Hexagram #15. Humility

Humility is developmental. The superior person has a conclusion.

EXPLANATION: Humility means possession without dwelling on it. As for the qualities of the hexagram, above is Earth ☷, submissive, and below is Mountain ☶, still. Firmness still within, flexibility accords without; inwardly firm while outwardly flexible, it is therefore called humility. This hexagram represents preservation of yang by yin; it follows on the previous hexagram sameness with people. Sameness with people means mixing in with the ordinary world inconspicuously, using strength with clarity, so that strength is not used arbitrarily. Unless one's development and maturity is quite deep and rich, one cannot do this. The work of deepening development is precisely the work of preserving yang by yin. Preserving yang by yin is that whereby openness is consummated and tranquility pure, staying in the appropriate place.

Mountain is where one kills the self, earth is where one enlivens the self. Those who have not yet died first learn to die; this is the stilling of yang. Nonbirth is eternal life; this is the submission of yin. The stilling of yang is stopping false yang and nurturing true yang; the submission of yin is using true yin to repel false yin. When false yang stops and true yang remains, this is called nurturing; when false yin retreats and true yin appears, this is called submission. When one is able to nurture and to submit, one governs oneself with strictness and responds to others with openness; the mind increasingly humble, while the way becomes increasingly lofty — outwardly one is lacking, inwardly one has more than enough. Submitting to truth and according with people, one rests in the highest good and does not move. This is why the path of humility is beneficial.

However, if one can be humble in the beginning but not in the end, this is having a start but no conclusion. When stillness is not stable and submission is not appropriate, humility is false and not real. so it cannot be developmental. Only superior people who practice the Tao know where to stop, disregard what they have and appear to have nothing; the one thought is pure and true, they have a start and a conclusion, following the Tao in their acts, growing ever stronger the longer they go on. Therefore they attain the primordial emptiness, coming from within nothingness, congealing into the elixir.

Those who are not superior people think they have what they have not, think they are fulfilled when in fact they are empty. Self-satisfied, though they be reverent outwardly they are not respectful inwardly; diligent in the beginning, they end up lazy. They inevitably wind up stopping true yang and using false yang, obeying human desires and violating celestial principles. This is not only unfortunate, it is also not developmental. How could it be considered humility? -- Liu Yiming, Hexagram #15 Humility, The Taoist I Ching

Return to the Individual Hexagrams page

Hexagram #15 Humility

On the left the ancient shape of the
character for Hexagram #15 Humility.
On the right the present-day shape.

Two gate keepers in front of the 'mysterious pass', preventing the snake (false yang) of entering. (Click to enlarge)

The snake is your animal self.
Do not expect to oppose it with
quietness and sweetness and mere wishing.
--Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)

Tarot Card XII, The Hanged Man. He symbolizes the self-satisfied human mind, thinking it is creating true yang,
but is actually using false yang.
(click to enlarge)