Li, the Fire

What does Li stand for?


Li, the Fire

Li (the fire) stands for our ability to differentiate facts, influences, emotions – in short: the world’s fullness. Without this ability to separate the “clear from the unclear”, we would be lost in a chaos of diversities. Only by differentiation, thus distinguishing what is important and what is not, we can concentrate on the essentials and are able to act.

In the classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine we find the following descriptions for the functional circuit large intestine (see → King Wen’s “Later Heaven”: the small intestine is associated with Li):

  • The small intestine is …an entity that is able to discern between important and unimportant, to sort out what is essential and to put only the purest [substance] at the heart’s disposal. (2)
  • The small intestine, alchemist of the interior, is not only responsible for the biochemical processes of digestion and energy generation. Discernment is needed on all levels! Sorting out intellectually, differentiating facts, clarifying relationships and… feelings – all this falls under the responsibilities of the small intestine… This is why mental health is associated with the small intestine as well. (3)
  • The small intestine guarantees precision and clarity and thus a personality’s moral integrity… The small intestine is also a decision-making unit… “What is good for me to preserve the purity of the system?” The small intestine asks the question of quality, which can both involve material quality… as well as the quality of mental and emotional nutrition. (5)

All quotations with their sources, see → Functional Circuit Small Intestine

What does Li emerge from?

li_entwicklungWithin a hexagram Li develops either from Dui or Kan (exception: the hexagram begins with Li / Li is the lower trigram). The red arrows indicate that a (solid) yang line is added to each previous trigram. Yang symbolizes energy, activity. If we separate diversity, if we differentiate between “clear” and “unclear”, then this is an active, willful process.

Li emerges from Dui, the Lake

Dui stands for giving and receiving, for opening our borders to let new in. But as soon as we open ourselves to the world’s fullness, we also risk being swept away by it. Li helps us to discern what is important and to concentrate on the essential.

Examples for hexagrams where Li emerges from Dui → here.

Li emerges from Kan, the Water

Kan, the water, represents our primordial grounds, the stable and generations enduring aspects of our individual existence. Here is where our wisdom lies, our intuition, our essence. Li enables us to harmonize this essence with life’s realities: by wisely questioning gut decisions before eventually putting them into practice.

Examples for hexagrams where Li emerges from Kan → here.

What does Li develop into?

li_entwicklungWithin a hexagram Li develops either into Sun or Kan (exception: the hexagram ends with  Li / Li is the upper trigram.

Li develops into Kan, the Water

Kan develops when a (broken) yin line is added (dark arrow; yin symbolizes receptivity). Our ability to intellectually differentiate impressions, facts, feelings etc. (Li) gives us clarity and creates a sense of calm. A peaceful mind yet makes it easier for us to trustingly open ourselves to the messages from our spiritual grounds (Kan): gut feelings, presentiments, intuitions.

Examples for hexagrams where Li develops into Kan → here.

Li develops into Sun, the Wind / Tree

Sun develops when a (solid) yang line is added (red arrow; yang symbolizes energy, activity). Once we have clarity (Li) about what exactly we want to achieve or where our destination lies, we can embark on our journey (Sun, the tree / wind) to reach our goal.

Examples for hexagrams where Li develops into Sun → here.


Phase (Element): Fire
Organ: SI

Modern Interpretation

Clear discernment, purification, separation

Traditional Interpretation

Adherent; bright, luminous, lucent, lucid; careful
Direction: upwards
Interpretation: A clear vision brings inner peace in the midst of movement; eventually only an appearance is detected and things are not being screened deeply enough

Read more: the other trigrams

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