XV. The Meaning of the Modest Mountain

Hexagram 15: Modesty
Hexagram 15: Modesty

For many reasons, the fifteenth hexagram is a crucial one, not least of all the fact that we are given the image of the mountain on the earth and told its true meaning and significance. To us (not least of all to a wizard “belonging” to a mountain), mountains are a bridge to the heavens. They are imposing upon the horizon, impressing us with their size and height and might, instilling within us a primal curiosity regarding what sacred wonder might be taking place, right this very minute, upon their peak. Furthermore, we’re all familiar with the holy relationship to mountains in ancient Mediterranean spirituality – Moses’ link with Mount Sinai, Jesus’ experiences on the Mount of Olives, the entire Greco-Roman pantheon taking up residence on Mount Olympus, and more.

This hexagram does nothing to contradict this impression, necessarily, but it does reflect it from a different angle, suggesting the mountain, in its capacity as the representative of heaven on earth, that geological formation which transmits heaven’s light and regulates the cycles of water – above and below – is actually but a humble servant. Therein lies the great truth found here – and also in many of the Mediterranean (and even Eastern) traditions – what is high is slowly made low and what is humble and modest is made great and high. All cycles reach a peak and must fall; they reach a nadir and must rise. This is true in nature and it is equally true in human life.

On the one hand, this is immutable fate, unbreakable cosmic law. But that is not to say that the entire nature of this image, the modest mountain, is deterministic in nature. You see, we have a very definite role. All of us yet possess some choice, the power to choose your behavior and whether or not the behavior you choose further influences your nature for light or for dark. When you keep to the light, if you are a person in a high position who remains wise and reserved and, I’ll say it again, humble, you shine with a light that can be seen for miles. If you are a person in a low position who displays flexibility and simplicity, you can’t be ignored, and you will be lifted up. So long as you avoid the traps along the way, this is a very favorable outlook.

The concept is further laid out by the third line, stated by the text to hold the key of the entire symbol. When you accomplish big things, people notice. At that point, however, if you get caught up in your own hype, people will get annoyed and you’ll end up with more problems than you did before. On the other hand, if you handle the attention with quiet and unassuming modesty, people will instead help you to carry anything in the world through to the end.

The other lines are also helpful in advising us toward proper and effective modesty. If you are trying to accomplish something large or dangerous, don’t make pretensions or wild claims. Success instead will be won if you quietly, quickly, and unobtrusively get down to business. When you make this type of behavior habitual, it is sincerely ingrained within your being and is further seen in all of your outward behavior. This, also, always leads to good fortune, as very little can get in your way using such an approach.

At the same time, we are taught that the concept of the modest mountain does not indicate that we just go along to get along, regardless of circumstances, being carried away by customs and habits and whatever the bare minimum requirements may be. This requires conscious effort, interest in one’s work. If you find yourself not in charge, you must show your true capabilities in the quality of your efforts. If you are in a position of authority, you must take care not to abuse your position or take advantage of people below. It’s not just about cheerfulness and come-what-may. Sometimes, even under the sign of modesty, harsh measures are called for – but even then, they must not be personal or done in a spirit of anger. It’s about justice and rectitude – but accordingly, justice can only exist where hypocrisy is not. Our energies must first be brought to bear on our own behavior and perhaps on the behavior of those over which we may have some influence.

There is a political lesson here as well, the kind of politics we may be getting used to in our study of these pages, the kind of politics that applies to everything, regardless of ideology. It is simply this: the man in power must focus on evening everything out. Power, according to our lesson, must be used to promote and establish order, which can only be done by lowering that which is extremely high, and raising that which is extremely low. Worth considering, no?

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