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Perfect Happiness

by Chuang Tzu: IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect 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 in, 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 sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks 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 lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.

Men of ardor1 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 still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body.2 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 all 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: perfect happiness knows no happiness, perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect 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 to 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’s dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.

“Now she’s going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were 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.3. Suddenly a willow sprouted out of Uncle Lame-Gait’s left elbow.4 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 came 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 for 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, our 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, wrinkling up its brow. “Why would I throw away more happiness than that of a king on a throne and take on the troubles of a human being again?” it said.

When Yen Yuan went east to Ch’i, Confucius had a very worried look on his face.5 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 Tzu6 had a saying that I much approve 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 and Shen Nung.7 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 sea bird 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 mudfish 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 in the wilds 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 it means 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? 8 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 turn into 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 become birds called Dried Leftover Bones. The saliva of the Dried Leftover Bones becomes Ssu-mi bugs and the Ssu-mi bugs become Vinegar Eaters. I-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 again to the mysterious workings. So all creatures come out of the mysterious workings and go back into them again.9



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. 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 worth while, and why is forgetting life worth while? 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 vitality 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 have 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 one 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 how can things enter in and get at him?

“When a drunken man falls from a carriage, though the carriage may be going very fast, he won’t be 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.” 1

When Confucius was on his way to Ch’u, he passed through a forest where he saw a hunchback catching cicadas with a sticky pole as easily as though he were grabbing them with his hand.

Confucius said, “What skill you have! Is there a special way 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 stiff tree trunk 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 in no time get the knack of it. And, if a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll 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 in no time get the knack of it – that means he’s forgotten the water. If a man can swim under 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 things2 may all be capsizing and backsliding 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 with skill. When you’re betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim. And when you’re betting for real gold, you’re a nervous wreck. Your skill is the same in all three cases – but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weigh 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?”

T’ien 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.”

T’ien 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.

T’ien 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 these men failed to give a lash to the stragglers.”3

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 setting out on a dangerous road, 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 sense enough 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 pig, 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 was hunting in a marsh, with Kuan Chung as his carriage driver, when he saw a ghost. The duke grasped Kuan Chung’s hand and said, “Father Chung, what do you see?”4

“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 becomes 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 hearth5 and the Chi in 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 I-yang lives. In the water is the Kang-hsiang; on the hills, the Hsin; in the mountains, the K’uei;6 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. Any one 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 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 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 of 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 staying 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 the 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.”

Woodworker Ch’ing7 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 in order to still my mind. When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thought of congratulations or rewards, of titles or stipends. When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thought 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. If I find one of superlative form, and I can see a bell stand there, 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.’ 8 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 compassdrawn curve. Duke Chuang concluded that even Tsao Fu9 could do no better, and ordered him to make a hundred circuits and then return 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 Spirit Tower10 remained unified and unobstructed.

You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your 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 Hsiu 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 to be 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. This is what is called `doing but not looking for any thanks, bringing up but not bossing.’11 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 then 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 Perfect 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 what 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 sacrifice 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 will nourish a bird, you had best let it roost in the deep forest, float on the rivers and lakes, and live on snakes-then it can feel at ease. 12

“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 for 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?”



CHUANG TZU WAS WALKING in the mountains when he saw a huge tree, its branches and leaves thick and lush. A woodcutter paused by its side but made no move to cut it down. When Chuang Tzu asked the reason, he replied, “There’s nothing it could be used for!” Chuang Tzu said, “Because of its worthlessness, this tree is able to live out the years Heaven gave it.”

Down from the mountain, the Master stopped for a night at the house of an old friend. The friend, delighted, ordered his son to kill a goose and prepare it. “One of the geese can cackle and the other can’t,” said the son. “May I ask, please, which I should kill?”

“Kill the one that can’t cackle,” said the host.

The next day Chuang Tzu’s disciples questioned him. “Yesterday there was a tree on the mountain that gets to live out the years Heaven gave it because of its worthlessness. Now there’s our host’s goose that gets killed because of its worthlessness. What position would you take in such a case, Master?”

Chuang Tzu laughed and said, “I’d probably take a position halfway between worth and worthlessness. But halfway between worth and worthlessness, though it might seem to be a good place, really isn’t – you’ll never get away from trouble there. It would be very different, though, if you were to climb up on the Way and its Virtue and go drifting and wandering, neither praised nor damned, now a dragon, now a snake, shifting with the times, never willing to hold to one course only. Now up, now down, taking harmony for your measure, drifting and wandering with the ancestor of the ten thousand things, treating things as things but not letting them treat you as a thing – then how could you get into any trouble? This is the rule, the method of Shen Nung and the Yellow Emperor.

“But now, what with the forms of the ten thousand things and the codes of ethics handed down from man to man, matters don’t proceed in this fashion. Things join only to part, reach completion only to crumble. If sharp-edged, they are blunted; if high-stationed, they are overthrown;1 if ambitious, they are foiled. Wise, they are schemed against; stupid, they are swindled. What is there, then, that can be counted on? Only one thing, alas! – remember this, my students – only the realm of the Way and its Virtue!”

I-liao from south of the Market called upon the marquis of Lu.2 The marquis had a very worried look on his face. “Why such a worried look?” asked the Master from south of the Market.

The marquis of Lu said, “I study the way of the former kings, I do my best to carry on the achievements of the former rulers, I respect the spirits, honor worthy men, draw close to them, follow their advice, and never for an instant leave their side. And yet I can’t seem to avoid disaster. That’s why I’m so worried.”

The Master from south of the Market said, “Your technique for avoiding disaster is a very superficial one. The sleek-furred fox and the elegantly spotted leopard dwell in the mountain forest and crouch in the cliffside caves – such is

their quietude. They go abroad by night but lurk at home by day – such is their caution. Though hunger, thirst, and hardship press them, they steal forth only one by one to seek food by the rivers and lakes – such is their forethought .3 And yet they can’t seem to escape the disaster of nets and traps. Where is the blame? Their fur is their undoing. And this state of Lu-is it not your coat of fur? So I would ask you to strip away your form, rid yourself of this fur, wash clean your mind, be done with desire, and wander in the peopleless fields.

“In Nan-yueh there is a city and its name is The Land of Virtue Established. Its people are foolish and naive, few in thoughts of self, scant in desires. They know how to make, but not how to lay away; they give, but look for nothing in return. They do not know what accords with right, they do not know what conforms to ritual. Uncouth, uncaring, they move recklessly – and this way they tread the path of the Great Method. Their birth brings rejoicing, their death a fine funeral. So I would ask you to discard your state, break away from its customs, and, with the Way as your helper, journey there.”

The ruler of Lu said, “The road there is long and perilous. Moreover, there are rivers and mountains between and I have no boat or carriage. What can I do?”

The Master from south of the Market said, “Be without imperiousness, be without conventionality – let this be your carriage.” 4

But the ruler of Lu said, “The road is dark and long and there are no people there. Who will be my companion on the way? When I have no rations, when I have nothing to eat, how will I be able to reach my destination?”

The Master from south of the Market said, “Make few your needs, lessen your desires, and then you may get along even without rations. You will ford the rivers and drift out upon the sea. Gaze all you may – you cannot see its farther shore; journey on and on – you will never find where it ends. Those who came to see you off will all turn back from the shore and go home, while you move ever farther into the distance.

“He who possesses men will know hardship; he who is possessed by men will know care. Therefore Yao neither possessed men nor allowed himself to be possessed by them. So I ask you to rid yourself of hardship, to cast off your cares, and to wander alone with the Way to the Land of Great Silence.

“If a man, having lashed two hulls together, is crossing a river, and an empty boat happens along and bumps into him, no matter how hot-tempered the man may be, he will not get angry. But if there should be someone in the other boat, then he will shout out to haul this way or veer that. If his first shout is unheeded, he will shout again, and if that is not heard, he will shout a third time, this time with a torrent of curses following. In the first instance, he wasn’t angry; now in the second he is. Earlier he faced emptiness, now he faces occupancy. If a man could succeed in making himself empty, and in that way wander through the world, then who could do him harm?”

Pei-kung She was collecting taxes for Duke Ling of Wei in order to make a set of bells. He built a platform outside the gate of the outer wall, and in the space of three months the bells were completed, both the upper and lower tiers.5 Prince Ch’ing-chi, observing this, asked, “What art is it you wield?” 6

Pei-kung She replied, “In the midst of Unity, how should I venture to `wield’ anything? I have heard it said, When carving and polishing are done, then return to plainness. Dull, I am without understanding; placid, I dawdle and drift. Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, and what goes cannot be detained. I follow the rude and violent, trail after the meek and bending, letting each come to its own end. So I can collect taxes from morning to night and meet not the slightest rebuff. How much more would this be true, then, of a man who had hold of the Great Road?”

Confucius was besieged between Ch’en and Ts’ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food. T’ai-kung Jen went to offer his sympathy. “It looks as if you’re going to die,” he said.

“It does indeed.”

“Do you hate the thought of dying?”

“I certainly do!”

Jen said, “Then let me try telling you about a way to keep from dying. In the eastern sea there is a bird and its name is Listless. It flutters and flounces but seems to be quite helpless. It must be boosted and pulled before it can get into the air, pushed and shoved before it can get back to its nest. It never dares to be the first to advance, never dares to be the last to retreat. At feeding time, it never ventures to take the first bite, but picks only at the leftovers. So, when it flies in file, it never gets pushed aside, nor do other creatures such as men ever do it any harm. In this way it escapes disaster.

“The straight-trunked tree is the first to be felled; the well of sweet water is the first to run dry. And you, 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! That’s why you can’t escape!

‘I have heard the Man of Great Completion say: `Boasts are a sign of no success; success once won faces overthrow; fame once won faces ruin.’ Who can rid himself of success and fame, return and join the common run of men? His Way flows abroad, but he does not rest in brightness; his Virtue’ moves, but he does not dwell in fame. Vacant, addled, he seems close to madness. Wiping out his footprints, sloughing off his power, he does not work for success or fame. So he has no cause to blame other men, nor other men to blame him. The Perfect Man wants no repute. Why then do you delight in it so?”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Confucius. Then he said good-bye to his friends and associates, dismissed his disciples, and retired to the great swamp, wearing furs and coarse cloth and living on acorns and chestnuts. He could walk among the animals without alarming their herds, walk among the birds without alarming their flocks. If even the birds and beasts did not resent him, how much less would men!

Confucius said to Master Sang-hu, “Twice I have been driven out of Lu. The people chopped down a tree on me in Sung, wiped away my footprints in Wei, made trouble for me in Shang and Chou, and besieged me between Ch’en and Ts’ai -so many calamities have I encountered. My kinfolk and associates drift farther and farther away, my friends and followers one after the other take leave. Why is this?”

Master Sang-hu said, “Have you never heard about Lin Hui, the man who fled from Chia” He threw away his jade disc worth a thousand measures of gold, strapped his little baby on his back, and hurried off. Someone said to him, `Did you think of it in terms of money? Surely a little baby isn’t worth much money! Or were you thinking of the bother? But a little baby is a great deal of bother! Why then throw away a jade disc worth a thousand measures of gold and hurry off with a little baby on your back?’

“Lin Hui replied, `The jade disc and I were joined by profit, but the child and I were brought together by Heaven. Things joined by profit, when pressed by misfortune and danger, will cast each other aside; but things brought together by Heaven, when pressed by misfortune and danger, will cling to one another. To cling to each other and to cast each other aside are far apart indeed!’

“The friendship of a gentleman, they say, is insipid as water; that of a petty man, sweet as rich wine. But the insipidity of the gentleman leads to affection, while the sweetness of the petty man leads to revulsion. Those with no particular reason for joining together will for no particular reason part.”

Confucius said, “I will do my best to honor your instructions!” Then, with leisurely steps and a free and easy manner, he returned home. He abandoned his studies, gave away his books, and his disciples no longer came to bow in obeisance before him, but their affection for him was greater than it had ever been before.

Another day Master Sang-hu likewise said, “When Shun was about to die, he carefully8′ instructed Yu in these words: `Mark what I say! In the case of the body, it is best to let it go along with things. In the case of the emotions, it is best to let them follow where they will. By going along with things, you avoid becoming separated from them. By letting the emotions follow as they will, you avoid fatigue. And when there is no separation or fatigue, then you need not seek any outward adornment or depend upon the body. And when you no longer seek outward adornment or depend upon the body, you have in fact ceased to depend upon any material thing.’ “.

Chuang Tzu put on his robe of coarse cloth with the patches on it, tied his shoes with hemp to keep them from falling apart, and went to call upon the king of Wei. “My goodness, Sir, you certainly are in distress!” said the king of Wei.

Chuang Tzu said, “I am poor, but I am not in distress! When a man possesses the Way and its Virtue but cannot put them into practice, then he is in distress. When his clothes are shabby and his shoes worn through, then he is poor, but he is not in distress. This is what they call being born at the wrong time. Has Your Majesty never observed the bounding monkeys? If they can reach the tall cedars, the catalpas, or the camphor trees, they will swing and sway from their limbs, frolic and lord it in their midst, and even the famous archers Yi or P’eng Meng could not take accurate aim at them. But when they find themselves among prickly mulberries, brambles, hawthorns, or spiny citrons, they must move with caution, glancing from side to side, quivering and quaking with fear. It is not that their bones and sinews have suddenly become stiff and lost their suppleness. It is simply that the monkeys find themselves in a difficult and disadvantageous position where they cannot exercise their abilities to the full. And now if I should live under a benighted ruler and among traitorous ministers and still hope to escape distress, what hope would there be of doing so? Pi Kan had his heart cut out – there is the proof of the matter!” 9

Confucius was in trouble between Ch’en and Ts’ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food. His left hand propped against a withered tree, his right beating time on a withered limb, he sang the air of the lord of Yen.10 The rapping of the limb provided an accompaniment, but it was without any fixed rhythm; there was melody, but none that fitted the usual tonal categories of kung or chueh. The drumming on the tree, the voice of the singer had a pathos to them that would strike a man’s heart.

