Channeling Chuang Tzu – Background, Narrative and Characters from Burton Watson’s Chuang Tzu’s Basic Writings
Chuang Tzu – His personal name was Chou and he was native to a place called Meng, and once served as an official in the lacquer garden in Meng, his writings focused on skepticism and mystical detachment and freeing oneself from the world. He was known for rejecting traditional values and was one of the founders of Taoism.
Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-90 BC) has been described as the “Grand Historian of China,” held the office of T’ai-shih, or director of astrology, in the imperial government. He completed a draft history of mankind started by his father. In his capacity as court official, Ssu-ma Ch’ien became involved in political rivalries. He defended Li Ling, an officer who had led a force of infantry against China’s enemies in central Asia. Li Ling had been fighting at a great distance from his base and had been forced to surrender after a prolonged and gallant struggle. For espousing Li Ling’s cause, Ssu-ma Ch’ien suffered disgrace and punishment by castration. The work produced by Ssu-ma Ch’ien and his father, Ssu-ma T’an, constitutes China’s first systematic history. It was written as a matter of private initiative. Before this time a number of works had been written which can be regarded as historical documents or chronicles, such as the Shu-ching (Book of Documents), the Ch’un-ch’iu (Spring and Autumn Annals), the Tso chuan (Tso’s Commentary), and the Kuo-yü (Discourses of the States).
King Hui of Wei, originally called Marquis Hui of Wei, and after 344, King Hui of Liang was the third ruler of the state of Wei during the Warring States Period, ruling from approximately 370 BC – 319 BC. He was a grandson of Marquis Wen of Wei, the founder of the state, and a son of Marques Wu of Wei. He came to the thrown after a war of succession during during his state was nearly partitioned by Zhao and Han. For his wars and eventual defeat by Qi and Qin in 340 refer to the Warring States Period. He is notable for four policies. 1) In 361 he moved the capital from Anyi to Daliang to get out of the reach of the Qin. Anyi was on the plateau south of the Fen River not far from where the Fen River and Wei River join the Yellow River. Daliang was to the far southeast of the state near the border with Song. Thereafter the state was briefly called Liang. 2) In 362-359 he made exchanges of territory with Zhao to the north and Han to the south. This gave Wei more rational borders, secured the new capital and gave Wei more control over trade routes. 3) In 361-355 he held several face-to-face meetings with the rulers of the neighboring states. 4) In 344 he promoted himself from Marquis (Hou), calling himself King Hui of Liang.
Mencius, also known by his birth name Meng Ke or Ko, was born in the State of Zou, now forming the territory of the county level city of Zhoucheng (originally Zouxian), Shandong province, only thirty kilometers (eighteen miles) south of Qufu, Confucius’ birthplace. He was an itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage, and one of the principal interpreters of Confucianism. It is thought that he was a pupil of Confucius’ grandson, Zisi. Like Confucius, according to legend, he traveled China for forty years to offer advice to rulers for reform. During the Warring States Period (403–221 BC), Mencius served as an official and scholar at the Jixia Academy in the State of Qi (1046 BC to 221 BC) from 319 to 312 BC. He expressed his Filial devotion when he took an absence of three years from his official duties for Qi to mourn his mother’s death. Disappointed at his failure to effect changes in his contemporary world, he retired from public life. Mencius is buried in the “Mencius Cemetery”, which is located 12 km to the northeast of Zoucheng’s central urban area. A stele carried by a giant stone tortoise and crowned with dragons stands in front of his grave.
Mencius’ mother – Mencius’ mother is often held up as an exemplary female figure in Chinese culture. One of the most famous traditional Chinese four character idioms is 孟母三遷 (mèng mǔ sān qiān; literal translation: “Mencius’ mother, three moves”). This saying refers to the legend that Mencius’ mother moved house three times before finding a location that she felt was suitable for the child’s upbringing. As an expression, the idiom refers to the importance of finding the proper environment for raising children. Mencius’s father died when he was very young. His mother Zhang (仉) raised her son alone. They were very poor. At first they lived by a cemetery, where the mother found her son imitating the paid mourners in funeral processions. Therefore the mother decided to move. The next house was near a market in the town. There the boy began to imitate the cries of merchants (merchants were despised in early China). So the mother moved to a house next to a school. Inspired by the scholars and students, Mencius began to study. His mother decided to remain, and Mencius became a scholar. Another story further illustrates the emphasis that Mencius’ mother placed on her son’s education. As the story goes, once when Mencius was young, he was truant from school. His mother responded to his apparent disregard for his education by taking up a pair of scissors and cutting the cloth she had been weaving in front of him. This was intended to illustrate that one cannot stop a task midway, and her example inspired Mencius to diligence in his studies.
Confucians – Confucianism is a complex system of morals and ethics, but it is considered a religion because of the impact it has on the way people live their lives. Confucianism was founded by a young scholar named K’ung-tze, but the Latinized version of the name is commonly rendered “Confucius”. The major teachings and the main ideas of Confucius was the cultivation of virtue and the development of moral perfection, which he sought to instill in others. Confucius taught that immorality resulted from ignorance and that knowledge is what leads to a virtuous lifestyle. Confucius stressed teaching by example. Many of his recorded saying are proverbs of virtuous men. Confucius also believed in being around positive people to become positive. He also stressed to his disciples about self-correction because self-discipline was also a virtue. Confucians were those relating to the Chinese philosopher Confucius or his teachings. The major Confucian concepts include rén (humanity or humaneness), zhèngmíng (rectification of names; e.g. a ruler who rules unjustly is no longer a ruler and may be dethroned), zhōng (loyalty), xiào (filial piety), and lǐ (ritual).
Moists – Systematic argument in Chinese philosophy began with the Moist school, founded in the fifth century b. C. by the first anti-Confucian thinker Mo Tzu (c. 468 – c. 376BC). He laid down three tests for the validity of a doctrine: ancient authority, common observation, and practical effect. At first the controversies of the various schools over moral and political principles led to increasing rigor in argument; then to an interest in dialectic for its own sake, as evidenced in Hui Shih’s paradoxes of infinity and in Kung-sun Lung’s sophism “A (white) horse is not a horse”; and still later to the anti rationalism of the Taoist Chuang Tzu (born 369 BC), who rejected all dialectic on the grounds that names have only an arbitrary connection with objects and that any point of view is right for those who accept the choice of names it assumes.
Legalists – Legalism is a political philosophy synthesized by a philosopher named Han Fei. With an essential principle like “when the epoch changed, the ways changed”, it upholds the rule of law and is thus a theory of jurisprudence. A ruler should govern his subjects by the following trinity: Fa (法 fa): law or principle, Shu (術 shù): method, tactic, art, or statecraft, and Shi (勢 shì): legitimacy, power, or charisma. Legalism was the chosen philosophy of the Qin Dynasty. It was blamed for creating a totalitarian society and thereby experienced decline. Its main motto is: “Set clear strict laws, or deliver harsh punishment”. Both Shang Yang and Han Fei promoted the absolute adherence to the rule of law, regardless of the circumstances or the person. The ruler, alone, would possess the authority to dispense with rewards and punishments.
Nan-jung Chu – The man who went to see Lao Tzu to find a solution to his worries. Lao Tzu inquired as to why he had brought a crowd of people with him. It was really baggage of old ideas, conventional ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, life and death. All these were conventional values he must discard before becoming free. Man is the author of his own suffering and his fears spring from a web of values he created by himself alone.
Tao Te Ching – Chuang Tzu’s Taoism was very different from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, they may have drawn from similar sources but reach vastly different conclusions.
Ssu ma Tan – Father of the historian Ssu ma Ch’ien author of “A discussion of the Essentials of the Six Schools”, he reviewed prevalent philosophical schools of the time and was advocate of Taoism.
The Huai-nan Tzu – compiled by scholars of the court of Liu An (122 BC), the king of Huai-nan and contains excerpts from both the Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu and praised their teachings. The Huai Nan Tzu is a sprawling, encyclopedic work of Chinese thought that was compiled late in the second century BC under the auspices of Liu An, the prince of Huai Nan. Liu An was a great patron of the arts and philosophy and was the paternal uncle of the Han emperor, Wu. He had gathered many of the major lights of the Chinese literati of the time to his court and he presented the book to his nephew as a gift upon Wu’s ascension to the imperial throne in the hopes that it would provide him with suitable instruction upon the proper rule of the empire. Liu An, however, and his book, were working against the swelling tide of imperial centralization, and he was eventually put to death for his pains. This book, like most of the books labeled as ‘Taoist’, shows the great difficulty associated with that classification. It is actually one of the earlier examples that we have of the philosophy that became known as ‘Huang-Lao’, after Huang Ti, the mythical Yellow Emperor, and Lao Tzu, the great patron of all things Taoist. Huang-Lao philosophy is usually concerned with government and with exerting imperial control in an almost laissez-faire fashion. It is quite practical and unequivocally opposed to the concern with rites and ‘traditions’ that became known as Confucianism, the ideology that came to dominate the Han empire soon after Liu An’s death. It is not at all quietistic, and the anarchical philosophy of Chuang Tzu has no place in this book. The Huai Nan Tzu also has no patience for what later became known as religious Taoism, the eclectic assortment of legends, rituals, alchemy, and physical and mental exercises aimed at conferring immortality upon its practitioners.
Rival doctrines contending for supremacy – Mo Tzu denounced Confucianism, Mencius and Hsun Tzu denounced Moism, Legalist philosopher Han Fei Tzu denounced both doctrines. Chuang Tzu attacked the other schools as well, the moralistic Confucians and Moists, and the Logicians Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung.
The Logicians Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung – Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung were not unanimous in their opinions and thinking. Hui Shih was a friend of Chuang Tzu, both believed that all things form one body and that there was the great unit or great one. But Chuang Tzu sought to know these through mystical experience, whereas Hui Shih attempted to do so through rational knowledge. Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung were opposed to each other at more than one point. To Hui Shih things were relative, but to Kung-sun Lung they were absolute. The former emphasized change, while the latter stressed universality and permanence. These are also basic problems underlying the twenty-one paradoxes of the Debaters. A number of these paradoxes seemed to side with Hui Shih in stressing the relativity of space and time, but the other side with Kung-sun Lung in stressing universality and permanence.
Legalist philosopher Han Fei Tzu – Legalism reached its apogee in the late third century B.C. in the writings of Han Feizi (Master Han Fei) and the policies of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Han Fei was a prince of the state of Han who defected to its chief rival, the state of Qin, but eventually he ran afoul of Qin’s chief minister, Li Si (d. 208 BC) and was forced to commit suicide in 233 BC. Before he died, he composed a number of essays on how to construct a stable and peaceful state.
Two scholars; Shu Kuang and his nephew Shu Shou – students of the Confucian classics who served as tutors to the heir apparent of Emperor Hsuan (74-49 BC) instructing him on the analects and the Classic of Filial Piety. When Shu Kuang felt he had reached the pinnacle of success and honor he announced in the words of Lao Tzu that “he who knows what enough is will not be shamed; he who knows where to stop will not be in danger”. Both petitioned for their release and once granted retired to the country.
Scholar Yen Chunping of Sichuan – A diviner in the marketplace of Chengdu, who instructed people on morality using the oracle (I Ching) on what is right, he wrote a book about the doctrines of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu and was instructor of Confucian philosopher Yang Hsuing (53 BC – 18 AD), the most eminent Confucian scholar at the time.
Kuo Hsiang – Present version of the Chuang Tzu was edited by him in 300 AD. He was one of the leaders of the Neo-Taoist movement. He attached a commentary to the text, old oldest now in existence, which was partially done by predecessor, Hsiang Hsiu. Kuo Hsiang divided Chuang Tzu into thirty three sections in the following order; seven sections called the nei-p’ien or the “inner chapters,” fifteen sections called the wai-p’ein, or “outer chapters” and eleven chapters called the “miscellaneous chapters”. It is the text of commentary of Kuo Hsiang’s edition of the Chuang Tzu that forms the basis for all our present versions of the work.
Treatise on Literature of the Han Shu – Yiwenzhi, or the Treatise on Literature, is the bibliographical section of the Hanshu (Book of Han) by the Chinese historian Ban Gu (32-92), who completed the work begun by his father Ban Biao. The bibliographical catalog is the last of its ten treatises, and scroll 30 of the 100 scrolls comprising Hanshu. The basis for the catalog came from Qilue (七略), the work of Liu Xin, which gave detailed bibliographical information about holdings in the Imperial Library, which itself was an extension on Bielu (別錄) by his father Liu Xiang on which the two had collaborated. The catalog provides important insights into the literature of the various Chinese intellectual currents of the pre-Qin period (Nine Schools of Thought), of which only some 20% are presently known.
Seven Inner Chapters of Chuang Tzu – The main themes of the seven chapters called the nei-p’ien are an advocacy of creative spontaneity, the relativity of all things, transcendental knowledge, following nature, equanimity toward life and death, the usefulness of uselessness and the blessings of emptiness and non-existence. Since ancient times the first 7 chapters (the nèi piān 內篇 “inner chapters”) have been considered to be the actual work of Zhuangzi, and most modern scholars agree with this view. The Records of the Grand Historian refers to a 100,000-word Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) work and references several chapters that are still in the text. The Book of Han, finished in AD 111, lists a Zhuangzi in 52 chapters, which many scholars believe to be the original form of the work. A number of different forms of the Zhuangzi survived into the Tang dynasty, but a shorter and more popular 33-chapter form of the book prepared by Guo Xiang around AD 300 is the source of all surviving editions. In 742, an imperial proclamation from Emperor Xuanzong of Tang awarded the Zhuangzi the honorific title True Scripture of Southern Florescence (Nanhua zhenjing 南華真經), a name still used in certain formal contexts.
Wu Wei – rendered as “non-action” in the Chuang Tzu. The practice of wu wei is the expression of what in Taoism is considered to be the highest form of virtue – one that is in no way premeditated, but rather arises spontaneously. In verse 38 of the Tao Te Ching (translated here by Jonathan Star), Lao Tzu tells us:
The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference
When Tao is lost one must learn the rules of virtue
When virtue is lost, the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct
Yu – means “to wonder” or “wondering”.
The man who has made himself one with the Way – In the Chuang Tzu referring to Great Clod, Supreme Swindle, True Man. All refer to the inexpressible absolute.
Chuang Tzu pucheng or Liu Wen-tien – Author’s primary source for this book.
Section 1 Characters in Free and Easy Wondering.
Kun – A fish in the northern darkness used to illustrate a paradox… the tiniest fish imaginable is also the largest fish imaginable. He can change into a bird whose name is P’eng with wings that are like clouds in the sky, the cicada and dove mock the flight of P’eng.
The Universal Harmony – The name of a man or book, Chuang Tzu is poking fun of other philosophers who try to use ancient texts to prove their assertions.
P’eng-tzu – An imaginary man known for his longevity who lived from the age of Shun to the age of the five dictators. He was known as the Chinese Methuselah. (See again in section six.)
Sung Jung-tzu (also referred to as Sung Chien or Sung K’eng) – He taught a doctrine of social harmony, frugality, pacifism, and the rejection of conventional standards of honor and disgrace.
