I Ching #28 – Great Excess



28: Great Excess (Ta Kuo)



This post is #28 of 64 hexagrams in a series of posts about the I Ching, an ancient Taoist text that has many ties to the Tao Te Ching. For those of you new to this series, you may want to start by reading my post called “What is a Hexagram?” that helps to explain more about the general idea of the I Ching. If you are just starting this series, you may want to take a look at some of my other posts on the I Ching.

As I think of this hexagram, I think about my front yard – a gardener’s nightmare. It is completely overgrown from several summers of neglect! I took the photo above  in a cave in Puerto Rico.  It is a perfect example of my front yard and of this hexagram.

This hexagram is about being unbalanced. The other day I was having breakfast with a friend of mine and she was talking about housecleaning. She said if you handle things as you notice them, they don’t become a big problem. But if you ignore things, they quickly grow out of hand (like the weeds in my garden?)  You get overwhelmed and then you have trouble keeping up with it all. Isn’t that so true? If we are trying to keep our kitchen clean, the mess can quickly get out of hand if we forget about our commitment to our goal.

In Hua Ching Ni’s interpretation of this hexagram, he explains that it is important to stay on your spiritual path.  If we allow ourselves to get distracted by many of the myriad things life offers us, we will not achieve our spiritual goals. When I read this chapter a few days ago, I struggled to understand how this advice applied to my life. In my study of the I Ching, I have noticed that it frequently takes me several days to grasp a concept being shown to me. So I let it go and then came back to it to see what had come to the surface.


While my front yard is certainly not a spiritual path, per se, it represents the essence of great excess in my life. With Taoism, much of the practice is around seeing these sorts of patterns in your daily life. In Ni’s interpretation, he reminds us to stay flexible, soft, calm and patient. I need to practice this with myself when I get overwhelmed. I tend to be hard on myself sometimes because I feel like the spiritual path is supposed to be all the “important stuff” and keeping my sink clean or weeding the garden don’t seem to count. But this hexagram reminds me that they do.

I enjoyed Deng Ming-Dao’s interpretation of this chapter. He went further to explain that great excesses are our teachers if we chose to learn from them:

Great excess. Only the truly great can cope with it – and no one becomes great without being tested by great excess.”  ~Deng Ming-Dao, Hexagram 28, The Living I Ching

This reminds me of something that I learned reading Moonwalking with Einstein, a book I read recently about developing your memory. The author, Joshua Foer, was trying to become the U.S. Memory Champion from only a year of study and had come to a plateau in his training. No matter what he did, his ability to memorize cards did not improve. So he asked his coach and his coach recommended that he start tracking his own scores and to write down what he learned from his practices. It seems that, tracking your progress is a way of moving beyond these plateaus. Can we track our progress with our spiritual goals as well? I am curious to explore this idea further.

Deng Ming-Dao explains that the word Kuo in Chinese (part of the name of this hexagram) has an alternate meaning of “a crossing”. He likened it also to a snake shedding its skin. We become better human beings when we can surpass our own barriers. The “great excess” that we experience is sometimes represented by our outgrowing old patterns of behavior that no longer fit us.

The “great excess” highlighted in this chapter can also mean death. Like the Death card in Tarot, there are many ways to interpret death. Sometimes it is an actual death, but more often it is the death of an older, outdated part of yourself. Like another friend explained to me, death can also be about revisiting parts of your inner child that are not yet resolved.

As I connect this information about the extreme changes of death to Ni’s chapter on remembering your spiritual path, it occurred to me that his reminder to stay on your path is most important during times of extreme changes in your life, such as a death of someone close to you. While we cannot control the external circumstances of our lives, we can control our own behavior and choose what is best for our spirit in any given moment. Extreme changes are very difficult to navigate, but it is these changes that will challenge us to put our spiritual practices into action. But, unless we have been practicing improving ourselves on a daily basis, we will not have the strength to withstand these tumultuous times. We will crumble. Crumbling isn’t necessarily bad. Things often crumble to make way for a new beginning. And, like Deng Ming-Dao said, “no one becomes great without being tested by great excess”.


  1. This is a lovely post and I can completely relate as I tend to get caught up in things. Staying spiritual for me means getting up early and centreing myself with yoga and meditation in a quiet, sleepy household. It’s amazing how this can be the make or break of my day, the ‘break’ being if I do not get up early and practice yoga. 😉

  2. Isn’t it interesting how we consider some tasks to be more valuable on our spiritual path than others. Sometimes it is the most simplistic of tasks, such as washing up, which give us the moments we seek. A lovely post 🙂
    Kama recently posted…Your Creativity Doesn’t Belong in a BoxMy Profile

  3. I’ve been pondering this post for a while now Amy, thinking about excess and balance and flexibility. And there certainly are lots of examples in my life of areas that could use a bit less excess and a lot more balance and flexibility.