Yen Hui, standing with hands folded respectfully across his chest, turned his eyes and looked inquiringly at Confucius. Confucius, fearful that Yen Hui’s respect for him was too great, that his love for him was too tender, said to him, “Hui! It is easy to be indifferent to the afflictions of Heaven, but hard to be indifferent to the benefits of man. No beginning but has its end, and man and Heaven are one. Who is it, then, who sings this song now?”

Hui said, “May I venture to ask what you mean when you say it is easy to be indifferent to the afflictions of Heaven?”

Confucius said, “Hunger, thirst, cold, heat, barriers and blind alleys that will not let you pass – these are the workings of Heaven and earth, the shifts of ever-turning things. This is what is called traveling side by side with the others. He who serves as a minister does not dare to abandon his lord. And if he is thus faithful to the way of a true minister, how much more would he be if he were to attend upon Heaven!”

“And what do you mean when you say that it is hard to be indifferent to the benefits of man?”

Confucius replied, “A man sets out on a career, and soon he is advancing in all four directions at once. Titles and stipends come raining down on him without end, but these are merely material profits and have nothing to do with the man himself. As for me, my fate lies elsewhere. A gentleman will not pilfer, a worthy man will not steal. What business would I have, then, trying to acquire such things? So it is said, There is no bird wiser than the swallow. If its eyes do not light upon a suitable spot, it will not give a second look. If it happens to drop the food it had in its beak, it will let it go and fly on its way. It is wary of men, and yet it lives among them, finding its protection along with men in the village altars of the soil and grain.”

“And what do you mean by saying, `No beginning but has its end’?”

Confucius said, “There is a being who transforms the ten thousand things, yet we do not know how he works these changes. How do we know what is an end? How do we know what is a beginning? The only thing for us to do is just to wait!”

“And what do you mean by saving, `man and Heaven are one’?”

Confucius said, “Man exists because of Heaven, and Heaven too exists because of Heaven. But man cannot cause Heaven to exist; this is because of [the limitations of] his inborn nature. The sage, calm and placid, embodies change and so comes to his end.”

Chuang Chou was wandering in the park at Tiao-ling when he saw a peculiar kind of magpie that came flying along from the south. It had a wingspread of seven feet and its eyes were a good inch in diameter. It brushed against Chuang Chou’s forehead and then settled down in a grove of chestnut trees. “What kind of bird is that!” exclaimed Chuang Chou. “Its wings are enormous but they get it nowhere; its eyes are huge but it can’t even see where it’s going!” Then he hitched up his robe, strode forward, cocked his crossbow and prepared to take aim. As he did so, he spied a cicada that had found a lovely spot of shade and had forgotten all about [the possibility of danger to] its body. Behind it, a praying mantis, stretching forth its claws, prepared to snatch the cicada, and it too had forgotten about its own form as it eyed its prize. The peculiar magpie was close behind, ready to make off with the praying mantis, forgetting its own true self as it fixed its eyes on the prospect of gain. Chuang Chou, shuddering at the sight, said, “Ah! – things do nothing but make trouble for each other – one creature calling down disaster on another!” He threw down his crossbow, turned about, and hurried from the park, but the park keeper [taking him for a poacher] raced after him with shouts of accusation.

Chuang Chou returned home and for three months looked unhappy.” Lin Chu in the course of tending to his master’s needs, questioned him, saying, “Master, why is it that you are so unhappy these days?”

Chuang Chou said, “In clinging to outward form I have forgotten my own body. Staring at muddy water, I have been misled into taking it for a clear pool. Moreover, I have heard my Master say, `When you go among the vulgar, follow their rules!’ I went wandering at Tiao-ling and forgot my body. A peculiar magpie brushed against my forehead, wandered off to the chestnut grove, and there forgot its true self. And the keeper of the chestnut grove, to my great shame, took me for a trespasser! That is why I am unhappy.”

Yang Tzu, on his way to Sung, stopped for the night at an inn. The innkeeper had two concubines, one beautiful, the other ugly. But the ugly one was treated as a lady of rank, while the beautiful one was treated as a menial. When Yang Tzu asked the reason, a young boy of the inn replied, “The beautiful one is only too aware of her beauty, and so we don’t think of her as beautiful. The ugly one is only too aware of her ugliness, and so we don’t think of her as ugly.”

Yang Tzu said, “Remember that, my students! If you act worthily but rid yourself of the awareness that you are acting worthily, then where can you go that you will not be loved?”



T’IEN TZU-FANG WAS SITTING in attendance on Marquis Wen of Wei.1 When he repeatedly praised one Ch’i Kung, Marquis Wen asked, “Is Ch’i Kung your teacher?”

“No,” replied Tzu-fang. “He comes from the same neighborhood as I do. Discussing the Way with him, I’ve found he often hits the mark – that’s why I praise him.”

“Have you no teacher then?” asked Marquis Wen.

“I have,” said Tzu-fang.

“Who is your teacher?”

“Master Shun from east of the Wall,” said Tzu-fang.

“Then why have you never praised him?” asked Marquis Wen.

Tzu-fang said, “He’s the kind of man who is True – the face of a human being, the emptiness of Heaven. He follows along and keeps tight hold of the True; pure, he can encompass all things. If men do not have the Way, he has only to put on a straight face and they are enlightened; he causes men’s intentions to melt away. But how could any of this be worth praising!”

Tzu-fang retired from the room and Marquis Wen, stupefied, sat for the rest of the day in silence. Then he called to the ministers who stood in attendance on him and said, “How far away he is – the gentleman of Complete Virtue! I used to think that the words of the wisdom of the sages and the practices of benevolence and righteousness were the highest ideal. But now that I have heard about Tzu-fang’s teacher, my body has fallen apart and I feel no inclination to move; my mouth is manacled and I feel no inclination to speak. These things that I have been studying are so many clay dolls2 – nothing more! This state of Wei is in truth only a burden to me!”

Wen-po Hsueh-tzu, journeying to Ch’i, stopped along the way in the state of Lu.3 A man of Lu requested an interview with him, but Wen-po Hsueh-tzu said, “No indeed! I have heard of the gentlemen of these middle states – enlightened on the subject of ritual principles but stupid in their understanding of men’s hearts. I have no wish to see any such person.”

He arrived at his destination in Ch’i, and on his way home had stopped again in Lu when the man once more requested an interview. Wen-po Hsueh-tzu said, “In the past he made an attempt to see me, and now he’s trying again. He undoubtedly has some means by which he hopes to `save’ me!”

He went out to receive the visitor and returned to his own rooms with a sigh. The following day, he received the visitor once more, and once more returned with a sigh. His groom said, “Every time you receive this visitor you come back sighing. Why is that?”

“I told you before, didn’t I? These men of the middle states are enlightened in ritual principles but stupid in the understanding of men’s hearts. Yesterday, when this man came to see me, his advancings and retirings were as precise as though marked by compass or T square. In looks and bearing he was now a dragon, now a tiger. He remonstrated with me as though he were my son, offered me guidance as though he were my father! That is why I sighed.”

Confucius also went for an interview with Wen-po Hsueh-tzu but returned without having spoken a word. Tzu-lu said, “You have been wanting to see `Yen-po Hsueh-tzu for a long time. Now you had the chance to see him, why didn’t you say anything?”

Confucius said, “With that kind of man, one glance tells you that the Way is there before you. What room does that leave for any possibility of speech?”

Yen Yuan said to Confucius, “Master, when you walk, I walk; when you trot, I trot; when you gallop, I gallop. But when you break into the kind of dash that leaves even the dust behind, all I can do is stare after you in amazement!”

“Hui, what are you talking about?” asked the Master.

“When you walk, I walk – that is, I can speak just as you speak. When you trot, I trot – that is, I can make discriminations just as you do. When you gallop, I gallop – that is, I can expound the Way just as you do. But when you break into the kind of dash that leaves even the dust behind and all I can do is stare after you in amazement – by that I mean that you do not have to speak to be trusted, that you are catholic and not partisan,’ that although you lack the regalia of high office the people still congregate before you, and with all this, you do not know why it is so.”

“Ah,” said. Confucius, “we had best look into this! There is no grief greater than the death of the mind – beside it, the death of the body is a minor matter. The sun rises out of the east, sets at the end of the west, and each one of the ten thousand things moves side by side with it. Creatures that have eyes and feet must wait for it before their success is complete. Its rising means they may go on living, its setting means they perish. For all the ten thousand things it is thus. They must wait for something before they can die, wait for something before they can live. Having once received this fixed bodily form, I will hold on to it, unchanging, in this way waiting for the end. I move after the model of other things, day and night without break, but I do not know what the end will be. Mild, genial, my bodily form takes shape. I understand my fate but I cannot fathom what has gone before it. This is the way I proceed, day after day.

“I have gone through life linked arm in arm with you, yet now you fail [to understand me]-is this not sad? You see in me, I suppose, the part that can be seen – but that part is already over and gone. For you to come looking for it, thinking it still exists, is like looking for a horse after the horsefair is over.5 I serve you best when I have utterly forgotten you, and you likewise serve me best when you have utterly forgotten me. But even so, why should you repine? Even if you forget the old me, I will still possess something that will not be forgotten!” 6

Confucius went to call on Lao Tan. Lao Tan had just finished washing his hair and had spread it over his shoulders to dry. Utterly motionless, he did not even seem to be human. Confucius, hidden from sight,7 stood waiting, and then after some time presented himself and exclaimed, “Did my eves play tricks on me, or was that really true? A moment ago, Sir, your form and body seemed stiff as an old dead tree, as though you had forgotten things, taken leave of men, and were standing in solitude itself!”

Lao Tan said, “I was letting my mind wander in the Beginning of things.”

“What does that mean?” asked Confucius.

“The mind may wear itself out but can never understand it; the mouth may gape but can never describe it. Nevertheless, I will try explaining it to you in rough outline.

“Perfect Yin is stern and frigid; Perfect Yang is bright and glittering. The sternness and frigidity come forth from heaven, the brightness and glitter emerge from the earth;8 the two mingle, penetrate, come together, harmonize, and all things are born therefrom. Perhaps someone manipulates the cords that draw it all together, but no one has ever seen his form. Decay, growth, fullness, emptiness, now murky, now bright, the sun shifting, the moon changing phase – day after day these things proceed, yet no one has seen him bringing them about. Life has its sproutings, death its destination, end and beginning tail one another in unbroken round, and no one has ever heard of their coming to a stop. If it is not as I have described it, then who else could the Ancestor of all this be?”

Confucius said, “May I ask what it means to wander in such a place?”

Lao Tan said, “It means to attain Perfect Beauty and Perfect Happiness. He who attains Perfect Beauty and wanders in Perfect Happiness may be called the Perfect Man.”

Confucius said, “I would like to hear by what means this may be accomplished.”

“Beasts that feed on grass do not fret over a change of pasture; creatures that live in water do not fret over a change of stream. They accept the minor shift as long as the all-important constant is not lost. [Be like them] and joy, anger, grief, and happiness can never enter your breast. In this world, the ten thousand things come together in One, and if you can find that One and become identical with it, then your four limbs and hundred joints will become dust and sweepings; life and death, beginning and end will be mere day and night, and nothing whatever can confound you – certainly not the trifles of gain or loss, good or bad fortune!

“A man will discard the servants who wait upon him as though they were so much earth or mud, for he knows that his own person is of more worth than the servants who tend it. Worth lies within yourself and no external shift will cause it to be lost. And since the ten thousand transformations continue without even the beginning of an end, how could they be enough to bring anxiety to your mind? He who practices the Way understands all this.” 9

Confucius said, “Your virtue, Sir, is the very counterpart of Heaven and earth, and yet even you must employ these perfect teachings in order to cultivate your mind. Who, then, even among the fine gentlemen of the past, could have avoided such labors?”

“Not so!” said Lao Tan. “The murmuring of the water is its natural talent, not something that it does deliberately. The Perfect Man stands in the same relationship in virtue. Without cultivating it, he possesses it to such an extent that things cannot draw away from him. It is as natural as the height of heaven, the depth of the earth, the brightness of sun and moon. What is there to be cultivated?”

When Confucius emerged from the interview, he reported what had passed to Yen Hui, saying, “As far as the Way is concerned, I was a mere gnat in the vinegar jar! If the Master hadn’t taken off the lid for me, I would never have understood the Great Integrity of Heaven and earth!”

Chuang Tzu went to see Duke Ai of Lu. Duke Ai said, “We have a great many Confucians here in the state of Lu, but there seem to be very few men who study your methods, Sir!”

“There are few Confucians in the state of Lu!” said Chuang Tzu.

“But the whole state of Lu is dressed in Confucian garb!” said Duke Ai. “How can you say they are few?”