Lieh Tzu – From the Chuang Tzu… Lieh Tzu could ride the wind and go soaring around with cool and breezy skill, but after fifteen days he came back to earth. As far as the search for good fortune went, he didn’t fret and worry. He escaped the trouble of walking, but he still had to depend on something to get around. If he had only mounted on the truth of Heaven and Earth, ridden the changes of the six breaths, and thus wondered through the boundless, then what would he have had to depend on? Therefore I say, the Perfected Man has no self, the Holy Man has no merit, and the Sage has no fame.
Emperor Yao and Hsu-yu – Yao An early Chinese emperor, thought to have lived around 2,300 BC. When Hsu-yu refused Yao’s offer to cede his empire to him, Yao found another hermit, Shun, to succeed him. Hsu-yu Hermits have lived in remote regions of China—particularly the Zhongnan Mountains for at least 5,000 years. In the early days, they served as shamans. Later, they became Taoist or Buddhist monks and nuns. Legend tells us that, following the Emperor Yao’s offer, Hsu-yu washed out his ears in a nearby stream.
The Zhongnan Mountains – located in Shaanxi Province, south of Xi’an, China. At 2604 meters the range’s highest point is the Cui Hua Mountain. Other notable peaks and places in the Zhongnan mountains include Lou Guan Tai, where Taoist sage Lao Tzu is said to have dwelt and conveyed the Tao Te Ching, as well as Nan Wutai.
Story told to Chien Wu by Chieh Yu and repeated to Lien Shu – a Holy Man living on faraway Ku-she Mountain – With skin like ice or snow and gentle and shy like a young girl. He does not eat the five grains, but sucks the wind, drinks the dew, climbs up on the clouds and mist, rides a flying dragon and wonders beyond the four seas. By concentrating his spirit, he can protect creatures from sickness and plague and make the harvest plentiful. Chien Wu concluded by saying he thought this was insane and refused to believe it.
Man of Sung who sold ceremonial hats – made a trip to Yueh but people there cut their hair short and tattooed their bodies and had no use for hats. Yao brought order to the world and directed all the government that could be seen, but when he went to see the Four Masters of the far away Ku-she Mountain he became dazed and forgot his kingdom back home.
The King of Wei gave Hui Tzu (a friend of Chuang Tzu’s) seeds of a huge gourd. He plants them and they were too big to carry to use as water containers, he tried to cut and use as water dippers but they were still too big. Thinking the gourds were too big to be of any use he destroyed them. Chuang Tzu admonished him for not using the gourd as a boat to float down the river. It was his mind that was too small to use the huge gourd.
Man in Sung skilled at making salve from bleaching silk that could be used for chapped hands he sold to man who gave to King of Wu. It was used to prevent soldier’s hands from chapping and they could handle their weapons and won many battles. With one man the salve never got beyond silk bleaching another used it to win a fiefdom.
Hui Tzu’s too big and twisty tree, the wildcat and yak as big as a cloud covering the sky. The tree was too gnarled and bumpy to be considered to be of any use just like your words, big and useless so everyone spurns them. The wildcat races east and west until it falls into a net and dies, and the cloud covering yak knows how to be big but not how to catch rats. Why not plant this useless tree in Not Even Anything village where you can relax or lay down beneath it without fear that an ax or nothing else will shorten its life. If there is no use for it, how can it’s life be shortened?
Section 2 Discussion on Making All Things Equal
Tzu-ch’i of South Wall and the piping of Heaven – His friend Yen Ch’eng Tzu noticed Tzu-ch’i staring up at the sky as if vacant and far away and asking him if he could really make your body like a withered tree and mind like ashes. He responded that he had lost himself not to the piping on earth, but to the piping of Heaven. When the Great Clod breathes it becomes the wind. All of nature responds in swaying and making waves. Sometimes in a gentle breeze other times in a full gale. Yen then asked about the piping of Heaven. Heaven blows on the ten thousand things differently so that each can be itself. Heaven is not something distinct from earth and men, but a name applied to the functioning of the two.
Great Understanding is broad and unhurried; little understanding is cramped and busy. Great words are clear and limpid, little words are shrill and quarrelsome. Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn’t there? Where there is recognition of right there must by recognition of wrong, where there is recognition of wrong there must be recognition of right. Therefore the sage does not proceed in such a way, but illuminates all in the light of Heaven, T’ien, or nature. A state in which “this” and “that” no longer find their opposites is called the hinge of the Way. When the hinge is fitted into its socket it can respond endlessly. The Tao makes all things into one. Their dividedness is their completeness; their completeness is their impairment. No thing is either complete or impaired, but all are made into one again. Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one again. So he has no use for categories, but relegates all to the constant. The constant is the useful; the useful is the passable; the passable is the successful; and with success, all is accomplished. He relies on this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way, or Tao.
The phrase “three in the morning” means to wear out your brain trying to make things into one without realizing that they are all the same. The monkey trainer gives out four acorns in the morning and three at night instead of the opposite making monkeys happy after first doing the opposite and they become angry.
The Sage walking Two Roads – The sage harmonizes with both right and wrong and rests in Heaven the Equalizer.
The understanding of men in ancient times went so far as to believe that things have never existed or can be added; others thought things exist but recognized no boundaries among them; still others thought there were boundaries but recognized no right or wrong. But now that right and wrong have appeared, the Way becomes injured and love becomes complete .i.e., mans likes and dislikes become revealed with the appearance of love. But do things such as completion and injury really exist, Chuang Tzu asks. He follows this logic with the decision of lute playing, Mr. Chao.
Mr. Chao Wen was a superb lute player, but not playing the lute fit him. His best playing was only a pale and partial reflection of ideal music, therefore it sounded to be injured and impaired. However, when he refrained from playing the lute for Music Master K’uang and Hui Tzu there was neither completion nor injury. Just as the unity of the Way was injured when there was the appearance of love, man’s likes and dislikes led to comparisons and what might be seen as either good or bad, or incomplete.
Logicians Hui Tzu and Kung-sun Lung added to the argument discussing the relationship between attributes such as hard and white and the thing in which they pertain. As the knowledge of these men was seen to be near perfection it was said they attained completion. If so, then so have the rest of us. Or can they not be said to have attained completion? If so, then neither we nor anything else have ever attained it.
The torch of chaos and doubt – this is what the sage steers by. He accepts things as they are, though to the ordinary person attempting to establish values they appear chaotic and doubtful and in need of clarification. So that he does not use things but relegates all to the constant. This is what it means to use clarity.
Chuang Tzu now goes into a long discussion on beginnings. There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it has not said something.
There is nothing bigger than the tip of an autumn hair and Mt. T’ai is little. No one has lived longer than a dead child and P’eng-tsu died young. Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me.
The Eight Virtues of the Way, or the Tao – The Way has never known boundaries; speech has no consistency. But because of recognition of this there came to be boundaries. These boundaries are referred to as the Eight Virtues. Chuang Tzu is parodying the ethical categories of the Confucians and Moists by saying… there is left, there is right, there are theories, there are debates, there are divisions, there are discriminations, there are emulations, and there are contentions. As to what is beyond the Six Realms (Heaven, earth, the four directions, i.e., the universe), the sage admits it exists but does not theorize. As to what is within the Six Realms, he theorizes but does not debate. In the case of describing the Spring and Autumn Annals, the sage debates but does not discriminate.
Spring and Autumn Annals – A history of the State of Lu, as well as, a history and record of past kings and ages said to have been compiled by Confucius.
The Reservoir of Heaven and the Precious or Shaded Light – The Great Way is not named; Great Discriminations are not spoken; Great Benevolence is not benevolent; Great Modesty is not humble; Great Daring does not attack. If the Way is made clear, it is not the Way. If discriminations are put into words, they do not suffice. If benevolence has a constant object, it cannot be universal. If modesty is fastidious, it cannot be trusted. If daring attacks, it cannot be complete. These five are all round, but they tend toward the square. All are originally perfect, but can by impaired if misused, or squared. Therefore understanding that rests in what it does not understand is the finest. Who can understand discriminations that are not spoken, the Way that is not a way? If he can understand this, he may be called the Reservoir of Heaven. Pour into it and it is never full, dip from it and it never runs dry, and yet it does not know where the supply comes from. This is called the Precious or Shaded Light.
Neih Ch’ueh told Wang Ni, if a person doesn’t know what is profitable or harmful, then does the Perfected Man likewise know nothing of these things?” Wang Ni replied, “The Perfected Man is godlike. Though the great swamps blaze, they cannot burn him; though the great rivers freeze, they cannot chill him; though swift lightning splits the hills and howling gales shake the sea, they cannot frighten him. A man like this rides the clouds and mist, straddles the sun and moon, and wanders beyond the four seas. Even life and death have no affect on him, much less the rules of profit and loss!”
As if tongue in cheek Chu Ch’ueh-tzu says to Chang Wu-tzu “I have heard Confucius say that the sage does not work at anything, does not pursue profit, does not dodge harm, does not enjoy being sought after, does not follow the Way, says nothing yet says something, and wonders beyond the dust and grime. Confucius himself regarded these as wild and flippant words, though I believe they describe the mysterious Way. What do you think of them?” Chang Wu-tzu responded, “Even the Yellow Emperor would be confused if he heard such words, so how could you expect Confucius to understand them? Chang Wu-tzu concludes by saying “How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death I am not like I man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back?”
Lady Li was the daughter of a border guard of Ai. She was taken captive by Duke Hsien of Chin and became his consort. She wept until her tears drenched the collar of her robe. But later when she shared his couch and ate fine foods while living in the palace, she wondered why she had ever wept. How do I know that the dead do not wonder why they ever longed for life?
The Great Awakening verses the Supreme Swindle… When we are dreaming do we know it is a dream and do we attempt to interpret the dream while dreaming? Only upon waking do we know it was a dream. And someday when we each have a great awakening we will learn that this was all just a dream. Yet now when we think we are awake we assume we have an understanding of things. But then when I say you are dreaming is it not true that I am just dreaming as well. And yet after ten thousand generations a sage may come along who will know the meaning of our dreams, or maybe he will be dreaming as well.
Forgetting distinctions while harmonizing with Heavenly Equality… Suppose we have an argument and we disagree who is right and wrong, then am I necessarily right and you wrong? If we don’t know, how could another know the answer? If someone else agrees with you or with me, how do we know he acted fairly? If he agrees or disagrees with both of us, how can he decide? In the end waiting for someone to pass judgment is not the way, is it not better to harmonize them all with Heavenly Equality and leave them to their endless changes? As things are continually changing, how can they be right or not right or so is not so, and then there be any need for argument or distinction. One should leap instead into the boundless and make it your home.
Penumbra said to Shadow, “First you were walking now you are standing still, then you were sitting and now you are standing up, why the lack of independent action just as the snake does with its scales and the cicada its wings?” The question is does man have to wait for something or someone in order to take action for himself even if it’s his own shadow.
Chuang Tzu dreamed he was a butterfly flittering around as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. When he awoke he saw he was Chuang Tzu. But he did not know if he was Chuang who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. But he knew there must by some distinction in the transformation of things.
Section 3 The Secret of Caring for Life
Follow the middle staying with what is constant. Use your limitless power to rediscover your latent talents and abilities. Come forth to use the power and knowledge you have always possessed unconcerned with how others see or perceive you in their limited vision of the way. Travel in complete sincerity and wu wei. What you need will always be present at that moment without need to worry about the past or some sense of time wasted as you have lived your life. As a student of Chuang Tzu you are safe from harm. Just live and rest in the moment and all will be made clear.
Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. Every touch of his hand cut the meat as if he used the knife as though he was performing the Dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music. The cook relayed that what he cared about was the Way or Tao, which goes beyond skill, and said, “I cut up the ox as if by spirit and don’t look at it with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a halt and spirit moves me to where it wants. Over a period of nineteen years I have cut up thousands of oxen with it, yet the blade is as sharp as the beginning. When I see a place of difficulty, I tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I am doing, work very slowly and move the knife with the greatest subtlety completely satisfied and move on. I then wipe the knife off and put it away.”
The Dance of the Mulberry Grove – A rain dance from the time of King T’ang during the Shang Dynasty.
Keeping time to the Ching-shou music – Music at the time of Yao.
Kung-wen Hsuan sees the Commander of the Right had lost a foot, a common penalty when someone had disobeyed orders and committed an offense of some kind. The commander explained though that he was born with only one foot and as such it was the work of Heaven that saw to it that he would be one-footed, not man. He continues, “I feel at times like a swamp pheasant in a cage. Though I am treated royally and feel trapped as I trudge along on one foot. Although you treat it like a king, its spirit won’t be content”. Chuang Tzu’s concern however remains the need to stay in one piece.
Ch’in Shih going to Lao Tzu’s funeral – Upon entered to pay his respects, Ch’in gives three cries and turns to leave. Lao Tzu’s disciples questioned his brevity. He responded by saying he was saddened by all the weeping of those who mourned Lao’s passing. To do this was to hide the true meaning of Heaven, turn your back on the true state of affairs, and forget what you were born with. In the old days, this was called the crime of hiding from Heaven. Lao Tzu came because it was his time and he happened to leave because things follow along. If you are content with the time and willing to follow along, then grief and you have no way to enter in. This is known as to be free from the bonds of God.
Section 4 In the World of Men
On Confucius favorite disciple Yen Hui going to Wei, following his admonition that one should leave the state that is well ordered and go to the state in chaos in hopes that he can restore it to health. Confucius tells him that he will probably get himself killed. That the Way does not want things mixed with it and that the Perfect Man made sure he had it within himself before he tried to give it to others. Confucius continues, “Do you know what it is that destroys virtue and where wisdom come from? Virtue is destroyed by fame, and wisdom is a devise for wrangling. Though your virtue may be great and your good faith unassailable, if you do not understand men’s spirits or minds… this is simply using other men’s bad points to parade your excellence. In turn you will not be successful. Even if the young ruler of Wei delights in worthy men, why does he need you to make him any different? Since the trouble you speak has no remedy you are bound to die if you go. You best stay home.
In ancient times Chieh put Kuan Lung-feng to death and Chou put Prince Pi Kan to death. Both Kuan Lung-feng and Prince Pi Kan were scrupulous in their conduct, bent down to aid and comfort the common people, and used their positions to oppose their superiors. Therefore, their rulers Chieh and Chou utilized their scrupulous conduct to trap them, for they were too fond of good fame. Confucius continues by telling Yen Hui, “In ancient times Yao attacked Ts’ang-chih and Hsuao and Yu attacked Yu-hu and these states were left empty and unpeopled. Yao and Yu never ceased to look for gain and were seekers of fame. Even the sage cannot hope to deal with the likes of them. How do you, Yen Hui, propose to do so? You must have a plan, please tell me.”
Yen Hui replied that he had different ideas he might pursue. The first one being that he would be grave and empty-hearted, diligent and of one mind, won’t that do? Confucius responded, how could that do? You may put on a great show and seem very impressive, but the uncertain look on your face would never do. With him what is referred to as virtue that advances a little each day would not succeed, much less a great display of virtue. He would stick fast to his position and never be converted. How would such an approach succeed?”
