation:

Line 4 has just stepped into the upper trigram Kan, peril, i.e. the cause of difficulty; it is in difficulty and will encounter more difficulties in going forward; it should look backward for alliance with masculine line 3.


Commentary on the image: While going forward is Jian (difficult)it is better to come back for alliance, which is because that which stays at its right position is solid.

Line 3 which line 4 neighbours in a friendly manner is masculine (i.e. strong and firm) and at the masculine (i.e. solid) position; it is the one on which line 4 can count when facing peril.

Enlightenment through six four: to seek alliance. One who is engaged in difficulty and about to face more difficulties, one after another, should look for alliances that are strong and reliable. Even if this line changes to masculine, it must maintain telepathy with line 1 in hexagram Xian (31). Interacting with one who works in tandem with one's heart will lead to hexagram Ji Ji (63), task being completed.


The 5th line

Text: (large, great, grave)(friend)

The subject is in a state of grave Jian (difficulty), but friends will be coming.

Text explanation:

Line 5, the king, sits in the middle of the upper trigram Kan, peril. In the times of difficulty (in proceeding), the king is trapped in peril, which is a grave Jian. Fortunately there is line 2 in correlation with it, and line 4 sustaining it, which is regarded as the support available from friends who are moving along the timeline toward position 5. This is like Duke Ji Chang who was put in jail, after which his sons and courtiers came to rescue him.


Commentary on the image: Line 5 is in a state of grave Jian (difficulty) but friends will be coming, which is the result of its maintaining moral integrity by virtue of the principle of moderation.

Line 5 is the masculine axle centre staying at its right position; although it is in peril and unable to escape, it possesses righteousness and performs moderately, i.e. it is neither haughty nor humble, neither resistant nor yielding, like Duke Ji Chang imprisoned at You Li who acted in accordance with what he should do; by virtue of the principle of moderation, he maintained his moral integrity.

Enlightenment through nine five: A just cause gains great support. Virtue won’t be left to stand alone; one who practices this will definitely have neighbours. If one is in a troublesome and dangerous plight but behaves moderately in accordance with moral integrity; assistance will come. After this line is activated and changes to feminine, trigram Kan disappears, and the hexagram becomes Qian1 (15), humility. Here it is not arrogant but dignified; it keeps a low profile but does not tolerate offense.


The 6th line

Text: 往蹇來碩利見大人

To go forward is Jian (difficult), while to come back is spacious (), which is of auspiciousness.  It is advantageous (or appropriate) to see a great lord.

Text explanation:

Line 6 reaches the end of the hexagram, at which point there is no way to move further; therefore ‘to go forward’ here is signified as 'to remain still'. Line 6 tends to remain still as it is feminine; thus it had better not linger at the end but rather move backward.

Provided that it moves backward and exchanges positions with line 3, the inner lower and the lower trigram will become Kun1 (submissiveness, earth), which here is referred to as the plains, signifying a vast space will be available; hence it is auspicious to return. shou4 originally signified big head and extends to mean largeness. When it refers to a fruit like that of line 6, hexagram Bo (23), it means large. Here it refers to a space, it means vast.

Masculine line 5 at the king's position is regarded as a great lord, like Duke Ji Chang. It is friendly next to line 6 and stays between positions 6 and 3; therefore line 6 is guided by line 5 to reach the spacious position 3, like those in difficulty following Ji Chang to leave the ruthless King Zhou.


Commentary on the image: To go forward is Jian (difficult) while to come back is spacious, signifying aspiration is to develop inwardly.  It is advantageous (or appropriate) to see a great lord, thereby following nobility.

The inner lower trigram Kan (the abyss, water) is signified as aspiration and its representative line, line 3, stays in the internal trigram. Line 6 follows Ji Chang and retreats to position 3, signifying its aspiration is to develop inwardly. Ji Chang took the opportunity while in peril to recruit those who were also oppressed by King Zhou and guided them to his homeland. There he offered them opportunity to develop and also with their assistance he built up his ducal state as stated in the commentary on the hexagram text.

Enlightenment through six six: 1) to retreat and develop internally, or 2) to unite all available forces and resolve the crisis through concerted effort. Going forward is difficult because there is no way in front. If one can retreat, it will be as spacious and boundless as a plain; this is auspicious as one can find development there. It is advantageous to see a person who can provide direction and support development. When this line is activated changing to masculine, the hexagram appears as Jian4 (53), to progress gradually and sequentially, like wild geese flying toward their best habitat.