“I have heard,” said Chuang Tzu, “that the Confucians wear round caps on their heads to show that they understand the cycles of heaven, that they walk about in square shoes to show that they understand the shape of the earth, and that they tie ornaments in the shape of a broken disc at their girdles in order to show that, when the time comes for decisive action, they must `make the break.’ But a gentleman may embrace a doctrine without necessarily wearing the garb that goes with it, and he may wear the garb without necessarily comprehending the doctrine. If Your Grace does not believe this is so, then why not try issuing an order to the state proclaiming: `All those who wear the garb without practicing the doctrine that goes with it will be sentenced to death!’ “

Duke Ai did in fact issue such an order, and within five days there was no one in the state of Lu who dared wear Confucian garb. Only one old man came in Confucian dress and stood in front of the duke’s gate. The duke at once summoned him and questioned him on affairs of state and, though the discussion took a thousand turnings and ten thousand shifts, the old man was never at a loss for words. Chuang Tzu said, “In the whole state of Lu, then, there is only one man who is a real Confucian. How can you say there are a great many of them? “

Po-li Hsi did not let title and stipend get inside his mind. He fed the cattle and the cattle grew fat, and this fact made Duke Mu of Ch’in forget Po-li Hsi’s lowly position and turn over the government to him.10 Shun, the man of the Yu clan, did not let life and death get inside his mind. So he was able to influence others.11

Lord Wan of Sung wanted to have some pictures painted. The crowd of court clerks all gathered in his presence, received their drawing panels,12 and took their places in line, licking their brushes, mixing their inks, so many of them that there were more outside the room than inside it. There was one clerk who arrived late, sauntering in without the slightest haste. When he received his drawing panel, he did not look for a place in line, but went straight to his own quarters. The ruler sent someone to see what he was doing, and it was found that he had taken off his robes, stretched out his legs, and was sitting there naked. “Very good,” said the ruler. “This is a true artist!”

King Wen was seeing the sights at Tsang when he spied an old man fishing.13 Yet his fishing wasn’t really fishing. He didn’t fish as though he were fishing for anything, but as though it were his constant occupation to fish. King Wen wanted to summon him and hand over the government to him, but he was afraid that the high officials and his uncles and brothers would be uneasy. He thought perhaps he had better forget the matter and let it rest, and yet he couldn’t bear to deprive the hundred clans of such a Heaven-sent opportunity. At dawn the next day he therefore reported to his ministers, saying, “Last night I dreamt I saw a fine man, dark-complexioned and bearded, mounted on a dappled horse that had red hoofs on one side. He commanded me, saying, `Hand over your rule to the old man of Tsang – then perhaps the ills of the people may be cured!’ “

The ministers, awe-struck, said, “It was the king, your late father!”

“Then perhaps we should divine to see what ought to be done,” said King Wen.

“It is the command of your late father!” said the ministers. “Your Majesty must have no second thoughts. What need is there for divination?”

In the end, therefore, the king had the old man of Tsang escorted to the capital and handed over the government to him, but the regular precedents and laws remained unchanged, and not a single new order was issued.

At the end of three years, King Wen made an inspection tour of the state. He found that the local officials had smashed their gate bars and disbanded their cliques, that the heads of government bureaus achieved no special distinction, and that persons entering the four borders from other states no longer ventured to bring their own measuring cups and bushels with them. The local officials had smashed their gate bars and disbanded their cliques because they had learned to identify with their superiors.14 The heads of government bureaus achieved no special distinction because they looked on all tasks as being of equal distinction. Persons entering the four borders from other states no longer ventured to bring their own measuring cups and bushels with them because the feudal lords had ceased to distrust the local measures.

King Wen thereupon concluded that he had found a Great Teacher and, facing north as a sign of respect, he asked, “Could these methods of government be extended to the whole world?”

But the old man of Tsang looked blank and gave no answer, evasively mumbling some excuse; and when orders went out the next morning to make the attempt, the old man ran away the very same night and was never heard of again.

Yen Yuan questioned Confucius about this story, saying, “King Wen didn’t amount to very much after all, did he! And why did he have to resort to that business about the dream?”

“Quiet!” said Confucius. “No more talk from you! King Wen was perfection itself – how can there be any room for carping and criticism! The dream – that was just a way of getting out of a moment’s difficulty.”

Lieh Yu-k’ou was demonstrating his archery to Po-hun Wu-jen.15 He drew the bow as far as it would go, placed a cup of water on his elbow, and let fly. One arrow had no sooner left his thumb ring than a second was resting in readiness beside his arm guard, and all the while he stood like a statue.16 Po-hun Wu-jen said, “This is the archery of an archer, not the archery of a nonarcher! Try climbing up a high mountain with me, scrambling over the steep rocks to the very, brink of an eight-hundred-foot chasm – then we’ll see what kind of shooting you can do!”

Accordingly they proceeded to climb a high mountain, scrambling over the steep rocks to the brink of an eight-hundred-foot chasm. There Po-hun Wu-jen, turning his back to the chasm, walked backwards until his feet projected halfway off the edge of the cliff, bowed to Lieh Yu-k’ou, and invited him to come forward and join him. But Lieh Yu-k’ou cowered on the ground, sweat pouring down all the way to his heels. Po-hun Wu-jen said, “The Perfect Man may stare at the blue heavens above, dive into the Yellow Springs below, ramble to the end of the eight directions, yet his spirit and bearing undergo no change. And here you are in this cringing, eye-batting state of mind – if you tried to take aim now, you would be in certain peril!”

Chien Wu said to Sun-shu Ao, “Three times you have become premier, yet you didn’t seem to glory in it.17 Three times you were dismissed from the post, but you never looked glum over it. At first I doubted that this was really true, but now I stand before your very nose and see how calm and unconcerned you are. Do you have some unique way of using your mind?”

Sun-shu Ao replied, “How am I any better than other men? I considered that the coming of such an honor could not be fended off, and that its departure could not be prevented. As far as I was concerned, the question of profit or loss did not rest with me, and so I had no reason to put on a glum expression, that was all. How am I any better than other men? Moreover, I’m not really certain whether the glory resides in the premiership or in me. If it resides in the premiership, then it means nothing to me. And if it resides in me, then it means nothing to the premiership. Now I’m about to go for an idle stroll, to go gawking in the four directions. What leisure do I have to worry about who holds an eminent position and who a humble one?”

Confucius, hearing of the incident, said, “He was a True Man of old, the kind that the wise cannot argue with, the beautiful cannot seduce, the violent cannot intimidate; even Fu Hsi or the Yellow Emperor could not have befriended him. Life and death are great affairs, and yet they are no change to him – how much less to him are things like titles and stipends! With such a man, his spirit may soar over Mount T’ai without hindrance, may plunge into the deepest springs without getting wet, may occupy the meanest, most humble position without distress. He fills all Heaven and earth; and the more he gives to others, the more he has for himself.”

The king of Ch’u was sitting with the lord of Fan.18 After a little while, three of the king of Ch’u’s attendants reported that the state of Fan had been destroyed. The lord of Fan said, “The destruction of Fan is not enough to make me lose what I am intent on preserving.19 And if the destruction of Fan is not enough to make me lose what I preserve, then the preservation of Ch’u is not enough to make it preserve what it ought to preserve. Looking at it this way, then, Fan has not yet begun to be destroyed, and Ch’u has not yet begun to be preserved!”



KNOWLEDGE WANDERED North to the banks of the Black Waters, climbed the Knoll of Hidden Heights, and there by chance came upon Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing. Knowledge said to Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing, “There are some things I’d like to ask you. What sort of pondering, what sort of cogitation does it take to know the Way? What sort of surroundings, what sort of practices does it take to find rest in the Way? What sort of path, what sort of procedure will get me to the Way?”

Three questions he asked, but Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing didn’t answer. It wasn’t that he just didn’t answer – he didn’t know how to answer!

Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the White Waters of the south, climbed the summit of Dubiety Dismissed, and there caught sight of Wild-and-Witless. Knowledge put the same questions to Wild-and-Witless. “Ah – I know!” said Wild-and-Witless. “And I’m going to tell you.” But just as he was about to say something, he forgot what it was he was about to say.

Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the imperial palace, where he was received in audience by the Yellow Emperor, and posed his questions. The Yellow Emperor said, “Only when there is no pondering and no cogitation will you get to know the Way. Only when you have no surroundings and follow no practices will you find rest in the Way. Only when there is no path and no procedure can you get to the Way.”

Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, “You and I know, but those other two that I asked didn’t know. Which of us is right, I wonder?”

The Yellow Emperor said, “Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing – he’s the one who is truly right. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it. Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know. Therefore the sage practices the teaching that has no words.1 The Way cannot be brought to light; its virtue cannot be forced to come. But benevolence – you can put that into practice; you can discourse 2 on righteousness, you can dupe one another with rites. So it is said, When the Way was lost, then there was virtue; when virtue was lost, then there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost, then there was righteousness; when righteousness was lost, then there were rites. Rites are the frills of the Way and the forerunners of disorder.3 So it is said, He who practices the Way does less every day, does less and goes on doing less, until he reaches the point where he does nothing, does nothing and yet there is nothing that is not done.” Now that we’ve already become `things,’ if we want to return again to the Root, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time of it! The Great Man – he’s the only one who might find it easy.

“Life is the companion of death, death is the beginning of life. Who understands their workings? Man’s life is a coming-together of breath. If it comes together, there is life; if it scatters, there is death. And if life and death are companions to each other, then what is there for us to be anxious about?

“The ten thousand things are really one. We look on some as beautiful because they are rare or unearthly; we look on others as ugly because they are foul and rotten. But the foul and rotten may turn into the rare and unearthly, and the rare and unearthly may turn into the foul and rotten. So it is said, You have only to comprehend the one breath that is the world. The sage never ceases to value oneness.”

Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, “I asked Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing and he didn’t reply to me. It wasn’t that he merely didn’t reply to me – he didn’t know how to reply to me. I asked Wild-and-Witless and he was about to explain to me, though he didn’t explain anything. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t explain to me – but when he was about to explain, he forgot what it was. Now I have asked you and you know the answer. Why then do you say that you are nowhere near being right?”

The Yellow Emperor said, “Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing is the one who is truly right – because he doesn’t know. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so – because he forgets. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it – because we know.”

Wild-and-Witless heard of the incident and concluded that the Yellow Emperor knew what he was talking about.

Heaven and earth have their great beauties but do not speak of them; the four seasons have their clear-marked regularity but do not discuss it; the ten thousand things have their principles of growth but do not expound them. The sage seeks out the beauties of Heaven and earth and masters the principles of the ten thousand things. Thus it is that the Perfect Man does not act, the Great Sage does not move – they have perceived [the Way of ] Heaven and earth, we may say. This Way, whose spiritual brightness is of the greatest purity, joins with others in a hundred transformations. Already things are living or dead, round or square; no one can comprehend their source, yet here are the ten thousand things in all their stir and bustle, just as they have been since ancient times. Things as vast as the Six Realms have never passed beyond the border [of the Way]; things as tiny as an autumn hair must wait for it to achieve bodily form. There is nothing in the world that does not bob and sink, to the end of its days lacking fixity. The yin and yang, the four seasons follow one another in succession, each keeping to its proper place. Dark and hidden, [the Way] seems not to exist and yet it is there; lush and unbounded, it possesses no form but only spirit; the ten thousand things are shepherded by it, though they do not understand it – this is what is called the Source, the Root. This is what may be perceived in Heaven.

Nieh Ch’ueh asked P’i-i about the Way. P’i-i said, “Straighten up your body, unify your vision, and the harmony of Heaven will come to you. Call in your knowledge, unify your bearing, and the spirits will come to dwell with you. Virtue will be your beauty, the Way will be your home, and, stupid as a newborn calf, you will not try to find out the reason why.”

Before he had finished speaking, however, Nieh Ch’ueh fell sound asleep. P’i-i, immensely pleased, left and walked away, singing this song:

Body like a withered corpse,

mind like dead ashes,

true in the realness of knowledge,

not one to go searching for reasons,

dim dim, dark dark,

mindless, you cannot consult with him:

what kind of man is this

Shun asked Ch’eng, “Is it possible to gain possession of the Way?”

“You don’t even have possession of your own body – how could you possibly gain possession of the Way!”

“If I don’t have possession of my own body, then who does?” said Shun.

“It is a form lent you by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of life – it is a .harmony lent by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of your inborn nature and fate they are contingencies lent by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of your sons and grandsons – they are castoff skins lent by Heaven and earth. So it is best to walk without knowing where you are going, stay home without knowing what you are guarding, eat without knowing what you are tasting. All is the work of the Powerful Yang5 in the world. How then could it be possible to gain possession of anything?”

Confucius said to Lao Tan, “Today you seem to have a moment of leisure – may I venture to ask about the Perfect Way?”

Lao Tan said, “You must fast and practice austerities, cleanse and purge your mind, wash and purify your inner spirit, destroy and do away with your knowledge. The Way is abstruse and difficult to describe. But I will try to give you a rough outline of it.

“The bright and shining is born out of deep darkness; the ordered is born out of formlessness; pure spirit is born out of the Way. The body is born originally from this purity,6 and the ten thousand things give bodily form to one another through the process of birth. Therefore those with nine openings in the body are born from the womb; those with eight openings are born from eggs. [In the case of the Way] there is no trace of its coming, no limit to its going. Gateless, room-less, it is airy and open as the highways of the four directions. He who follows along with it will be strong in his four limbs, keen and penetrating in intellect, sharp-eared, bright-eyed, wielding his mind without wearying it, responding to things without prejudice. Heaven cannot help but be high, earth cannot help but be broad, the sun and moon cannot help but revolve, the ten thousand things cannot help but flourish. Is this not the Way?

“Breadth of learning does not necessarily mean knowledge; eloquence does not necessarily mean wisdom – therefore the sage rids himself of these things. That which can be increased without showing any sign of increase; that which can be diminished without suffering any diminution – that is what the sage holds fast to. Deep, unfathomable, it is like the sea; tall and craggy,7 it ends only, to begin again, transporting and weighing the ten thousand things without ever failing them. The `Way of the gentleman’ [which you preach] is mere superficiality, is it not? But what the ten thousand things all look to for sustenance, what never fails them – is this not the real Way?

“Here is a man of the Middle Kingdom, neither yin nor yang, living between heaven and earth. For a brief time only, he will be a man, and then he will return to the Ancestor. Look at him from the standpoint of the Source and his life is a mere gathering together of breath. And whether he dies young or lives to a great old age, the two fates will scarcely differ – a matter of a few moments, you might say. How, then, is it worth deciding that Yao is good and Chieh is bad?

