Hexagram 21



Give proper nourishment
to yourself and others.

The image of this hexagram is that of an open mouth. It comes to remind us that the nourishment of our bodies and spirits is important and merits our conscientious attention.

The I Ching teaches us that if we wish to gauge someone’s character, we should notice what he nourishes in himself and in others. Those who cultivate inferior behaviors and relationships are inferior people; those who cultivate superior qualities in themselves and others are superior people. This is a test that we should apply to ourselves as well as to others.

What you put into your body is obviously important. Because it determines your fundamental physical well-being, it is wise to be moderate and thoughtful about the food you eat. What you put into your mind is even more significant, and regulating it is a more subtle art. This hexagram gives us three-part advice on that subject.

The first counsel is that we should not feed our minds on desire. When we forego our equanimity and begin to desire something or someone, a host of other inferior influences comes into play: we become ambitious about obtaining the object of our desire; we become fearful that we will not; if we do achieve it our ego is gratified and strengthened and it soon issues another demand for us to meet. A self-reinforcing cycle of negativity is thus created. Therefore it is wise to hold yourself free from desire.

The second counsel is that we begin and continue in a regular practice of meditation. Sitting quietly with our eyes closed for even as little as ten or fifteen minutes a day begins to “clear the waste” out of our hearts and minds, making room for the nourishment of peace and wisdom to enter in. To sit in meditation is tune your ear to the voice of the Sage, and it is the most powerful way of gaining his assistance.

The final counsel is that we observe tranquility in speech, thoughts, and actions. By cultivating calm and equanimity in all that you say, think, and do, you nourish your superior self and that of those around you. One who follows these three counsels now will meet with good fortune.

By engaging in doubt and envy you lose your independence. Sitting quietly in equanimity you are restored and uplifted.

If through laziness or weakness you are aligned with someone or something which is not correct, misfortune results. Consider this carefully.

The pursuit of desire and pleasure is “the nourishment that does not nourish.” It is possible to throw one’s entire life away in this fashion. On recognizing this, the superior person detaches himself and returns to the Sage.

By nourishing yourself properly you gain stature and others are drawn to assist you. In this there is good fortune.

You are weakened by the presence of an inferior element. Seek wise counsel and root this out before attempting further progress.

One who truly emulates the Sage gains a position of great influence. If you lead others now as the Sage leads you, great things will be accomplished.

Any practioner, new to the path, is confronted with this question, how do I reconcile the Buddha’s teachings on not killing with my personal diet?