Chapter 40 – Return
Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being
Translation by Stephen Mitchell (1988)
All movements are accomplished in six stages,
and the seventh brings return.
Wilhelm-Baynes translation of I Ching, Chapter 24 (1950)
A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.
“Chapter 24” by Pink Floyd (1967)
This is the shortest chapter in the Tao Te Ching, but it is packed with important concepts. It tells us of the Tao, of the Te (movement of the Tao), of Yin and Yang, of Wu Wei (action through non-action) and of being and non-being. However, what immediately caught my eye was the first word – “Return.” That is partly because I had recently read some of Amy Putkonen’s (the lady who introduced the idea of Tao Te Ching Tuesdays) comments on the I Ching.
As you probably know, the I Ching, or “Book of Changes,” is a Chinese classic that is even older than the Tao Te Ching; and is a work with which Lao Tzu was certainly familiar. Originally a form of divination, the I Ching is divided into texts and commentaries. The text consist of 64 hexagrams and judgments relating to each, and to each line of each hexagram, and the major commentaries are traditionally attributed to Confucius.
The individual hexagrams are composed of six lines, each of which is either yin or yang and either new or old. Yang lines are depicted as solid: ———. Yin lines are depicted as broken: — —. The 64 combinations of those hexagrams represent all possible forms of change, situations, activities and institutions. Together, they comprise what Wing-Tsit Chan, in A Source Book of Chinese Philosophy, called “a clear outline of a rational approach to a well-ordered and dynamic universe. It is a universe of constant change, and whatever issues from it is good.”
When used for divination, the old lines are considered to be more important than the young lines, because the old lines are those which are ready to change to their opposite – yin to yang or yang to yin – while the young lines will remain static. The discussion here will not go into new and old lines more deeply than this brief statement.
The 24th hexagram is named “Fu” or “Return.” It is represented by a yang line at the bottom and yin lines in the other five places, and looks like this:
This can represent many things depending on the context in which it is studied. In terms of season, it relates to the time of the Winter solstice, with the solid line on the bottom signifying the return of light (yang) to a world which has reached the extremes of darkness (yin). In politics it can represent a just and wise ruler arising to replace those who are less enlightened.
Besides the meanings of the hexagrams each group of three lines, which is called a trigram, have particular meanings. The three yin lines on the top here are known as “Earth” or “the Receptive.” The two yin lines over the single yang line on the bottom are known as “Thunder” or “the Arousing.” Therefore, this hexagram can be called “thunder beneath the earth.” This calls to mind not so much an earthquake, but more a movement that is felt everywhere. In discussing its meaning, one of the most respected translations – that of Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes – tells us:
After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. The upper trigram K’un is characterized by devotion; thus the movement is natural, arising spontaneously. For this reason the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results.
Thus, whether with respect to the seasons or society or any other natural phenomenon, the hexagram depicts a normal and orderly cycle. As we have discussed before, that is the way of the Tao.
This has also brought to mind a very old Pink Floyd song called “Chapter 24.” It is from the group’s 1967 debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (“PATGOD” to hard-core Pink Floyd enthusiasts). That was before the stadium rock of Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall. Pink Floyd was considered a psychedelic rock group led by a very strange (in the sense of serious psychological problems) gnome of a guitarist named Syd Barrett. Roger Waters was already a part of the group, but David Gilmour was to come later. He was brought into the group to create music during those times when Barrett decided he wanted to play only a single chord for a whole concert, or to wander around the stage rather than playing anything at all. Gilmour completely replaced Barrett half way through the group’s second album.
Anyway, on PATGOD, there is a song “written” by Syd Barrett called “Chapter 24.” It is a portion of the Wilhelm-Baynes commentary on the 24th hexagram set to music. You can see the lyrics here, or listen to the song here.
The hexagram and the concept of return may also be considered within the concepts of birth and death. In discussing Chapter 37, I mentioned that I recently became a grandfather. I can easily see my grandson Ryder as the yang line ready to rise in the hexagram and take his place in the world. For those who believe in reincarnation, that is certainly a kind of return.
And just yesterday (as I write this) a friend and business associate I have known for the past 38 years fell while recuperating from an illness, alone in his home, and died – or passed over – or returned to the infinite Tao – before he could receive needed medical attention. Rest in peace, Don Roark.