    I keep returning to the thought about yoga and flexibility, and how I often think that what flexible really means is getting rid of the excess armor we have that keeps us rigid and stuck. Maybe in fact that’s what excess always is – keeping us out of flow.
    Deborah Weber recently posted…SOC 5: A Case of the Strange and MagicalMy Profile

    • You bring up an interesting point here, Deborah, about flexibility and your armor. I have often noticed that in my yoga classes and when studying Tai Chi (or going to a meditation class) that I often meet people that are rather rigid in their thinking. Spiritual work can sometimes lead us to believe that we are doing what is “correct”, which leads us to judge all those that are not doing what we are doing. We may laugh at the silliness of this, but it is also true. We need to keep flexibility in our bodies, our minds and our spirits. The balance can also mean having a balance of the three of these things. We may have a flexible body, but our spirits can be rather rigid, or we are tremendously open spiritually but our bodies are tied up in knots. Balance is key.
      amy recently posted…I Ching #28 – Great ExcessMy Profile

  4. Like Deborah, I think I’ll be pondering this post for awhile, too. It certainly sheds new light on the clutches of clutter scattered about my home, not to mention my own overgrown garden(though I really do love the weeds, especially when the tall grass heads go to seed and dance in the wind).

    I just love Moonwalking with Einstein. Read it a few years ago, and still can’t stop thinking about it. It’s memorable. 😉
    Harmony Harrison recently posted…Cheeky Rooster (and Cheeky Me): A Finally-Feeling-Good Update (and a barnyard fowl to boot)My Profile

    • Hi Harmony,

      Apologies for my late reply. I have since decided to memorize the I Ching hexagrams. It’s going well. I have about 3/4 of it memorized (the name of each hexagram, what the hexagram looks like and it’s corresponding number). It is amazingly easy to do!
      amy recently posted…I Ching #28 – Great ExcessMy Profile

  5. What an interesting post! Thoughts to make me ponder. My favorite was the thought “death can also be about revisiting parts of your inner child that are not yet resolved.” Very thought provoking for me!
    Elda recently posted…Can Words Be Fatal For Relationships?My Profile

  6. Nice post – I too have been getting rid of the clutter, and it has really helped declutter my mind. I know the feeling of the garden – we had several big trees taken down a year ago and it destroyed our yard – we had to kill everything and start from scratch. What a nice feeling seeing the little plants shooting up as we care for them in this extreme heat. We are mapping out a path to my studio too – there is something symbolic about that act too. Im going to have to check out Moonwalking with Einstein!
    Vickie Martin Conison recently posted…MY QUEST #6 OFF TO CALIFORNIAMy Profile

    • I would love to see photos of your little path to your studio, Vickie. That sounds like a cool idea. We may have to do similarly with our yard since our grass is mostly weeds. That is another project for a later day!
      amy recently posted…I Ching #28 – Great ExcessMy Profile

  7. How timely for me to have come across this today….my life is going through a big change and I am finding it difficult at times to ‘stay the path’. I have felt very overwhelmed of late, finding it hard to ‘make time’ for me and my art. Staying calm and patient….something I definitely need to bring back into my life. The change….selling our home. Cleaning, painting, purging….I”m tired both physically and mentally. BUT….there is a light shining…where almost there, almost done, and almost SOLD!

  8. Amy, I like this commentary, and I like the picture from Puerto Rico. This hexagram always seems daunting to me. It shows a situation that is unbalanced and decaying from both ends. Nevertheless, the middle line of each trigram is strong, so you (or whomever is reading it) have the necessary strength and resources to act as necessary to either correct the situation or move away from it. The image of the lake rising above the trees looks like a disastrous flood, but the water level will fall again. There is also the symbol of the ridgepole sagging and in danger of breaking. That can be repaired, or one who is aware of it can move away from danger. The only two individual lines that predict misfortune are 3 and 6, both of which counsel against proceeding heedlessly. After writing this, I just re-read your last paragraph. You have summed up some important principles quite nicely.
    Louis Weltzer recently posted…SONG OF THE WEEK – THE BALLAD OF HIGH NOON (DO NOT FORSAKE ME)My Profile

    • The lake rising above the trees. I love that, Louis. If you think of it as Wood instead of Wind, that is definitely an image to consider. I am sure that many people around the globe can certainly relate to how that is a great excess these days! Thanks for stopping by. I have been rather elusive online these days, but I so appreciate your company.
      amy recently posted…Book Study DelayedMy Profile

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