“The fruits of trees and vines have their patterns and principles. Human relationships too, difficult as they are, have their relative order and precedence. The sage, encountering them, does not go against them; passing beyond, he does not cling to them. To respond to them in a spirit of harmony – this is virtue; to respond to them in a spirit of fellowship – this is the Way. Thus it is that emperors have raised themselves up and kings have climbed to power.

“Man’s life between heaven and earth is like the passing of a white colt glimpsed through a crack in the wall-whoosh!-and that’s the end. Overflowing, starting forth, there is nothing that does not come out; gliding away, slipping into silence, there is nothing that does not go back in. Having been transformed, things find themselves alive; another transformation and they are dead. Living things grieve over it, mankind mourns. But it is like the untying of the Heaven-lent bow-bag, the unloading of the Heaven-lent satchel – a yielding, a mild mutation, and the soul and spirit are on their way, the body following after, on at last to the Great Return.

“The formless moves to the realm of form; the formed moves back to the realm of formlessness. This all men alike understand. But it is not something to be reached by striving. The common run of men all alike debate how to reach it. But those who have reached it do not debate, and those who debate have not reached it. Those who peer with bright eyes will never catch sight of it. Eloquence is not as good as silence. The Way cannot be heard; to listen for it is not as good as plugging up your ears. This is called the Great Acquisition.”

Master Tung-kuo8 asked Chuang Tzu, “This thing called the Way – where does it exist?”

Chuang Tzu said, “There’s no place it doesn’t exist.”

“Come,” said Master Tung-kuo, “you must be more specific!”

“It is in the ant.”

“As low a thing as that?”

“It is in the panic grass.”

“But that’s lower still!”

“It is in the tiles and shards.”

“How can it be so low?”

“It is in the piss and shit!”

Master Tung-kuo made no reply.

Chuang Tzu said, “Sir, your questions simply don’t get at the substance of the matter. When Inspector Huo asked the superintendent of the market how to test the fatness of a pig by pressing it with the foot, he was told that the lower down on the pig you press, the nearer you come to the truth. But you must not expect to find the Way in any particular place – there is no thing that escapes its presence! Such is the Perfect Way, and so too are the truly great words. `Complete,’ `universal,’ `all-inclusive’ – these three are different words with the same meaning. All point to a single reality.

“Why don’t you try wandering with me to the Palace of Not-Even-Anything – identity and concord will be the basis of our discussions and they will never come to an end, never reach exhaustion. Why not join with me in inaction, in tranquil quietude, in hushed purity, in harmony and leisure? Already my will is vacant and blank. I go nowhere and don’t know how far I’ve gotten. I go and come and don’t know where to stop. I’ve already been there and back, and I don’t know when the journey is done. I ramble and relax in unbordered vastness; Great Knowledge enters in, and I don’t know where it will ever end.

“That which treats things as things is not limited by things. Things have their limits – the so-called limits of things. The unlimited moves to the realm of limits; the limited moves to the unlimited realm. We speak of the filling and emptying, the withering and decay of things. [The Way] makes them full and empty without itself filling or emptying; it makes them wither and decay without itself withering or decaying. It establishes root and branch but knows no root and branch itself; it determines when to store up or scatter but knows no storing or scattering itself.”

Ah Ho-kan and Shen Nung were studying together under Old Lung Chi.9 Shen Nung sat leaning on his armrest, the door shut, taking his daily nap, when at midday Ah Ho-kan threw open the door, entered and announced, “Old Lung is dead!”

Shen Nung, still leaning on the armrest, reached for his staff and jumped to his feet. Then he dropped the staff with a clatter and began to laugh, saying, ” My Heaven-sent Master – he knew how cramped and mean, how arrogant and willful I am, and so he abandoned me and died. My Master went off and died without ever giving me any wild words to open up my mind!”

Yen Kang-tiao, hearing of the incident, said, “He who embodies the Way has all the gentlemen of the world flocking to him. As far as the Way goes, Old Lung hadn’t gotten hold of a piece as big as the tip of an autumn hair, hadn’t found his way into one ten-thousandth of it – but even he knew enough to keep his wild words stored away and to die with them unspoken. How much more so, then, in the case of a man who embodies the Way! Look for it but it has no form, listen but it has no voice. Those who discourse upon it with other men speak of it as dark and mysterious. The Way that is discoursed upon is not the Way at all! “

At this point, Grand Puritv asked No-End, “Do you understand the Way?”

“I don’t understand it,” said No-End.

Then he asked No-Action, and No-Action said, “I understand the Way.”

“You say you understand the Way – is there some trick to it.

“There is.”

“What’s the trick?”

No-Action said, “I understand that the Way can exalt things and can humble them; that it can bind them together and can cause them to disperse.10 This is the trick by which I understand the Way.’

Grand Purity, having received these various answers, went and questioned No-Beginning, saying, “If this is how it is, then between No-End’s declaration that he doesn’t understand, and No-Action’s declaration that he does, which is right and which is wrong?”

No-Beginning said, “Not to understand is profound; to understand is shallow. Not to understand is to be on the inside; to understand is to be on the outside.”

Thereupon Grand Purity gazed up11 and sighed, saying, “Not to understand is to understand? To understand is not to understand? Who understands the understanding that does not understand?”

No-Beginning said, “The Way cannot be heard; heard, it is not the Way. The Way cannot be seen; seen, it is not the Way. The Way cannot be described; described, it is not the Way. That which gives form to the formed is itself formless – can you understand that? There is no name that fits the Way.”

No-Beginning continued, “He who, when asked about the Way, gives an answer does not understand the Way; and he who asked about the Way has not really heard the Way explained. The Way is not to be asked about, and even if it is asked about, there can be no answer. To ask about what cannot be asked about is to ask for the sky. To answer what cannot be answered is to try to split hairs. If the hair-splitter waits for the sky-asker,12 then neither will ever perceive the time and space that surround them on the outside, or understand the Great Beginning that is within. Such men can never trek across the K’un-lun, can never wander in the Great Void!” 13

Bright Dazzlement asked Non-Existence, “Sir, do you exist or do you not exist?” Unable to obtain any answer, Bright Dazzlement stared intently at the other’s face and form – all was vacuity and blankness. He stared all day but could see nothing, listened but could hear no sound, stretched out his hand but grasped nothing. “Perfect!” exclaimed Bright Dazzlement. “Who can reach such perfection? I can conceive of the existence of nonexistence, but not of the nonexistence of nonexistence. Yet this man has reached the stage of the nonexistence of nonexistence.14 How could I ever reach such perfection!”

The grand marshal’s buckle maker was eighty years old, yet he had not lost the tiniest part of his old dexterity. The grand marshal said, “What skill you have! Is there a special way to this?”

“I have a way.15 From the time I was twenty I have loved to forge buckles. I never look at other things – if it’s not a buckle, I don’t bother to examine it.”

Using this method of deliberately not using other things, he was able over the years to get some use out of it. And how much greater would a man be if, by the same method, he reached the point where there was nothing that he did not use! All things would come to depend on him.

Jan Ch’iu asked Confucius, “Is it possible to know anything about the time before Heaven and earth existed?”

Confucius said, “It is – the past is the present.”

Jan Ch’iu, failing to receive any further answer, retired. The following day he went to see Confucius again and said, “Yesterday I asked if it were possible to know anything about the time before Heaven and earth existed, and you, Master, replied, `It is – the past is the present.’ Yesterday that seemed quite clear to me, but today it seems very obscure. May I venture to ask what this means?”

Confucius said, “Yesterday it was clear because your spirit took the lead in receiving my words. Today, if it seems obscure, it is because you are searching for it with something other than spirit, are you not? There is no past and no present, no beginning and no end. Sons and grandsons existed before sons and grandsons existed – may we make such a statement?”

Jan Ch’iu had not replied when Confucius said, “Stop! – don’t answer! Do not use life to give life to death. Do not use death to bring death to life.” Do life and death depend upon each other? Both have that in them which makes them a single body. There is that which was born before Heaven and earth, but is it a thing? That which treats things as things is not a thing. Things that come forth can never precede all other things, because there were already things existing then; and before that, too, there were already things existing – so on without end. The sage’s love of mankind, which never comes to an end, is modeled on this principle.”

Yen Yuan said to Confucius, “Master, I have heard you say that there should be no going after anything, no welcoming anything. 17 May I venture to ask how one may wander in such realms?”

Confucius said, “The men of old changed on the outside but not on the inside. The men of today change on the inside but not on the outside. He who changes along with things is identical with him who does not change. Where is there change? Where is there no change? Where is there any friction with others? Never will he treat others with arrogance. But Hsi-wei had his park, the Yellow Emperor his garden, Shun his palace, T’ang and Wu their halls.18 And among gentlemen there were those like the Confucians and Mo-ists who became `teachers.’ As a result, people began using their `rights’ and `wrongs’ to push each other around. And how much worse are the men of today!

“The sage lives with things but does no harm to them, and he who does no harm to things cannot in turn be harmed by them. Only he who does no harm is qualified to join with other men in `going after’ or `welcoming.’

“The mountains and forests, the hills and fields fill us with overflowing delight and we are joyful. Our joy has not ended when grief comes trailing it. We have no way to bar the arrival of grief and joy, no way to prevent them from departing. Alas, the men of this world are no more than travelers, stopping now at this inn, now at that, all of them run by `things.’ They know the things they happen to encounter, but not those that they have never encountered. They know how to do the things they can do, but they can’t do the things they don’t know how to do. Not to know, not to be able to do – from these mankind can never escape. And yet there are those who struggle to escape from the inescapable – can you help but pity them? Perfect speech is the abandonment of speech; perfect action is the abandonment of action. To be limited to understanding only what is understood – this is shallow indeed!”



AMONG THE ATTENDANTS of Lao Tan was one Keng-sang Ch’u, who had mastered a portion of the Way of Lao Tan, and with it went north to live among the Mountains of Zigzag. His servants with their bright and knowing looks he discharged; his concubines with their tender and solicitous ways he put far away from him. Instead he shared his house with drabs and dowdies, and employed the idle and indolent to wait on him. He had been living there three years when Zigzag began to enjoy bountiful harvests, and the people of Zigzag said to one another, “When Master Keng-sang first came among us, we were highly suspicious of him. But now, if we figure by the day, there never seems to be enough, but if we figure by the year, there’s always some left over! It might just be that he’s a sage! Why don’t we make him our impersonator of the dead and pray to him, turn over to him our altars of the soil and grain?”

When Master Keng-sang heard this, he faced south with a look of displeasure.1 His disciples thought this strange, but Master Keng-sang said, “Why should you wonder that I am displeased? When the breath of spring comes forth, the hundred grasses begin to grow, and later, when autumn visits them, their ten thousand fruits swell and ripen. Yet how could spring and autumn do other than they do? – the Way of Heaven has already set them in motion. I have heard that the Perfect Man dwells corpse-like in his little four-walled room, leaving the hundred clans to their uncouth and uncaring ways, not knowing where they are going, where they are headed. But now these petty people of Zigzag in their officious and busy-body fashion want to bring their sacrificial stands and platters and make me one of their `worthies’! Am I to be held up as a model for men? That is why, remembering the words of Lao Tan, I am so displeased!”

“But there’s no need for that!” said his disciples. “In a ditch eight or sixteen feet wide the really big fish doesn’t even have room to turn around, yet the minnows and loaches think it ample. On a knoll no more than five or ten paces in height the really big animal doesn’t even have room to hide, yet the wily foxes think it ideal. Moreover, to honor the worthy and assign office to the able, according them precedence and conferring benefits on them – this has been the custom from the ancient days of the sages Yao and Shun. How much more so, then, should it be the custom among the common people of Zigzag. Why not go ahead and heed their demands, Master?”

Master Keng-sang said, “Come nearer, my little ones! A beast large enough to gulp down a carriage, if he sets off alone and leaves the mountains, cannot escape the perils of net and snare; a fish large enough to swallow a boat, if he is tossed up by the waves and left stranded, is bound to fall victim to ants and crickets.2 Therefore birds and beasts don’t mind how high they climb to escape danger, fish and turtles don’t mind how deep they dive. So the man who would preserve his body and life must think only of how to hide himself away, not minding how remote or secluded the spot may be.

“And as for those two you mentioned -Yao and Shun – how are they worthy to be singled out for praise? With their nice distinctions they are like a man who goes around willfully poking holes in people’s walls and fences and planting weeds and brambles in them, like a man who picks out which hairs of his head he intends to comb before combing it, who counts the grains of rice before he cooks them. Such bustle and officiousness – how can it be of any use in saving the age? Promote men of worth and the people begin trampling over each other; employ men of knowledge and the people begin filching from each other. Such procedures will do nothing to make the people ingenuous. Instead the people will only grow more diligent in their pursuit of gain, till there are sons who kill their fathers, ministers who kill their lords, men who filch at high noon, who bore holes through walls in broad daylight. I tell you, the source of all great confusion will invariably be found to lie right there with Yao and Shun! And a thousand generations later, it will still be with us. A thousand generations later – mark my word – there will be men who will eat each other up!”

Nan-Jung Chu straightened up on his mat with a perplexed look and said, “A man like myself who’s already on in years – what sort of studies is he to undertake in order to attain this state you speak of?”

Master Keng-sang said, “Keep the body whole, cling fast to life! Do not fall prey to the fidget and fuss of thoughts and scheming. If you do this for three years, then you can attain the state I have spoken of.”