Yen Hui’s second approach was to be inwardly direct, outwardly compliant, and do his work through the examples of antiquity? He asked “By doing my work through the examples of antiquity, I can be the companion of ancient times. Though my words may in fact be lessons and reproaches, they belong to ancient times and not to me. In this way, though I may be blunt, I cannot be blamed. This is what I mean by being a companion of antiquity”. Yen asked Confucius, “If I go about it in this way, will it do?” Confucius replied, “No, you have too many policies and plans and you have not seen what is needed. You are still making too many artificial distinctions and are still making your mind your teacher”.
Yen Hui said, “I have nothing left to offer. May I ask the proper way?” Confucius responded, “You must fast. Nothing will be easy if you lead with your mind. Bright Heaven will never sanction your efforts this way. Confucius continues, “Fasting of the mind is the process of making your will one! Don’t listen with your ears, listen with your mind. No, don’t listen with your mind, but listen with your spirit. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition. But spirit is empty and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.” Having heard this Yen Hui felt as if he was nonexistent, that there was no more Yen Hui and he became empty. Confucius concludes by saying that Yen should make oneness your house and live with what cannot be avoided. Then you will be close to success. Finally Confucius concludes by saying, “it is easy to keep from walking; the hard thing is to walk without touching the ground. It is easy to cheat when you work for men, but hard to cheat when you work for Heaven. Fortune and blessing gather where there is stillness. Let your ears and eyes communicate with what is inside, and put mind and knowledge on the outside. Then even gods and spirits will come to dwell, not to speak of men! This is the changing of the ten thousand things, the bond of Yu and Shun, the constant practice of Fu Hsi and Chi Ch’u. How much more should it be a rule for lesser men!” Yu and Shun, Fu Hsi and Chi Ch’u – Sages of ancient China.
Tzu-kao, duke of She – A high minister of Chu and relative of the king consulted Confucius before leaving on mission to Ch’i on whether his trip his trip might be successful with Confucius concluding “To suffer no harm whether you succeed or not – only the man of virtue can do that.” Later adding “that in the world there are two great decrees: one being fate and the other duty.” He continues, “Most importantly is the serving of your own mind so that sadness or joy does not sway or move it; to understand what you can do nothing about and to be content with it as with fate – this is the perfection of virtue”. Adding that “words are like wind and waves; actions are a matter of gain and loss. Wind and waves are easily moved, questions of gain and loss easily lead to danger. Just go along with things and let your mind move freely. Resign yourself to what cannot be avoided and nourish what is within you – this is best”, concluding that there is nothing better than following orders and obeying fate.
A scholar from Lu, Yen Ho, had been appointed the tutor of the crown prince, the son of Duke Ling of Wei went to consult Chu Po-yu, a minister of Wei about his difficulties in teaching the crown prince and his lack of virtue. Yen Ho conveys that if he allows him to go on with his unruliness he would endanger both himself and the state and that unfortunately he is quick to recognize the faults of others but not his own. The crown prince, later known as Kuai-kuie would one day be forced to flee the state of Wei for attempting to kill his mother only to later re-enter the state and seize the throne from his own son in 481BC. Chu Po-yu advised Yen Ho to follow along and harmonize with him, but not to be pulled in with him. If he wants to follow erratic and reckless ways follow them with him in leading him to a point where he is without fault. Don’t be as the praying mantis secure in his talent who gets run over by an on-coming carriage. Rather be as the lion tamer, who would never give the lion a live animal to eat giving it just a piece of meat gauging the tiger’s appetite and thoroughly understanding its fierce disposition. Finally, a horse lover will use a box to catch its dung and a shell its pee. But if you swat at a mosquito at the wrong time, your horse will break the bit and hurt its head. In dealing with the crown prince can you afford to be careless?”
Carpenter Shih went to Ch’i and when he got to Crooked Shaft saw a huge oak tree standing by the village shrine. The tree was broad enough to shelter several thousand oxen and measured a hundred span around with its lowest branches eighty feet off the ground. As the carpenter and his apprentice passed by they failed to give it a glance or even stop and just continued on. His apprentice was stumped that the carpenter could see it as such a worthless tree. The carpenter then relayed that “if you made boats out of it they’d sink, make coffins they’d rot, make vessels they would break in no time. Make doors and it would sweat sap like pine and worms would eat them. It’s just not a timber tree; there is nothing it can be used for. That’s how it got to be so old”. That night the large oak came to the carpenter in a dream. Are you trying to compare me to so-called useful trees like an apple, cherry, pear, orange, the citron or other trees and scrubs? As soon as their fruit is picked they are torn apart and abused. Their utility makes them useful so they don’t get to live out their years. As for me I’ve been living a long time trying to be of no use. If I had appeared to be useful would I have ever grown to be this large? When Carpenter Shih woke up he reported his dream to his apprentice who asked, ”If the tree is so intent on being of no use, why is it next to the village shrine?” The answer of course was that the tree was serving a purpose by lending an air of sanctity to the spot for the shrine that was an altar to the soil and growing season. This being so, if you tried to judge by conventional or ordinary standards you would be way off.
Tzu-ch’i of Nan-po was wandering around the Hill of Shang when he saw a huge tree much bigger than any others. A thousand teams of horses could have taken shelter under it and its shade could have covered them all. Tzu-ch’i wondered “what kind of tree is this; it must have some extraordinary usefulness!” But upon looking up he saw that the smaller limbs were gnarled and twisted, unfit for beams or rafters and looking down, he saw the trunk was pitted and rotten. It turns out to be a completely unusable tree. I can see why it has been able to grow so big. Aha! It is this unusableness that the Holy Man makes use of.” He knew of a region of Sung where they grew catalpa, cypress and mulberry trees that are grown to make monkey perches, ridgepoles for tall roofs, and sideboards for coffins of the nobles or rich merchants but are cut down in their prime due to their usefulness. Thereby never getting to live out their lives as Heaven gave them. He then recalled what the shaman knew of some animals; oxen with white faces and pigs with turned up shouts that were considered to be unsuitable for spring sacrifice to the god of the Yellow River. They were considered to be inauspicious creatures. But as with the old gnarled and twisted tree they were also auspicious just the same as well.
Crippled Shu with his chin stuck down in his navel, shoulders up above his head, pigtail pointing to the sky, his five organs on the top, and his two thighs pressing his ribs lived by sewing and washing getting enough to eat. By handling the winnow and sifting out the good grain he makes enough to feed ten people. When troops are assembled he stands and waves goodbye; when a work party is assembled he is passed over as an invalid. However, when doling out grain to the invalid he receives three big measures and ten bundles of firewood. How much better then, if he had crippled virtue! The final entry in this chapter is Chuang Tzu’s take on a story from Confucius Analects (XVIII paragraph 5) While Confucius is visiting Ch’u, the madman Chieh Yu passes by his door crying out, oh, phoenix. Oh, phoenix how has virtue failed. The future you cannot wait for; the past you cannot pursue. When the world has the Way, the sage succeeds; when the world is without the Way, the sage survives. In times like the present, we do well to escape penalty. Good fortune is as light as a feather, for nobody knows how to pick it up. Misfortune is heavy as the earth, but nobody knows how to stay out of its way.
Section 5 The Sign of Virtue Complete
In Lu a man named Wang T’ai who had had his foot cut off for some minor offense had as many followers as Confucius. Confused, Confucius’ friend Ch’ang Chi asked him how this Wang T’ai was able to divide up Lu with him and make half of them his disciples? He does not stand up and teach nor does he sit down and discuss, yet they go to him empty and come home full. Does he really have some wordless teaching, some formless way of bringing the mind to completion? What kind of man is he? Confucius responded, “The man is a sage. Life and death are great affairs and yet they are no change to him. Though heaven and earth flop over and fall down, it is no loss to him. He sees clearly into what has no falsehood and does not shift with things. He takes it as fate that things should change and he holds fast to the source”. Still uncertain, Ch’ang Chi asks what he means by this. Confucius ads, “Instead of looking for differences in the ten thousand things you must look for what makes them the same. A man like this does not know what his eyes and ears should approve – he lets his mind play in the harmony of virtue. As for things, he sees them as one and does not see their loss. He regards the loss of a foot as a lump of earth thrown away” and later says, “Proof of a man holding fast to the beginning lies in the fact of his fearlessness”.
Shen-t’u Chia, who had lost a foot, was studying under Po-hun Wu-jen along with the prime minister of Cheng, Tzu-ch’an. Shen-t’u Chia questioned Tzu-ch’an about who should get up off their mat after meditation first and if within the gates of the Master is there any such thing as being a prime minister and due to his position going first. That if a mirror is bright no dust settles on it, conversely if the dust settles it is not so bright and when you live around worthy men a long time, you’ll be free of faults. Should we not reflect the Tao wherever we are and in whatever we are doing? Tzu-ch’an responded, “Take a look at your virtue and see if it’s not enough to give you pause to reflect!” Shen-t’u Chia then added, as he looks down at where his missing foot would have been, “People who excuse their faults and claim they didn’t deserve to be punished – there are lots of them. But those who don’t excuse their faults and who admit they did not deserve to be spared – they are few. To know what you can’t do anything about, and to be content with it as you would be with fate – only a man with virtue can do that. While there are many men who laugh at my missing foot, the Master has never in nineteen years let on that he is aware of it.” Tzu-ch’an and Shen-t’u Chia had been wondering outside the realm of forms and bodies. However, Tzu-ch’an had not been able to see past Shen-t’u Chia’s lost foot. Acknowledging this, Tzu-ch’an tells Shen-t’u Chia to “Say no more about it”.
Stumping along, having had his foot cut off, Shu-shan No-Toes comes to see Confucius then tells the story to Lao Tzu but first Confucius admonishes him for not being careful enough saying “Since you’ve already broken the law and gotten in trouble like this, why do you come to see me now?” No-toes said “I just did not understand my duty and was too careless with my body, and so I lost a foot”. Then added, “But I’ve come now because I have learned that there is something much more important than holding on to a foot and I want to hold on to it. I have learned there is nothing that heaven doesn’t cover and nothing that earth doesn’t bear up. I supposed my dear Master that you would be like heaven and earth. How did I know you would act this way? Later No-Toes told the story to Lao Tzu conveying that “Confucius certainly hasn’t reached the stage of a Perfected Man, has he? What does he mean by coming around so obsequiously to study with you? His being so deferential to you is a sham illusion of fame and ego trying to garner a reputation. Doesn’t he know the Perfected Man looks on these as so many handcuffs and fetters?”
Lao Tzu had known Confucius reputation well before his visit and knew the craving for fame that Confucius had, but also his knowledge at being able to assemble and convey pieces of history, and ability to give wise counsel. In closing, Lao Tzu told No Toes to go back and tell Confucius that life and death are the same story and that what is acceptable and unacceptable are on the same string. That he would be far better off by freeing himself of the handcuffs and fetters of his ego and so high opinion of himself. No-Toes concludes saying, “Since Heaven will have the final say how can you set him free?”
Duke Ai of Lu told Confucius of an ugly man from Wei named Ai T-ai-t’o who was like a magnet. When men were around him they only thought of him and couldn’t break away and that when women saw him they ran begging to their fathers and mothers, saying, “I’d rather be this gentleman’s concubine than another man’s wife!” and that there had been at least ten other such cases and they have not stopped as yet. This man was not a leader and always just chimed in with others. He was not a ruler and had no provisions to fill men’s bellies. That he was ugly enough to astound the whole world and knew nothing more than what was in front of him at any given moment. Duke Ai continued, “Within a year I trusted him so completely that I wanted to make him chief minister and turn the state over to him. He was vague and evasive, but in the end I turned over the reins of the state to him. Then, before I knew it he up and left and went away. I was crushed, as if I had suffered a terrible loss and had no one to enjoy my state with. What kind of man is he anyway?” He finally asked Confucius.
Confucius began by saying “Once I saw little pigs nursing at the body of their dead mother. Suddenly they gave a start and all ran away and left her because they could no longer see their likeness in her, she was not the same. When a man has been killed in battle and people come to bury him, he has no use for metals. Just as when a man has had his feet amputated, he doesn’t care much about shoes. For these things that are basic no longer exists. If so much care is taken to keep the body whole, how much more is the case of a man whose virtue is whole and intact? You and others have been attracted to Ai Tai-t’o because that while his powers are whole, his virtue takes no form”.
What do you mean when you say his powers are whole?” asked Duke Ai. Confucius said, “Life, death, preservation, loss, failure, success, poverty, riches, worthiness, unworthiness, slander, fame, hunger, thirst, cold, heat – these are the alternations of the world, the workings of fate. Day and night they change places before us and wisdom cannot spy out their source. Therefore, they should not be enough to destroy your harmony; they should not be allowed to enter your storehouse of spirit. If you can harmonize and delight in them, master them and never be at a loss for joy, if you can do this day and night without break and make it be spring with everything, mingling with all and creating the moment within your own mind – this is what I call being whole in power”.
Duke Ai continues, “What do you mean when you say his virtue takes no form?” Confucius answers, “Among level things, water at rest is the most perfect, and therefore, it can serve as a standard. It guards what is inside and shows no movement outside. Virtue is the establishment of perfect harmony. Though virtue takes no form, things cannot break away from it.” Later Duke Ai relayed his conversation to a disciple of Confucius Min Tzu and said that he had tried to look after I became ruler and tried to look after the regulations of the state and thought I understood things perfectly. Now though after spending time with a Perfect Man, I’m afraid there was nothing to my understanding as I was thinking too much of my own welfare and ruining the state. Confucius and I are not subject and ruler – we are friends in virtue, that’s all.”
Mr. Lame Hunchback No Lips talked to Duke Ling of Wei, and Duke Ling was so pleased with the way he looked that when he saw normal men he saw their necks as too lean and skinny. It was the same as when Mr. Pitcher Sized Wen talked to Duke Huan of Ch’i, and Duke Huan was so pleased with him that he also felt that when he saw normal men he thought their necks looked too lean and skinny. Thereby illustrating or showing that if virtue is preeminent, the body will be forgotten. But when men do not forget what can be forgotten, but forget what cannot be forgotten – that may be called true forgetting.
The sage’s Heavenly Gruel. So the sage has his wanderings as he resides in pure virtue. For him, knowledge is an offshoot, promises are glue, favors are a patching up, and skill is a peddler. The sage hatches no schemes, so what use has he for knowledge? He does no carving, so what use has he for glue? He suffers no loss, so what use has he for favors? He hawks no goods, so what use has he for peddling? These four are called Heavenly Gruel. Heavenly gruel is the food of Heaven, and if he has already gotten food from Heaven, what use does he have for men, as he lives with virtue? He has the form of a man but not the feelings of a man. Since he has the form of a man, he bands together with other men. Since he doesn’t have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot get at him. Puny and small, he sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.
Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, “Can a man really be without feelings?” Chuang Tzu answers “yes”. Hui Tzu continues, “But a man who has no feelings – how can you call him a man?” Chuang Tzu then adds, “The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form – why can’t you call him a man?” “But if you’ve already called him a man, how can he be without feelings?” asks Hui Tzu. Chuang Tzu responds “That’s not what I mean by feeling. When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man does not allow likes or dislikes to get in and do him harm. He just lets things be the way they are and doesn’t try to help life along.” Confused Hui Tzu says, If he does not help life along, the how can he keep himself alive?” Finally, Chuang Tzu says “While the Way gave both Mr. Lame Hunchback No Lips and Mr. Pitcher Sized Wen their face, it was Heaven that gave them a form. They do not let likes and dislikes get in and do them harm. You, now – you treat your spirit like an outside. Your wear out your energy, leaning on a tree and moaning, slumping on your desk and dozing – Heaven picks out a body for you and you use it to gibber about ‘hard’ and ‘white’! Things of little or no consequence, while the travel about in style, as their virtue.
