by Stefan Stenudd

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I Ching Hexagram 33.
Tun / Retreat


Hexagram 33

Upper trigram: Ch'ien The Creative, Heaven

Lower trigram: Kên Keeping Still, Mountain


The Judgement

Retreat. Success.
In what is small, perseverance furthers.





The Image

Mountain under heaven: the image of Retreat.
Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance,
Not angrily but with reserve.


The Lines

These texts apply only for the lines that were marked, when the hexagram was cast. Note that the lines are counted from the bottom up.


The bottom line marked means:

At the tail in retreat. This is dangerous.
One must not wish to undertake anything.


The 2nd line marked means:

He holds him fast with yellow oxhide.
No one can tear him loose.


The 3rd line marked means:

A halted retreat
Is nerve-wracking and dangerous.
To retain people as men- and maidservants
Brings good fortune.


The 4th line marked means:

Voluntary retreat brings good fortune to the superior man
And downfall to the inferior man.


The 5th line marked means:

Friendly retreat. Perseverance brings good fortune.


The top line marked means:

Cheerful retreat. Everything serves to further.


The interpretations above and comments below are from Richard Wilhelm's version of the I CHING.


Comments on the Hexagram

The power of the dark is ascending. The light retreats to security, so that the dark cannot encroach upon it. This retreat is a matter not of man's will but of natural law. Therefore in this case withdrawal is proper; it is the correct way to behave in order not to exhaust one's forces.

       In the calendar this hexagram is linked with the sixth month (July-August), in which the forces of winter are already showing their influence.


The Judgement

Conditions are such that the hostile forces favored by the time are advancing. In this case retreat is the right course, and it is not to be confused with flight. Flight means saving oneself under any circumstances, whereas retreat is a sign of strength. We must be careful not to miss the right moment while we are in full possession of power and position. Then we shall be able to interpret the signs of the time before it is too late and to prepare for provisional retreat instead of being drawn into a desperate life-and-death struggle. Thus we do not simple abandon the field to the opponent; we make it difficult for him to advance by showing perseverance in single acts of resistance. In this way we prepare, while retreating, for the counter- movement. Understanding the laws of a constructive retreat of this sort is not easy. The meaning that lies hidden in such a time is important.


The Image

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.


The Lines

The bottom line marked
Since the hexagram is the picture of something that is retreating, the lowest line represents the tail and the top line the head. In a retreat it is advantageous to be at the front. Here one is at the back, in immediate contact with the pursuing enemy. This is dangerous, and under such circumstances it is not advisable to undertake anything. Keeping still is the easiest way of escaping from the threatening danger.


The 2nd line from the bottom marked
Yellow is the color of the middle. It indicates that which is correct and in line with duty. Oxhide is strong and not to be torn.

       While the superior men retreat and the inferior press after them, the inferior man represented here holds on so firmly and tightly to the superior man that the latter cannot shake him off. And because he is in quest of what is right an so strong in purpose, he reaches his goal. Thus the line confirms what is said in the Judgment: "In what is small" - here equivalent to "in the inferior man" - "perseverance furthers." The 3rd line from the bottom marked
When it is time to retreat it is both unpleasant and dangerous to be held back, because then one no longer has freedom of action. In such a case the only expedient is to take into one's service, so to speak, those who refuse to let one go, so that one may at least keep one's initiative and not fall helplessly under their domination. But even with this expedient the situation is far from satisfactory - for what can one hope to accomplish with such servants? The 4th line from the bottom marked
In retreating the superior man is intent on taking his departure willingly and in all friendliness. He easily adjusts his mind to retreat, because in retreating he does not have to do violence to his convictions. The only one who suffers is the inferior man from whom he retreats, who will degenerate when deprived of the guidance of the superior man.


The 5th line from the bottom marked
It is the business of the superior man to recognize in time that the moment for retreat has come. If the right moment is chosen, the retreat can be carried out within the forms of perfect friendliness, without the necessity of disagreeable discussions. Yet, for all the observance of amenities, absolute firmness of decision is necessary if one is not to be led astray by irrelevant considerations.


The top line marked
The situation is unequivocal. Inner detachment has become an established fact, and we are at liberty to depart. When one sees the way ahead thus clearly, free of all doubt, a cheerful mood sets in, and one chooses what is right without further thought. Such a clear path ahead always leads to the good.



Further Reading


Here I add some perspectives on this hexagram, as well as other methods to read its meaning, in additon to what Richard Wilhelm derives from it above.