Nan-Jung Chu said, “The eyes are part of the body – I have never thought them anything else – yet the blind man cannot see with his. The ears are part of the body – I have never thought them anything else – yet the deaf man cannot hear with his. The mind is part of the body – I have never thought it anything else – yet the madman cannot comprehend with his. The body too must be part of the body – surely they are intimately connected.3 Yet – is it because something intervenes? – I try to seek my body, but I cannot find it. Now you tell me, `Keep the body whole, cling fast to life! Do not fall prey to the fidget and fuss of thoughts and scheming.’ As hard as I try to understand your explanation of the Way, I’m afraid your words penetrate no farther than my ears.” 4

“I’ve said all I can say,” exclaimed Master Keng-sang. “The saying goes, mud daubers have no power to transform caterpillars.5 The little hens of Yueh cannot hatch goose eggs, though the larger hens of Lu can do it well enough. It isn’t that one kind of hen isn’t just as henlike as the other. One can and the other can’t because their talents just naturally differ in size. Now I’m afraid my talents are not sufficient to bring about any transformation in you. Why don’t you go south and visit Lao Tzu? “

Nan-Jung Chu packed up his provisions and journeyed for seven days and seven nights until he came to Lao Tzu’s place. Lao Tzu said, “Did you come from Keng-sang Ch’u’s place?”

“Yes Sir,” said Nan-Jung Chu.

“Why did you come with all this crowd of people?” asked Lao Tzu.

Nan-Jung Chu, astonished, turned to look behind him.

“Don’t you know what I mean?” asked Lao Tzu.

Nan-Jung Chu hung his head in shame and then, looking up with a sigh, said, “Now I’ve even forgotten the right answer to that, so naturally I can’t ask any questions of my own.”

“What does that mean?” asked Lao Tzu.

“If I say I don’t know, then people call me an utter fool,” said Nan-Jung Chu. “But if I say I do know, then on the contrary I bring worry on myself. If I am not benevolent, I harm others; but if I am benevolent, then on the contrary I make trouble for myself. If I am not righteous, I do injury to others; but if I am righteous, then on the contrary I distress myself. How can I possibly escape from this state of affairs? It is these three dilemmas that are harassing me, and so, through Keng-sang Chu’s introduction, I have come to beg an explanation.”

Lao Tzu said, “A moment ago, when I looked at the space between your eyebrows and eyelashes, I could tell what kind of person you are. And now what you have said confirms it. You are confused and crestfallen, as though you had lost your father and mother and were setting off with a pole to fish for them in the sea. You are a lost man – hesitant and unsure, you want to return to your true form and inborn nature but you have no way to go about it – a pitiful sight indeed!”

Nan-jung Chu asked to be allowed to repair to his quarters. There he tried to cultivate his good qualities and rid himself of his bad ones; and after ten days of making himself miserable, he went to see Lao Tzu again. Lao Tzu said, “You have been very diligent in your washing and purifying – as I can see from your scrubbed and shining look. But there is still something smoldering away inside you – it would seem that there are bad things there yet. When outside things trip you up and you can’t snare and seize them, then bar the inside gate. When inside things trip you up and you can’t bind and seize them, then bar the outside gate. If both outside and inside things trip you up, then even the Way and its virtue themselves can’t keep you going – much less one who is a mere follower of the Way in his actions.”6

Nan-Jung Chu said, “When a villager gets sick and his neighbors ask him how he feels, if he is able to describe his illness, it means he can still recognize his illness as an illness – and so he isn’t all that ill. But now if I were to ask about the Great Way, it would be like drinking medicine that made me sicker than before. What I would like to ask about is simply the basic rule of life-preservation, that is all.”

Lao Tzu said, “Ah – the basic rule of life-preservation. Can you embrace the One? Can you keep from losing it? Can you, without tortoise shell or divining stalks, foretell fortune and misfortune? Do you know where to stop, do you know where to leave off? Do you know how to disregard it in others and instead look for it in yourself? Can you be brisk and unflagging? Can you be rude and unwitting? Can you be a little baby? The baby howls all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse – harmony at its height! 7 The baby makes fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped – virtue is all it holds to. The baby stares all day without blinking its eyes – it has no preferences in the world of externals. To move without knowing where you are going, to sit at home without knowing what you are doing, traipsing and trailing about with other things, riding along with them on the same wave – this is the basic rule of life-preservation, this and nothing more.”

Nan-Jung Chu said, “Then is this all there is to the virtue of the Perfect Man?”

“Oh, no! This is merely what is called the freeing of the icebound, the thawing of the frozen. Can you do it? 8 The Perfect Man joins with others in seeking his food from the earth, his pleasures in Heaven. But he does not become embroiled with them in questions of people and things, profit and loss. He does not join them in their shady doings, he does not join them in their plots, he does not join them in their projects. Brisk and unflagging, he goes; rude and unwitting, he comes. This is what is called the basic rule of life-preservation.”

“Then is this the highest stage?”

“Not yet! Just a moment ago I said to you, `Can you be a baby?’ The baby acts without knowing what it is doing, moves without knowing where it is going. Its body is like the limb of a withered tree, its mind like dead ashes. Since it is so, no bad fortune will ever touch it, and no good fortune will come to it either. And if it is free from good and bad fortune, then what human suffering can it undergo?”

He whose inner being rests in the Great Serenity will send forth a Heavenly light. But though he sends forth a Heavenly light, men will see him as a man and things will see him as a thing. When a man has trained himself to this degree, then for the first time he achieves constancy. Because he possesses constancy, men will come to lodge with him and Heaven will be his helper. Those whom men come to lodge with may be called the people of Heaven; those whom Heaven aids may be called the sons of Heaven.

Learning means learning what cannot be learned; practicing means practicing what cannot be practiced; discriminating means discriminating what cannot be discriminated. Understanding that rests in what it cannot understand is the finest.9 If you do not attain this goal, then Heaven the Equalizer will destroy you.

Utilize the bounty of things and let them nourish your body; withdraw into thoughtlessness and in this way give life to your mind; be reverent of what is within and extend this same reverence to others. If you do these things and yet are visited by ten thousand evils, then all are Heaven-sent and not the work of man. They should not be enough to destroy your composure; they must not be allowed to enter the Spirit Tower.10 The Spirit Tower has its guardian, but unless it understands who its guardian is, it cannot be guarded.

If you do not perceive the sincerity within yourself and yet try to move forth, each movement will miss the mark. If outside concerns enter and are not expelled, each movement will only add failure to failure. He who does what is not good in clear and open view will be seized and punished by men. He who does what is not good in the shadow of darkness will be seized and punished by ghosts. Only he who clearly understands both men and ghosts will be able to walk alone.”

He who concentrates upon the internal does deeds that bring no fame. He who concentrates upon the external sets his mind upon the hoarding of goods. 12 He who does deeds that bring no fame is forever the possessor of light. He who sets his mind upon the hoarding of goods is a mere merchant. To other men’s eyes he seems to be straining on tiptoe in his greed, yet he thinks himself a splendid fellow. If a man goes along with things to the end, then things will come to him. But if he sets up barriers against things, then he cannot find room enough even for himself, much less for others. He who can find no room for others lacks fellow feeling, and to him who lacks fellow feeling, all men are strangers. There is no weapon more deadly than the will – even Mo-yeh is inferior to it.13 There are no enemies greater than the yin and yang – because nowhere between heaven and earth can you escape from them. It is not that the yin and yang deliberately do you evil – it is your own mind that makes them act so.14

The Way permeates all things. Their dividedness is their completeness, their completeness is their impairment.15 What is hateful about this state of dividedness is that men take their dividedness and seek to supplement it; and what is hateful about attempts to supplement it is that they are a mere supplementation of what men already have. So they go forth and forget to return – they act as though they had seen a ghost. They go forth and claim to have gotten something – what they have gotten is the thing called death. They are wiped out and choked off – already a kind of ghost themselves. Only when that which has form learns to imitate the formless will it find serenity.

It comes out from no source, it goes back in through no aperture. It has reality yet no place where it resides; it has duration yet no beginning or end. Something emerges, though through no aperture – this refers to the fact that it has reality. It has reality yet there is no place where it resides – this refers to the dimension of space. It has duration but no beginning or end – this refers to the dimension of time. There is life, there is death, there is a coming out, there is a going back in – yet in the coming out and going back its form is never seen.16 This is called the Heavenly Gate. The Heavenly Gate is nonbeing. The ten thousand things come forth from nonbeing. Being cannot create being out of being; inevitably it must come forth from nonbeing. Nonbeing is absolute nonbeing, and it is here that the sage hides himself.

The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed – so far, to the end, where nothing can be added. Those at the next stage thought that things exist.17 They looked upon life as a loss, upon death as a return – thus they had already entered the state of dividedness. Those at the next stage said, “In the beginning there was nonbeing. Later there was life, and when there was life suddenly there was death. We look upon nonbeing as the head, on life as the body, on death as the rump. Who knows that being and nonbeing, life and death are a single way? 18 I will be his friend!”

These three groups, while differing in their viewpoint, belong to the same royal clan; though, as in the case of the Chao and Ching families,. whose names indicate their line of succession, and that of the Ch’i! family, whose name derives from its fief, they are not identical.19

Out of the murk, things come to life. With cunning you declare, “We must analyze this!” You try putting your analysis in words, though it is not something to be put into words. You cannot, however, attain understanding. At the winter sacrifice, you can point to the tripe or the hoof of the sacrificial ox, which can be considered separate things, and yet in a sense cannot be considered separate. A man who goes to look at a house will walk all around the chambers and ancestral shrines, but he will also go to inspect the privies. And so for this reason you launch into your analysis.20

Let me try describing this analysis of yours. It takes life as its basis and knowledge as its teacher, and from there proceeds to assign “right” and “wrong.” So in the end we have “names” and “realities,” and accordingly each man considers himself to be their arbiter. In his efforts to make other men appreciate his devotion to duty, for example, he will go so far as to accept death as his reward for devotion. To such men, he who is useful is considered wise, he who is of no use is considered stupid. He who is successful wins renown; he who runs into trouble is heaped with shame. Analyzers – that is what the men of today are! 21 They are like the cicada and the little dove, who agreed because they were two of a kind .22

If you step on a stranger’s foot in the market place, you apologize at length for your carelessness. If you step on your older brother’s foot, you give him an affectionate pat, and if you step on your parent’s foot, you know you are already forgiven. So it is said, Perfect ritual makes no distinction of persons; perfect righteousness takes no account of things; perfect knowledge does not scheme; perfect benevolence knows no affection; perfect trust dispenses with gold.23

Wipe out the delusions of the will, undo the snares of the heart, rid yourself of the entanglements to virtue; open up the roadblocks in the Way. Eminence and wealth, recognition and authority, fame and profit – these six are the delusions of the will. Appearances and carriage, complexion and features, temperament and attitude – these six are the snares of the heart. Loathing and desire, joy and anger, grief and happiness – these six are the entanglements of virtue. Rejecting and accepting, taking and giving, knowledge and ability – these six are the roadblocks of the Way. When these four sixes no longer seethe within the breast, then you will achieve uprightness; being upright, you will be still; being still, you will be enlightened; being enlightened, you will be empty; and being empty, you will do nothing, and yet there will be nothing that is not done.

The Way is virtue’s idol. Life is virtue’s light. The inborn nature is the substance of life. The inborn nature in motion is called action. Action which has become artificial is called loss. Understanding reaches out, understanding plots. But the understanding of that which is not to be understood is a childlike stare. Action which is done because one cannot do otherwise is called virtue. Action in which there is nothing other than self is called good order. In definition the two seem to be opposites but in reality they agree.

Archer Yi was skilled at hitting the smallest target but clumsy in not preventing people from praising him for it. The sage is skilled in what pertains to Heaven but clumsy in what pertains to man. To be skilled in Heavenly affairs and good at human ones as well – only the Complete Man can encompass that. Only bugs can be bugs because only bugs can abide by Heaven. The Complete Man hates Heaven, and hates the Heavenly in man. How much more, then, does he hate the “I” who distinguishes between Heaven and man. 24

If a single sparrow came within Archer Yi’s range, he was sure to bring it down – impressive shooting. But he might have made the whole world into a cage, and then the sparrows would have had no place to flee to. That was the way it was when T’ang caged Yi Yin by making him a cook and Duke Mu caged Po-li Hsi for the price of five ram skins.25 But if you hope to get a man, you must cage him with what he likes or you will never succeed.

The man who has had his feet cut off in punishment discards his fancy clothes – because praise and blame no longer touch him. The chained convict climbs the highest peak without fear – because he has abandoned all thought of life and death. These two are submissive 26 and unashamed because they have forgotten other men, and by forgetting other men they have become men of Heaven. Therefore you may treat such men with respect and they will not be pleased; you may treat them with contumely and they will not be angry. Only because they are one with the Heavenly Harmony can then be like this.

If he who bursts out in anger is not really angry, then his anger is an outburst of nonanger. If he who launches into action is not really acting, then his action is a launching into inaction. He who wishes to be still must calm his energies; he who wishes to be spiritual must compose his mind; he who in his actions wishes to hit the mark must go along with what he cannot help doing. Those things that you cannot help doing – they represent the Way of the sage.



THROUGH NU SHANG, the recluse Hsu Wu-kuei obtained an interview with Marquis Wu of Wei. Marquis Wu greeted him with words of comfort, saying, “Sir, you are not well. I suppose that the hardships of life in the mountain forests have become too much for you, and so at last you have consented to come and visit me.”

“I am the one who should be comforting you!” said Hsu Wu-kuei. “What reason have you to comfort me? If you try to fulfill all your appetites and desires and indulge your likes and dislikes, then you bring affliction to the true form of your inborn nature and fate. And if you try to deny your appetites and desires and forcibly change your likes and dislikes, then you bring affliction to your ears and eyes. It is my place to comfort you – what reason have you to comfort me!”