Section 6 The Great and Venerable Teacher
He who knows what it is that Heaven does, and knows what it is that man does, has reached the peak. Knowing what it is that Heaven does, he lives with Heaven, Knowing what it is that man does, he uses the knowledge of what he knows to help out the knowledge of what he doesn’t know, and live out the years that Heaven gave him without being cut off midway – this is the perfection of knowledge. However, there is a difficulty. Knowledge must wait for something before it becomes applicable, and that which it waits for is never certain. How, then, can I know that what I call Heaven is not really man, and what I call man is not really Heaven. There must first be the Taoist sage, the Perfect or True Man, before there can be true knowledge.
But what is meant by becoming Chuang Tzu’s Perfect Man? The True Man of ancient times did not rebel against want, did not grow proud in plenty, and did not plan his affairs. A man like this could commit an error and not regret it, could meet with success and not make a show. A man like this could climb the high places and not be frightened, could enter the water and not get wet, could enter the fire and not get burned. His knowledge was able to climb all the way up to the Way like this. He breathes from his heels which others breathe from their throats.
Because of this and many other things, the True Man of old bearing was lofty and did not crumble; he appeared to lack but accepted nothing; he was dignified in his correctness but not insistent; he was vast in his emptiness but not ostentatious (as in being pretentious or conspicuous in an attempt to impress others). Mild and cheerful, he seemed to be happy; reluctant, he could not help doing certain things; annoyed, he let it show in his face; relaxed, he rested in his virtue. Tolerant, he seemed to be in the service of other men checked by nothing; withdrawn, he seemed to prefer to cut himself off; bemused, and he forgot what he was going to say.
But there were men like Hu Pu-hsieh, Wu Kuang, Po Yi, Shu Ch-i, Chi Tzu, Hsu Yu, Chi T’o and Shen-t’u Ti – all of them slaved in the service of other men, took joy in bringing other men joy, but could not find any joy of their own. All of the above, in trying to reform the conduct of others or in making a show of their own integrity were killed or committed suicide.
Even the Legalist in trying to inject their own commentary here in the Chuang Tzu in referring to the True Man says he regards penalties as the body, rites as the wings, wisdom as what is timely, and virtue as what is reasonable. Because he regarded penalties as the body, he was benign in his killing. Because he regarded rites as the wings, he got along in the world. Because he regarded wisdom as what is timely, there were things he could not keep from doing. Because he regarded virtue as what is reasonable, he was like a man with two feet who gets to the top of the hill. And yet people really believed that he worked hard to get there. Returning to Chuang Tzu… therefore, his liking was one and his not liking was one. His being one was one and his not being one was one. In being one, he was acting as a companion of Heaven. In not being one, he was acting as a companion of man. When man and Heaven do not defeat each other, then we may be said to have the Sage, or True Man. Life and death are fated – constant as the succession of dark and dawn, a matter of Heaven or the Way (the Tao). There are some things which man can do nothing about – all are a matter of the nature of creatures. If a man is willing to regard Heaven as a father and to love it, then how much more should he be willing to do for that which is greater! If he is willing to regard the ruler as superior to himself and to die for him, then how much more should he be willing to do for the truth? When the springs dry up and the fish are left stranded on the ground, they spew each other with moisture and wet each other down with spit – but it would be much better if they could forget each other in the rivers and lakes. Just as with praising Yao and condemning Chieh, it would be better to forget both of them and transform yourself with the Way. The Great Clod burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me into old age, and rests me in death. So if I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death.
You hide your boat in a ravine and your fishnet in the swamp and tell yourself they will be safe. But in the middle of the night a strong man shoulders them and carries them off and in your stupidity you don’t know what happened. You think you do right to hide little things in big ones, and yet they get away from you. But if you were to hide the world in the world, so that nothing could get away, this would be the final reality in the constancy of things.
You have had the audacity to take on human form and you are delighted. But the human form has ten thousand changes that never come to an end. Your joys, then, must be uncountable. Therefore, the sage wanders in the realm where things cannot get away from him, and all are preserved. He delights in early death, he delights in old age; he delights in the beginning; he delights in the end. If he can serve as a model for men, how much more so that which the ten thousand things are tied to and all changes alike wait upon. The Tao, or Way, has its reality and its signs but is without action or form. You can hand it down but you cannot receive it; you can get it but you cannot see it. It is own source, its own root. Before Heaven and earth existed, it was there, firm from ancient times. It gave spirituality to the spirits and to God; it gave birth to Heaven and to earth. It exists beyond the highest point, and yet you cannot call it lofty; it existed beneath the limit of the six directions, and yet you cannot call it deep. It was born before Heaven and earth, and yet you cannot say it has been there for long; it is earlier than the earliest time, and yet you cannot call it old.
Before it had a name there were always those who embodied the Way. His-wei got it and held up heaven and earth. Fu-hsi got it and entered into the mother of breath. The Big Dipper got it and from ancient times has never wavered. The Sun and Moon got it and from ancient times have never rested. K’an-p’i, the god of the mythical Kun-lun Mountains of the west got it, P’ing-i, the god of the Yellow River and Chien Wu the god of the great Mount T’ai had it. The Yellow Emperor who was from Qufu had it and ascended to the heavens. Chuan Hsu got it and dwelt in the Dark Palace. Yu-ch’iang got it and stood at the limits of the north. The Queen Mother of the Far West, an immortal spirit, got it and took her seat on Shao-kuang with nobody knowing where she began or may end. P’eng-tsu got it and lived from the age of Shun to the age of the Five Dictators (from the 26th to the 7th centuries BC). Fu Yueh got it and became minister to Wu-ting, who extended his rule over the whole world; then Fu Yueh climbed up to the Eastern Governor, straddled the Winnowing Basket and the Tail, and took his place among the ranks of the stars.
Nan-po Tzu-k’uei said to the Woman Crookback, “You are old in years and yet your complexion is that of a child. Why is this?” She responded, I have heard the Way!” “Can the Way be learned”, asked Nan-po. The Woman Crookback responded “Goodness, how could that be? Anyway, you aren’t the ma to do it. Now there’s Pu-ling Yi – he has the talent of the sage but not the Way of the Sage, whereas I have the Way of the sage but not the talent of the sage. I thought I would try to each him and see if I could really get anywhere near to making him a sage. It’s easier to explain the Way of the sage to someone who has the talent of the sage, you know. So I began explaining and kept him for three days, and after that he was able to put the world outside himself. When he had put the world outside himself, I kept at him for seven days more, and after that he was able to put things outside himself, I kept him for nine days more, and after that he was able to put life outside himself. After he had put life outside himself, he was able to achieve the brightness of dawn, and when he had achieved the brightness of dawn, he could see his own lonesomeness. After he had managed to see his own aloneness, he could do away with past and present, and after he had done away with past and present, he was able to enter where there was no life or death.
That which kills life does not die; that which gives life to life does not live. i.e., that which transcends the categories of life and death can never be said to have lived or died; only that which recognizes the existence of such categories is subject to them. This is the kind of thing it is: there’s nothing it doesn’t send off, nothing it doesn’t welcome, nothing it doesn’t destroy, nothing it doesn’t complete. Its name is Peace-in-Strife. After the strife it attains completion.”
Nan-po Tzu-k’uei asked, “Where did you happen to hear this?” Women Crookback says, “I heard it from the son of Aided-by-Ink and Aid-by-Ink heard it from the grandson of Repeated-Recitation, and the grandson of Repeated-Recitation heard it from Seeing Brightly, and Seeing Brightly heard it from Whispered Agreement, and Whispered Agreement heard it from Waiting-for-Use, and Waiting for Use heard it from Exclaimed Wonder, and Exclaimed Wonder heard it from Dark-Obscurity, and Dark Obscurity heard it from Participation-in-Mystery, and Participation-in-Mystery heard it from Copy-the-Source!” (Chuang Tzu is of course parodying all the other thoughts of the day and the relationship of one thing to another and how things are derived and copied).
Master Ssu, Master Yu, Master Li and Master Lai were all four talking together. “Who can look at non-being as his head, on life as his back, and on death as his rump?” they said. “Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, all are a single body? I will be his friend!” The four men looked at each other and smiled. There was no disagreement in their hearts so the four of them became friends. All at once Master Yu fell ill. Master Ssu went to ask how he was. “Amazing!” said Master Yu. “The Creator is making me all crooked like this! My back sticks up like a hunchback and my vital organs are on top of me. My chin is hidden in my navel, my shoulders are above my head, and my pigtail points to the sky. It must be some dislocation of the yin and yang!” Seemingly calm and unconcerned, he drags himself to the well to see his reflection, and said, “My, my! So the Creator is making me look all crooked like this!” “Do you resent it?” said Master Ssu. “Why no, what would I resent? If the process continues, perhaps my left arm may become a rooster and my right arm transformed into a crossbow pellet and I’ll shoot down an owl for roasting. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my buttocks into cartwheels. Then with my spirit for a horse, I’ll climb up and go for a ride. What need will I ever have for a carriage again?”
“ I received life because the time had come, I will lose it because the order of things passes on. Be content with this time and dwell in this order and then neither sorrow nor joy can touch you. In ancient times this was called the ‘freeing of the bound.’ There are those who cannot free themselves, because they are bound to things. But nothing can ever win against Heaven – that’s the way it’s always been. What would I have to resent?” Suddenly Master Lai grew ill. Gasping and wheezing, he lay at the point of death. His wife and children gathered around in a circle and began to cry. Master Li, who had come to ask how he was, said, “Shoo! Get back! Don’t disturb the process of change!” Then he leaned against the doorway and talked to Master Lai. “How marvelous the creator is! What is he going to make out of you next? Where is he going to send you? Will he make you into a rat’s liver? Will he make you into a bug’s arm?”
Master Lai responded, “A child, obeying his father and mother, goes wherever he is told, east or west, north or south. And the yin and yang – how much more are they to a man than father or mother! Now if they (yin and yang) have brought me to the verge of death, if I should refuse to obey them, how perverse I would be! What fault is it of theirs? Just as with the True Man expressed earlier, the Great Clod burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. So if I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death.”
When a skilled smith is casting metal and the metal should leap up and say, “I insist upon being made into a Mo-yeh, like the famous sword of King Ho-lu of Wu”, he would surely regard it as very inauspicious form indeed. With this in mind, Master Lai continues, “Now, having had the audacity to take on human form once, if I should say, ‘I don’t want to be anything but a man! Nothing but a man!’, the Creator would surely regard me as a most inauspicious sort of person. So now I think of heaven and earth as a great furnace, and the Creator as a skilled smith. Where would he send me that it would not be alright? I will go off to sleep peacefully, and then with a start wake up.”
Master Sang-hu, Meng-tzu Fan, and Master Ch’in-chang, three friends said to each other, “Who can join with others without joining with others? Who can do with others without doing with others? Who can climb up to heaven and wander the mists, roam the infinite, and forget life forever and forever?” The three men looked at each other and smiled. There was no disagreement in their hearts and so they became friends. After some time had passed without event, Master Sang-hu died. He had not yet been buried when Confucius, hearing of his death, sent Tzu-kung to assist at the funeral. When Tzu-kung arrived, he found one of the dead man’s friends weaving frames for silkworms, while the other strummed a lute. Joining their voices, they sang this song:
Ah Sang- Ah Sang-hu! You have gone back to your true form while we remain as men, O!
Tzu-kung hastened forward and said, “May I be so bold as to ask what kind of ceremony this is – singing in the very presence of the corpse?” The two men looked at each other and laughed. “What does this man know of the meaning of ceremony?” they said. Tzu-kung returned to Confucius and reported what had happened. “What sort of men are they anyway?” he asked. “They pay no attention to proper behavior, disregard their personal appearance and, without so much as changing the expression on the faces, sing in the presence of the corpse! I can think of no name for them! What sort of men are they?”
“Such men as they,” said Confucius, “wander beyond the realm; men like me wander within it. Beyond and within can never meet. It was stupid of me to send you to offer condolences. Even now they have joined with the Creator as men to wander in the single breath of heaven and earth. They look upon life as a swelling tumor, a protruding wen, and upon death as the draining of a sore or the bursting of a boil. To men such as these, how could there be any question of putting life first or death last? They borrow the forms of different creatures and house them in the same body. They forget liver and gall, cast aside ears and eyes, turning and revolving, ending and beginning again, unaware of where they start or finish. Idly they roam beyond the dust and dirt; they wander free and easy in the service of inaction. Why should they fret and fuss about the ceremonies of the vulgar world and make a display for the ears and eyes of the common herd?”
Tzu-kung said, well then, Master, what is this realm, or procedure that you cling to and may I ask about this realm?” Confucius began by saying, “I am one of those men punished by heaven. Nonetheless, I will share with you what I have, Confucius continues. “Fish thrive in water, dig a pond and they will find nourishment enough. For those that thrive in the Way, don’t bother with them and their lives will be secure. So it is said, the fish forget each other in the rivers and lakes, and men forget each other in the arts of the Way. Tzu-kung then said, “May I ask about the singular man?” Confucius concludes by saying, “The singular man is singular in comparison to other men, but a companion of Heaven. So it is said, the petty man of Heaven is a gentleman among men; the gentleman among men is the petty man of Heaven.”
Yen Hui said to Confucius, “When Meng-sun Ts’ai’s mother died, he wailed without shedding any tears, he did not grieve in his heart, and he conducted the funeral without any look or sorrow. He fell down on these three counts, and yet he is known all over the state of Lu for the excellent way he managed the funeral. Is it really possible to gain such a reputation when there are no facts to support it? I find it very peculiar indeed!” Confucius said, “Meng-sun did all there was to do. He was advanced beyond normal understanding and he would have simplified things even more, but that wasn’t practical. However, there is still a lot that he simplified. Meng-sun doesn’t know why he lives and doesn’t know why he dies. He doesn’t know why he should go ahead; he doesn’t know why he should fall behind. In the process of change, he has become a thing among other things, and he is merely waiting for some other change that he doesn’t yet know about. Moreover, when he is changing, how does he really know that he is really changing? And when he is not changing, how does he know that he hasn’t already changed? You and I, now – we are dreaming and haven’t waked up yet. But in his case, though something may startle his body, it won’t injure his mind; though something may alarm the house his spirit lives in, his emotions will suffer no death. Meng-sun alone has awakened. Men wail and so he wails, too – that’s the reason he acts like this.
“What’s more, we go around telling each other, I do this, I do that – but how do we know that this ‘I’ we talk about has any ‘I’ to it? You dream you are a bird and soar up into the sky; you dream you’re a fish and dive down in the pool. But now when you tell me about it, I don’t know whether you are awake or whether you are dreaming. Running around accusing others is not as good as laughing, and enjoying a good laugh is not as good as going along with things. Be content to go along and forget about change and then you can enter the mysterious oneness of Heaven.”
