Even the foolish can attain wisdom by modestly following the Sage.
Folly is a characteristic of youth: those who have had little experience generally exhibit little wisdom. This is true of us in a spiritual way as well; in comparison to the Sage we are “babes in the woods.” The hexagram Mêng counsels us to utilize the I Ching as a lantern so that we may survive our youthful folly and travel safely through the woods of life.
There is no shame in seeking guidance in life. A child is eager to be shown the way by his parents and teachers, and we are wise to recognize that in spiritual terms we are akin to children. Our success will come quicker if we find and follow a wise teacher. The Sage is available to serve in this way for those who approach the I Ching with a sincere desire to learn and grow.
To study the I Ching is to gain the perspective of the Deity, to learn the cosmic lesson inherent in every situation that faces us. If we truly look for and strive to comprehend these larger lessons, we gain mastery over fear, doubt, and anxiety. We can learn from study of the I Ching to live in a state of understanding, contentment, and acceptance, but several things are required of us.
The first is that we suspend our mistrust of the Unknown and allow the Sage to lead us. It is tempting to think that the I Ching might be just a book, merely words on paper, but there is more to it that this. To accept this is to recognize the Sage and become receptive to his assistance.
The second thing required of us is that we quiet the demands of our egos for comprehensive answers to our questions about life. The I Ching teaches us not how to get from A to Z but how to get from A to B, then from B to C, then from C to D. The sage travels step by step, dealing always with what is immediately at hand and bringing complete focus and concentration to the moment. By doing the same we fall into step with, and receive the help of, the Creative power of the universe.
Lastly, we are required to unstructure our attitude. By abandoning strategies about people and situations, we let the past and future go and meet the present with an open mind. To be unstructured and open is to allow the Sage to guide us safely and joyfully through life.
The image of Mêng is that of a stream beginning to flow down a mountainside, filing each ravine and hollow place as it goes. If we persevere in following the Sage, seeking the counsel of the I Ching and filling in the gaps in our character as they are revealed, we will be led to lasting success in life.
This hexagram outlines the foundation of proper conduct within ourselves, with those with whom we may have conflicts, and within the larger society. It serves to remind us that no genuine gains can be made unless we are rooted firmly in the principles of the Sage.
An image often associated with this hexagram is that of treading on the tail of a tiger. The “tiger” may be some strong or malevolent force in your own personality, or it may be a particularly volatile individual or situation with which you have to deal. In either case the advice of the I Ching is the same: one avoids the bite of a tiger by treading carefully. To tread carefully means that we remain steadfastly innocent and conscientious in our thoughts and actions.
It is inevitable that people will display varying levels of spiritual understanding. It is not our duty to condemn or correct others, but simply to go on developing ourselves. Do not imagine that you can hasten your progress through aggressive actions now. Power that is sought and wielded pridefully has a way of evaporating when you need it most, thus exacerbating your difficulties. The only lasting influence is that which arises naturally from a course of steady development.
In the end, it is our inner worth that determines the outer conditions of our lives. Those who resolve to persevere in humility, sincerity, and gentleness can tread anywhere – even on the tail of a tiger – and meet with success.