Marquis Wu, looking very put out, made no reply.

After a little while, Hsu Wu-kuei said, “Let me try telling you about the way I judge dogs. A dog of the lowest quality thinks only of catching its fill of prey – that is, it has the nature of a wildcat. One of middling quality seems always to be looking up at the sun.1 But one of the highest quality acts as though it had lost its own identity. And I’m even better at judging horses than I am at judging dogs. When I judge a horse, if he can gallop as straight as a plumb line, arc as neat as a curve, turn as square as a T square, and round as true as a compass, then I’d say he was a horse for the kingdom to boast of. But not a horse for the whole world to boast of. A horse the whole world can boast of – his talents are already complete. He seems dazed, he seems lost, he seems to have become unaware of his own identity, and in this way he overtakes, passes, and leaves the others behind in the dust. You can’t tell where he’s gone to!”

Marquis Wu, greatly pleased, burst out laughing.

When Hsu Wu-kuei emerged from the interview, Nu Shang said, “Sir, may I ask what you were talking to our ruler about? When I talk to him, I talk to him back and forth about the Odes and Documents, about ritual and music; and then I talk to him up and down about the Golden Tablets and the Six Bow-cases.2 I have made proposals that led to outstanding success in more cases than can be counted, and yet he never so much as bared his teeth in a smile. Now what were you talking to him about that you managed to delight him in this fashion?”

Hsu Wu-kuei said, “I was merely explaining to him how I judge dogs and horses, that was all.”

“Was that all?” said Nu Shang.

“Haven’t you ever heard about the men who are exiled to Yueh?” said Hsu Wu-kuei. “A few days after they have left their homelands, they are delighted if they come across an old acquaintance. When a few weeks or a month have passed, they are delighted if they come across someone they had known by sight when they were at home. And by the time a year has passed, they are delighted if they come across someone who even looks as though he might be a countryman. The longer they are away from their countrymen, the more deeply they long for them – isn’t that it? A man who has fled into the wilderness, where goosefoot and woodbine tangle the little trails of the polecat and the weasel, and has lived there in emptiness and isolation for a long time, will be delighted if he hears so much as the rustle of a human footfall. And how much more so if he hears his own brothers and kin chattering and laughing at his side! It has been a long time, I think, since one who speaks like a True Man has sat chattering and laughing at our ruler’s side.”

Hsu Wu-kuei was received in audience by Marquis Wu. “Sir,” said Marquis Wu, “for a long time now you have lived in your mountain forest, eating acorns and chestnuts, getting along on wild leeks and scallions, and scorning me completely. Now is it old age, or perhaps a longing for the taste of meat and wine, that has brought you here? Or perhaps you have come to bring blessing to my altars of the soil and grain.”

Hsu Wu-kuei said, “I was born to poverty and lowliness and have never ventured to eat or drink any of your wine or meat, my lord. I have come in order to comfort you.”

“What?” said the ruler. “Why should you comfort me?”

“I want to bring comfort to your spirit and body.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Marquis Wu.

Hsi! Wu-kuei said, “Heaven and earth provide nourishment for all things alike. To have ascended to a high position cannot be considered an advantage; to live in lowliness cannot be considered a handicap. Now you, as sole ruler of this land of ten thousand chariots, may tax the resources of the entire populace of your realm in nourishing the appetites of your ears and eyes, your nose and mouth. But the spirit will not permit such a way of life. The spirit loves harmony and hates licentiousness. Licentiousness is a kind of sickness, and that is why I have come to offer my comfort. I just wonder, my lord, how aware you are of your own sickness.” 3

Marquis Wu said, “I have in fact been hoping to see you for a long time, Sir. I would like to cherish my people, practice righteousness, and lay down the weapons of war – how would that do?”

“It won’t!” said Hsu Wu-kuei “To cherish the people is to open the way to harming them! To practice righteousness and lay down your weapons is to sow the seeds for more weapon-wielding! If you go at it this way, I’m afraid you will never succeed. All attempts to create something admirable are the weapons of evil. You may think you are practising benevolence and righteousness, but in effect you will be creating a kind of artificiality. Where a model exists, copies will be made of it; where success has been gained, boasting follows; where debate4 exists, there will be outbreaks of hostility. On the other hand, it will not do, my lord, to have files of marching soldiers filling the whole area within your fortress towers, or ranks of cavalry drawn up before the Palace of the Black Altar. Do not store in your heart what is contrary to your interests. Do not try to outdo others in skill. Do not try to overcome others by stratagems. Do not try to conquer others in battle. If you kill the officials and people of another ruler and annex his lands, using them to nourish your personal desires and your spirit, then I cannot say which contender is the better fighter, and to which the real victory belongs! If you must do something, cultivate the sincerity which is in your breast and use it to respond without opposition to the true form of Heaven and earth. Then the people will have won their reprieve from death. What need will there be for you to resort to this `laying down of weapons’?”

The Yellow Emperor set out to visit Great Clod at Chi!-tz’u Mountain.5 Fang Ming was his carriage driver, while Ch’ang Yu rode at his right side; Chang Jo and Hsi P’eng led the horses and K’un Hun and Ku Chi followed behind the carriage. By the time they reached the wilds of Hsiang-ch’eng, all seven sages had lost their way and could find no one to ask directions from. Just then they happened upon a young boy herding horses, and asked him for directions. “Do you know the way to Chu-tz’u Mountain?” they inquired.


“And do you know where Great Clod is to be found?”


“What an astonishing young man!” said the Yellow Emperor. “You not only know the way to Chu-tz’u Mountain, but you even know where Great Clod is to be found! Do you mind if I ask you about how to govern the empire?”

“Governing the empire just means doing what I’m doing here, doesn’t it?” said the young boy. “What is there special about it? When I was little, I used to go wandering within the Six Realms, but in time I contracted a disease that blurred my eyesight. An elderly gentleman advised me to mount on the chariot of the sun and go wandering in the wilds of Hsiang-ch’eng, and now my illness is getting a little better. Soon I can go wandering once more, this time beyond the Six Realms. Governing the empire just means doing what I’m doing – I don’t see why it has to be anything special.”

“It’s true that the governing of the empire is not something that need concern you, Sir,” said the Yellow Emperor. “Nevertheless, I would like to ask you how it should be done.”

The young boy made excuses, but when the Yellow Emperor repeated his request, the boy said, “Governing the empire I suppose is not much different from herding horses. Get rid of whatever is harmful to the horses – that’s all.”

The Yellow Emperor, addressing the boy as “Heavenly Master,” bowed twice, touching his head to the ground, and retired.

The wise man is not happy without the modulations of idea and thought; the rhetorician is not happy without the progression of argument and rebuttal; the examiner is not happy without the tasks of interrogation and intimidation. All are penned in by these things. Men who attract the attention of the age win glory at court; men who hit it off well with the people shine in public office; men of strength and sinew welcome hardship; men of bravery and daring are spurred on by peril; men of arms and armor delight in combat; men of haggard hermit looks reach out for fame; men of laws and regulations long for broader legislation; men of ritual and instruction revere appearances; men of benevolence and righteousness value human relationships. The farmer is not content if he does not have his work in the fields and weed patches; the merchant is not content if he does not have his affairs at the market place and wellside. The common people work hardest when they have their sunup to sundown occupations; the hundred artisans are most vigorous when they are exercising their skills with tools and machines. If his goods and coin do not pile up, the greedy man frets; if his might and authority do not increase, the ambitious man grieves. Servants to circumstance and things, they delight in change, and if the moment comes when they can put their talents to use, then they cannot keep from acting. In this way they all follow along with the turning years, letting themselves be changed by things.6 Driving their bodies and natures on and on, they drown in the ten thousand things, and to the end of their days never turn back. Pitiful, are they not?

Chuang Tzu said, “If an archer, without taking aim at the mark, just happens to hit it, and we dub him a skilled archer, then everyone in the world can be an Archer Yi – all right?”

“All right,” said Hui Tzu.

Chuang Tzu said, “If there is no publicly accepted `right’ in the world, but each person takes right to be what he himself thinks is right, then everyone in the world can be a Yao -all right?”

“All right,” said Hui Tzu.

Chuang Tzu said, “Well then, here are the four schools of the Confucians, Mo, Yang, and Ping,7 and with your own that makes five. Now which of you is in fact right? Or is it perhaps like the case of Lu Chu? His disciple said to him, `Master, I have grasped your Way. I can build a fire under the caldron in winter and make ice in summer.’ `But that is simply using the yang to attract the yang, and the yin to attract the yin,’ said Lu Chu.8 `That is not what I call the Way! I will show you my Way!’ Thereupon he tuned two lutes, placed one in the hall, and the other in an inner room. When he struck the kung note on one lute, the kung on the other lute sounded; when he struck the chueh note, the other chueh sounded – the pitch of the two instruments was in perfect accord. Then he changed the tuning of one string so that it no longer corresponded to any of the five notes. When he plucked this string, it set all the twenty-five strings of the other instrument to jangling. But he was still using sounds to produce his effect; in this case it just happened to be the note that governs the other notes. Now is this the way it is in your case?” 9

Hui Tzu said, “The followers of Confucius, Mo, Yang, and Ping often engage with me in debate, each of us trying to overwhelm the others with phrases and to silence them with shouts – but so far they have never proved me wrong. So what do you make of that?”

Chuang Tzu said, “A man of Ch’i sold his own son into service in Sung, having dubbed him Gatekeeper and maimed him;10 but when he acquired any bells or chimes, he wrapped them up carefully to prevent breakage. Another man went looking for a lost son, but was unwilling to go any farther than the border in his search – there are men as mixed up as this, you know. Or like the man of Ch’u who had been maimed and sold into service as a gatekeeper and who, in the middle of the night, when no one else was around, picked a fight with the boatman. Though he didn’t actually arouse any criticism, what he did was enough to create the grounds for a nasty grudge.” 11

Chuang Tzu was accompanying a funeral when he passed by the grave of Hui Tzu. Turning to his attendants, he said, “There was once a plasterer who, if he got a speck of mud on the tip of his nose no thicker than a fly’s wing, would get his friend Carpenter Shih to slice it off for him. Carpenter Shih, whirling his hatchet with a noise like the wind, would accept the assignment and proceed to slice, removing every bit of mud without injury to the nose, while the plasterer just stood there completely unperturbed. Lord Yuan of Sung, hearing of this feat, summoned Carpenter Shih and said, `Could you try performing it for me?’ But Carpenter Shih replied, `It’s true that I was once able to slice like that – but the material I worked on has been dead these many years.’ Since you died, Master Hui, I have had no material to work on. There’s no one I can talk to any more.”

When Kuan Chung fell ill, Duke Huan went to inquire how he was. 12 “Father Chung,” he said, “you are very ill. If – can I help but say it? – if your illness should become critical, then to whom could I entrust the affairs of the state?”

Kuan Chung said, “To whom would Your Grace like to entrust them?”

“Pao Shu-ya,” said the duke.

“That will never do! He is a fine man, a man of honesty and integrity. But he will have nothing to do with those who are not like himself. And if he once hears of someone’s error, he won’t forget it to the end of his days. If he were given charge of the state, he would be sure to tangle with you on the higher level and rile the people below him. It would be no time at all before he did something you considered unpardonable.”

“Well then, who will do?” asked the duke.

“If I must give an answer, then I would say that Hsi P’eng will do. He forgets those in high places and does not abandon those in low ones.13 He is ashamed that he himself is not like the Yellow Emperor, and pities those who are not like himself. He who shares his virtue with others is called a sage; he who shares his talents with others is called a worthy man. If he uses his worth in an attempt to oversee others,. then he will never win their support; but if he uses it to humble himself before others, then he will never fail to win their support. With such a man, there are things within the state that he doesn’t bother to hear about, things within the family that he doesn’t bother to look after. If I must give an answer, I would say that Hsi P’eng will do.”

The king of Wu, boating on the Yangtze, stopped to climb a mountain noted for its monkeys. When the pack of monkeys saw him, they dropped what they were doing in terror and scampered off to hide in the deep brush. But there was one monkey who, lounging about nonchalantly, picking at things, scratching, decided to display his skill to the king. When the king shot at him, he snatched hold of the flying arrows with the greatest nimbleness and speed. The king thereupon ordered his attendants to hurry forward and join in the shooting, and the monkey was soon captured and killed. The king turned to his friend Yen Pu-i and said, “This monkey, flouting its skill, trusting to its tricks, deliberately displayed its contempt for me – so it met with this end. Take warning from it! Ah – you must never let your expression show arrogance toward others! “

When Yen Pu-i returned, he put himself under the instruction of Tung Wu, learning to wipe the expression from his face, to discard delight, to excuse himself from renown – and at the end of three years everyone in the state was praising him.

Tzu-ch’i of Nan-po14 sat leaning on his armrest, staring up at the sky and breathing. Yen Ch’eng-tzu entered and said, “Master, you surpass all other things! Can you really make the body like a withered tree and the mind like dead ashes?”

“Once I lived in a mountain cave. At that time, T’ien Ho came to pay me one visit and the people of the state of Ch’i congratulated him three times.15 I must have had hold of16 something in order for him to find out who I was; I must have been peddling something in order for him to come and buy. If I had not had hold of something, then how would he have been able to find out who I was? If I had not been peddling something, then how would he have been able to buy? Ah, how I pitied those men who destroy themselves! Then again, I pitied those who pity others; and again, I pitied those who pity those who pity others. But all that was long ago.”

When Confucius visited Ch’u, the king of Ch’u ordered a toast. Sun-shu Ao came forward and stood with the wine goblet, while I-liao from south of the Market took some of the wine and poured a libation, saying, “[You have the wisdom of] the men of old, have you not? On this occasion perhaps you would speak to us about it.”