Yi Erh-tzu went to see a recluse of the time of Yao, Hsu Yu, who asked him “What kind of assistance has Yao been giving you?” Yi Erh-tzu said, “Yao told me, “You must learn to practice benevolence and righteousness and to speak clearly about right and wrong!” “Then why come to see me?” said Hsu Yu. “Yao has already tattooed you with benevolence and righteousness and cut off your nose with right and wrong as a punishment, now how do you expect to go wandering in any far-away, carefree, and as-you-like-it paths?” “That may be,” said Yi Erh-tzu. “But I would like if I may to wander in a little corner of them.” “Impossible!” said Hsu Yu. “Eyes that are blind have no way to tell the loveliness of faces and features; eyes with no pupils have no way to tell the beauty of colored and embroidered silks.” Yi Erh said, “Yes, but Wu-chuang forgot her beauty, Chu-liang forgot his strength, and the Yellow Emperor forgot his wisdom – all were content to be recast and remolded forgetting themselves in the Way. How do you know that the Creator will not wipe away my tattoo, stick my nose back on again, and let me ride on the process of completion and follow after you, Master?”
“Ah – we can never tell,” said Hsu Yu. “I will just speak to you about the general outline. This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine – he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn’t think himself righteous; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn’t think himself benevolent. He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn’t see himself long-lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn’t think himself skilled. It is with him alone I wander.”
Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!” Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?” Yen says “I’ve forgotten benevolence and righteousness.” Confucius laughed and said, “That’s good, but you still haven’t got it.” Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!” “What do you mean by that”, Confucius asks. Yen responds, “I’ve forgotten rites and music!” That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.” Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!” “What do you mean by that”, Confucius asks again. “I can sit down and forget everything!” Yen Hui says excitedly. Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything?” Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast of form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.” Confucius said, “If you are identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you have been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! With your permission I’d like to become your follower! (Chuang Tzu is parodying Confucius as a humorous reference to Confucius Analects VI, 9)
Master Yu and Master Song were friends. Once is rained incessantly for three days, Master Yu said to himself, Master Song is probably having a bad time, and he wrapped up some rice and took it to his friend to eat. When he got to Master Song’s gate he heard something like singing or crying, and someone striking a lute and saying: Father? Mother? Heaven? Man? It was as though the voice would not hold out and the singer was rushing to get through the words. Master Yu went inside and said, “What do you mean – singing a song like that!”
Master Song lamented, “I was pondering what it is that brought me to this extremity, but I couldn’t find the answer. My father and mother surely wouldn’t have wished poverty on me. Heaven covers all without impartiality; earth bears up all without partiality – heaven and earth surely wouldn’t single me out to make me poor. I try to discover who is doing it, but I can’t get the answer. Still, here I am – at the very extreme. It must be fate.”
Section 7 Fit for Emperors and Kings
Nieh Ch’ueh was questioning Wang Ni. Four times he asked a question and four times Wang Ni said he didn’t know. Nieh Chueh, Wang Ni’s teacher, proceeded to hop around with great glee and went and told Master P’u-i. Master P’u-i said, “Are you just now finding that out?” (The point being that there is no answers to questions).
The sage ruler Shun, known as the clansman Yu-yu, was considered the ideal by Confucian philosophers, but was still no match to clansman T’ai another ruler from antiquity. While the clansman Yu-yu still held onto benevolence and worked to win men over, in doing so he never got out into the realm of ‘not-man’. The clansman T’ai, now – he lay down peaceful and easy, he woke up wide-eyed and blank. Sometimes he thought he was a horse; sometimes he thought he was a cow. His understanding was truly trustworthy; his virtue was perfectly true. He never entered the realm of ‘not-man.’
Chien Wu went to see the madman Chieh Yu. Chieh Yu said, “What was Chung Shih telling you the other day?” Chien Wu said, “He told me that the ruler of men should devise his own principles, standards, ceremonies and regulations, and then there will be no one who fails to obey him and be transformed by them.” The madman Chieh Yu said, “This is bogus virtue! To try to govern the world like this is like trying to walk the ocean, to drill though a river, or make a mosquito shoulder a mountain! When the sage governs, does he govern what is on the outside? He makes sure of himself first, and then he acts. He makes absolutely certain that things can do what they are supposed to do, that is all. The bird flies high in the sky where it can escape the danger of stringed arrows. The field mouse burrows deep down under the sacred hill where it won’t have to worry about men digging and smoking it out. Have you got less sense than these two little creatures?
T’ien Ken was wandering on the sunny side of Yin Mountain and when he reached the banks of the Liao River, he happened to meet a Nameless Man. He questioned the man saying, “Please may I know how to rule the world?” The Nameless Man said, “Get away from me, you peasant! What kind of dreary question is that! I’m just about to set off with the Creator. And if I get bored with that, then I’ll ride on the Light-and-Lissome Bird out beyond the six directions wandering in the village of Not-Even-Anything and living in the Broad and Borderless field. What business do you have coming with this talk of governing the world and disturbing my mind?” But when T’ien Ken repeated his question the Nameless Man said, “Let your mind wander in simplicity, blend your spirit with the vastness, follow along with things the way they are, and make no room for personal views – then the world will be governed.”
Yang-tzu Chu went to see Lao Tzu and said, “Here is a man swift as an echo, strong as a beam, with a wonderfully clear understanding of the principal of things, studying the Way without ever letting up – a man like this could compare with an enlightened king, couldn’t he?” Lao Tzu said, “In comparison to the sage, a man like this is a drudging slave, a craftsman bound to his calling, wearing out his body, grieving his mind. They say it is the beautiful markings of the tiger and the leopard that call out the hunters, the nimbleness of the monkey and the ability of the dog to catch rats that make them end up chained. A man like this – how could he compare to an enlightened king?” Yang-tzu Chu, much taken aback, said, “May I venture to ask about the government of the enlightened king?” Lao Tzu answered, “The government of the enlightened king? His achievements blanket the world but appear not to be of his own doing. His transforming influence touches the ten thousand things but the people do not depend upon him. With him there is no promotion or praise – he lets everything find its own enjoyment. He takes his stand on what cannot be fathomed and wanders where there is nothing at all.”
In Cheng there was a Shaman of the gods named Chi Hsien. He could tell rather men could live or die, survive or perish, be fortunate or unfortunate, live a long time or die young, and he would predict the year, month, week, and day as though he were a god himself. When the people of Cheng saw him, they dropped everything and ran out of his way. Lieh Tzu went to see him and he was completely intoxicated. Returning he said to Hu Tzu, “I used to think, Master, that your Way was perfect. But now I see there is something even higher!”
Hu Tzu said, “I have already showed you all the outward forms, but I haven’t yet showed you the substance – and do you really think you have mastered this Way of mine?” There may be a flock of hens but, if there is no rooster, how can they lay fertile eggs? You take what you know of the Way and wave it in the face of the world, expecting to be believed! This is the reason men can see right through you. Try bringing your shaman along next time and letting him get a good look at me.” The next day Lieh Tzu brought the shaman to see Hu Tzu. When they had left the room, the shaman said, I’m so sorry – your Master is dying! There is no life left in him – he won’t last a week. I saw something very strange – something like wet ashes!”
Lieh Tzu went back into the room, weeping and drenching the collar of his robe with tears, and reported this to Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him with the Pattern of Earth – still and silent, nothing moving, nothing standing up. He probably saw in me the Working of Virtue Closed Off. Try bringing him around again.” The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, and when they had left the room, the shaman said to Lieh Tzu, “It certainly was lucky that your master met me! He’s going to get better – he has all the signs of life! I could see the stirring of what had been closed off!”
Lieh Tzu went in and reported this to Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him, as Heaven and Earth – no name or substance to it, but still the workings, coming up from the heels. He probably saw in me the Workings of the Good One. Try bringing him again.” The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, and when they had left the room, the shaman said to Lieh Tzu, “Your master is never the same! I have no way to physiognomize, or deduce the character or qualities of him! If he will try to steady himself, then I will come and examine him again.” Lieh Tzu went in and reported this to Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as the Great Vastness Where Nothing Wins Out He probably saw in me the Workings of the Balanced Breaths. Where the swirling waves gather there is an abyss; where the still water gather there is an abyss; where the running waters gather there is an abyss. The abyss has nine names and I have shown him three. Try bringing him again.” The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled. “Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.” Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about ‘who’ or ‘what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”
After this, Lieh Tzu concluded that he had never really learned anything. He went home and for three years did not go out. He replaced his wife at the stove, fed the pigs as if he was feeding people, and showed no preferences in the things he did. He got rid of the carving and polishing and returned to plainness, letting his body stand alone like a clod. In the midst of entanglement he remained sealed, and in this oneness he ended his life.
Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not become an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold unto everything you have received from Heaven, but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror – going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win over things and for hurt himself.
The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu (Brief), the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu (Sudden), and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-tun (Chaos). Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Hun-tun, and Hun-tun treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. “All men, they said, “have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. But Hun-tun alone doesn’t have any. Let’s try boring him some!” Every day they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Hun-tun died.
Section 17 Autumn Floods
The time of the autumn floods came and the hundred streams poured into the Yellow River. Its racing current swelled to such proportions that, looking from bank to bank or island to island it was impossible to distinguish a horse from a cow. Then the Lord of the River, also known as the god of the Yellow River and as P’ing-i, was beside himself with joy, believing that all the beauty in the world belonged to him alone. Following the current, he journeyed east until at last he reached the North Sea. Looking east he could see no end to the water. The Lord of the River began to wag his head and roll his eyes. Peering off far in the direction of the god of the sea, Jo, he sighed and said, “The common saying has it, ‘He has heard the Way a mere hundred times but he thinks he’s better than anyone else’. It applies to me. In the past, I heard men belittling the learning of Confucius and making light of the righteousness of Po Yi. (Po Yi relinquished his kingdom to his brother and later chose to die of starvation rather than serve a ruler he considered unjust. He was considered a model of righteousness) though I never believed him. Now, I have seen your unfathomable vastness. It is as if I am only a disciple of this great sea that lies before me. If I had not come to see for myself your gate where I meet the sea, I should have been in danger. I should forever have been laughed at by the masters of the Great Method.”
Jo of the North Sea said, “You can’t discuss the ocean with a well frog – he’s limited by the space he lives in. You can’t discuss ice with a summer insect – he’s bound to a single season. You can’t discuss the Way with a cramped scholar – he’s shackled by his doctrines. Now you have come out beyond your banks and borders and have seen the great sea – so you realize your own pettiness. From now on it will be possible to talk to you about the Great Principle. “ “Of all the waters of the world, none is as great as the sea. Ten thousand streams flow into it – I have never heard of a time when they stopped – and yet it is never full. The water leaks away at Wei-lu where sea water is said to turn to steam – I have never heard of a time when it didn’t – and yet the sea is never empty. Spring or autumn, it never changes. Flood or drought, it takes no notice. It is so much greater than the streams of the Yangtze or the Yellow River that it is impossible to measure the difference. But I have never for this reason prided myself on it. I take my place with heaven and earth and receive breath from the yin and yang. I sit here between heaven and earth as a little stone or a little tree sits on a huge mountain. Since I can see my own smallness, what reason would I have to pride myself?
“Compare the area within the four seas with all that is between heaven and earth – is it not like one little anthill in a vast marsh? Compare the Middle Kingdom with the area within the four seas – is it not like one tiny grain in a great storehouse? When we refer to the things of creation, we speak of them as numbering ten thousand – and man is only one of them. We talk of the Nine Provinces where men are most numerous, and yet of the whole area where grain and foods are grown and where boats and carts pass back and forth, man occupies only a fraction. Compared to the ten thousand things, is he not like one little hair on the body of a horse? Is this not what the five emperors of antiquity of whom the Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun are the most famous and the Three Kings (the founders of the Hsia, Shang and Zhou) fought over, what the benevolent man grieve about, what the responsible man labors about – all is no more than this! Po Yi gained a reputation by giving it up; Confucius passed himself off as learned because he talked about it. But in priding in this way, were they not like you a moment ago priding yourself as on your floodwaters?”
“Well then,” said the Lord of the River, “if I recognize the hugeness of heaven and earth and the smallness of the tip of a hair will that do?” “No indeed!” said Jo of the North Sea. “There is no end to the weighing of things, no stop to time, no constancy to the division of lots, no fixed rule to beginning and end. Therefore great wisdom observes both far and near, and for that reason recognizes small without considering it paltry, recognized large without considering it unwieldy, for it knows that there is no end to the weighing of things. It has a clear understanding of past and present, and for that reason it spends a long time without considering it tedious, a short time without fretting at its shortness, for it knows it has no time to stop. It perceives the nature of fullness and emptiness, and for that reason it does not delight if it acquires something nor worry if it loses it, for it knows there is no constancy to the division of lots. It comprehends the Level Road, and for that reason it does not rejoice in life nor look on death as a calamity, for it knows that no fixed rule can be assigned to beginning and end.”
Jo of the North Sea continues, “Calculate what man knows and it cannot compare with what he does not know. Calculate the time he is alive and it cannot compare to the time before he was born. Yet man takes something so small and tries to exhaust the dimensions of something so large! Hence he is muddled and confused and can never get anywhere. Looking at it this way, how do we know that the tip of a hair can be singled out as the measure of the smallest thing possible? Or how do we know that heaven and earth can fully encompass the dimensions of the largest thing possible?” The Lord of the River said, “Men who debate such matters these days all claim that the minutest thing has no form and the largest thing cannot be encompassed. Is this a true statement?”
Jo of the North Sea said, “If from the standpoint of the minute we look at what is large, we cannot see to the end. If from the standpoint f what is large we look at what is minute, we cannot distinguish it clearly. The minute is the smallest of the small, the gigantic is the largest of the large, and it is therefore convenient to distinguish between them. But this is merely a matter of circumstance. Before we can speak of coarse or fine, however, there must be some form. If a thing has no form, then numbers cannot express its dimensions, and if it cannot be encompassed, then numbers cannot express its size. We can use words to talk about the coarseness of things and we can use our minds to visualize the fineness of things. But what words cannot describe and the mind cannot succeed in visualizing – this has nothing to do with coarseness or fineness. Therefore the Great Man in his action will not harm others, but he makes no show of benevolence or charity. He will not move for the sake of profit, but he does not despise the porter at the gate. He will not wrangle for goods or wealth, but he makes no show of refusing or relinquishing them. He will not enlist the help of others in his work, but he makes no show of being self-supporting, and he does not despise the greedy and base. His actions differ from those of the mob, but he makes no show of uniqueness or eccentricity. He is content to stay behind with the crowd, but he does not despise those who run forward to flatter and fawn. All the titles and stipends of the age are not enough to stir him to exertion; all its penalties and censures are not enough to make him feel shame. He knows that no line can be drawn between right and wrong, no border can be fixed between great and small. I have heard it said, ‘The Man of the Way wins no fame, the highest virtue wins no gain, the Great Man has no self.’ To the most perfect degree, he goes along with what has been allotted to him.” The Lord of the River said, “Whether they are external to things or internal, I do not understand how we come to have these distinctions of noble and mean or of great and small.”