Meaning of the Trigrams Combined

Each hexagram combines two trigrams, making one the upper and the other the lower. The meaning of the hexagram is mainly derived from that combination. Here's what it means for this hexagram:


Heaven upon Mountain

This part of the text is being edited. It will be added shortly.


Compare to the Reversed Trigrams

It's common to compare a hexagram to the one where the lines are the opposite: a full line is broken and a broken line full. But I find it much more interesting to compare hexagrams with the trigrams reversed: the upper trigram becomes the lower, and the lower trigram becomes the upper. That deepens the understanding of the trigrams at work - when they're not identical. Click the image to see what it means for the two trigrams of this hexagram:

I Ching Hexagram 26
The hexagram with the trigrams reversed


Compare to the Reversed Lines

You can also compare this hexagram to its opposite according to the six lines, where each broken line is full, and vice versa. In some cases it leads to the same hexagram as the one where the trigrams are switched. Here is the hexagram with reversed lines (click it to get to its webpage):

I Ching Hexagram 19
Hexagram with opposite lines


The I Ching Trigrams

Click the header to read more about the eight trigrams that are combined into the 64 hexagrams.


The 64 I Ching Hexagrams

An I Ching hexagram is composed of two trigrams. Each of the 64 hexagrams has its own name, meaning, and divinatory text. Here they all are, in the traditional order. Click on the image of an I Ching hexagram to get to its webpage.


I Ching Hexagram 1
1
Creative
I Ching Hexagram 2
2
Receptive
I Ching Hexagram 3
3
Difficulty
I Ching Hexagram 4
4
Folly
I Ching Hexagram 5
5
Waiting
I Ching Hexagram 6
6
Conflict
I Ching Hexagram 7
7
Army
I Ching Hexagram 8
8
Union
I Ching Hexagram 9
9
Taming
I Ching Hexagram 10
10
Treading
I Ching Hexagram 11
11
Peace
I Ching Hexagram 12
12
Standstill
I Ching Hexagram 13
13
Fellowship
I Ching Hexagram 14
14
Possession
I Ching Hexagram 15
15
Modesty
I Ching Hexagram 16
16
Enthusiasm
I Ching Hexagram 17
17
Following
I Ching Hexagram 18
18
Decay
I Ching Hexagram 19
19
Approach
I Ching Hexagram 20
20
View
I Ching Hexagram 21
21
Biting
I Ching Hexagram 22
22
Grace
I Ching Hexagram 23
23
Splitting
I Ching Hexagram 24
24
Return
I Ching Hexagram 25
25
Innocence
I Ching Hexagram 26
26
Taming
I Ching Hexagram 27
27
Mouth
I Ching Hexagram 28
28
Preponderance
I Ching Hexagram 29
29
Abysmal
I Ching Hexagram 30
30
Clinging
I Ching Hexagram 31
31
Influence
I Ching Hexagram 32
32
Duration
I Ching Hexagram 33
33
Retreat
I Ching Hexagram 34
34
Power
I Ching Hexagram 35
35
Progress
I Ching Hexagram 36
36
Darkening
I Ching Hexagram 37
37
Family
I Ching Hexagram 38
38
Opposition
I Ching Hexagram 39
39
Obstruction
I Ching Hexagram 40
40
Deliverance
I Ching Hexagram 41
41
Decrease
I Ching Hexagram 42
42
Increase
I Ching Hexagram 43
43
Resoluteness
I Ching Hexagram 44
44
Coming
I Ching Hexagram 45
45
Gathering
I Ching Hexagram 46
46
Pushing
I Ching Hexagram 47
47
Oppression
I Ching Hexagram 48
48
Well
I Ching Hexagram 49
49
Revolution
I Ching Hexagram 50
50
Caldron
I Ching Hexagram 51
51
Arousing
I Ching Hexagram 52
52
Still
I Ching Hexagram 53
53
Development
I Ching Hexagram 54
54
Marrying
I Ching Hexagram 55
55
Abundance
I Ching Hexagram 56
56
Wanderer
I Ching Hexagram 57
57
Gentle
I Ching Hexagram 58
58
Joyous
I Ching Hexagram 59
59
Dispersion
I Ching Hexagram 60
60
Limitation
I Ching Hexagram 61
61
Truth
I Ching Hexagram 62
62
Small
I Ching Hexagram 63
63
After
I Ching Hexagram 64
64
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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other East Asian traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.