Hexagram #20 Observation

Observing, one has washed the hands but not made the offering; there is sincerity, which is reverent.

EXPLANATION: Observing means alert observation, being careful. As for the qualities of the hexagram, above is Wind ☴, penetrating, and below is Earth ☷, receptive; it has the meaning of gradually progressing in accord with proper timing, advancing without impetuousity, with alert observation; therefore it is called observing.

This hexagram represents alert observation with clarity of mind. The achievement of attentive observation is all a matter of restoring the primordial while in the midst of the temporal, reversing the ordinary flow while in its very midst. When the yin in people is strong and the yang is weak, it is like the present hexagram's four yins arising one after another while the two yangs gradually dissolve; the strength of yang energy is going to be erased by yin energy. Attentive observation with clarity of mind reverses this weak yang so that it is not injured by yin energy.

But people's accumulated habits are already deep-seated. The yin energy cannot be made submissive all at once, so it is necessary to use gradual cultivation. This means that when the real comes the false naturally submits; if one can be truthful inwardly, then acquired influences will naturally disappear. Yang gradually advances upward, and yin submissively retreats downward. Yang governs yin and yin obeys yang; yin and yang in harmony, inside and outside are one. This is like when honoring a deity, when one has washed the hands but not yet made the offering, there is sincerity, which is reverent.

The path of cultivation of reality is like honoring a deity: first you make the mind sincere and truthful, then you practice it in the body. Spiritual clarity works silently, swift without being hasty, entering by sincerity, functioning with flexibility, penetrating the barrier between yin and yang, producing light in the openness within. From observation of the spirit reaching observation of the great, a black pearl hangs in the great void, illumining the whole world as though it were in your palm. Then every step is in accord with the sublime Tao; all yin submits and all yang returns.

So the path of alert observation, involving observing the spirit and also extensive observation, should never be departed from start to finish by those who practice the Tao. It begins with acting, by extensive observation, and ends in non-action through spiritual observation. When spiritual observation and great observation are as one, the medicine is real, the firing process is in order; how could the gold elixir not develop? The function of observation is great indeed.
-- Liu Yiming, Hexagram #20 Observation, The Taoist I Ching

Return to the Individual Hexagrams page

Hexagram #20 Observation

On the left the Liushutong character, in the middle another ancient shape and on the right the present shape of the character
for Hexagram #20 Observation.

Bodhisattva Guan Yin (观音) — The Chinese character for Hexagram #20 观 (guan- observe or observation) is the same as the first character of Guan Yin Bodhisattva

All figures in this image symbolize internal thoughts. The six figures worshipping God (the inner Deity) represent six firm yang lines.
Their nudity represents purity.
15th c. French illuminated manuscript

Strictly speaking, the duration of the life of a living being is exceedingly brief, lasting only while a thought lasts. Just as a chariot-wheel in rolling, rolls only at one point of the tire and in resting only rests at one point; exactly in the same way, the life of a living being lasts only for the period of one thought. -- Buddhaghosa, Visuddha Magga VIII (Buddhist Sutra)