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The Way of Heaven

by Chuang Tzu: HORSES’ HOOFS ARE MADE for treading frost and snow, their coats for keeping out wind and cold. 

To munch grass, drink from the stream, lift up their feet and gallop this is the true nature of horses. Though they might possess great terraces and fine halls, they would have no use for them.

Then along comes Po Lo.1 “I’m good at handling horses!” he announces, and proceeds to singe them, shave them, pare them, brand them, bind them with martingale and crupper, tie them up in stable and stall. By this time two or three out of ten horses have died. He goes on to starve them, make them go thirsty, race them, prance them, pull them into line, force them to run side by side, in front of them the worry of bit and rein, behind them the terror of whip and crop. By this time over half the horses have died.

The potter says, “I’m good at handling clay! To round it, I apply the compass; to square it, I apply the T square.” The carpenter says, “I’m good at handling wood! To arc it, I apply the curve; to make it straight, I apply the plumb line.” But as far as inborn nature is concerned, the clay and the wood surely have no wish to be subjected to compass and square, curve and plumb line. Yet generation after generation sings out in praise, saying, “Po Lo is good at handling horses! The potter and the carpenter are good at handling clay and wood!” And the same fault is committed by the men who handle the affairs of the world!

In my opinion someone who was really good at handling the affairs of the world would not go about it like this. The people have their constant inborn nature. To weave for their clothing, to till for their food – this is the Virtue they share. They are one in it and not partisan, and it is called the Emancipation of Heaven. Therefore in a time of Perfect Virtue the gait of men is slow and ambling; their gaze is steady and mild. In such an age mountains have no paths or trails, lakes no boats or bridges. The ten thousand things live species by species, one group settled close to another. Birds and beasts form their flocks and herds, grass and trees grow to fullest height. So it happens that you can tie a cord to the birds and beasts and lead them about, or bend down the limb and peer into the nest of the crow and the magpie. In this age of Perfect Virtue men live the same as birds and beasts, group themselves side by side with the ten thousand things. Who then knows anything about “gentleman” or “petty man”? Dull and ununwitting,2 men have no wisdom; thus their Virtue does not depart from them. Dull and unwitting, they have no desire; this is called uncarved simplicity. In uncarved simplicity the people attain their true nature.

Then along comes the sage, huffing and puffing after benevolence, reaching on tiptoe for righteousness, and the world for the first time has doubts; mooning and mouthing over his music, snipping and stitching away at his rites, and the world for the first time is divided. Thus, if the plain unwrought substance had not been blighted, how would there be any sacrificial goblets? If the white jade had not been shattered, how would there be any scepters and batons? If the Way and its Virtue had not been cast aside, how would there be any call for benevolence and righteousness? If the true form of the inborn nature had not been abandoned, how would there be any use for rites and music? If the five colors had not confused men, who would fashion patterns and hues? If the five notes had not confused them, who would try to tune things by the six tones? That the unwrought substance was blighted in order to fashion implements – this was the crime of the artisan. That the Way and its Virtue were destroyed in order to create benevolence and righteousness – this was the fault of the sage.

When horses live on the plain, they eat grass and drink from the streams. Pleased, they twine their necks together and rub; angry, they turn back to back and kick. This is all horses know how to do. But if you pile poles and yokes on them and line them up in crossbars and shafts, then they will learn to snap the crossbars, break the yoke, rip the carriage top, champ the bit, and chew the reins. Thus horses learn how to commit the worst kinds of mischief. This is the crime of Po Lo.

In the days of Ho Hsu,6 people stayed home but didn’t know what they were doing, walked around but didn’t know where they were going. Their mouths crammed with food, they were merry; drumming on their bellies, they passed the time. This was as much as they were able to do. Then the sage came along with the crouchings and bendings of rites and music, which were intended to reform the bodies of the world; with the reaching-for-a-dangled-prize of benevolence and righteousness, which was intended to comfort the hearts of the world. Then for the first time people learned to stand on tiptoe and covet knowledge, to fight to the death over profit, and there was no stopping them. This in the end was the fault of the sage.


IF ONE IS TO GUARD and take precautions against thieves who rifle trunks, ransack bags, and break open boxes, then he must bind with cords and ropes and make fast with locks and hasps. This the ordinary world calls wisdom. But if a great thief comes along, he will shoulder the boxes, hoist up the trunks, sling the bags over his back, and dash off, only worrying that the cords and ropes, the locks and hasps are not fastened tightly enough. In that case, the man who earlier was called wise was in fact only piling up goods for the benefit of a great thief.
Let me try explaining what I mean. What the ordinary world calls a wise man is in fact someone who piles things up for the benefit of a great thief, is he not? And what it calls a sage is in fact someone who stands guard for the benefit of a great thief, is he not? How do I know this is so? In times past there was the state of Ch’i, its neighboring towns within sight of each other, the cries of their dogs and chickens within hearing of each other. The area where its nets and seines were spread, where its plows and spades dug the earth, measured over two thousand li square, filling all the space within its four borders.1 And in the way its ancestral temples and its altars of the soil and grain were set up, its towns and villages and hamlets were governed, was there anything that did not accord with the laws of the sages? Yet one morning Viscount T’ien Ch’eng murdered the ruler of Ch’i and stole his state. And was it only the state he stole? Along with it he also stole the laws which the wisdom of the sages had devised. Thus, although Viscount T’ien Ch’eng gained the name of thief and bandit, he was able to rest as peacefully as a Yao or a Shun. The smaller states did not dare condemn him, the larger states did not dare to attack, and for twelve generations his family held possession of the state of Ch’i.2 Is this not a case in which a man, stealing the state of Ch’i, along with it stole the laws of the sages’ wisdom and used them to guard the person of a thief and a bandit?
Let me try explaining it. What the ordinary world calls ‘a man of perfect wisdom is in fact someone who piles things up for the benefit of a great thief; what the ordinary world calls a perfect sage is in fact someone who stands guard for the benefit of a great thief. How do I know this is so? In times past, Kuan Lung-feng was cut down, Pi Kan was disemboweled, Ch’ang Hung was torn apart, and Wu Tzu-hsu was left to rot. All four were worthy men, and yet they could not escape destruction.

One of Robber Chih’s followers once asked Chih, “Does the thief too have a Way?”
Chih replied, “How could he get anywhere if he didn’t have a Way? Making shrewd guesses as to how much booty is stashed away in the room is sageliness; being the first one in is bravery; being the last one out is righteousness; knowing whether the job can be pulled off or not is wisdom; dividing up the loot fairly is benevolence. No one in the world ever succeeded in becoming a great thief if he didn’t have all five!”

From this we can see that the good man must acquire the Way of the sage before he can distinguish himself, and Robber Chih must acquire the Way of the sage before he can practice his profession. But good men in the world are few and bad men many, so in fact the sage brings little benefit to the world, but much harm. Thus it is said, “When the lips are gone, the teeth are cold; when the wine of Lu is thin, Han-tan is besieged.” 4 And when the sage is born, the great thief appears.

Cudgel and cane the sages and let the thieves and bandits go their way; then the world will at last be well ordered! If the stream dries up, the valley will be empty; if the hills wash away, the deep pools will be filled up. And if the sage is dead and gone, then no more great thieves will arise. The world will then be peaceful and free of fuss.

But until the sage is dead, great thieves will never cease to appear, and if you pile on more sages in hopes of bringing the world to order, you will only be piling up more profit for Robber Chih. Fashion pecks and bushels for people to measure by and they will steal by peck and bushel.5 Fashion scales and balances for people to weigh by and they will steal by scale and balance. Fashion tallies and seals to insure trustworthiness and people will steal with tallies and seals. Fashion benevolence and righteousness to reform people and they will steal with benevolence and righteousness. How do I know this is so? He who steals a belt buckle pays with his life; he who steals a state gets to be a feudal lord-and we all know that benevolence and righteousness are to be found at the gates of the feudal lords. Is this not a case of stealing benevolence and righteousness and the wisdom of the sages? So men go racing in the footsteps of the great thieves, aiming for the rank of feudal lord, stealing benevolence and righteousness, and taking for themselves all the profits of peck and bushel, scale and balance, tally and seal. Though you try to lure them aside with rewards of official carriages and caps of state, you cannot move them; though you threaten them with the executioner’s ax, you cannot deter them. This piling up of profits for Robber Chih to the point where nothing can deter him – this is all the fault of the sage!

The saying goes, “The fish should not be taken from the deep pool; the sharp weapons of the state should not be shown to men.”6 The sage is the sharp weapon of the world, and therefore he should not be where the world can see him.

Cut off sageliness, cast away wisdom, and then the great thieves will cease. Break the jades, crush the pearls, and petty thieves will no longer rise up. Burn the tallies, shatter the seals, and the people will be simple and guileless. Hack up the bushels, snap the balances in two, and the people will no longer wrangle. Destroy and wipe out the laws that the sage has made for the world, and at last you will find you can reason with the people.

