Learning from I-Ching 4 蒙 Naive – Learn to be Wise

4 蒙 Naive – Learn to be Wise

This hexagram is formed from a Mountain trigram at the top and a Water trigram at the bottom. Water trigram also represents danger. Meeting danger, one needs to stop first.  蒙 stands for naive, blur, lack of understanding, and in the dark. Once encountered the water danger, we will be at a loss for what to do. The teaching is to learn – lifelong learning. Learning to gain understanding and know-how to cross the water safely. If one does so, one will progress smoothly ahead.

The picture of a mountain over water also signifies the rich potential underground water needs to burst out to create the streams that benefit living. Developing the hidden potential and talents to be useful in the teaching of this hexagram.


  1. 亨: smooth unobstructed flow. Must adopt the middle of path righteous way.
  2. 匪我求童蒙,童蒙求我。Literally, it is not me(wisdom) seeking the naive; it is the naive seeking me(wisdom). There is a famous saying that “we can bring the horse to the water but cannot force the horse to drink”. Learning cannot be forced by the teacher. The student must be self-motivating and want to learn.
  3. 初噬告,再三渎,渎则不告。 The first question will be answered. But if one asks again and again without sincerity, it is insulting to the teacher and no answers will be given. There is a difference between a sincere question to clarify a lack of understanding and a cynical question that doubt the capability of the teacher. Such cynical questions are insults and could not be answered.
  4. 利贞。 Sincere seeking of knowledge and truth is good and beneficial.

Textual Commentary: 彖曰:蒙,山下有险,险而止,蒙。蒙亨,以亨行时中也。匪我求童蒙,童蒙求我,志 应也。初噬告,以刚中也。再三渎,渎则不告,渎蒙也。蒙以养正,圣功也。

There is danger at the bottom of the mountain (i.e. the valley), meeting danger and stopping is about learning (from the state of naive). Naive is smooth flow, moving and flowing at the right time. It is not me seeking the naive; it is naive seeking me. It is a mutually good match (one is willing to teach and another is wanting to learn). In the beginning, practice, and teaching centered on a strong foundation of righteous balanced. Must remember twice and thrice about disrespect. If not respectful, then we don’t get the teaching (and learn not).  Disrespect and neglect will keep one stuck in ignorance. Learn to develop justice and righteousness. It is the work of the sage.

The pictorial commentary: 象曰:山下出泉,蒙;君子以果行育德。

Streams from the bottom of the mountain. The wise man must boldly build up his moral character through gaining wisdom, teaching wisdom, and walking in wisdom.

Moral Teaching:

Learning is a lifelong journey.  Overcome naive and darkness with learning and learning about the truth. Don’t have any excuses like ‘I’m too old and don’t have any preconceived notion’, ‘I’m not smart’, and prejudices like ‘What can we learn from so and so, he is not even a graduate”.  Learning comes from practicing what one learned. Learn and do and do and learn is the secret of lifelong learning.

Stage 1: Begin-Six: To open the eyes of the blind(ignorance), one needs a model and discipline. Moving forward without understanding will lead to regrets. 初六:发蒙,利用刑人,用说桎梏,以往吝。

Pictorial Commentary: Use models so as to learn to be right and just. 象曰:利用刑人, 以正法也。

We learn best when there are role models or examples for us to follow. Learning is a disciplined process of time and effort. If there is anything that we don’t understand, we must have the discipline to pursue the answer until we fully understand it. A good way to learn is to draw a mind map or even better, a concept map. Learning occurs when we know how to classify or group things together. What are the similar attributes and what are the differences? Which is the parent and which is the child or maybe a sibling type of relationship is better. Should we go for refinement and create a sub-category? We must provide the answers to the 5W1H. I conduct a short course on “Creative and Visual Thinking for Breakthrough Ideas” that will explain the cognitive learning method of mind and concept mapping and innovative ideas generation.

Stage 2: Second-Nine: It is good to help the naive. It is good to have a wife. Son is able to take responsibility for the family. 九二:包蒙吉;纳妇吉;子克家。

Pictorial Commentary: Son is able to run the family.  The strong and soft complement well. 象曰:子克家,刚柔接也。

Once we have obtained an understanding of ourselves, we are then in a position to teach others. We should not despise the unlearned. We must accept them first so that they can have the mental attitude for us to teach them. Teaching others also enhances our learning and understanding. When we want to teach, we are more careful about what we learn. Interaction with the students also enhances our understanding. When one is mature, it is good to have a good wife as a help-meet – to make the man complete. A husband will be wiser with a good wife. After having a wife, it is good to have children. A husband and wife grow up to greater wisdom when they have children and become fathers and mothers. Parents adopting the sometimes hard discipline and sometime soft-encouragement will be able to bring up a son that can take care of the family responsibilities. The key job of parents is to bring up children that are capable of setting up families on their own. Having children with successful families on their own is a testimony to the wisdom of the Parents.

Stage 3: Third-Six: Do not marry a girl who is after money and has no self-control and proper conduct. Marrying such brings no benefits. 六三:勿用娶女;见金夫,不有躬,无攸利。

Pictorial Commentary: Don’t get married to solve a problem. 象曰:勿用娶女,行不顺也。

It is very interesting to note that in the hexagram of learning, wives are mentioned twice. It shows the importance of the roles that women play, as wives and as mothers, in the learning and education of their husbands and children. This is opposite to the conventional common Chinese saying that “women without education is good moral” and so many Chinese did not send their daughters to school. The ancient Chinese teaching however is very different. It emphasizes the contribution of women to a family. This is more like the Jewish tradition where both parents have the duty to educate their children. Such a distortion that girls need not have an education probably set back the progress of the Chinese.