Jo of the North Sea said, “From the point of view of the Way, things have no nobility or meanness. From the point of view of things themselves, each regards itself as noble and other things as mean. From the point of view of common opinion, nobility and meanness are not determined by the individual himself. “From the point of view of differences, if we regard a thing as big because there is a certain bigness to it, then among all the ten thousand things there are none that are not big. If we regard a thing as small because there is a certain smallness to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not small. If we know that heaven and earth are tiny grains and the tip of a hair is a range of mountains, then we have perceived the law of difference.
“From the point of view of function, if we regard a thing as useful because there is a certain usefulness to it, then among all the ten thousand things there are none that are not useful. If we regard a thing as useless because there is a certain uselessness to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not useless. If we know that east and west are mutually opposed but that one cannot do without the other, then we can estimate the degree of function.
“From the point of view of preference, if we regard a thing as right because there is a certain right to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not right. If we regard a thing as wrong because there is a certain wrong to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not wrong. If we know that Yao and Chieh each thought himself right and condemned the other as wrong, then we may understand how there is a preference in behavior.
In ancient times, Yao abdicated to Shun and Shun ruled as emperor; K’uai abdicated in favor of Chih and Chih was destroyed. (In 316BC King K’uai of Yao was persuaded to imitate the example of Yao by ceding his throne to his minister Tzu Chih. In no time the state was torn by internal strife and three years later it was invaded and annexed by the state of Ch’i). T’ang and Wu were the founders of the Shang and Zhou dynasties who fought and became kings. While Duke Po, who was a scion of the royal family of Ch’u, led an unsuccessful revolt against its ruler and was defeated and forced to commit suicide in 479BC. Looking at it this way, we see that struggling or giving way, behaving like a Yao or a Chieh, may at one time noble and another time mean. It is impossible to establish any constant rule.
Jo of the North Sea continues, “A beam or pillar can be used to batter down a city wall, but is no good at stopping up a little hole – this refers to a difference in function. Thoroughbreds like Ch’i-chi and Hua-liu could gallop a thousand li in a day, but when it came to catching rats they were no match for the wildcat or the weasel – this refers to a difference in skill. The horned owl catches fleas at night and can spot the tip of a hair, but when daylight comes, no matter how wide it opens its eyes, it cannot see a mound or a hill – this refers to a difference in nature. Now do you say that you are going to make Right your master and do away with Wrong, or make Order your master and do away with Disorder? If you do, then you have not understood the principle of heaven and earth or the nature of the ten thousand things. This is like saying that you are going to make Heaven your master and do away with Earth, or make Yin your master and do away with Yang. If men persist in talking this way without stop, they must be either fools or deceivers!
Emperors and kings have different ways of ceding their thrones; the Three Dynasties had different rules of succession. Those who went against the times and flouted custom were called usurpers; those who went with the times and followed custom were called companions of righteousness. Be quiet, be quiet, O Lord of the River! How could you understand anything about the gateway of nobility and meanness or the house of great and small?” “Well then,” said the Lord of the River, “What should I do and what should I not do? How am I to know in the end what to accept and what to reject, what to abide by and what to discard?”
Jo of the North Sea said, “From the point of view of the Way, what is noble and what is mean? These are merely what are called endless changes. Do not hobble your will, or you will be departing far from the Way! What is few, or what is many? These are merely what is called boundless turnings. Do not strive to unify your actions, or you will be at sixes and sevens with the Way! Be stern like a ruler of the state – he grants no private favor. Be benign and impartial like the god of the soil at the sacrifice – he grants no private blessings. Be broad and expansive like the endlessness of the four directions – they have nothing which bounds or hedges them. Embrace the ten thousand things universally – how could there be one you should give special support to? This is called being without bent. When the ten thousand things are unified and equal, then which is short and which is long? “The Way is without beginning or end, but things have their life and death – you cannot rely on their fulfillment. One moment empty, the next moment full – you cannot depend on their form. The years cannot be held off; time cannot be stopped. Decay, growth, fullness, and emptiness end and then begin again. It is thus we must describe the plan of the Great Meaning and discuss the principles of the ten thousand things. The life of things is a gallop, a headlong dash – with every moment they shift. What should you do and what should you not do? Everything will change of itself that is certain!” “If that is so,” said the Lord of the River, “then what is there valuable about the Way?” Jo of the North Sea said, “He who understands the Way is certain to have command of basic principles. He who has command of basic principles is certain to know how to deal with circumstances. And he who knows how to deal with circumstances will not allow things to do him harm. When a man has perfect virtue, fire cannot burn him, water cannot drown him, cold and heat cannot afflict him, birds and beasts cannot injure him. I do not say that he makes light of these things. I mean that he distinguishes between safety and danger, contents himself with fortune and misfortune, and is cautious in his comings and goings. Therefore nothing can harm him.
“Hence it is said – The heavenly is on the inside, the human is on the outside. Virtue resides in the Heavenly. Understand the actions of Heaven and man, base yourself on Heaven, take your stand in virtue, and then, although you hasten or hold back, bend or stretch, you may return to the essential and speak of the ultimate.” The Lord of the River then asked, “What do you mean by the Heavenly and the human?” Jo of the North Sea concludes by saying, “Horses and oxen have four feet – this is what I mean by the Heavenly. Putting a halter on the horse’s head, piercing the oxen’s nose – this is what I mean by the human. So I say, do not let what is purposeful wipe out what is fated; do not let the desire for gain lead you after fame. Be cautious, guard it, and do not lose it – this is what I mean by returning to the True.”
The K’uei, who can be described as a spirit or a strange beast and sometimes even an historical person such as the Music Master K’uei, is but a being with one leg. He envies the millipede, the millipede envies the snake, the snake envies the wind, the wind envies the eye, and the eye envies the mind. The K’uei said to the millipede, “I have this one leg that I hop along on, though I make little progress. Now how in the world do you manage all those ten thousand legs of yours?”
The millipede said, “You don’t understand. Haven’t you even watched a man spit? He just gives a hawk and out it comes, some drops as big as pearls, some as fine as mist, raining down in a jumble of countless particles. Now all I do is put in motion the heavenly mechanism in me – I’m not aware of how the thing works.” The millipede then said to the snake,”I have all these legs that I move along on, but I can’t seem to keep up with you who have no legs. How is that?”
The snake said, “It’s just the heavenly mechanism moving me along – how can I manage the way I am? What would I do with legs if I had them?” The snake said to the wind, “I move my backbone and ribs and manage to get along, though I still have some kind of body. But now you come whirling up from the North Sea and go whirling off to the South Sea, and you don’t seem to have any body. How is that?”
The wind said, “It’s true that I whirl up from the North Sea and whirl off to the South Sea. But if you hold up a finger against me you’ve defeated me, and if you trample on me you’ve likewise defeated me. On the other hand, I can break down big trees and blow over great houses – this is a talent that I alone have. So I take all the mass of little defeats and make them into a Great Victory. To make a Great Victory – only the sage is capable of that!”
When Confucius was passing through K’uang, the men of the Sung surrounded him with several encirclements of troops, but he went right on playing his lute and singing without a stop, They had mistook him for an enemy named Yang Huo. Tzu Lu went in to see him and said, “Master, how can you be so carefree?”
Confucius said, Come, I will explain it to you. For a long time I have tried to stay out of the way of hardship. That I have not been able to escape it is due to fate. For a long time I have tried to achieve success. That I have not been able to do so is due to the times. If it happens to be the age of a Yao or a Shun, then there are no men in the world who face hardship – but this is not because their wisdom saves them. If it happens to be the age of a Chieh or a Chou, then there are no men in the world who achieve success – but this is not because their wisdom fails them. It is time and circumstance that make it so. “To travel across the water without shrinking from the sea serpent or the dragon – this is the courage of the fishermen. To travel over land without shrinking from the rhinoceros or the tiger – this is the courage of the hunter. To see the bare blades clashing before him and to look upon death as though it were life – this is the courage of a man of ardor, someone who is willing to sacrifice his life to save others or to preserve his honor. To understand that hardship is a matter of fate, that success is a matter of the times, and to face great difficulty without fear – this is the courage of the sage. My fate has been decided for me.” Shortly afterwards the leader of the armed men came forward and apologized. “We thought you were Yang Huo and that was why we surrounded you. Now that we see you aren’t, we beg to take leave and withdraw.”
The logician Kung-sun Lung, who had spent much time discussing the concepts of sameness and difference and the relationship of attributes such and hardness and whiteness to the thing they qualify and Prince Mou of Wei who was a renowned Taoist author met and Kung-sun Lung said to Prince Mou, “When I was young I studied the Way of the former kings, and when I grew older I came to understand the conduct of benevolence and righteousness. I reconciled difference and sameness, distinguished hardness and whiteness, and proved that not so was so, that the unacceptable was acceptable. I confounded the wisdom of the hundred schools and demolished the arguments of a host of speakers. I believed that I had attained the highest degree of accomplishment. But now I have heard the words of Chuang Tzu and I am bewildered by their strangeness. I don’t know whether my arguments are as good as his, or whether I am no match for him in understanding. I find now that I can’t even open my beak. I find now that I can’t even open my beak. May I ask what you advise?”
Prince Mou of Wei leaned on his armrest and gave a great sigh, and then he looked up at the sky and laughed, saying, “Haven’t you ever heard about the frog in the caved in well? He said to the great turtle of the Eastern Sea, “What fun I have! I come out and hop around the railing of the well, or I go back in and take a rest in the wall where a tile has fallen out. When I dive into the water, I let it hold me up under the armpits and support my chin, and when I slip about in the mud, I bury my feet in it and let it come up over my ankles. I look around at the mosquito larvae and the crabs and polliwogs and I see that none of them can match me. To have complete command of the water of one whole valley and to monopolize all the joys of a caved-in well – this is the best there is! Why don’t you come sometime and see for yourself?”
“But before the great turtle of the Eastern Sea had even gotten his left foot in the well his right knee was already wedged fast. He backed out and withdrew a little, and then began to describe the sea. ‘A distance of a thousand li cannot indicate its greatness; a depth of a thousand fathoms cannot express how deep it is. In the time of Yu there were floods for nine years out of ten, and yet its waters never rose. In the time of T’ang there were droughts for seven years out of eight, and yet its shores never receded. Never to alter or shift, whether for an instant or an eternity; never to advance or receded, whether the quantity of water flowing in is great or small – this is the great delight of the Eastern Sea!’ When the frog in the caved-in well heard this, he was dumbfounded with surprise, crestfallen, and completely at a loss.
Prince Mou continued, “Now your knowledge cannot even define the borders of right and wrong, and still you try to see through the words of Chuang Tzu – this is like trying to make a mosquito carry a mountain on its back or a pill bug race across the Yellow River. You will never be up to the task! He whose understanding cannot grasp these minute and subtle words, but is only fit to win some temporary gain – is he not like the frog in the caved-in well? Chuang Tzu, now – at this very moment he is treading the Yellow Springs, the underworld, or leaping up to the vast blue. To him there is no north or south – in utter freedom he dissolves himself into the four directions and drowns himself in the unfathomable. To him there is no east or west – he begins in the Dark Obscurity and returns to the Great Thoroughfare. Now you come niggling along and try to spy him out or fix some name to him, but this is like using a tube to scan the sky or an awl to measure the depth of the earth – the instrument is too small, is it not? You’d better be on your way! Or perhaps you’ve never heard about the young boy of Shou-ling who went to learn the Han-tan Walk. He hadn’t mastered what the Han-tan people had to teach him when he forgot his old way of walking, so that he had to crawl all the way back home. Now if you don’t get on your way, you’re likely to forget what you knew before and be out of a job.” Kung-sun Lung’s mouth fell open and wouldn’t stay closed. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and wouldn’t come down. In the end he broke into a run and fled.
Once when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u River, the king of Ch’u sent to officials to go and announce to him, “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.” Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?” “It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials. Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”
When Hui Tzu was prime minister of Liang, Chuang Tzu set off to visit him. Someone said to Hui Tzu, “Chuang Tzu is coming because he wants to replace you as prime minister!” With this Hui Tzu was filled with alarm and searched all over the state for three days and three nights trying to find Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu then came to see him and said, “In the south there is a bird called Yuan-ch’u – I wonder if you have heard of it? The Yuan-ch’u rises up from the South Sea and flies to the North Sea, and it will rest on nothing but the Wu-t’ung tree, eat nothing but the fruit of the Lien, and drink only from springs of sweet water. Once there was an owl who had gotten hold of a half-rotten old rat, and as the Yuan-ch’u passed by, it raised its head, looked up at the Yuan-ch’u, and said, “Shoo!” Now that you have this Liang state of yours, are you trying to shoo me?”
Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!” Hui Tzu said, “You’re not a fish – how do you know what fish enjoy?” Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?” Hui Tzu said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish – so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!” Chuang Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy – so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”
Section 18 Supreme Happiness
Is there such a thing as supreme happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness n, what to hate? This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sites, sweet sounds. This is what is looked down on: poverty meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear. People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter life indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.
Men of ardor, those who are willing to sacrifice their lives to save others or to preserve their honor, are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but sill good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Wu Tzu-hsu, minister to the king of Wu, repeatedly warned the king of danger of attack from the state of Yueh. He finally aroused the king’s ire and suspicion and was forced to commit suicide in 484BC. Wu Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?
What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there? I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: the highest happiness has no happiness; the highest praise has no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. The highest happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this! Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity; the inaction of Earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?
Chuang Tzu’s wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condolences, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. “You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old,” said Hui Tzu. “It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing – this is going too far, isn’t it?” Chuang Tzu said, “You’re wrong.” When she first died, do you think I didn’t grieve like anyone else? But I looked back at her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there’s been another change and she is dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter. “Now she is going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I was to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don’t understand anything about fate. So I stopped.”
Uncle Lack-Limb and Uncle Lame-Gait were seeing the sights at Dark Lord Hill and the wastes of K’un-lun, the place where the Yellow Emperor rested. Suddenly a willow sprouted out of Uncle Lame-Gait’s left elbow. He looked very startled and seemed to be annoyed. “Do you resent it?” said Uncle Lack-Limb. “No – what is there to resent?” said Uncle Lame-Gait. “To live is to borrow. And if we borrow to live, then life must be a pile of trash. Life and death are day and night. You and I came to watch the process of change, and now change has caught up with me. Why would I have anything to resent?”
When Chuang Tzu went to Ch’u, he saw an old skull, all dry and parched. He poked it with his carriage whip and then asked, “Sir, were you greedy for life and forgetful of reason, and so come to this? Was your state overthrown and did you bow beneath the ax and so came to this? Did you do some evil deed and were you ashamed to bring disgrace upon your parents and family, and so came to this? Was it through the pangs of cold and hunger that you came to this? Or did your springs and autumns pile up until they brought you to this?”
When he had finished speaking, he dragged the skull over and, using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the middle of the night, the skull came to him in a dream and said, “You chatter like a rhetorician and all your words betray the entanglements of a living man. The dead know nothing of these, would you like to hear a lecture on the dead?” “Indeed,” said Chuang Tzu. The skull said, “Among the dead there are no rulers above, no subjects below, and no chores of the four seasons. With nothing to do, springs and autumns are as endless as heaven and earth. A king facing south on his throne could have no more happiness than this!”
Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and said, “If I got the Arbiter of Fate to give you a body again, make you some bones and flesh, return you to your parents and family and your old home and friends, you would want that wouldn’t you?” The skull frowned severely, wrinkled up its brow. ‘Why would I throw away more happiness than that of a king on a throne and take on the troubles of being a human being again?” it said.
When Yen Yuan, who was also known as Yen Hui, went east to Ch’i, Confucius had a very worried look on his face. Tzu-kung got off his mat and asked, “May I be so bold as to inquire why the Master has such a worried expression now that Hui has gone east to Ch’i?” Excellent – this question of yours.” said Confucius. “Kuan Tzu, who was known as Kuan Chung who was a 7th century BC statesman whom Confucius greatly admired, has a saying that he greatly approved of: ‘Small bags won’t hold big things; short well ropes won’t dip up deep water.’ In the same way I believe that fate has certain forms and the body certain appropriate uses. You can’t add to or take away from these. I’m afraid that when Hui gets to Ch’i he will start telling the marquis of Ch’i about the ways of Yao, Shun, and the Yellow Emperor, and then will go on to speak about Sui-jen, the discoverer of fire, and Shen-nung, who discovered agriculture. The marquis will then look for similar greatness within himself and fail to find it. Failing to find it, he will become distraught, and when a man becomes distraught, he kills.
“Haven’t you heard this story? Once a seabird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital, the marquis of Lu escorted it to the ancestral temple, where he entertained it, performing the Nine Shao music for it to listen to and presenting it with the meat of the T’ai-lao sacrifice to feast on. But the bird only looked dazed and forlorn, refusing to eat a single slice of meat or drink a cup of wine, and in three days it was dead. This is to try to nourish a bird with what would nourish you instead of what would nourish a bird. If you want to nourish a bird with what nourishes a bird, then you should let it roost in the deep forest, play among the banks and islands, float on the rivers and lakes, eat mud fish and minnows, follow the rest of the flock in flight and rest, and live any way it chooses.
A bird hates to hear even the sound of human voices, much less all that hubbub and to-do. Try performing the Hsien-ch’ih and Nine Shao music around Lake Tung-t’ing – when the birds hear it they will fly off, when the animals hear it they will run away, when the fish hear it they will dive to the bottom. Only the people who hear it will gather around to listen. Fish live in water and thrive, but if men tried to live in water they would die. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the former sages never required the same ability from all creatures or made them all do the same thing. Names should stop when they have expressed reality, concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. This is what is meant to have command of reason, and good fortune to support you.”
Lieh Tzu was on a trip and was eating by the roadside when he saw a hundred-year-old skull. Pulling away the weeds and pointing his finger, he said “Only you and I know that you have never died and you have never lived. Are you really unhappy? Am I really enjoying myself?”
The seeds of things have mysterious workings. In the water they become Break Vine, on the edges of the water they become Frog’s Robe. If they sprout on the slopes they become Hill Slippers. If Hill Slippers get rich soil, they turn into Crow’s Feet. The roots of Crow’s Feet become maggots and their leaves turn into butterflies. Before long the butterflies are transformed and turn into insects that live under the stove; they look like snakes and their name is Ch’u-t’o. After a thousand days, the Ch’u-t’o insects becomes birds called Dried Leftover Bones. The saliva of the Dried Leftover Bones becomes Ssu-mi bugs and the Ssu-mi bugs become Vinegar Eaters. Yi-lo bugs are born from the Vinegar Eaters, and Huang-shuang bugs from Chiu-yu bugs. Chiu-yu bugs are born from Mou-jui bugs and Mou-jui bugs are born from Rot Grubs and Rot Grubs are born from Sheep’s Groom. Sheep’s Groom couples with bamboo that has not sprouted for a long while and produces Green Peace plants. Green Peace plants produce leopards and leopards produce horses and horses produce men. Men in time return to the mysterious workings. So all creatures come out of the mysterious workings and go back into them again.
Section 19 Mastering Life
He who has mastered the true nature of life does not labor over what life cannot do. He who has mastered the true nature of fate does not labor over what knowledge cannot change. He who wants to nourish his body must first of all turn to things. And yet it is possible to have more than enough things and for the body still to go unnourished. He who has life must first of all see to it that it does not leave the body. And yet it is possible for life never to leave the body and still fail to be preserved. The coming of life cannot be fended off; its departure cannot be stopped. How pitiful the men of the world, who think that simply nourishing the body is enough to preserve life! But if nourishing the body is in the end not enough to preserve life, then why is what the world does worth doing? It may not be worth doing, and yet it cannot be left undone – this is unavoidable. He who wants to avoid doing anything for his body had best abandon the world. By abandoning the world, he can be without entanglements. By being without entanglements, he can be upright and calm. Being upright and calm, he can be born again with others. Being born again, he can come close to the Way.
But why is abandoning the affairs of the world worthwhile, and why is forgetting life worthwhile? If you abandon the affairs of the world, your body will be without toil. If you forget life, your vitality will be unimpaired. With your body complete and your body made whole again, you may become one with Heaven. Heaven and earth are the father and mother of the ten thousand things. They join to become a body; they part to become a beginning. When the body and vitality are without flaw, this is called being able to shift. Vitality added to vitality, you return to become the helper of Heaven.
Master Lieh Tzu said to the Barrier Keeper Yin, “The Perfect Man can walk under water without choking, can tread on fire without being burned, and can travel above the ten thousand things without being frightened. May I ask how he manages this?”
The Barrier Keeper Yin replied, “This is because he guards the pure breath – it has nothing to do with wisdom, skill, determination, or courage. Sit down and I will tell you about it. All that has faces, forms, voices, colors – these are all mere things. How could one thing and another thing be far removed from each other? And how could any of them be worth considering as a predecessor? They are forms, colors – nothing more. But things have their creation in what has no form, and their conclusion in what has no change. If a man can get hold of this and exhaust it fully, then how can things stand in his way? He may rest within the bounds that know no excess, hide within the borders that know no source, wander where the ten thousand things have their end and beginning, unify his nature, nourish his breath, unite his virtue, and thereby communicate with that which creates all things. A man like this guards what belongs to Heaven and keeps it whole. His spirit has no flaw, so can things enter in and get to him?” “When a drunken man falls from a carriage, though the carriage may be going very fast, he won’t get killed. He has bones and joints the same as other men, and yet he is not injured as they would be, because his spirit is whole. He didn’t know he was riding, and he doesn’t know he has fallen out. Life and Death, alarm and terror do not enter his breast, and so he can bang against things without fear of injury. If he can keep himself whole like this by means of wine, how much more can he keep himself whole by means of Heaven! The sage hides himself in Heaven – hence there is nothing that can do him harm.
“A man seeking revenge does not go so far as to smash the sword of his enemy; a man, no matter how hot-tempered, does not rail at the tile that happens to fall on him. To know that all things in the world are equal and the same – this is the only way to eliminate the chaos of attack and battle and the harshness of punishment and execution. “Do not try to develop what is natural to man; develop what is natural to Heaven. He who develops Heaven, benefits life; he who develops man injures life. Do not reject what is of Heaven, do not neglect what is of man, and the people will be close to the attainment of truth.”
When Confucius was on his way to Ch’u, he passed through a forest where he saw a hunchback catching cicadas with as sticky pole as easily as though he were grabbing them with his hand. Confucius said, “What skill you have! Is there a special skill to this?” “I have a way,” said the hunchback. “For the first five or six months I practice balancing two balls on top of each other on the end of the pole and, if they don’t fall off, I know I will lose very few cicadas. Then I balance three balls and, if they don’t fall off, I know I’ll lose only one cicada in ten. Then I balance five balls and, if they don’t fall off, I know it will be as easy as grabbing them with my hand. I hold my body like a still tree truck and use my arm like an old dry limb. No matter how huge heaven and earth or how numerous the ten thousand things, I’m aware of nothing but cicada wings. Not wavering, not tipping, not letting any of the other ten thousand things take the place of those cicada wings – how can I help but succeed?”
Confucius turned to his disciples and said, “He keeps his will undivided and concentrates his spirit – that would serve to describe our hunchback gentleman here, would it not?”
Yen Yuan said to Confucius, “I once crossed the gulf at Goblet Deeps and the ferryman handled the boat with supernatural skill. I asked him, ‘Can a person learn how to handle a boat?’ and he replied, ‘Certainly. A good swimmer will get the knack of it in no time. And, if a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’d know how to handle it!’ I asked him what he meant by that, but he wouldn’t tell me. May I venture to ask you what it means?”
Confucius said, “A good swimmer will get the knack of it in no time – that means he’s forgotten the water. If a man can swim under the water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it – that’s because he sees the water as so much dry land, and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart. The ten thousand things may all be capsizing and turning over at the same time right in front of him and it can’t get at him and affect what’s inside – so where could he go and not be at ease?
“When you’re betting for tiles in an archery contest, you shoot to kill. When you’re shooting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim. And when you’re betting for real gold, you’re a nervous wreck. You’re kill is the same in all three cases – but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weight on your mind. He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”
T’ien K’ai-chih went to see Duke Wei of Chou. Duke Wei said, “I hear that Chu Hsien is studying how to live. You are a friend of his – what have you heard from him on the subject?” Then Tien K’ai-chih said, “I merely wield a broom and tend his gate and garden – how should I have heard anything from the Master?” Duke Wei said, “Don’t be modest, Master T’ien. I am anxious to hear about it.” Tien K’ai-chih said, “I have heard the Master say, ‘He who is good at nourishing life is like a herder of sheep – he watches for stragglers and whips them up.” “What does that mean?” asked Duke Wei.
Tien K’ai-chih said, “In Lu there was Shan Pao – he lived among the cliffs, drank only water, and didn’t go after gain like other people. He went along like that for seventy years and still had the complexion of a little child. Unfortunately, he met a hungry tiger who killed him and ate him up. Then there was Chang Yi – there wasn’t one of the great families and fancy mansions that he didn’t rush off to visit. He went along like that for forty years, and then he developed an internal fever, fell ill, and died. Shan Pao looked after what was on the inside and the tiger ate up his outside. Chang Yi looked after what was on the outside and the sickness attacked him from the inside. Both of these men failed to give a lash, or stick to a happy medium, to the stragglers.” Confucius has said, “Don’t go in and hide; don’t come out and shine; stand stock still in the middle.” He who can follow these three rules is sure to be called the finest. When people are worried about the safety of the roads, if they hear that one traveler in a party of ten has been murdered, then fathers and sons, elder and younger brothers will warn each other to be careful and will not venture out until they have a large escort of armed men. That’s wise of them, isn’t it? But when it comes to what people really ought to be worried about – the time when they are lying in bed or sitting around eating and drinking – then they don’t have enough sense to take warning. That’s a mistake!”
The Invocator of the Ancestors, dressed in his black, square-cut robes, peered into the pigpen and said, “Why should you object to dying? I’m going to fatten you for three months, practice austerities for ten days, fast for three days, spread the white rushes, and lay your shoulders and rump on the carved sacrificial stand – you’ll go along with that won’t you? True, if I were planning things from the point of view of a pig, I’d say it would be better to eat chaff and bran and stay right there in the pen. But if I were planning for myself, I’d say that if I could be honored as a high official while I lived, and get to ride in a fine hearse and lie among the feathers and trappings when I died, I’d go along with that. Speaking for the pg, I’d give such a life a flat refusal, but speaking for myself, I’d certainly accept. I wonder why I look at things differently from a pig.”
Duke Huan of Ch’i was hunting in a marsh with Kuan Chung his chief minister, as his carriage driver, when he saw a ghost. The Duke grasped Kuan’s hand and said to his esteemed minister, Father Chung, what do you see?” “I don’t see anything,” replied Kuan Chung. When the Duke returned home, he fell into a stupor, grew ill, and for several days did not go out.
A gentleman of Ch’i named Huang-tzu Kao-ao said, “Your Grace, you are doing this injury to yourself! How could a ghost have the power to injure you? If the vital breath that is stored up in a man become dispersed and does not return, then he suffers a deficiency. If it ascends and fails to descend again, it causes him to be chronically irritable. If it descends and does not ascend again, it causes him to be chronically forgetful. And if it neither ascends nor descends, but gathers in the middle of the body in the region of the heart, then he becomes ill.”
Duke Huan said, “But do ghosts really exist?” “Indeed they do. There is the Li on the hearth and the Chi on the stove. The heap of clutter and trash just inside the gate is where the Lei-t’ing lives. In the northeast corner the Pei-a and Kuei-lung leap about, and the northwest corner is where the Yi-yang lives. In the water is the Kang-hsiag; on the hills, the Hsin; in the mountains, the one legged creature K’uei, in the meadows, the P’ang-huang; and in the marshes, the Wei-t’o.”
The Duke said, “May I ask what a Wei’t’o looks like?” Huang-tzu said, “The Wei’t’o is as big as a wheel hub, as tall as a carriage shaft, has a purple robe and a vermilion hat and, as creatures go, is very ugly. When it hears the sound of thunder or a carriage, it grabs its head and stands up. Anyone who sees it will soon become a dictator.” Duke Huan’s face lit up and he said with a laugh, “That must have been what I saw!” Then he straightened his robe and hat and sat up and sat up on the mat with Huang-tzu, and before the day was over, though he didn’t notice it, his illness went away.
Chi Hsing-tzu was training gamecocks for the king. After ten days the king asked if they were ready. “Not yet. They’re too haughty and rely on their nerve.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “Not yet. They still respond to noises and movements.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “Not yet. They still look around fiercely and are full of spirit.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “They’re close enough. Another cock can crow and they show no sign of change. Look at them from a distance and you’d think they were made of wood. Their virtue is complete. Other cocks won’t dare face up to them, but will turn and run.”
Confucius was seeing the sights at Lu-liang, where the water falls from a height of thirty fathoms and races and boils along for forty li, so swift that no fish or other water creature can swim in it. He saw a man dive into the water and, supposing that the man was in some kind of trouble and intended to end his life, he ordered his disciples to line up on the bank and pull the man out. But after the man had gone a couple hundred paces, he came out of the water and began strolling along the base of the embankment, his hair streaming down, singing a song.
Confucius ran after him and said, “At first I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you’re a man. May I ask if you have some special way of keeping afloat in the water?” “I have no way. I began with what I was used to, grew up with my nature, and let things come to completion with fate. I go under with swirls and come out with the eddies, following along the way the water goes and never thinking about myself. That’s how I can stay afloat.”
Confucius said, “What do you mean by saying that you began with what you were used to, grew up with your nature, and let things come to completion with fate?” “I was born on the dry land and felt safe on the dry land – that was what I was used to. I grew up with the water and felt safe in the water – that was my nature. I don’t know why I do what I do – that’s fate.”