Discard and confuse the six tones, smash and unstring the pipes and lutes, stop up the ears of the blind musician K’uang, and for the first time the people of the world will be able to hold on to their hearing. Wipe out patterns and designs, scatter the five colors, glue up the eyes of Li Chu, and for the first time the people of the world will be able to hold on to their eyesight. Destroy- and cut to pieces the curve and plumb line, throw away the compass and square, shackle the fingers of Artisan Ch’ui,8 and for the first time the people of the world will possess real skill. Thus it is said, “Great skill is like clumsiness.”9 Put a stop to the ways of Tseng and Shih, gag the mouths of Yang and Mo, wipe out and reject benevolence and righteousness, and for the first time the Virtue of the world will reach the state of Mysterious Leveling.”

When men hold on to their eyesight, the world will no longer be dazzled. When men hold on to their hearing, the world will no longer be wearied. When men hold on to their wisdom, the world will no longer be confused. When men hold on to their Virtue, the world will no longer go awry. Men like Tseng, Shih, Yang, Mo, Musician K’uang, Artisan Ch’ui, or Li Chu all displayed their Virtue on the outside and thereby blinded and misled the world. As methods go, this one is worthless!

Have you alone never heard of that age of Perfect Virtue?

Long ago, in the time of Yung Ch’eng, Ta T’ing, Po Huang, Chung Yang, Li Lu, Li Hsu, Hsien Yuan, Ho Hsu, Tsun Lu, Chu Jung, Fu Hsi, and Shen Nung, the people knotted cords and used them.” They relished their food, admired their clothing, enjoyed their customs, and were content with their houses. Though neighboring states were within sight of each other, and could hear the cries of each other’s dogs and chickens, the people grew old and died without ever traveling beyond their own borders. At a time such as this, there was nothing but the most perfect order.

But now something has happened to make people crane their necks and stand on tiptoe. “There’s a worthy man in such and such a place!” they cry and, bundling up their provisions, they dash off. At home, they abandon their parents; abroad, they shirk the service of their ruler. Their footprints form an unending trail to the borders of the other feudal lords, their carriage tracks weave back and forth a thousand li and more. This is the fault of men in high places who covet knowledge.

As long as men in high places covet knowledge and are without the Way, the world will be in great confusion. How do I know this is so? Knowledge enables men to fashion bows, crossbows, nets, stringed arrows, and like contraptions, but when this happens the birds flee in confusion to the sky. Knowledge enables men to fashion fishhooks, lures, seines, dragnets, trawls, and weirs, but when this happens the fish flee in confusion to the depths of the water. Knowledge enables men to fashion pitfalls, snares, cages, traps, and gins, but when this happens the beasts flee in confusion to the swamps. And the flood of rhetoric that enables men to invent wily schemes and poisonous slanders, the glib gabble of “hard” and “white,” the foul fustian of “same” and “different” bewilder the understanding of common men.13 So the world is dulled and darkened by great confusion. The blame lies in this coveting of knowledge.
In the world everyone knows enough to pursue what he does not know, but no one knows enough to pursue what he already knows. Everyone knows enough to condemn what he takes to be no good, but no one knows enough to condemn what he has already taken to be good.14 This is how the great confusion comes about, blotting out the brightness of sun and moon above, searing the vigor of hills and streams below, overturning the round of the four seasons in between. There is no insect that creeps and crawls, no creature that flutters and flies that has not lost its inborn nature. So great is the confusion of the world that comes from coveting knowledge!

From the Three Dynasties on down, it has been this and nothing else-shoving aside the pure and artless people and delighting in busy, bustling flatterers; abandoning the limpidity and calm of inaction and delighting in jumbled and jangling ideas. And this jumble and jangle has for long confused the world.


I HAVE HEARD OF LETTING the world be, of leaving it alone; I have never heard of governing the world. You let it be for fear of corrupting the inborn nature of the world; you leave it alone for fear of distracting the Virtue of the world. If the nature of the world is not corrupted, if the Virtue of the world is not distracted, why should there be any governing of the world?

Long ago, when the sage Yao governed the world, he made the world bright and gleeful; men delighted in their nature, and there was no calmness anywhere. When the tyrant Chieh governed the world, he made the world weary and vexed; men found bitterness in their nature and there was no contentment anywhere. To lack calmness, to lack contentment is to go against Virtue, and there has never been anyone in the world who could go against Virtue and survive for long.

Are men exceedingly joyful? – they will do damage to the yang element. Are men exceedingly angry? – they will do damage to the yin. And when both yang and yin are damaged, the four seasons will not come as they should, heat and cold will fail to achieve their proper harmony, and this in turn will do harm to the bodies of men. It will make men lose a proper sense of joy and anger, to be constantly shifting from place to place, to think up schemes that gain nothing, to set out on roads that reach no glorious conclusion. Then for the first time the world grows restless and aspiring,1 and soon afterward appear the ways of Robber Chih, Tseng, and Shih.

Then, although the whole world joins in rewarding good men, there will never be enough reward; though the whole world joins in punishing evil men, there will never be enough punishment. Huge as the world is, it cannot supply sufficient reward or punishment. From the Three Dynasties on down, there has been nothing but bustle and fuss, all over this matter of rewards and punishments. How could people have any leisure to rest in the true form of their inborn nature and fate!

Do men delight in what they see? – they are corrupted by colors. Do they delight in what they hear? – they are corrupted by sounds. Do they delight in benevolence? – they bring confusion to Virtue. Do they delight in righteousness? – they turn their backs on reason. Do they delight in rites? – they are aiding artificiality. Do they delight in music? – they are aiding dissolution. Do they delight in sageness? – they are assisting artifice. Do they delight in knowledge? – they are assisting the fault-finders. As long as the world rests in the true form of its inborn nature and fate, it makes no difference whether these eight delights exist or not. But if the world does not rest in the true form of its nature and fate, then these eight delights will begin to grow warped and crooked, jumbled and deranged, and will bring confusion to the world. And if on top of that the world begins to honor them and cherish them, then the delusion of the world will be great indeed! You say these are only a fancy that will pass in time? Yet men prepare themselves with fasts and austerities when they come to describe them, kneel solemnly on their mats when they recommend them, beat drums and sing to set them forth in .dance. What’s to be done about it I’m sure I don’t know!

If the gentleman finds he has no other choice than to direct and look after the world, then the best course for him is inaction. As long as there is inaction, he may rest in the true form of his nature and fate. If he values his own body more than the management of the world, then he can be entrusted with the world. If he is more careful of his own body than of the management of the world, then the world can be handed over to him.2 If the gentleman can in truth keep from rending apart his five vital organs, from tearing out his eyesight and hearing, then he will command corpse-like stillness and dragon vision, the silence of deep pools and the voice of thunder. His spirit will move in the train of Heaven, gentle and easy in inaction, and the ten thousand things will be dust on the wind. “What leisure have I now for governing the world?” he will say.

Ts’ui Chu was questioning Lao Tan. “If you do not govern the world, then how can you improve men’s minds?”

Lao Tan said, “Be careful – don’t meddle with men’s minds! Men’s minds can be forced down or boosted up, but this downing and upping imprisons and brings death to the mind. Gentle and shy, the mind can bend the hard and strong; it can chisel and cut away, carve and polish. Its heat is that of burning fire, its coldness that of solid ice, its swiftness such that, in the time it takes to lift and lower the head, it has twice swept over the four seas and beyond. At rest, it is deep-fathomed and still; in movement, it is far-flung as the heavens, racing and galloping out of reach of all bonds. This indeed is the mind of man!”

In ancient times the Yellow Emperor first used benevolence and righteousness to meddle with the minds of men.3 Yao and Shun followed him and worked till there was no more down on their thighs, no more hair on their shins, trying to nourish the bodies of the men of the world. They grieved their five vital organs in the practice of benevolence and righteousness, taxed their blood and breath in the establishment of laws and standards. But still some men would not submit to their rule, and so they had to exile Huan Tou to Mount Ch’ung, drive away the San-miao tribes to the region of San-wei, and banish Kung to the Dark City.4 This shows that they could not make the world submit.

By the time the kings of the Three Dynasties appeared, the world was in great consternation indeed. On the lowest level there were men like the tyrant Chieh and Robber Chih, on the highest, men like Tseng and Shih, and the Confucianists and Mo-ists rose up all around. Then joy and anger eyed each other with suspicion, stupidity and wisdom duped each other, good and bad called one another names, falsehood and truth slandered one another, and the world sank into a decline. There was no more unity to the Great Virtue, and the inborn nature and fate shattered and fell apart. The world coveted knowledge and the hundred clans were thrown into turmoil.5 Then there were axes and saws to shape things, ink and plumb lines to trim them, mallets and gouges to poke holes in them, and the world, muddled and deranged, was in great confusion. The crime lay in this meddling with men’s minds. So it was that worthy men crouched in hiding below the great mountains and yawning cliffs, and the lords of ten thousand chariots fretted and trembled above in their ancestral halls.

