For the purposes of this hexagram, we are provided a very clear image of a tower upon a hill. The sage who sits atop the tower can see far and wide, understanding the world and its people below. Just as importantly, though, the sage himself can be seen by all the people. It’s just as important for the sage to provide a high and holy example for everyone else as it is that he comprehend everything around him. The view goes both ways, and each direction feeds and nurtures the other.
As we know well by now, many hexagrams represent certain months and times of the year, generally with relation to the ascendancy or decline of the light. Number twenty is a little bit different. It is said to represent September and October, a time when light is very much on the decline and, in fact, the darkness is essentially taking control. For whatever reason, in this case, the time of year doesn’t really indicate anything about the meaning. It’s almost as though it’s a reprieve. In the growing darkness of early autumn, we can pause in the positivity and the promise and the gift of this tower.
In one sense, the hexagram (like so many others) is intensely political, describing as it does the relationship between a wise leader and the people who are influenced in accord with that wisdom. At the same time, the nature of this relationship is revealed to be so intertwined with nature and heaven and the cosmos that you can’t just pigeon-hole into a narrow category like that. It is not enough that the sage be wise and benevolent, he must contemplate the immutable laws of the universe, understand them, act accordingly, and reveal this purity of example to everyone below.
What is required of this sage is the kind of spirit found in people of very strong faith. Think of the best attributes of the most sincere religious people you know. The ones who actually follow what they believe, the ones for whom this is not about rule and dictum and judgment but for whom this is a way of life and a shining of the soul. When a person understands the mysteries of the universe, something that is, in fact, possible in varying degrees, that person emanates a certain energy, and that energy is what can influence others without trying and without others even realizing it. It’s not about strategy or expediency, words or initiatives, but about showing the truth using only who you truly are.
Quite naturally, there are different variations on the type of view that we can experience. It can, on one hand, come to pass where the people generally lack an understanding of the times. The sage everyone needs is here, right in the middle of everything, but nobody can recognize him. Now, for the average person, who doesn’t have to consciously acknowledge this leadership to be influenced by it and benefit from it, there is little issue with this, but it is important for the sage himself, and other aspiring sages among the people, to always comprehend the world at hand.
On the other hand, something guaranteed to kill your view is being bound up in your own subjective narrative. If you can only see things in terms of yourself, relation to yourself, relation to your personal experience, you close yourself off to empathy, to union with the other, to understanding of people and the world. This is all fine and good if you never leave the home or never leave your neighborhood, but if you wish to be active in the world, you’ve got to move beyond the ego. Indeed, you can gain clarity by focusing inward – not inward toward your subjective thoughts, but contemplating, on a more objective basis, the effect we can see ourselves having on the environment surrounding us. This is the beginning of meaningful perspective. The same is true for the sage himself. A person who is looked up to by others has to be able to examine his true self and actual effects on others. He must constantly be aware, ever vigilant that all such effects be positive and uplifting, and only then can such a sage be satisfied with his job performance.
Perhaps a more pragmatic political lesson is given with an image not unlike that of a contracted city manager. We are advised that when a person understands what is needed to make the society flourished, this person must not only be put in a position of power and influence, but must be granted a certain independence and freedom of motion. Like an unelected, nonpartisan city manager, when a sage is recognized and installed in a place where he might do some good, he will only be useful if no one else seeks to make him their tool.
Again, however, we are pulled out of that kind of temporal technocratic thinking and directed instead through an open window into the heavens. The ascendance of the sage is entirely unlimited, and under ideal conditions the sage may reach the truly high view, the wholly transcendent, whereby the sage rises above and beyond not just ego but all of society and the world, to the heights at which all the laws of life and the universe may be seen and grasped. Above all else, the world is sacred, and contemplating the endless ways in which the Divine underlies and infuses everything and anything is the way in which sages are developed and ultimately able to lead. Understanding all the world, the sage can understand the people without illusion or distortion. In the presence of such a sage, without oppression, without even conscious awareness, the people are like grass, softly bending in beautiful synchronized waves before the soft and benevolent breeze.
This post is the twentieth of sixty-four in our Days of Change series exploring each hexagram of the ancient Chinese I Ching one by one. To sample others in this series – or go wild and read from the beginning – go here.