A woodworker of Lu, known as Ch’ing, carved a piece of wood and made a bell stand and when it was finished everyone who saw it marveled, for it seemed to be the work of gods or spirits. When the marquis of Lu saw it, he asked, “What art is it you have?” Ch’ing replied, “I am only a craftsman – how would I have any art? There is one thing, however. When I am going to make a bell stand, I never let it wear out my energy. I always fast to still my mind. When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thoughts of congratulations or rewards, of titles or stipends. When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thoughts of praise or blame, of skill or clumsiness. And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a form and body. By that time, the ruler and his court no longer exist for me. My skill is concentrated and all outside distractions fade away. After that, I go into the mountain forest and examine the Heavenly nature of the trees. I put my hand to the job of carving; if not, I let it go. This way I am simply matching up ‘Heaven’ with ‘Heaven’ thereby matching my own innate nature with the tree. That’s probably the reason that people wonder if the results were not made by spirits.”
Tung-yeh Chi was displaying his carriage driving before Duke Chuang. He drove back and forth as straight as a measuring line and wheeled to left and right as neat as a compass drawn curve. Duke Chuang concluded that even Tsao Fu, the famous master of the art of carriage driving, could do no better and ordered him to make a hundred circuits and then returned to the palace. Yen Ho happened along at the moment and went in to see the duke. Tung-yeh Chi’s horses are going to break down,” he said. The duke was silent and gave no answer. In a little while Tung-yeh Chi returned his horses having in fact broken down. The duke asked Yen Ho, “How did you know that was going to happen?” Yen Ho said, “The strength of the horses was all gone and still he was asking them to go on – that’s why I said they would break down.”
Artisan Ch’ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn’t let his mind get in the way. Therefore his mind, or Spirit Tower, remained unified and unobstructed. You forget your feet when your shoes are comfortable. You forget the waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.
A certain Sun Hsui appeared at the gate of Master Pien Ch’ing-tzu to pay him a call. “When I was living in the village,” he said, “no one ever said I lacked good conduct. When I faced difficulty, no one ever said I lacked courage. Yet when I worked the fields, it never seemed to be a good year for crops, and when I served the ruler, it never seemed a good time for advancement. So I am an outcast from the villages, an exile from the towns. What crime have I committed against Heaven? Why should I meet this fate?”
Master Pien said, “Have you never heard how the Perfect Man conducts himself? He forgets his liver and gall and thinks no more about his eyes and ears. Vague and aimless, he wanders beyond the dirt and dust; free and easy, tending to nothing is his job. Just as in the Tao Te Ching, this is what is called ‘doing but not looking for any thanks, bringing up but not bossing.’ Now you show off your wisdom in order to astound the ignorant, work at your good conduct in order to distinguish yourself from the disreputable, going around bright and shining as though you were carrying the sun and moon in your hand! You’ve managed to keep your body in one piece, you have all the ordinary nine openings, you haven’t been struck down midway by blindness or deafness, lameness or deformity – compared to a lot of people, you’re a lucky man. How do you have any time to go around complaining against Heaven? Be on your way!”
After Master Sun had left, Master Pien went back into the house, sat down for a while, and them looked up to heaven and sighed. One of his disciples asked, “Why does my teacher sigh?” Master Pien said, “Just now Sun Hsiu came to see me, and I described to him the virtue of the Perfected Man. I’m afraid he was very startled and may end up in a complete muddle.” “Surely not, said the disciple. “Was what Master Sun said right and my teacher said wrong? If so, then wrong can certainly never make a muddle out of right. Or was what Master Sun said wrong and what my teacher said right? If so, then he must already have been in a muddle when he came here, so what’s the harm?”
“You don’t understand,” said Master Pien. “Once long ago a bird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital. The ruler of Lu was delighted with it, had a T’ai-lao feast prepared for it to feast on, and the Nine Shao music performed for its enjoyment. But the bird immediately began to look unhappy and dazed, and did not dare to eat or drink. This is what is called trying to nourish a bird with what would nourish you. If you want to nourish a bird with what would nourish a bird, you had best let it roost in the deep forest, float of the rivers and lakes, and live on snakes – the it can feel at ease. “Now Sun Hsiu is a man of ignorance and little learning. For me to describe to him the virtue of the Perfect Man is like taking a mouse on a ride in a carriage or trying to delight a quail with the music of bells and drums. How could he help but be startled?”
External Things Section 26
External things cannot be counted on. Hence Lung-feng, the minister to the tyrant Chieh was executed and Prince Pi Kan, minister to the tyrant Chou, was sentenced to death. Prince Chi was a relative of Chou who had to feign madness in order to escape execution. E Lai assisted Chou and was put to death when Chou was overthrown, and Chieh and Chou were overthrown. There is no ruler who does not want his ministers to be loyal. But loyal ministers are not always trusted. Hence Wu Yun, also known as Wu Tzu-hsu, the loyal minister of Wu, was forced by the king to commit suicide and his body was thrown into the Yangtze. Ch’ang Hung was a minister of the Chou court who was killed in 492BC. His exile and suicide is Shu where people are said to have stored away his blood where after three years it was transformed into green jade is the stuff of legend. There is no parent that does not want his son to be filial. But filial sons are not always loved. Hence Hsiao-chi, the eminently filial son of King Wu-ting of the Shang grieved as he was persecuted by an evil stepmother and Tseng Shen, a disciple of Confucius and likewise a paragon of filial piety sorrowed as he was despised by his father.
When wood rubs against wood, flames spring up. When metal remains on the side of fire, it melts and flows away. When the yin and yang go awry, then heaven and earth see astonishing sights. Then we hear the crash and roll of thunder, and fire comes in the midst of rain and burns up the great pagoda tree. Delight and sorrow are there to trap man on either side so that he has no escape. Fearful and trembling, he can reach no completion. His mind is as though trussed and suspended between heaven and earth, bewildered and lost in illusion. Profit and loss rub against each other and light the countless fires that burn up the inner harmony of the mass of men. The moon cannot put out the fire, so that in time all is consumed and the Way comes to an end.
Chuang Chou’s family was very poor and so he went to borrow some grain from the marquis of Chien-ho. The marquis said, “Why of course. I’ll some be getting the tribute money from my fief, and when I do, I’ll be glad to lend you three hundred pieces of gold. Will that be all right?” Chuang Chou flushed with anger and said, “As I was coming here yesterday, I heard someone calling me on the road, I turned around and saw that there was a perch in the carriage rut. I said to him, “Come, perch – what are you doing here?” He replied, “I am wave official of the Eastern Sea. Couldn’t you give me a dipperful of water so I can stay alive?” I said to him, “Why of course. I’m just about to start south to visit the kings of Wu and Yueh. I’ll change the course of the West River and send it in your direction. Will that be all right?” The perch flushed with anger and said, “I’ve lost my element! I have nowhere to go! If you can get me a dipper of water, I’ll be able to stay alive, but if you give me an answer like that then you’d best look for me in the dried fish store!”
Prince Jen made an enormous fishhook with a huge line, baited it with fifty bullocks, settled himself on top of Mount K’uai-chi, and cast with his pole into the eastern sea. Morning after morning, he dropped the hook, but for a whole year he got nothing. At last a huge fish swallowed the bait and dived down, dragging the enormous hook. It plunged to the bottom in a fierce charge, rose up and shook its dorsal fins, until the white waves were like mountains and the sea waters lashed and churned. The noise was like that of gods and demons and it spread terror for a thousand li. When Prince Jen had landed his fish, he cut it up and dried it, and from Chih-ho east, from Ts’ang-wu north, there was no one who did not get his fill. Since then the men of later generations who have piddling talents and a penchant for odd stories all astound each other by repeating the tale.
Now if you shoulder your pole and line, march to the ditches and gullies, and watch for minnows and perch, then you’ll have a hard time ever landing a big fish. If you parade your little theories and fish for the post of district magistrate, you will be far from the Great Understanding. So if a man has never heard of the style of Prince Jen, he’s a long way from being able to join with the men who run the world.
The Confucians rob graves in accordance with the Odes and ritual. The big Confucian announces to his underlings: “The east grows light! How is the matter proceeding? The little Confucians say: “We haven’t got grave clothes off him yet but there’s a pearl in his mouth! Just as the Ode says:
Green, green the grain. Growing on grave mound slopes; in life you gave no alms. In death how do you deserve a pearl?
They push back his sidelocks, press down his beard, and then one of them pries into his chin with a little metal gimlet and gently pulls apart the jaws so as not to injure the pearl in his mouth.
A disciple of the sage Lao Lai-Tzu was out gathering firewood when he happened to meet Confucius. He returned and reported, “There’s a man over there with a long body and short legs, his back a little humped and his ears set way back, who looks as though he was trying to attend to everything within the four seas. I don’t know who it can be.” Lao Lai-tzu said, “That’s K’ung Ch’iu. Tell him to come over here!” When Confucius arrived, Lao Lai-tzu said, “Ch’iu, get rid of your proud bearing and that knowing look on your face and you can become a gentleman!”
Confucius bowed and stepped back a little, a startled and changed expression on his face, and then asked, “Do you think I can make any progress in my labors?” Lao Lai-tzu said, “You can’t bear the sufferings of one age, and so you go and make trouble for ten thousand ages to come! Are you just naturally a boor? Or don’t you have the sense to understand the situation? You take pride in practicing charity and making people happy – the shame of it will follow you all your days! These are the actions, the ‘progress’ of mediocre men – men who pull each other around with fame, drag each other into secret schemes, join together to praise Yao and condemn Chieh, when the best thing would be to forget them both and to put a stop to praise! What is contrary cannot fail to be injured, what moves (when it shouldn’t) cannot fail to be wrong. The sage is hesitant and reluctant to begin an affair, and so he always ends in success. But what good are these actions of yours? They end in nothing but a boast!”
Lord Yuan of Sung one night dreamed he saw a man with disheveled hair who peered in at the side door of his chamber and said, “I come from the Tsai-lu Deeps. I was on my way as envoy from the Clear Yangtze to the court of the Lord of the Yellow River when a fisherman by the name of Yu Chu caught me!” When Lord Yuan woke up, he ordered his men to divine the meaning, and they replied, “This is a sacred turtle.” “Is there a fisherman named Yu Chu?” he asked, and his attendants replied, “There is.” “Order Yu Chu to come to court!” he said. The next day Yu Chu appeared at court and the ruler said, “What kind of fish have you caught recently?” Yu Chu replied, “I caught a white turtle in my net. It’s five feet around.”
“Present your turtle!” ordered the ruler. When the turtle was brought, the ruler could not decide rather to kill it or let it live and, being in doubt he consulted his diviners, who replied, “Kill the turtle and divine with it – it will bring good luck.” Accordingly the turtle was stripped of its shell, and of seventy two holes drilled into it for prognostication, not one failed to yield a true answer.
Confucius said, “The sacred turtle could appear to Lord Yuan in a dream but it couldn’t escape from Yu Chu’s net. It knew enough to give correct answers to seventy two queries but it couldn’t escape the disaster of having its belly ripped open. (The tradition was that small indentations were drilled into the carapace and heat was applied. Divinations were based on the shape of the cracks which resulted and then read, usually by a shaman, or someone designated who could speak to the spirit world. Answers were almost always a simple yes or no following the yin and yang culture of the time.) So it is that knowledge has its limitations, and the sacred has that which it can do nothing about. Even the most perfect wisdom can be outwitted by ten thousand schemers. Fish do not know enough to fear a net, but only to fear pelicans. Discard little wisdom and great wisdom will become clear. Discard goodness and goodness will come of itself. The little child learns to speak, though it has no learned teachers – because it lives with those who know how to speak.”
Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu. “Your words are useless!” Chuang Tzu said, “A man has to understand the useless before you can talk to him about the useful. The earth is certainly vast and broad, though a man uses no more of it than the area he puts his feet on. If, however, you were to dig away all the earth from around his feet until you reached the Yellow Springs, then would the man be able to make use of it?” “No, it would be useless,” said Hui Tzu. “It is obvious, then, said Chuang Tzu, that the useless has its use.”
Chuang Tzu said, “If you have the capacity to wander, how can you keep from wandering? But if you do not have the capacity to wander, how can you wander? A will that takes refuge in conformity, behavior that is aloof and eccentric – neither of these, alas, is compatible with perfect wisdom and solid virtue. You stumble and fall but fail to turn back; you race on like fire and do not look behind you. But though you may be at one time a ruler, another time a subject, this is merely a matter of the times. Such distinctions change with the age and you cannot call either one or the other lowly. Therefore I say, the Perfect Man is never a stickler in his actions. “To admire antiquity and despise the present – this is the fashion of scholars. And if one is to look at the present age after the fashion of Hsi-wei, (the mythical ruler of high antiquity, the sage who held up ‘heaven and earth’, just as that which has been extolled by the Confucians and Mohists, as well as, the Taoist school through the ages.) Then who can be without prejudice? (Chuang Tzu is saying that his ‘ideal’ of wandering – i.e., living in accordance with the Way – does not permit either a forced conformity with the world or a forced withdrawal from, and denial of, the world.) Only the Perfect Man can wander in the world without taking sides, can follow along with men without losing himself. His teachings are not to be learned and one who understands his meaning has no use for him.
“The eye that is penetrating sees clearly, the ear that is penetrating hears clearly, the nose that is penetrating distinguishes odor, the mouth that is penetrating distinguishes flavors, the mind that is penetrating has understanding, and the understanding that is penetrating has virtue. In all things, the Way does not want to be obstructed, for if there is obstruction, there is choking; if the choking does not cease, there is disorder; and disorder harms the life of all creatures.
“All things that have consciousness depend upon breath. But if they do not get their fill of breath, it is not the fault of Heaven. Heaven opens up the passages and supplies then day and night without stop. But man on the contrary blocks up the holes. The cavity of the body is a many-storied vault; the mind has its Heavenly wanderings. But if the chambers are not large and roomy, then the wife and mother-in-law will fall to quarreling. If the mind does not have its Heavenly wanderings, then the six apertures of sensation will defeat each other.
The great forests, the hills and mountains excel man in the fact that their growth is irrepressible. In man, virtue spills over into a concern for fame, and a concern for fame spills over into a love of show. Schemes are laid in times of crisis, wisdom is born from contention; obstinacy comes from sticking to a position; government affairs are arranged for the convenience of the mob. In spring, when the seasonable rains and sunshine comes the grass and trees spring to life, and the sickles and hoes are for the first time prepared for use. At that time, over half the grass and trees that had been pushed over begin to grow again, though no one knows why.” “Stillness and silence can benefit the ailing, massage can provide relief to the aged, and rest and quiet can put a stop to agitation. But these are remedies which the troubled and weary man has recourse to. The man who is at ease does not need them and has never bothered to ask about them. The Holy Man does not bother to ask what method the sage uses to reform the world. The sage does not bother to ask what methods the gentleman uses to reform the state. The gentleman does not bother to ask what methods the petty man uses to get along with the times.”
“There was a man of Yen Gate who, on the death of his parents, won praise by starving and disfiguring himself, and was rewarded with the post of Official Teacher. The other people of the village likewise starved and disfigured themselves, and over half of them died. Yao offered his throne, the empire, to the recluse Hsu Yu and Hu Tzu fled from him. King Tang did the same to the recluse Wu Kuang and Wu Kuang railed at him. When Chi T’o heard of this, he took his disciples and went off to sit by the K’uan River where they withdrew or committed suicide out of sympathy for the insult which had been done to Wu Kuang in offering him the throne, where the feudal lords when to console him for three years. Shen-t’u Ti for the same reason jumped into the Yellow River.”
“The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?”