In the world today, the victims of the death penalty lie heaped together, the bearers of cangues tread on each other’s heels, the sufferers of punishment are never out of each other’s sight. And now come the Confucianists and Mo-ists, waving their arms, striding into the very midst of the fettered and manacled men. Ah, that then should go this far, that they should be so brazen, so lacking in any sense of shame! Who can convince me that sagely wisdom is not in fact the wedge that fastens the cangue, that benevolence and righteousness are not in fact the loop and lock of these fetters and manacles? How do I know that Tseng and Shih are not the whistling arrows that signal the approach of Chieh and Chih? Therefore I say, cut off sageness, cast away wisdom, and the world will be in perfect order.

The Yellow Emperor had ruled as Son of Heaven for nineteen years and his commands were heeded throughout the world, when he heard that Master Kuang Ch’eng was living on top of the Mountain of Emptiness and Identity. He therefore went to visit him. “I have heard that you, Sir, have mastered the Perfect Way. May I venture to ask about the essence of the Perfect Way?” he said. “I would like to get hold of the essence of Heaven and earth and use it to aid the five grains and to nourish the common people. I would also like to control the yin and yang in order to insure the growth of all living things. How may this be done?”
Master Kuang Ch’eng said, “What you say you want to learn about pertains to the true substance of things, but what you say you want to control pertains to things in their divided state.6 Ever since you began to govern the world, rain falls before the cloud vapors have even gathered, the plants and trees shed their leaves before they have even turned yellow, and the light of the sun and moon grows more and more sickly. Shallow and vapid, with the mind of a prattling knave – what good would it do to tell you about the Perfect Way!”

The Yellow Emperor withdrew, gave up his throne, built a solitary hut, spread a mat of white rushes, and lived for three months in retirement. Then he went once more to request an interview. Master Kuang Ch’eng was lying with his face to the south. 7 The Yellow Emperor, approaching in humble manner, crept forward on his knees, bowed his head twice and said, “I have heard that you, Sir, have mastered the Perfect Way. I venture to ask about the governing of the body. What should I do in order to live a long life?”

Master Kuang Ch’eng sat up with a start. “Excellent, this question of yours! Come, I will tell you about the Perfect Way. The essence of the Perfect Way is deep and darkly shrouded; the extreme of the Perfect Way – is mysterious and hushed in silence. Let there be no seeing, no hearing; enfold the spirit in quietude and the body will right itself. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up your essence, and then you can live a long life. When the eye does not see, the ear does not hear, and the mind does not know, then your spirit will protect the body, and the body will enjoy long life. Be cautious of what is within you; block off what is outside you, for much knowledge will do you harm.

Then I will lead you up above the Great Brilliance, to the source of the Perfect Yang; I will guide you through the Dark and Mvsterious Gate, to the source of the Perfect Yin. Heaven and earth have their controllers, the yin and yang their storehouses. You have only to take care and guard your own body; these other things will of themselves grow sturdy. As for myself, I guard this unity, abide in this harmony, and therefore I have kept myself alive for twelve hundred years, and never has my body suffered any decay.”

The Yellow Emperor bowed twice and said, “Master Kuang Ch’eng, you have been as a Heaven to me!”

Master Kuang Ch’eng said, “Come, I will explain to you. This Thing I have been talking about is inexhaustible, and yet men all suppose that it has an end. This Thing I have been talking about is unfathomable, and yet men all suppose that it has a limit. He who attains my Way will be a Bright One on high,8 and a king in the world below. But he who fails to attain my Way, though he may see the light above him, will remain below as dust. All the hundred creatures that flourish are born out of dust and return to dust. So I will take leave of you, to enter the gate of the inexhaustible and wander in the limitless fields, to form a triad with the light of the sun and moon, to partake in the constancy of Heaven and earth. What stands before me I mingle with, what is far from me I leave in darkness.9 All other men may die; I alone will survive!”

Cloud Chief was traveling east and had passed the branches of the Fu-yao when he suddenly came upon Big Concealment.10 Big Concealment at the moment was amusing himself by slapping his thighs and hopping around like a sparrow. When Cloud Chief saw this, he stopped in bewilderment, stood dead still in his tracks, and said, “Old gentleman, who are you? What is this you’re doing?”

Big Concealment, without interrupting his thigh-slapping and sparrow-hopping, replied to Cloud Chief, “Amusing myself.”

“I would like to ask a question,” said Cloud Chief.

“Oh dear!” said Big Concealment, for the first time raising his head and looking at Cloud Chief.

“The breath of heaven is out of harmony, the breath of earth tangles and snarls,” said Cloud Chief. “The six breaths do not blend properly,” the four seasons do not stay in order. Now I would like to harmonize the essences of the six breaths in order to bring nourishment to all living creatures. How should I go about it?”

Big Concealment, still thigh-slapping and sparrow-hopping, shook his head. “I have no idea! I have no idea!”

So Cloud Chief got no answer. Three years later he was again traveling east and, as he passed the fields of Sung, happened upon Big Concealment once more. Cloud Chief, overjoyed, dashed forward and presented himself, saying, “Heavenly Master, have you forgotten me? Have you forgotten me?” Then he bowed his head twice and begged for some instruction from Big Concealment.

Big Concealment said, “Aimless wandering does not know what it seeks; demented drifting does not know where it goes. A wanderer, idle, unbound, I view the sights of Undeception. What more do I know?”

Cloud Chief said, “I too consider myself a demented drifter, but the people follow me wherever I go and I have no choice but to think of them. It is for their sake now that I beg one word of instruction!”

Big Concealment said, “If you confuse the constant strands of Heaven and violate the true form of things, then Dark Heaven will reach no fulfillment. Instead, the beasts will scatter from their herds, the birds will cry all night, disaster will come to the grass and trees, misfortune will reach even to the insects. Ah, this is the fault of men who `govern’!”
“Then what should I do?” said Cloud Chief.

“Ah,” said Big Concealment, “you are too far gone! Up, up, stir yourself and be off!”
Cloud Chief said, “Heavenly Master, it has been hard indeed for me to meet with you – I beg one word of instruction!”

“Well, then – mind-nourishment!” said Big Concealment. 12 “You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root – return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos – to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally and of themselves.”

Cloud Chief said, “The Heavenly Master has favored me with this Virtue, instructed me in this Silence. All my life I have been looking for it, and now at last I have it!” He bowed his head twice, stood up, took his leave, and went away.

The common run of men all welcome those who are like themselves and scorn those who differ from themselves. The reason they favor those who are like themselves and do not favor those who are different is that their minds are set on distinguishing themselves from the crowd. But if their minds are set on distinguishing themselves from the crowd, how is this ever going to distinguish them from the crowd? It is better to follow the crowd and be content, for, no matter how much you may know, it can never match the many talents of the crowd combined.

Here is a man who wants to take over the management of another man’s state.” He thinks thereby to seize all the profits enjoyed by the kings of the Three Dynasties, but fails to take note of their worries. This is to gamble with another man’s state, and how long can you expect to gamble with his state and not lose it? Less than one man in ten thousand will succeed in holding on to the state; the odds in favor of losing it are more than ten thousand to one. It is sad indeed that the possessors of states do not realize this!

Now the possessor of a state possesses a great thing. Because he possesses a great thing, he cannot be regarded as a mere thing himself. 14 He is a thing, and yet he is not a mere thing; therefore he can treat other things as mere things. He who clearly- understands that, in treating other things as mere things, he himself is no longer a mere thing-how could he be content only to govern the hundred clans of the world and do nothing more? He will move in and out of the Six Realms, wander over the Nine Continents, going alone, coming alone. He may be called a Sole Possessor, and a man who is a Sole Possessor may be said to have reached the peak of eminence.

The Great Man in his teaching is like the shadow that follows a form, the echo that follows a sound. Only when questioned does he answer, and then he pours out all his thoughts, making himself the companion of the world. He dwells in the echoless, moves in the directionless, takes by the hand you who are rushing and bustling back and forth,15 and proceeds to wander in the beginningless. He passes in and out of the boundless, and is ageless as the sun. His face and form16 blend with the Great Unity, the Great Unity which is selfless. Being selfless, how then can he look upon possession as possession? He who fixed his eyes on possession – he was the “gentleman” of ancient times. He who fixes his eyes on nothingness – he is the true friend of Heaven and earth.