Confucius said, “I have heard of the speech that is not spoken, though I have never tried to speak about it. Shall I

take this occasion to speak about it now? I-liao from south of the Market juggled a set of balls and the trouble between the two houses was resolved. Sun-shu Ao rested comfortably, waving his feather fan, and the men of Ying put away their arms. I wish I had a beak three feet long!” 17

These were men who followed what is called the Way that is not a way, and this exchange of theirs is what is called the debate that is not spoken. Therefore, when virtue is resolved in the unity of the Way and words come to rest at the place where understanding no longer understands, we have perfection. The unity of the Way is something that virtue can never master;18 what understanding does not understand is something that debate can never encompass. To apply names in the manner of the Confucians and Mo-ists is to invite evil. The sea does not refuse the rivers that come flowing eastward into it – it is the perfection of greatness. The sage embraces all heaven and earth, and his bounty extends to the whole world, yet no one knows who he is or what family he belongs to. For this reason, in life he holds no titles, in death he receives no posthumous names. Realities do not gather about him, names do not stick to him – this is what is called the Great Man.

A dog is not considered superior merely because it is good at barking; a man is not considered worthy merely because he is good at speaking. Much less, then, is he to be considered great. That which has become great does not think it worth trying to become great, much less to become virtuous. Nothing possesses a larger measure of greatness than Heaven and earth, yet when have they ever gone in search of greatness? He who understands what it means to possess greatness does not seek, does not lose, does not reject, and does not change himself for the sake of things. He returns to himself and finds the inexhaustible; he follows antiquity and discovers the imperishable – this is the sincerity of the Great Man.

Tzu-ch’i had eight sons and, lining them up in front of him, he summoned Chiu-fang Yin and said, “Please physiognomize my sons for me and tell me which one is destined for good fortune.”

Chiu-fang Yin replied, “K’un – he is the one who will be fortunate.”

Tzu-ch’i, both astonished and pleased, said, “How so?”

“K’un will eat the same food as the lord of a kingdom, and will continue to do so to the end of his days.”

Tears sprang from Tzu-ch’i’s eyes, and in great dejection he said, “Why should my boy be brought to this extreme?”

“He who eats the same food as the ruler of a kingdom will bring bounty to all his three sets of relatives, not to mention his own father and mother,” said Chiu-fang Yin. “Yet now when you hear of this, Sir, you burst out crying – this will only drive the blessing away! The son is auspicious enough, but the father is decidedly inauspicious!”

Tzu-ch’i said, “Yin, what would you know about this sort of thing! You say K’un will be fortunate – but you are speaking solely of the meat and wine that are to affect his nose and mouth. How could you understand where such things come from! Suppose, although I have never been a shepherd, a flock of ewes were suddenly to appear in the southwest corner of my grounds; or that, although I have no taste for hunting, a covey of quail should suddenly appear in the southeast corner – if this were not to be considered peculiar, then what would be? When my son and I go wandering, we wander through Heaven and earth. He and I seek our delight in Heaven and our food from the earth. He and I do not engage in any undertakings, do not engage in any plots, do not engage in any peculiarities. He and I ride on the sincerity of Heaven and earth and do not allow things to set us at odds with it. He and I stroll and saunter in unity, but never do we try to do what is appropriate to the occasion. Now you tell me of this vulgar and worldly `reward’ that is to come to him. As a rule, where there is some peculiar manifestation, there must invariably have been some peculiar deed to call it forth. But surely this cannot be due to any fault of my son and me – it must be inflicted by Heaven. It is for this reason that I weep!”

Not long afterwards, Tzu-ch’i sent his son K’un on an errand to the state of Yen, and along the way he was seized by bandits. They considered that he would be difficult to sell as a slave in his present state, but that if they cut off his feet they could dispose of him easily.19 Accordingly they cut off his feet and sold him in the state of Ch’i. As it happened, he was made gatekeeper of the inner chamber in the palace of Duke K’ang,20 and so was able to eat meat until the end of his days.

Nieh Ch’ueh happened to meet Hsi! Yu. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m running away from Yao.”

“Why is that?”

“Because Yao is so earnestly and everlastingly benevolent! I’m afraid he’ll make himself the laughing stock of the world. In later ages men may even end up eating each other because of him! 21 There is nothing difficult about attracting the people. Love them and they will feel affection for you, benefit them and they will flock to you, praise them and they will do their best, do something they dislike and they will scatter. Love and benefit are the products of benevolence and righteousness. There are few men who will renounce benevolence and righteousness, but many who will seek to benefit by them. To practice benevolence and righteousness in such a fashion is at best a form of insincerity, at worst a deliberate lending of weapons to the evil 22 and rapacious. Moreover, to have one man laying down decisions and regulations for the `benefit’ of the world is like trying to take in everything at a single glance. Yao understands that the worthy man can benefit the world, but he does not understand that he can also ruin the world. Only a man who has gotten outside the realm of `worthiness’ can understand that!”

There are the smug-and-satisfied, there are the precariously perched, and there are the bent-with-burdens. What I call the smug-and-satisfied are those who, having learned the words of one master, put on a smug and satisfied look, privately much pleased with themselves, considering that what they’ve gotten is quite sufficient, and not even realizing that they haven’t begun to get anything at all. These are what I call the smug-and-satisfied.

What I call the precariously perched are like the lice on a pig. They pick out a place where the bristles are long and sparse and call it their spacious mansion, their ample park; or a place in some corner of the hams or hoofs, between the nipples, or down around the haunches, and call it their house of repose, their place of profit. They do not know that one morning the butcher will give a swipe of his arm, spread out the grass, light up the fire, and that they will be roasted to a crisp along with the pig. Their advancement in the world is subject to such limitations as this, and their retirement from it is subject to similar limitations. This is what I call the precariously perched.

What I call the bent-with-burdens are those like Shun. The mutton doesn’t long for the ants; it is the ants who long for the mutton. Mutton has a rank odor, and Shun must have done rank deeds for the hundred clans to have delighted in him so. Therefore, though he changed his residence three times, each place he lived in turned into a city, and by the time he reached the wilderness of Teng, he had a hundred thousand households with him. Yao heard of the worthiness of Shun and raised him up from the barren plains, saying, “May I hope that you will come and bestow your bounty upon us?” When Shun was raised up from the barren plains, he was already well along in years and his hearing and eyesight were failing, and yet he was not able to go home and rest. This is what I call the bent-with-burdens.

Therefore the Holy Man hates to see the crowd arriving, and if it does arrive, he does not try to be friendly with it; not being friendly with it, he naturally does nothing to benefit it. So he makes sure that there is nothing he is very close to, and nothing he is very distant with. Embracing virtue, infused with harmony, he follows along with the world – this is what is called the True Man. He leaves wisdom to the ants, takes his cue from the fishes, leaves willfulness to the mutton.23

Use the eye to look at the eye, the ear to listen to the ear, and the mind to restore the mind. Do this and your levelness will be as though measured with the line, your transformations will be a form of compliance. The True Man of ancient times used Heaven to deal with man; he did not use man to work his way into Heaven. The True Man of ancient times got it and lived, lost it and died; got it and died, lost it and lived. Medicines will serve as an example.24 There are monkshood, balloonflower, cockscomb, and chinaroot; each has a time when it is the sovereign remedy, though the individual cases are too numerous to describe.

Kou-chien, with his three thousand men in armor and shield, took up his position at K’uai-chi; at that time Chung alone was able to understand how a perishing state can be saved, but he alone did not understand how the body may be brought to grief.25 Therefore it is said, The owl’s eyes have their special aptness, the stork’s legs have their proper proportions; to try to cut away anything would make the creatures sad.

It is said, When the wind passes over it, the river loses something; when the sun passes over it, it loses something. But even if we asked the wind and sun to remain constantly over the river, the river would not regard this as the beginning of any real trouble for itself – it relies upon the springs that feed it and goes on its way. The water sticks close by the land, the shadow sticks close by the form, things stick close by things. Therefore keen sight may be a danger to the eye, sharp hear­ing may be a danger to the ear, and the pursuit of thought may be a danger to the mind. All the faculties that are stored up in man are a potential source of danger, and if this danger becomes real and is not averted, misfortunes will go on piling up in increasing number. A return to the original condition takes effort, its accomplishment takes time. And yet men look upon these faculties as their treasures – is it not sad? Therefore we have this endless destruction of states and slaughter of the people – because no one knows enough to ask about This! 26

The foot treads a very small area of the ground, but although the area is small, the foot must rely upon the support of the untrod ground all around before it can go forward in confidence. The understanding of man is paltry, but although it is paltry, it must rely upon all those things that it does not understand before it can understand what is meant by Heaven. To understand the Great Unity, to understand the Great Yin, to understand the Great Eye, to understand the Great Equal­ity, to understand the Great Method, to understand the Great Trust, to understand the Great Serenity – this is perfection. With the Great Unity you may penetrate it;27 with the Great Yin, unknot it; with the Great Eye, see it; with the Great Equality, follow it; with the Great Method, embody it; with the Great Trust, reach it; with the Great Serenity, hold it fast.

End with what is Heavenly, follow what is bright, hide in what is pivotal, begin in what is objective – then your com­prehension will seem like noncomprehension, your understanding will seem like no understanding; not understanding it, you will later understand it. Your questions about it cannot have a limit, and yet they cannot not have a limit. Vague and slippery, there is yet some reality there. Past and present, it does not alter – nothing can do it injury. We may say that there is one great goal, may we not? Why not inquire about it? Why act in such perplexity? If we use the unperplexed to dispel perplexity and return to unperplexity, this will be the greatest unperplexity.



WHEN TSE-YANG WAS TRAVELING In Ch’u, Yi Chieh spoke to the king of Ch’u about him, but gave up and went home without having persuaded the king to grant Tse-yang an interview. Tse-yang went to see Wang Kuo and said, “Sir, I wonder if you would mention me to the king.” 1

Wang Kuo replied, “I would not be as good at that as Kung Yueh-hsiu.”

Tse-yang said, “Kung Yueh-hsiu? What does he do?”

“In winter he spears turtles by the river, in summer he loafs around the mountains, and if anyone comes along and asks him about it, he says, `This is my house!’ Now since Yi Chieh was unable to persuade the king, what could I do? – I am not even a match for Yi Chieh. Yi Chieh is the kind of man who has understanding, though he lacks real virtue. He is not permissive with himself, but puts his whole spirit into pleasing his friends. He has always been dazzled and misled by wealth and eminence – so he is not the kind to help others out with virtue, but instead will help them out with harm. A man who is chilled will think spring has come if he piles on enough clothes; a man suffering from the heat will think winter has returned if he finds a cool breeze.2 Now the king of Ch’u is the kind of man who is majestic and stern in bearing, and if offended he is as unforgiving as a tiger. No one but a gross flatterer or a man of the most perfect virtue can hope to talk him into anything.

“The true sage, now – living in hardship, he can make his family forget their poverty; living in affluence, he can make kings and dukes forget their titles and stipends and humble themselves before him. His approach to things is to go along with them and be merry; his approach to men is to take pleasure in the progress of others and to hold on to what is his own. So there may be times when, without saying a word, he induces harmony in others; just standing alongside others, he can cause them to change, until the proper relationship between father and son has found its way into every home.3 He does it all in a spirit of unity and effortlessness – so far is he removed from the hearts of men. This is why I say you should wait for Kung Yueh-hsiu.”

The sage penetrates bafflement and complication, rounding all into a single body, yet he does not know why – it is his inborn nature. He returns to fate and acts accordingly, using Heaven as his teacher, and men follow after, pinning labels on him. But if he worried about how much he knew and his actions were never constant for so much as a year or a season 4 then how could he ever find a stopping place?

When people are born with good looks, you may hand them a mirror, but if you don’t tell them, they will never know that they are better looking than others. Whether they know it or don’t know it, whether they are told of it or are not told of it, however, their delightful good looks remain unchanged to the end, and others can go on endlessly admiring them – it is a matter of inborn nature. The sage loves other men, and men accordingly pin labels on him, but if they do not tell him, then he will never know that he loves other men. Whether he knows it or doesn’t know it, whether he is told of it or is not told of it, however, his love for men remains unchanged to the end, and others can find endless security in it – it is a matter of inborn nature.

The old homeland, the old city – just to gaze at it from afar is to feel a flush of joy. Even when its hills and mounds are a tangle of weeds and brush, and nine out of ten of the ones you knew have gone to lie under them, still you feel joyful. How much more so, then, when you see those you used to see, when you hear the voices you used to hear – they stand out like eighty-foot towers among the crowd.5

Mr. Jen-hsiang held on to the empty socket and followed along to completion.6 Joining with things, he knew no end, no beginning, no year, no season.7 And because he changed day by day with things, he was one with the man who never changes – so why should he ever try to stop doing this? He who tries to make Heaven his teacher will never get Heaven to teach him – he will end up following blindly along with all other things, and then no matter how he goes about it, what can he do? The sage has never begun to think of Heaven, has never begun to think of man, has never begun to think of a beginning, has never begun to think of things. He moves in company with the age, never halting; wherever he moves he finds completion and no impediment. Others try to keep up with him, but what can they do?

T’ang got hold of the groom and guardsman Teng Heng and had him be his tutor. He followed him and treated him as a teacher, but was not confined by him – so he could follow

along to completion, becoming as a result a mere holder of titles. This is called making yourself superfluous, a method by which two manifestations can be attained.8 Confucius’ injunc­tion “Be done with schemes!”- you could let that be your tutor as well. Or Mr. Yung-ch’eng’s saying, “Be done with days and there will be no more years! No inside, no outside.”