Stage 2 tells us to share our wisdom and be ready to get a good wife. Stage 3 shows that we are mature enough to start a family of our own. It tells us what kind of girl we should not marry. Be not be deceived by the beauty of the girl but be watchful of her inner values, especially toward money, and observe her conduct. Does she exercise self-control? Is she a show of, impulsive, and others? Be observant. A wife with good moral values will have a good influence on her husband and later the upbringing of her children. Learning for wisdom and good conduct is more important than seeking money. A wife after money will put mislead her husband to become the slave of money rather than being a wise man to be a master of money putting the money to good use.

Stage 4: Fourth-Six:  Trapped in folly brings regrets and frustration. 六四:困蒙,吝。

Pictorial Commentary:  The regrets of being trapped in folly is due to trying to go far by oneself. 象曰:困蒙之吝,独远实也。

Dov Seidman in his book “How” has a Hill of knowledge chart showing an M-shape curve.  In the beginning, our competence increases with time and effort in learning – represented by His ‘B’ grade students. However, after a while, we seems to get confused – the more we learned the more felt we don’t understand – represented by his “C” grade students. Those who will break through the confusion arrive at the master level represented by his “A” grade students. Stage 4 learning is like the “C” grade students. We seem to be confused as we learned. We felt trapped. At this point, we should persist. We may need help, if we can, find a teacher to enlighten us and bring us up to the next hill of mastery. Giving up will end up like a ‘C’ grade, worse than before.

(note: a typical learning curve for a fixed skill is an L-shape, one gets better as we practice and gain an understanding of a fixed skill. For advanced unbounded knowledge, like, beginner level 101, intermediate 201, advanced 301, etc level, I think the M curve is more appropriate).

Stage 5: Fifth-Six: Childlike Naive. Good fortune. 六五:童蒙,吉。

Pictorial Commentary: The benefits of childlikeness are flowing and riding on the wind. 象曰:童蒙之吉,顺以巽也。

Childlike learning, without prejudices, biased, and baggage, and pure in motive, ever curious, is excellent for acquiring knowledge. The key reason we are stuck at the valley of the M-curve above is our preconceived and erroneous ideas. We unknowingly place restrictions on the things we are trying to learn. Some of our unknown assumptions or heuristics are blocking our understanding and stopping our progress. Remove those, back to the basics, be pure and we can make it. Unlearning is hard. Go back to the childlike stage, list down all assumptions, and constraints, and uncover our blind spots to help our progress.

After much studying, we may think we know enough. That is the danger to growth and learning. Learning in the proper way should be like “the more we learn, the more we discover we don’t know, and the more new areas are there for us to find out.” Get back the child-like curiosity and eagerness to learn. The motivation for learning needs to be pure as a child. It is not for learning to harm or control others. It is learning to gain understanding per se.

One also needs to adopt a childlike eagerness to learn new things. When we have mastered a new thing, we need not stop there. We need to continue to renew our learning and acquire new knowledge. In the early stage of learning, we make the strange thing familiar. In the latter stage of learning, we need to make the familiar strange, so that we may break out into new territories.

Stage 6:  Attack Folly. Don’t use learning for bad (original: robbers). Use learning for good use and to remove the harmful. 上九:击蒙;不利为寇,利御寇。

Pictorial Commentary: Use and control the harmful effects. The top and bottom agree and follow each other. 象曰:利用御寇,上下顺也。

Finally, what is the objective of learning and acquiring knowledge and understanding? Is it not to be put to good use for the benefit of society? Acquiring knowledge to do bad things is bad. It is better not to have learned. Education should be more than just acquiring knowledge but building moral character as well.


  1. Learning to break out of folly and darkness.
  2. Learning is a lifelong process.
  3. Learn to be more responsible and capable so as to contribute to society through your life, family, or your business.

The finer wisdom from the six stages are:

  1. learn by following good models (examples) and with discipline (remembering).
  2. learn by practicing and growing up by taking responsibility like caring for others and having a wife and family
  3. learn to discern – choose your life partner carefully
  4. learn to master level. Get helps if stuck; don’t quit (you are at the stage of the more you know, you more you seem to be confused. Don’t quit but continue for a breakthrough understanding). Make the strange familiar.
  5. learn to innovate. Be childlike, have curiosity, purity, and eagerness. Make the familiar strange for innovation.
  6. learn always and use your learning for good and not for evil

For a comparison, see BLOOM’S REVISED TAXONOMY shows the level of knowledge/learning, from the basic of recalling facts to higher levels of applying, analyzing, and judging to the highest level of creation of new knowledge. I-Ching shows the how and the increasing level of learning.

  1. Remembering – Recalling information.
  2. Understanding – Explaining ideas or concepts; Interpreting, summarising, paraphrasing, classifying, explaining
  3. Applying – Using information; Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  4. Analyzing – Breaking information into parts to explore understandings and relationships; Comparing, organizing, deconstructing, and interrogating.
  5. Evaluating – Justifying a decision or course of action; Checking, hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging
  6. Creating – Generating new ideas, products, or ways of viewing things; Designing, constructing, planning, producing, and inventing.

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