What is lowly and yet must be used – things.17 What is humble and yet must be relied on – the people. What is irksome18 and yet must be attended to – affairs. What is sketchy and yet must be proclaimed – laws. What seems to apply only to distant relationships and yet must be observed – righteousness. What seems to apply only to intimate relationships and yet must be broadened – benevolence. What is confining and yet must be repeatedly practiced – ritual. What is already apt and yet must be heightened – Virtue. What is One and yet must be adapted – the Way. What is spiritual and yet must be put into action – Heaven.

Therefore the sage contemplates Heaven but does not assist it. He finds completion in Virtue but piles on nothing more. He goes forth in the Way but does not scheme. He accords with benevolence but does not set great store by it. He draws close to righteousness but does not labor over it. He responds to the demands of ritual and does not shun them. He disposes of affairs and makes no excuses. He brings all to order with laws and allows no confusion. He depends upon the people and does not make light of them. He relies upon things and does not throw them aside. Among things, there are none that are worth using, and yet they must be used.

He who does not clearly understand Heaven will not be pure in Virtue. He who has not mastered the Way will find himself without any acceptable path of approach. He who does not clearly understand the Way is pitiable indeed!

What is this thing called the Way? There is the Way of Heaven, and the way of man. To rest in inaction, and command respect – this is the Way of Heaven. To engage in action and become entangled in it – this is the way of man. The ruler is the Way of Heaven; his subjects are the way of man. The Way of Heaven and the way of man are far apart. This is something to consider carefully!


HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE HUGE, but they are alike in their transformations. The ten thousand things are numerous, but they are one in their good order. Human beings are many, but they are all subjects of the sovereign. The sovereign finds his source in Virtue, his completion in Heaven. Therefore it is said that the sovereign of dark antiquity ruled the world through inaction, through Heavenly Virtue and nothing more.

Look at words in the light of the Way – then the sovereign of the world will be upright.1 Look at distinctions in the light of the Way – then the duty2 of sovereign and subject will be clear. Look at abilities in the light of the Way – then the officials of the world will be well ordered. Look everywhere in the light of the Way – then the response of the ten thousand things will be complete.

Pervading Heaven and earth: that is the Way.3 Moving among the ten thousand things: that is Virtue. Superiors governing the men below them: that is called administration. Ability finding trained expression: that is called skill. Skill is subsumed in administration; administration in duty ; duty in Virtue; Virtue in the Way; and the Way in Heaven. Therefore it is said, those who shepherded the world in ancient times were without desire and the world was satisfied, without action and the ten thousand things were transformed. They were deep and silent and the hundred clans were at rest. The Record says: “Stick to the One and the ten thousand tasks will be accomplished; achieve mindlessness and the gods and spirits will bow down.” 4
The Master said: 5 The Way covers and bears up the ten thousand things – vast, vast is its greatness! The gentleman must pluck out his mind! To act through inaction is called Heaven. To speak through inaction is called Virtue. To love men and bring profit to things is called benevolence. To make the unlike alike is called magnitude. To move beyond barrier and distinction is called liberality. To possess the ten thousand unlikes is called wealth. To hold fast to Virtue is called enrootment. To mature in Virtue is called establishment. To follow the Way is called completion. To see that external things do not blunt the will is called perfection. When the gentleman clearly comprehends these ten things, then how huge will be the greatness of his mind setting forth, how endless his ramblings with the ten thousand things!
Such a man will leave the gold hidden in the mountains, the pearls hidden in the depths. He will see no profit in money and goods, no enticement in eminence and wealth, no joy in long life, no grief in early death, no honor in affluence, no shame in poverty. He will not snatch the profits of a whole generation and make them his private hoard; he will not lord it over the world and think that he dwells in glory. His glory is enlightenment, [for he knows that] the ten thousand things belong to one storehouse, that life and death share the same body.
The Master said: The Way – how deep its dwelling, how pure its clearness! Without it, the bells and chiming stones will not sound. The bells and stones have voices but, unless they are struck, they will not sound. The ten thousand things – who can make them be still?

The man of kingly Virtue moves in simplicity and is ashamed to be a master of facts. He takes his stand in the original source and his understanding extends to the spirits. Therefore his Virtue is far-reaching. His mind moves forth only when some external thing has roused it. Without the Way the body can have no life, and without Virtue, life can have no clarity. To preserve the body and live out life, to establish Virtue and make clear the Way – is this not kingly Virtue? Broad and boundless, suddenly he emerges, abruptly he moves, and the ten thousand things follow him – this is what is called the man of kingly Virtue!

He sees in the darkest dark, hears where there is no sound. In the midst of darkness, he alone sees the dawn; in the midst of the soundless, he alone hears harmony. Therefore, in depth piled upon depth he can spy out the thing; in spirituality piled upon spirituality he can discover the essences So in his dealings with the ten thousand things he supplies all their wants out of total nothingness. Racing with the hour, he seeks lodging for a night, in the great, the small, the long, the short, the near, the far.

The Yellow Emperor went wandering north of the Red Water, ascended the slopes of K’un-lun, and gazed south. When he got home, he discovered he had lost his Dark Pearl. He sent Knowledge to look for it, but Knowledge couldn’t find it. He sent the keen-eyed Li Chu to look for it, but Li Chu couldn’t find it. He sent Wrangling Debate to look for it, but Wrangling Debate couldn’t find it. At last he tried employing Shapeless, and Shapeless found it.
The Yellow Emperor said, “How odd! – in the end it was Shapeless who was able to find it!”
Yao’s teacher was Hsu Yu, Hsu! Yu’s teacher was Nieh Ch’ueh, Nieh Ch’ueh’s teacher was Wang Ni, and Wang Ni’s teacher was P’i-i. Yao asked Hsu Yu, “Would Nieh Ch’ueh do as the counterpart of Heaven? I could get Wang Ni to ask him to take over the throne from me.”
Hsu Yu said, “Watch out! You’ll put the world in danger! Nieh Ch’ueh is a man of keen intelligence and superb understanding, nimble-wined and sharp. His inborn nature surpasses that of other men, and he knows how to exploit what Heaven has given him through human devices. He would do his best to prevent error, but he doesn’t understand the source from which error arises. Make him the counterpart of Heaven? Watch – he will start leaning on men and forget about Heaven. He will put himself first and relegate others to a class apart. He will worship knowledge and chase after it with the speed of fire. He will become the servant of causes, the victim of things, looking in all four directions to see how things are faring, trying to attend to all wants, changing along with things and possessing no trace of any constancy of his own. How could he possibly do as counterpart of Heaven? However, there are clans and there are clan heads. He might do as the father of one branch, though he would never do as the father of the father of the branch. His kind are the forerunners of disorder, a disaster to the ministers facing north, a peril to the sovereign facing south!”

Yao was seeing the sights at Hua when the border guard of Hua said, “Aha – a sage! I beg to offer up prayers for the sage. They will bring the sage long life!”

Yao said, “No, thanks.”

“They – will bring the sage riches!”

Yao said, “No, thanks.”

“They will bring the sage many sons!”

Yao said, “No, thanks.”

“Long life, riches, many sons – these are what all men desire!” said the border guard. “How is it that you alone do not desire them?”

Yao said, “Many sons mean many fears. Riches mean many troubles. Long life means many shames. These three are of no use in nourishing Virtue – therefore I decline them.”

The border guard said, “At first I took you for a sage. Now I see you are a mere gentleman. When Heaven gives birth to the ten thousand people, it is certain to have jobs to assign them. If you have many sons and their jobs are assigned them, what is there to fear? If you share your riches with other men, what troubles will you have? The true sage is a quail at rest, a little fledgling at its meal, a bird in flight who leaves no trail behind. When the world has the Way, he joins in the chorus with all other things. When the world is without the Way, he nurses his Virtue and retires in leisure. And after a thousand years, should he weary of the world, he will leave it and ascend to the immortals, riding on those white clouds all the way up to the village of God. The three worries you have cited never touch him, his body is forever free of peril. How can he suffer any shame?”

The border guard turned and left. Yao followed him, saying, “Please – I would like to ask you . . .”
“Go away!” said the border guard.

When Yao ruled the world, Po-ch’eng Tzu-kao was enfeoffed as one of his noblemen. But when Yao passed the throne to Shun, and Shun passed it to Yu, Po-ch’eng Tzu-kao relinquished his title and took up farming. Yu went to see him and found him working in the fields. Yu scurried forward in the humblest manner, came to a halt, and said, “In former times when Yao ruled the world, Sir, you served as one of his noblemen. But when Yao passed the throne to Shun, and Shun passed it to me, you relinquished your title and took up farming. May I be so bold as to ask why?”

