The Noble One: Traveler

April 17, 2011

What are the essential elements of being a Traveler? First, one has to be somewhat self-sufficient. While one will be eating and living among strangers, one also has to have resources. Secondly, one is open to new opportunities. In the constant movement and the lack of any permanent living place, many new possibilities will be encountered. Thirdly, one has to have direction, clarity, and insight to know what to do and to know where to go next.

Thus it may be surprising that Hexagram 56, Traveler, has an Image that is about criminal justice. Perhaps an easy way to understand this is to remember that Chinese magistrates were often assigned to different places—one story about the famous poet Su Dongpo is about his arrival in Hangzhou to be the magistrate. Another image is to think of the traveling circuit judges of old. Thus, this hexagram can refer to a judge or high official traveling to a locale and being called upon to resolve disputes or to deal with a criminal situation.

The juxtaposition of this Image with that of being a traveler becomes more focused: The noble one is clear-minded and cautious in meting out punishment and yet does not delay trial. The first part of the Image, derived from the formation of the trigrams themselves is “fire on the mountain.” In olden times, there were lookout fires on the mountains, especially on the borders. The image of someone traveling to a distant place, looking for the signal fire on the mountain melds with the idea of being a traveling judge: the judge also has to guide as clearly as a fire on the mountain.

Fire, in the I Ching, is the symbol for mental clarity. Thus, we have the “clear-minded” reference of the Image. The mountain is the symbol of stillness, of caution, contemplation, and integrity. This accounts for the caution in meting out punishment. But fire must burn at its own pace, and a mountain cannot move. Thus, we do not delay matters and we follow what we stand for.

Having the mental clarity of a bright flame and having the integrity and stability of a mountain are certainly two ideals to follow in our lives—no matter where we travel.

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