Hexagram #41. Reduction

Reduction with sincerity is very auspicious, impeccable. It should be correct. It is beneficial to go somewhere. What is the use of the two bowls? They can be used to receive.

EXPLANATION: Reduction means diminishing excess. As for the qualities of the hexagram, above is Mountain ☶, still and below is Lake ☱, joyous; Having something to rejoice over, yet immediately stilling it, by stilling the joy there is no errant thought. In the body of the hexagram, in the second and fifth lines strength and flexibility are balanced, emptiness and fullness are in accord; strength does not become rambunctious, flexibility does not become weakness. Diminishing what is excessive, adding to what is insufficient — thus it is called reduction.

This hexagram represents the existence of increase within reduction; it follows on the previous hexagram halting. In halting, one can stop where there is danger, preserving the primordial Tao in the midst of the temporal. But if you want to preserve the primordial, it is necessary to remove acquired conditioning; and to remove acquired conditioning means to travel the path of reduction.

However, reduction as a path means not following desires but stopping desires; many people cannot be sincere in it. If one cannot be sincere, one may start but will not finish; then not only will one fail to gain good fortune, one will also bring on blame. If one can be sincere, every thought is true; sincerity in the mind naturally shows in action. Then good fortune comes even though one does not try to bring it about; as one does not bring about fault, fault is naturally nonexistent.

But even though sincerity in reduction is certainly auspicious and surely impeccable, it is most important that sincerity be correct, that reduction be correct. People in the world who contemplate voidness, stick to quietude, forget about people, forget about their own bodies, and go on like this all their lives without change, are certainly sincere about reduction, but they are faithful to what they should not be faithful to, and reduce what they should not reduce — thus there is decrease with increase, which is still faulty.

So if one can be correct in sincerity, discern whether it is right or wrong, distinguish whether it is false or true, understand it in the mind and prove it in actual events, there is somewhere to go, to the benefit of all. But while the benefit of going somewhere is beneficial insofar as sincerity is correct and reduction is correct, actual practice in real life is most important, to finish what has been started. As long as one has not yet reached the serene, equanimous realm of the middle way, work cannot be stopped; one must daily reduce for the sake of the Tao, daily increasing one's accomplishment. Reducing and reducing again, increasing and increasing again, until there is no more to be reduced and no more to be increased, so strength and softness correspond, inside and outside merge with the Tao, in perfect goodness without evil, wholly integrated with the design of nature — only then is the work of reduction and increase no longer needed.

Therefore the text says, "What is the use of the two bowls? They can be used to receive." A bowl is something hollow and round; the "two bowls" are the balance of strength and flexibility represented by the second and fifth lines in correspondence. When strength and flexibility are balanced, there is flexibility in strength and strength in flexibility; strength and flexibility are as one. The vitalities of the second and fifth lines subtly join and congeal. returning to the basis, going back to the origin; the spiritual embryo takes on form, and from this one receives the bliss of freedom and non-doing. One's fate now depends on oneself, not on heaven. Be sincere in reduction, and within reduction there is increase. This is no small matter.

Top yang: Not reducing or increasing this is faultless. Correctness brings good fortune. It is beneficial to go somewhere. Getting a servant, there is no house.

EXPLANATION: At the end of reduction, this is reduction to the point where there is nothing to be reduced, increase to the point where there is nothing to be increased; by clarifying the qualities of illumination, one rests in the highest good, and there is no reducing or increasing this. Now there is no act at fault, nothing incorrect; completing what has been started, one gains its good fortune. When practice of the Tao reaches the point of resting in the highest good, the mind of Tao is always present, and the gold elixir crystallizes; going on thereby to transmute the human mind, there is all-around benefit. The mind of Tao is the master, the human mind is the servant. When the mind of Tao is in charge of things, every step, every undertaking, is celestial design; personal desires do not arise, and even the human mind transforms into the mind of Tao: "getting a servant, there is no house" — all pollution vanishes, aggregated mundanity is stripped away, and the elixir is perfected. Leaping out of the cage of the ordinary, one's life span is myriad years. This is returning to ultimate good by reduction. -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, Hexagram #40 Liberation

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Hexagram #41 Reduction

On the left the Liushutong character and on the right the present shape of the character
for Hexagram #41 Reduction

The ministers of the Left and Right at the Yasaka shrine, Kyoto, Japan (Click to enlarge)

The minister of the Left has the mouth open saying 'Ah', and the Minister of the Right has the mouth closed saying 'Un', representing the first and last yang.

A bowl with feet, representing a human being that has become a vessel able to receive higher influences. If one empties oneself, one is available to receive primordial yang energy.

A bowl with holes, symbolizing a person who cannot hold on to what he receives.

The Three Wise men visiting the Christ child, holding three bowls. They symbolize the three yangs of the trigram The Creative ☰.
The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare
Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy
(click to enlarge)

Three people come, guests not in haste: Respect them, and it will turn out well. The guests who are not in haste are the three yangs of Heaven away to other houses after birth and become guests; awaiting the time to Return ䷗, from one yang you gradually arrive at the pure completeness of the three yangs - then as before they belong to your home. Let them be the hosts and yourself be the guest.
-- Liu Yiming, Hexagram #5 Attending,
the Taoist I Ching