Tzu-kao said, “In former times when Yao ruled the world, he handed out no rewards and yet the people worked hard; he handed out no punishments and vet the people were cautious. Now you reward and punish, and still the people fail to do good. From now on Virtue will decay, from now on penalties will prevail. The disorder of future ages will have its beginning here! You had better be on your way now – don’t interrupt my work!” Busily, busily he proceeded with his farm work, never turning to look back.

In the Great Beginning, there was nonbeing; there was no being, no name. Out of it arose One; there was One, but it had no form. Things got hold of it and came to life, and it was called Virtue. Before things had forms, they had their allotments; these were of many kinds, but not cut off from one another, and they were called fates. Out of the flow and flux, things were born, and as they grew they developed distinctive shapes; these were called forms. The forms and bodies held within them spirits, each with its own characteristics and limitations, and this was called the inborn nature. If the nature is trained, you may return to Virtue, and Virtue at its highest peak is identical with the Beginning. Being identical, you will be empty; being empty, you will be great. You may join in the cheeping and chirping and, when you have joined in the cheeping and chirping, you may join with Heaven and earth. Your joining is wild and confused, as though you were stupid, as though you were demented. This is called Dark Virtue. Rude and unwitting, you take part in the Great Submission.

Confucius said to Lao Tan, “Here’s a man who works to master the Way as though he were trying to talk down an opponent8 making the unacceptable acceptable, the not so, so. As the rhetoricians say, he can separate `hard’ from `white’ as clearly as though they were dangling from the eaves there. Can a man like this be called a sage?”

Lao Tan said, “A man like this is a drudging slave, a craftsman bound to his calling, wearing out his body, grieving his mind. Because the dog can catch rats, he ends up on a leash.’ Because of his nimbleness, the monkey is dragged down from the mountain forest. Ch’iu,10 I’m going to tell you something – something you could never hear for yourself and something you would never know how to speak of. People who have heads and feet but no minds and no ears – there are mobs of them. To think that beings with bodies can all go on existing along with that which is bodiless and formless – it can never happen! A man’s stops and starts, his life and death, his rises and falls – none of these can he do anything about. Yet he thinks that the mastery of them lies with man! Forget things, forget Heaven, and be called a forgetter of self. The man who has forgotten self may be said to have entered Heaven.”

Chiang-lu Mien went to see Chi Ch’e and said, “The ruler of Lu begged me to give him some instruction. I declined, but he wouldn’t let me go and so I had no choice but to tell him something. I don’t know whether what I said was right or not, but I would like to try repeating it to you. I said to the ruler of Lu, `You must be courteous and temperate! Pick out and promote those who are loyal and public-spirited, allow no flattery or favoritism, and then who of your people will venture to be unruly?’ ”

Chi Ch’e heehawed with laughter. “As far as the Virtue of emperors and kings is concerned,” he said, “your advice is like the praying mantis that waved its arms angrily in front of an approaching carriage – it just isn’t up to the job. If the ruler of Lu went about it that way, he would simply get himself all stirred up,11 place himself on a tower or a terrace. Then things would flock around him and the crowd would turn its steps in his direction!”

Chiang-lu Mien’s eyes bugged out in amazement. “I am dumfounded by your words,” he said. “Nevertheless, I would like to hear how the Master would speak on this subject.”

Chi Ch’e said, “When a great sage rules the world, he makes the minds of his people free and far-wandering. On this basis he fashions teachings and simplifies customs, wiping out all treason from their minds and allowing each to pursue his own will. All is done in accordance with the inborn nature, and yet the people do not know why it is like this. Proceeding in this way, what need has he either to revere the way in which Yao and Shun taught their people, or to look down on it in lofty contempt? His only desire is for unity with Virtue and the repose of the mind.”

Tzu-kung traveled south to Ch’u, and on his way back through Chin, as he passed along the south bank of the Han, he saw an old man preparing his fields for planting. He had hollowed out an opening by which he entered the well and from which he emerged, lugging a pitcher, which he carried out to water the fields. Grunting and puffing, he used up a great deal of energy and produced very little result.

“There is a machine for this sort of thing,” said Tzu-kung. “In one day it can water a hundred fields, demanding very little effort .and producing excellent results. Wouldn’t you like one?”
The gardener raised his head and looked at Tzu-kung. “How does it work?”

“It’s a contraption made by shaping a piece of wood. The back end is heavy and the front end light and it raises the water as though it were pouring it out, so fast that it seems to boil right over! It’s called a well sweep.”

The gardener flushed with anger and then said with a laugh, “I’ve heard my teacher say, where there are machines, there are bound to be machine worries; where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts. With a machine heart in your breast, you’ve spoiled what was pure and simple; and without the pure and simple, the life of the spirit knows no rest. Where the life of the spirit knows no rest, the Way will cease to buoy you up. It’s not that I don’t know about your machine – I would be ashamed to use it!”

Tzu-kung blushed with chagrin, looked down, and made no reply. After a while, the gardener said, “Who are you, anyway?”

“A disciple of Kung Ch’iu.”

“Oh – then you must be one of those who broaden their learning in order to ape the sages, heaping absurd nonsense on the crowd, plucking the strings and singing sad songs all by yourself in hopes of buying fame in the world! You would do best to forget your spirit and breath, break up your body and limbs – then you might be able to get somewhere. You don’t even know how to look after your own body – how do you have any time to think about looking after the world! On your way now! Don’t interfere with my work!”

Tzu-kung frowned and the color drained from his face. Dazed and rattled, he couldn’t seem to pull himself together, and it was only after he had walked on for some thirty li that he began to recover.

One of his disciples said, “Who was that man just now? Why did you change your expression and lose your color like that, Master, so that it took you all day to get back to normal?”
“I used to think there was only one real man in the world,” said Tzu-kung. “I didn’t know there was this other one. I have heard Confucius say that in affairs you aim for what is right, and in undertakings you aim for success. To spend little effort and achieve big results – that is the Way of the sage. Now it seems that this isn’t so. He who holds fast to the Way is complete in Virtue; being complete in Virtue, he is complete in body; being complete in body, he is complete in spirit; and to be complete in spirit is the Way of the sage. He is content to live among the people, to walk by their side, and never know where he is going. Witless, his purity is complete. Achievement, profit, machines, skill – they have no place in this man’s mind! A man like this will not go where he has no will to go, will not do what he has no mind to do. Though the world might praise him and say he had really found something, he would look unconcerned and never turn his head; though the world might condemn him and say he had lost something, he would look serene and pay no heed. The praise and blame of the world are no loss or gain to him. He may be called a man of Complete Virtue. I – I am a man of the wind-blown waves.”

When Tzu-kung got back to Lu, he reported the incident to Confucius. Confucius said, “He is one of those bogus practitioners of the arts of Mr. Chaos.” He knows the first thing but doesn’t understand the second. He looks after what is on the inside but doesn’t look after what is on the outside. A man of true brightness and purity who can enter into simplicity, who can return to the primitive through inaction, give body to his inborn nature, and embrace his spirit, and in this way wander through the everyday world – if you had met one like that, you would have had real cause for astonishment.14 As for the arts of Mr. Chaos, you and I need not bother to find out about them.”

Chun Mang was on his way east to the Great Valley of the sea when he happened to meet Yuan Feng by the shore of the eastern ocean.15 Yuan Feng said, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the Great Valley.”
“What will you do there?”

“The Great Valley is the sort of thing you can pour into and it never gets full, dip from and it never runs dry. I’m going to wander there.”

Yuan Feng said, “Don’t you care about what happens to ordinary men? Please, won’t you tell me about the government of the sage?”

“The government of the sage?” said Chun Mang. “Assign offices so that no abilities are overlooked, promote men so that no talents are neglected. Always know the true facts and let men do what they are best at.. When actions and words proceed properly and the world is transformed, then at a wave of the hand or a tilt of the chin all the people of the four directions will come flocking to you. This is called the government of the sage.”
“May I ask about the man of Virtue?”

“The man of Virtue rests without thought, moves without plan. He has no use for right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. To share profit with all things within the four seas is his happiness, to look after their needs is his peace. Sad-faced, he’s like a little child who has lost his mother. Bewildered, he’s like a traveler who has lost his way. He has more than enough wealth and goods, but he doesn’t know where they come from. He gets all he needs to eat and drink, but he doesn’t know how he gets it. This is called the manner of the man of Virtue.”
“May I ask about the man of spirit?”

“He lets his spirit ascend and mount upon the light; with his bodily form he dissolves and is gone. This is called the Illumination of Vastness. He lives out his fate, follows to the end his true form, and rests in the joy of Heaven and earth, while the ten thousand cares melt away. So all things return to their true form. This is called Muddled Darkness.”

Men Wu-kuei and Ch’ih-chang Man-chi were watching the troops of King Wu.16 Ch’ih-chang Man-chi said, “He is no match for the man of the Yu clan. That’s why he runs into all this trouble!”