King Ying of Wei made a treaty with Marquis T’ien Mou of Ch’i, but Marquis T’ien Mou violated it.9 King Ying, enraged, was about to send a man to assassinate him. Kung-sun Yen, the minister of war, heard of this and was filled with shame. “You are the ruler of a state of ten thousand chariots,” he said to the king, “and yet you would send a commoner to carry out your revenge! I beg to be given command of two hundred thousand armored troops so that I may attack him for you, make prisoners of his people, and lead away his horses and cattle. I will make him burn with anger so fierce that it will break out on his back.10 Then I will storm his capital, and when T’ien Chi 1l tries to run away, I will strike him in the back and break his spine!”

Chi Tzu, hearing this, was filled with shame and said, “If one sets out to build an eighty-foot wall, and then, when it is already seven-tenths finished, 12 deliberately pulls it down, the convict laborers who built it will look upon it as a bitter waste. Now for seven years we have not had to call out the troops, and this peace has been the foundation of your sovereignty. Kung-sun Yen is a troublemaker – his advice must not be heeded!”

Hua Tzu, hearing this, was filled with disgust and said, “He who is so quick to say `Attack Ch’i!’ is a troublemaker, and he who is so quick to say `Don’t attack Ch’i!’ is a troublemaker! And he who says that those who are for and against the attack are both troublemakers is a troublemaker, too!”

“Then what should I do?” said the ruler.

“Just try to find the Way, that’s all.”

Hui Tzu, hearing this, introduced Tai Chin-jen to the ruler. Tai Chin-jen said, “There is a creature called the snail – does Your Majesty know it?”


“On top of its left horn is a kingdom called Buffet, and on top of its right horn is a kingdom called Maul.13 At times they quarrel over territory and go to war, strewing the field with corpses by the ten thousand, the victor pursuing the vanquished for half a month before returning home.”

“Pooh!” said the ruler. “What kind of empty talk is this?”

“But Your Majesty will perhaps allow me to show you the truth in it. Do you believe that there is a limit to the four directions, to up and down?”

“They have no limits,” said the ruler.

“And do you know that when the mind has wandered in these limitless reaches and returns to the lands we know and travel, they seem so small it is not certain whether they even exist or not?”

“Yes,” said the ruler.

“And among these lands we know and travel is the state of Wei, and within the state of Wei is the city of Liang, and within the city of Liang is Your Majesty. Is there any difference between you and the ruler of Maul?”

“No difference,” said the king.

After the visitor left, the king sat stupefied, as though lost to the world. The interview over, Hui Tzu appeared before him. “That visitor of ours is a Great Man,” said the king.

“The sages themselves are unworthy of comparison with him!” Hui Tzu said, “Blow on a flute and you get a nice shrill note; but blow on the ring of your sword hilt and all you get is a feeble wheeze. People are inclined to praise the sages Yao and Shun, but if you started expounding on Yao and Shun in the presence of Tai Chin-jen, it would sound like one little wheeze!”

When Confucius was traveling to the capital of Ch’u, he stopped for the night at a tavern at Ant Knoll. Next door a crowd of husbands and wives, menservants and maidservants had climbed up to the rooftop [to watch].11 Tzu-lu said, “Who are all those people milling around?”

“They are the servants of a sage,” said Confucius. “He has buried himself among the people, hidden himself among the fields. His reputation fades away but his determination knows no end. Though his mouth speaks, his mind has never spoken. Perhaps he finds himself at odds with the age and in his heart disdains to go along with it. He is one who has `drowned in the midst of dry land.’ I would guess that it is I-liao from south of the Market.” 15

” May I go next door and call him over?” asked Tzu-lu.

“Let it be!” said Confucius. “He knows that I am out to make a name for myself, and he knows I am on my way to the capital of Ch’u. .He is sure to assume that I am trying to get the king of Ch’u to give me a position and will accordingly take me for a sycophant. A man like that is ashamed even to hear the words of a sycophant, much less appear in person before him! What makes you think he is still at home anyway?”

Tzu-lu went next door to have a look and found the house deserted.

The border guard of Chang-wu said to Tzu-lao,16 “In running the government you mustn’t be slipshod; in ordering the people you mustn’t be slapdash! In the past I used to grow grain. I plowed in a slipshod way and got a slipshod crop in return. I weeded in a slapdash way and got a slapdash crop in return. The following year I changed my methods, plowing deeper than before and raking with great care – the grain grew thick and luxuriant, and I had all I wanted to eat for the whole year!”

Chuang Tzu, hearing of this, said, “People of today, when they come to ordering their bodies and regulating their minds, too often do it in a manner like that which the border guard described. They turn their backs on the Heavenly part, deviate from the inborn nature, destroy the true form, and annihilate the spirit, just to be doing what the crowd is doing. So he who is slipshod with his inborn nature will find the evils of desire and hate affecting his inborn nature like weeds and rushes. When they first sprout up, he thinks they will be a comfort to the body, but in time they end by stifling the inborn nature. Side by side they begin to break out and ooze forth, not on just one part of the body but all over. Festering ulcers and boils, internal fevers and pus-filled urine – these are the results!”

Po Chu having studied under Lao Tan, said, “I would like permission to go wandering about the world.”

“Let it be!” said Lao Tan. “The world is right here.”

When Po Chi! repeated his request, Lao Tan said, “Where will you go first?”

“I will begin with Ch’i.” When he arrived in Ch’i, he saw the body of a criminal who had been executed. 17 Pushing and dragging until he had it laid out in proper position, he took off his formal robes and covered it with them, wailing to Heaven and crying out, “Alas, alas! The world is in dire misfortune, and you have been quicker than the rest of us to encounter it. ‘Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not murder!’ they say. But when glory and disgrace have once been defined, you will see suffering; when goods and wealth have once been gathered together, you will see wrangling. To define something that brings suffering to men, to gather together what sets them to wrangling, inflicting misery and weariness upon them, never granting them a time of rest, and yet to hope somehow that they will not end up like this – how could it be possible?

“The gentlemen of old attributed what success they had to the people and what failure they had to themselves, attributed what was upright to the people and what was askew to themselves. Therefore, if there was something wrong with the body of even a single being, they would retire and take the blame upon themselves. But that is not the way it is done today. They make things obscure and then blame people for not understanding; l8 they enlarge the difficulties and then punish people for not being able to cope with them; they pile on responsibilities and then penalize people for not being able to fulfill them; they make the journey longer and then chastise people for not reaching the end of it. When the knowledge and strength of the people are exhausted, they will begin to piece them out with artifice, and when day by day the amount of artifice in the world increases, how can men keep from resorting to artifice? A lack of strength invites artifice, a lack of knowledge invites deceit, a lack of goods invites theft. But these thefts and robberies – who in fact deserves the blame for them?”

Ch’u Po-yu has been going along for sixty years and has changed sixty times. There was not a single instance in which what he called right in the beginning he did not in the end reject and call wrong. So now there’s no telling whether what he calls right at the moment is not in fact what he called wrong during the past fifty-nine years. The ten thousand things have their life, yet no one sees its roots; they have their comings forth, yet no one sees the gate. Men all pay homage to what understanding understands, but no one understands enough to rely upon what understanding does not understand and thereby come to understand. Can we call this anything but great perplexity? Let it be, let it be! There is no place you can escape it. This is what is called saying both “that is so” and “is that so?” 19

Confucius said to the Grand Historiographers Ta T’ao, Po Ch’ang-ch’ien, and Hsi Wei, “Duke Ling of Wei drank wine and wallowed in pleasure, paying no heed to the government of the state; he went hunting and gaming with nets and stringed arrows, ignoring his obligations to the other feudal lords. How then does he come to be called Duke Ling? ” 20

Ta T’ao said, “It fitted the facts.”

Po Ch’ang-ch’ien said, “Duke Ling had three wives with whom he would bathe in the same tub. But when Shih Ch’iu appeared in his presence to offer a gift of cloth, the duke would accept it in person and respectfully attend Shih Ch’iu.21 He was so depraved as to bathe with his wives, and yet so correct in his behavior before a worthy man – this is why he was titled Duke Ling.”

Hsi Wei said, “When Duke Ling died, we divined to see if he should be buried in the family graveyard, but the omens were unfavorable. Then we divined to see if he should be buried at Sand Hill and the omens were favorable. Digging down several fathoms, we found a stone coffin and, when we had washed and examined it, we discovered an inscription which said: `You cannot depend upon your heirs – Duke Ling will seize this plot for his own burial.’ 22 So it appears that Duke Ling had already been titled Ling for a long long time. How could these two here know enough to understand this!”

Little Understanding said to Great Impartial Accord, “What is meant by the term `community words’?”

Great Impartial Accord said, ” `Community words’ refers to the combining of ten surnames and a hundred given names into a single social unit.23 Differences are combined into a sameness; samenesses are broken up into differences. Now we may point to each of the hundred parts of a horse’s body and never come up with a `horse’ – yet here is the horse, tethered right before our eyes. So we take the hundred parts and set up the term `horse.’ Thus it is that hills and mountains pile up one little layer on another to reach loftiness; the Yangtze and the Yellow River combine stream after stream to achieve magnitude; and the Great Man combines and brings together things to attain generality.24 Therefore, when things enter his mind from the outside, there is a host to receive them but not to cling to them; and when things come forth from his mind, there is a mark to guide them but not to constrain them.25 The four seasons each differ in breath, but Heaven shows no partiality26 among them, and therefore the year comes to completion. The five government bureaus differ in function, but the ruler shows no partiality among them, and therefore the state is well ordered. In both civil and military affairs, the Great Man shows no partiality, and therefore his virtue is complete. 27 The ten thousand things differ in principle, but the Way shows no partiality among them, and therefore they may achieve namelessness. 28 Being nameless, they are without action; without action, yet there is nothing they do not do.

“The seasons have their end and beginning, the ages their changes and transformations. Bad fortune and good, tripping and tumbling, come now with what repels you, now with what you welcome. Set in your own opinion, at odds with others, now you judge things to be upright, now you judge them to be warped. But if you could only be like the great swamp, which finds accommodation for a hundred different timbers, or take your model from the great mountain, whose trees and rocks share a common groundwork! This is what is

meant by the term `community words.'”

Little Understanding said, “Well, then, if we call these [general concepts] the Way, will that be sufficient?”

“Oh, no,” said Great Impartial Accord. “If we calculate the number of things that exist, the count certainly does not stop at ten thousand. Yet we set a limit and speak of the `ten thousand things’ – because we select a number that is large and agree to apply it to them. In the same way, heaven and earth are forms which are large, the yin and yang are breaths which are large, and the Way is the generality that embraces them. If from the point of view of largeness we agree to apply [the name `Way’] to it, then there is no objection. But if, having established this name, we go on and try to compare it to the reality, then it will be like trying to compare a dog to a horse – the distance between them is impossibly far.” 29

Little Understanding said, “Here within the four directions and the six realms, where do the ten thousand things spring from when they come into being?”

Great Impartial Accord said, “The yin and yang shine on each other, maim each other, heal each other; the four seasons succeed each other, give birth to each other, slaughter each other. Desire and hatred, rejection and acceptance thereupon rise up in succession;30 the pairing of halves between male and female thereupon becomes a regular occurrence. Security and danger trade places with each other, bad and good fortune give birth to each other, tense times and relaxed ones buffet one another, gathering-together and scattering bring it all to completion. These names and realities can be recorded, their details and minute parts can be noted. The principle of following one another in orderly succession, the property of moving in alternation, turning back when they have reached the limit, beginning again when they have ended – these are inherent in things. But that which words can adequately describe, that which understanding can reach to, extends only as far as the level of `things,’ no farther. The man who looks to the Way does not try to track down what has disappeared, does not try to trace the source of what springs up. This is the point at which debate comes to a stop.”

Little Understanding said, “Chi Chen’s contention that `nothing does it’ and Chieh Tzu’s contention that `something makes it like this’ – of the views of these two schools, which correctly describes the truth of the matter and which is one-sided in its understanding of principles?” 31

Great Impartial Accord said, “Chickens squawk, dogs bark – this is something men understand. But no matter how great their understanding, they cannot explain in words how the chicken and the dog have come to be what they are, nor can they imagine in their minds what they will become in the future. You may pick apart and analyze till you have reached what is so minute that it is without form, what is so large that it cannot be encompassed. But whether you say that `nothing does it’ or that `something makes it like this,’ you have not yet escaped from the realm of `things,’ and so in the end you fall into error. If `something makes it like this,’ then it is real; if `nothing does it,’ then it is unreal. While there are names and realities, you are in the presence of things. When there are no names and realities, you exist in the absence of things.32 You can talk about it, you can think about it; but the more you talk about it, the farther away you get from it.

“Before they are born, things cannot decline to be born; already dead, they cannot refuse to go. Death and life are not far apart, though the principle that underlies them cannot be seen. `Nothing does it,’ `something makes it like this’ – these are speculations born out of doubt. I look for the roots of the past, but they extend back and back without end. I search for the termination of the future, but it never stops coming at me. Without end, without stop, it is the absence of words, which shares the same principle with things themselves. But `nothing does it,’ `something makes it like this’ – these are the commencement of words and they begin and end along with things.

“The Way cannot be thought of as being, nor can it be thought of as nonbeing. In calling it the Way we are only adopting a temporary expedient. `Nothing does it,’ `something makes it like this’ – these occupy a mere corner of the realm of things. What connection could they have with the Great Method? If you talk in a worthy manner, you can talk all day long and all of it will pertain to the Way. But if you talk in an unworthy manner, you can talk all day long and all of it will pertain to mere things. The perfection of the Way and things – neither words nor silence are worthy of expressing it. Not to talk, not to be silent – this is the highest form of debate.”

Awaken Philosophy

Awaken Mind

Awaken Spirit

Source: AWAKEN


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