Men Wu-kuei said, “Was the world already in good order when the man of the Yu clan came along to order it? Or was it in disorder and later he brought it to order?”

Ch’ih-chang Man-chi said, “Everybody wants to see the world well ordered. If it had been so already, what point would there have been in calling in the man of the Yu clan? The man of the Yu clan was medicine to a sore. But to wait until you go bald and then buy a wig, to wait until you get sick and then call for a doctor,, to prepare the medicine like a true filial son and present it to your loving father, wearing a grim and haggard look – this the true sage would be ashamed to do. In an age of Perfect Virtue the worthy are not honored, the talented are not employed. Rulers are like the high branches of a tree, the people like the deer of the fields. They do what is right but they do not know that this is righteousness. They love one another but they do not know that this is benevolence. They are truehearted but do not know that this is loyalty. They are trustworthy but do not know that this is good faith. They wriggle around like insects, performing services for one another, but do not know that they are being kind. Therefore they move without leaving any trail behind, act without leaving any memory of their deeds.”

When a filial son does not fawn on his parents, when a loyal minister does not flatter his lord, they are the finest of sons and ministers. He who agrees with everything his parents say and approves of everything they do is regarded by popular opinion as an unworthy son; he who agrees with everything his lord says and approves of everything his lord does is regarded by popular opinion as an unworthy minister.17 But in other cases men do not realize that the same principle should apply. If a man agrees with everything that popular opinion says and regards as good everything that popular opinion regards as good, he is not, as you might expect, called a sycophant and a flatterer. Are we to assume, then, that popular opinion commands more authority than one’s parents, or is more to be honored than one’s lord?
Call a man a sycophant and he flushes with anger; call him a flatterer and he turns crimson with rage. Yet all his life he will continue to be a sycophant, all his life he will continue to be a flatterer. See him set forth his analogies and polish his fine phrases to draw a crowd, until the beginning and end, the root and branches of his argument no longer match! 18 See him spread out his robes, display his bright colors, put on a solemn face in hopes of currying favor with the age – and yet he does not recognize himself as a sycophant or a flatterer. See him with his followers laying down the law on right and wrong and yet he does not recognize himself as one of the mob. This is the height of foolishness!

He who knows he is a fool is not the biggest fool; he who knows he is confused is not in the worst confusion. The man in the worst confusion will end his life without ever getting straightened out; the biggest fool will end his life without ever seeing the light. If three men are traveling along and one is confused, they will still get where they are going – because confusion is in the minority. But if two of them are confused, then they can walk until they are exhausted and never get anywhere – because confusion is in the majority. And with all the confusion in the world these days, no matter how often I point the way, it does no good. Sad, is it not?

Great music is lost on the ears of the villagers, but play them “The Breaking of the Willow” or “Bright Flowers” and they grin from ear to car. In the same way, lofty words make no impression on the minds of the mob. Superior words gain no hearing because vulgar words are in the majority. It is like the case of the two travelers tramping along in confusion and never getting where they are going.19 With all the confusion in the world these days, no matter how often I point the way, what good does it do? And if I know it does no good and still make myself do it, this too is a kind of confusion. So it is best to leave things alone and not force them. If I don’t force things, at least I won’t cause anyone any worry.

When the leper woman gives birth to a child in the dead of the night, she rushes to fetch a torch and examine it, trembling with terror lest it look like herself.

The hundred-year-old tree is hacked up to make bowls for the sacrificial wine, blue and yellow, with patterns on them, and the chips are thrown into the ditch. Compare the sacrificial bowls with the chips in the ditch and you will find them far apart in beauty and ugliness; yet they are alike in having lost their inborn nature. Robber Chih, Tseng, and Shih are far apart in deeds and righteousness, and yet they are the same in having lost their inborn nature. There are five conditions under which the inborn nature is lost. One: when the five colors confuse the eye and cause the eyesight to be unclear. Two: when the five notes confuse the ear and cause the hearing to be unclear. Three: when the five odors stimulate the nose and produce weariness and congestion in the forehead. Four: when the five flavors dull the mouth, causing the sense of taste to be impaired and lifeless. Five: when likes and dislikes unsettle the mind and cause the inborn nature to become volatile and flighty. These five are all a danger to life. And yet the followers of Yang Tzu and Mo Tzu go striding around, thinking they have really gotten hold of something.21 This is not what I call getting hold of something.

If what you have gotten has gotten you into trouble, then can you really be said to have gotten something? If so, then the pigeons and doves in their cage have also gotten hold of something. With likes and dislikes, sounds and colors you cripple what is on the inside; with leather caps and snipe-feathered bonnets, batons stuck in belts and sashes trailing, you cramp what is on the outside. The inside hemmed in by pickets and pegs, the outside heaped with wraps and swathes, and still you stand in this tangle of wraps and swathes and declare that you have gotten hold of something? If so, then the condemned men with their chained wrists and manacled fingers, the tiger and the leopard in their pens and prisons have also gotten hold of something!


IT IS THE WAY OF HEAVEN to keep moving and to allow no piling up – hence the ten thousand things come to completion. It is the Way of the emperor to keep moving and to allow no piling up – hence the whole world repairs to his court. It is the Way of the sage to keep moving and to allow no piling up – hence all within the seas bow to him. Comprehending Heaven, conversant with the sage, walker in the six avenues and four frontiers of the Virtue of emperors and kings – the actions of such a man come naturally; dreamily, he never lacks stillness.

The sage is still not because he takes stillness to be good and therefore is still. The ten thousand things are insufficient to distract his mind – that is the reason he is still. Water that is still gives back a clear image of beard and eyebrows; reposing in the water level, it offers a measure to the great carpenter. And if water in stillness possesses such clarity, how much more must pure spirit. The sage’s mind in stillness is the mirror of Heaven and earth, the glass of the ten thousand things.

Emptiness, stillness, limpidity, silence, inaction – these are the level of Heaven and earth, the substance of the Way and its Virtue. Therefore the emperor, the king, the sage rest in them. Resting, they may be empty; empty, they may be full; and fullness is completion.1 Empty, they may be still; still, they may move; moving, they may acquire. Still, they may rest in inaction; resting in inaction, they may demand success from those who are charged with activities. Resting in inaction, they may be merry; being merry, they may shun the place of care and anxiety, and the years of their life will be long.

Emptiness, stillness, limpidity, silence, inaction are the root of the ten thousand things. To understand them and face south is to become a ruler such as Yao was; to understand them and face north is to become a minister such as Shun was.2 To hold them in high station is the Virtue of emperors and kings, of the Son of Heaven; to hold them in lowly station is the way of the dark sage, the uncrowned king. Retire with them to a life of idle wandering and you will command first place among the recluses of the rivers and seas, the hills and forests. Come forward with them to succor the age and your success will be great, your name renowned, and the world will be united. In stillness you will be a sage, in action a king. Resting in inaction, you will be honored; of unwrought simplicity, your beauty will be such that no one in the world may vie with you.

He who has a clear understanding of the Virtue of Heaven and earth may be called the Great Source, the Great Ancestor. He harmonizes with Heaven; and by doing so he brings equitable accord to the world and harmonizes with men as well. To harmonize with men is called human joy; to harmonize with Heaven is called Heavenly joy. Chuang Tzu has said, “This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine – he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn’t think himself severe; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn’t think himself benevolent. He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn’t think himself long-lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn’t think himself skilled.” 3 This is what is called Heavenly joy.

So it is said, for him who understands Heavenly joy, life is the working of Heaven; death is the transformation of things. In stillness, he and the yin share a single Virtue; in motion, he and the yang share a single flow. Thus he who understands Heavenly joy incurs no wrath from Heaven, no opposition from man, no entanglement from things, no blame from the spirits. So it is said, his movement is of Heaven, his stillness of earth. With his single mind in repose, he is king of the world; the spirits do not afflict him; his soul knows no weariness. His single mind reposed, the ten thousand things submit – which is to say that his emptiness and stillness reach throughout Heaven and earth and penetrate the ten thousand things. This is what is called Heavenly joy. Heavenly joy is the mind of the sage, by which he shepherds the world.
The Virtue of emperors and kings takes Heaven and earth as its ancestor, the Way and its Virtue as its master, inaction as its constant rule. With inaction, you may make the world work for you and have leisure to spare; with action, you will find yourself working for the world and never will it be enough. Therefore the men of old prized inaction.

If superiors adopt inaction and inferiors adopt inaction as well, then inferior and superior will share the same virtue, and if inferior and superior share the same virtue, there will be none to act as minister. If inferiors adopt action and superiors adopt action as well, then superior and inferior will share the same way, and if superior and inferior share the same way, there will be none to act as lord. Superiors must adopt inaction and make the world work for them; inferiors must adopt action and work for the world. This is an unvarying truth.

Therefore the kings of the world in ancient times, though their knowledge encompassed all Heaven and earth, did not of themselves lay plans; though their power of discrimination embraced 4 the ten thousand things, they did not of themselves expound any theories; though their abilities outshone all within the four seas, they did not of themselves act. Heaven does not give birth, yet the ten thousand things are transformed; earth does not sustain, yet the ten thousand things are nourished. The emperor and the king do not act, yet the world is benefited. So it is said, nothing so spiritual as Heaven, nothing so rich as earth, nothing so great as the emperor and the king. So it is said, the Virtue of the emperor and the king is the counterpart of Heaven and earth. This is the way to mount upon Heaven and earth, to make the ten thousand things gallop, to employ the mass of men.

The source rests with the superior, the trivia with the inferior; the essential resides in the ruler, the details in his ministers. The blandishments of the three armies and the five weapons – these are the trivia of Virtue. The doling out of rewards and punishments, benefit and loss, the five penalties – these are the trivia of public instruction.5 Rites and laws, weights, measures, the careful comparison of forms and names6 – these are the trivia of good government. The tones of bell and drum, the posturings of feather and tassel – these are the trivia of music.7 Lamentation and coarse garments, the mourning periods of varying lengths – these are the trivia of grief. These five trivia must wait for the movement of pure spirit, for the vitality of the mind’s art before they can command respect. The study of such trivia was known to antiquity but the men of old gave them no precedence.

The ruler precedes, the minister follows; the father precedes, the son follows; the older brother precedes, the younger brother follows; the senior precedes, the junior follows; the man precedes, the woman follows; the husband precedes, the wife follows. Honor and lowliness, precedence and following are part of the workings of Heaven and earth, and from them the sage draws his model.

Heaven is honorable, earth lowly – such are their ranks in spiritual enlightenment. Spring and summer precede, autumn and winter follow – such is the sequence of the four seasons. The ten thousand things change and grow, their roots and buds, each with its distinctive form, flourishing and decaying by degree, a constant flow of change and transformation. If Heaven and earth, the loftiest in spirituality, have yet their sequence of honorable and lowly, of preceder and follower, how much more must the way of man! In the ancestral temple, honor is determined by degree of kinship; in the court, by degree of nobility; in the village, by degree of seniority; in the administration of affairs, by degree of worth. This is the sequence of the Great Way.

If you speak of the Way and not of its sequence, then it is not a way; and if you speak of a way that is not a way, then how can anyone make his way by it? Therefore the men of ancient times who clearly understood the Great Way first made clear Heaven and then went on to the Way and its Virtue. Having made clear the Way and its Virtue, they went on to benevolence and righteousness. Having made clear benevolence and righteousness, they went on to the observance of duties. Having made clear the observance of duties, they went on to forms and names. Having made clear forms and names, they went on to the assignment of suitable offices. Having made clear the assignment of suitable offices, they went on to the scrutiny of performance. Having made clear the scrutiny of performance, they went on to the judgment of right and wrong. Having made clear the judgment of right and wrong, they went on to rewards and punishments. Having made clear rewards and punishments, they could be certain that stupid and wise were in their proper place, that eminent and lowly were rightly ranked, that good and worthy men as well as unworthy ones showed their true form, that all had duties suited to their abilities, that all acted in accordance with their titles. It was in this way that superiors were served, inferiors were shepherded, external things were ordered, the inner man was trained. Knowledge and scheming were unused, yet all found rest in Heaven. This was called the Great Peace, the Highest Government. Hence the book says, “There are forms and there are names.”8 Forms and names were known to antiquity, but the men of old gave them no precedence.

Those who spoke of the Great Way in ancient times could count to five in the sequence [described above] and pick out “forms and names,” or count to nine and discuss “rewards and punishments.” But to jump right in and talk about “forms and names” is to lack an understanding of the source; to jump right in and talk about “rewards and punishments” is to lack an understanding of the beginning. Those who stand the Way on its head before describing it, who turn it backwards before expounding it, may be brought to order by others, but how could they be capable of bringing others to order? Those who jump right in and talk about “forms and names,” “rewards and punishments,” have an understanding of the tools for bringing order, but no understanding of the way to bring order. They may work for the world, but they are not worthy to make the world work for them. They are rhetoricians, scholars cramped in one corner of learning. Rites and laws, weights and measures, the careful comparison of forms and names – the men of old had all these. They are the means by which those below serve those above, not the means by which those above shepherd those below.
Long ago Shun asked Yao, “As Heaven-appointed king, how do you use your mind?”
Yao replied, “I never abuse those who have nowhere to sue, nor reject the poor people. Grieving for the dead, comforting the orphan, pitying the widow – I use my mind in these things alone.”

Shun said, “Admirable, as far as admirableness goes. But not yet great.”
Yao said, “Then what should I do?”

Shun said, “Heaven raised on high, earth in peace,9 sun and moon shining, the four seasons marching – if you could be like the constant succession of day and night, the clouds which move, the rains that fall!”

“And to think I have been going to all this bustle and bother!” said Yao. “You are one who joins with Heaven; I am one who joins with man.”

Heaven and earth have been called great since ancient times, have been praised in chorus by the Yellow Emperor, Yao, and Shun. The kings of the world in ancient times – what need had they for action? Heaven and earth was enough for them.

Confucius went west to deposit his works with the royal house of Chou. Tzu-lu advised him, saying, “I have heard that the Keeper of the Royal Archives is one Lao Tan, now retired and living at home. If you wish to deposit your works, you might try going to see him about it.”
“Excellent!” said Confucius, and went to see Lao Tan, but Lao Tan would not give permission. Thereupon Confucius unwrapped his Twelve Classics and began expounding them.10 Halfway through the exposition, Lao Tan said, “This will take forever! Just let me hear the gist of the thing”

“The gist of it,” said Confucius, “is benevolence and righteousness.”
“May I ask if benevolence and righteousness belong to the inborn nature of man?” said Lao Tan.

“Of course,” said Confucius. “If the gentleman lacks benevolence, he will get nowhere; if he lacks righteousness, he cannot even stay alive. Benevolence and righteousness are truly the inborn nature of man. What else could they be?”

Lao Tan said, “May I ask your definition of benevolence and righteousness?”

Confucius said, “To be glad and joyful 11 in mind; to embrace universal love and be without partisanship – this is the true form of benevolence and righteousness.”

Lao Tan said, “Hmm – close-except for the last part. `Universal love’ – that’s a rather nebulous ideal, isn’t it? And to be without partisanship is already a kind of partisanship. Do you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity?

Heaven and earth hold fast to their constant ways, the sun and moon to their brightness, the stars and planets to their ranks, the birds and beasts to their flocks, the trees and shrubs to their stands. You have only to go along with Virtue in your actions, to follow the Way in your journey, and already you will be there. Why these flags of benevolence and righteousness so bravely upraised, as though you were beating a drum and searching for a lost child? Ah, you will bring confusion to the nature of man!”

Shih Ch’eng-ch’i went to see Lao Tzu. “I had heard that you were a sage,” he said, “and so, without minding how long the road was, I came to beg an interview – a hundred nights along the way, feet covered with calluses, and yet I did not dare to stop and rest. Now that I see you, though, I find you are no sage at all. Rat holes heaped with leftover grain and yet you turn your little sister out of the house, an unkind act indeed! More raw and cooked food in front of you than you can ever get through, and yet you go on endlessly hoarding goods!” 13 Lao Tzu looked blank and made no reply.

The following day, Shih Ch’eng-ch’i came to see him again and said, “Yesterday I was very sharp with you, but now I have no heart for that sort of thing.14 I wonder why that is?”
Lao Tzu said, “Artful wisdom, the spirit-like sage – I hope I have shuffled off categories of that sort! If you’d called me an ox, I’d have said I was an ox; if you’d called me a horse, I’d have said I was a horse. If the reality is there and you refuse to accept the name men give it, you’ll only lay yourself open to double harassment. My submission is a constant submission; I do not submit because I think it time to submit.”

Shih Ch’eng-ch’i backed respectfully away so that he would not tread on Lao Tzu’s shadow, and then advanced once more in humble manner and asked how he should go about cultivating his person.

Lao Tzu said, “Your face is grim, your eyes are fierce, your forehead is broad, your mouth gaping, your manner overbearing, like a horse held back by a tether, watching for a chance to bolt, bounding off as though shot from a crossbow. Scrutinizing ever so carefully, crafty in wisdom, parading your arrogance – all this invites mistrust. Up in the borderlands a man like you would be taken for a thief!”

The Master said: The Way does not falter before the huge, is not forgetful of the tiny; therefore the ten thousand things are complete in it. Vast and ample, there is nothing it does not receive. Deep and profound, how can it be fathomed? Punishment and favor,15 benevolence and righteousness – these are trivia to the spirit, and yet who but the Perfect Man can put them in their rightful place?

When the Perfect Man rules the world, he has hold of a huge thing, does he not? – yet it is not enough to snare him in entanglement. He works the handles that control the world, but is not a party to the workings. He sees clearly into what has no falsehood and is unswayed by thoughts of gain. He ferrets out the truth of things and knows how to cling to the source. Therefore he can put Heaven and earth outside himself, forget the ten thousand things, and his spirit has no cause to be wearied. He dismisses benevolence and righteousness, rejects16 rites and music, for the mind of the Perfect Man knows where to find repose.

Men of the world who value the Way all turn to books. But books are nothing more than words. Words have value; what is of value in words is meaning. Meaning has something it is pursuing, but the thing that it is pursuing cannot be put into words and handed down. The world values words and hands down books but, though the world values them, I do not think them worth valuing. What the world takes to be value is not real value.

What you can look at and see are forms and colors; what you can listen to and hear are names and sounds. What a pity! – that the men of the world should suppose that form and color, name and sound are sufficient to convey the truth of a thing. It is because in the end they are not sufficient to convey truth that “those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know.” 17 But how can the world understand this!

Duke Huan was in his hall reading a book. The wheelwright P’ien, who was in the yard below chiseling a wheel, laid down his mallet and chisel, stepped up into the hall, and said to Duke Huan, “This book Your Grace is reading – may I venture to ask whose words are in it?”
“The words of the sages,” said the duke.
“Are the sages still alive?”
“Dead long ago,” said the duke.

“In that case, what you are reading there is nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old!”
“Since when does a wheelwright have permission to comment on the books I read?” said Duke Huan. “If you have some explanation, well and good. If not, it’s your life!”

Wheelwright P’ien said, “I look at it from the point of view of my own work. When I chisel a wheel, if the blows of the mallet are too gentle, the chisel slides and won’t take hold. But if they’re too hard, it bites in and won’t budge. Not too gentle, not too hard – you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind. You can’t put it into words, and yet there’s a knack to it somehow. I can’t teach it to my son, and he can’t learn it from me. So I’ve gone along for seventy years and at my age I’m still chiseling wheels. When the men of old died, they took with them the things that couldn’t be handed down. So what you are reading there must be nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old.”

DOES HEAVEN TURN? Does the earth sit still? Do sun and moon compete for a place to shine? Who masterminds all this? Who pulls the strings? Who, resting inactive himself, gives the push that makes it go this way? I wonder, is there some mechanism that works it and won’t let it stop? I wonder if it just rolls and turns and can’t bring itself to a halt? Do the clouds make the rain, or does the rain make the clouds? Who puffs them up, who showers them down like this? Who, resting inactive himself, stirs up all this lascivious joy? 1 The winds rise in the north, blowing now west, now east, whirling up to wander on high. Whose breaths and exhalations are they? Who, resting inactive himself, huffs and puffs them about like this?
The shaman Hsien beckoned 2 and said, “Come – I will tell you. Heaven has the six directions and the five constants.3 When emperors and kings go along with these, there is good order; when they move contrary to these, there is disaster. With the instructions of the Nine Lo,4 order can be made to reign and virtue completed. The ruler will shine mirror-like over the earth below, and the world will bear him up. He may be called an August One on high.” 5
Tang, the prime minister of Shang,6 asked Chuang Tzu about benevolence.

Chuang Tzu said, “Tigers and wolves – they’re benevolent.”
“How can you say that?”
Chuang Tzu said, “Sire and cubs warm and affectionate with one another – why do you say they’re not benevolent?”
“What I am asking to hear about is perfect benevolence.”
“Perfect benevolence knows no affection,” said Chuang Tzu.

The prime minister said, “I have heard that where affection is lacking, there will be no love, and if there is no love, there will be no filial piety. Can you possibly say that perfect benevolence is unfilial?”

“No, no,” said Chuang Tzu. “Perfect benevolence is a lofty thing – words like filial piety would never do to describe it. And what you are talking about is not something that surpasses filial piety, but something that doesn’t even come up to it. If a traveler to the south turns to look north again when he reaches the city of Ying, he will no longer see the dark northern mountains. Why? Because they are too far away. Thus it is said, to be filial out of respect is easy; to be filial out of love is hard. To be filial out of love is easy; to forget parents is hard. To forget parents is easy; to make parents forget you is hard. To make parents forget you is easy; to forget the whole world is hard. To forget the whole world is easy; to make the whole world forget you is hard. Virtue discards Yao and Shun and rests in inaction. Its bounty enriches ten thousand ages, and yet no one in the world knows this. Why all these deep sighs, this talk of benevolence and filial piety? Filial piety, brotherliness, benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, trust, honor, integrity – for all of these you must drive yourself and make a slave of Virtue. They are not worth prizing. So it is said, Highest eminence scorns the titles of the kingdom; greatest wealth rejects the riches of the kingdom; loftiest desire ignores fame and reputation. It is the Way alone that never varies.”

Ch’eng of North Gate said to the Yellow Emperor, “When Your Majesty performed the Hsien-ch’ih music in the wilds around Lake Tung-t’ing, I listened, and at first I was afraid. I listened some more and felt weary, and then I listened to the end and felt confused. Overwhelmed, speechless, I couldn’t get hold of myself.”

“It’s not surprising you felt that way,” said the emperor. “I performed it through man, tuned it to Heaven, went forward with ritual principle, and established it in Great Purity. Perfect music must first respond to the needs of man, accord with the reason of Heaven, proceed by the Five Virtues, and blend with spontaneity; only then can it bring order to the four seasons and bestow a final harmony upon the ten thousand things.7 Then the four seasons will rise one after the other, the ten thousand things will take their turn at living. Now flourishing, now decaying, the civil and military strains will keep them in step; now with clear notes, now with dull ones, the yin and the yang will blend all in harmony, the sounds flowing forth like light, like hibernating insects that start to wriggle again, like the crash of thunder with which I awe the world. At the end, no tail; at the beginning, no head; now dead, now alive, now flat on the ground, now up on its feet, its constancy is unending, yet there is nothing that can be counted on. That’s why you felt afraid.

“Then I played it with the harmony of yin and yang, lit it with the shining of sun and moon; its notes I was able to make long or short, yielding or strong, modulating about a single unity, but bowing before no rule or constancy. In the valley they filled the valley; in the void they filled the void; plugging up the crevices, holding back the spirit, accepting things on their own terms. Its notes were clear and radiant,8 its fame high and bright. Therefore the ghosts and spirits kept to their darkness and the sun, moon, stars, and constellations marched in their orbits. I made it stop where there is an end to things, made it flow where there is no stopping. You9 try to fathom it but can’t understand, try to gaze at it but can’t see, try to overtake it but can’t catch up. You stand dazed before the four-directioned emptiness of the Way, or lean on your desk and moan. Your eyes fail before you can see, your strength knuckles under before you can catch up.10 It was nothing I could do anything about. Your body melted into the empty void, and this brought you to an idle freedom. It was this idle freedom that made you feel weary.

“Then I played it with unwearying notes and tuned it to the command of spontaneity. Therefore there seemed to be a chaos where things grow in thickets together, a maturity where nothing takes form, a universal plucking where nothing gets pulled, a clouded obscurity where there is no sound. It moved in no direction at all, rested in mysterious shadow. Some called it death, some called it life, some called it fruit, some called it flower. It flowed and scattered, and bowed before no constant tone. The world, perplexed by it, went to the sage for instruction, for the sage is the comprehender of true form and the completer of fate. When the Heavenly mechanism is not put into action and yet the five vital organs are all complete this may be called the music of Heaven. Wordless, it delights the mind. Therefore the lord of Yen sang its praises thus: `Listen – you do not hear its sound; look – you do not see its form. It fills all Heaven and earth, enwraps all the six directions.’ You wanted to hear it but had no way to go about it. That was why you felt confused.

“Music begins with fear, and because of this fear there is dread, as of a curse. Then I add the weariness, and because of the weariness there is compliance. I end it all with confusion, and because of the confusion there is stupidity. And because of the stupidity there is the Way, the Way that can be lifted up and carried around wherever you go.”

When Confucius was away in the west visiting the state of Wei, Yen Yuan said to the Music Master Chin, “What do you think of my master’s trip?”

Music Master Chin said, “A pity! – your master will most likely end up in trouble.”

“How so?” asked Yen Yuan.

Music Master Chin said, “Before the straw dogs are presented at the sacrifice, they are stored in bamboo boxes and covered over with patterned embroidery, while the impersonator of the dead and the priest fast and practice austerities in preparation for fetching them. But after they have once been presented, then all that remains for them is to be trampled on, head and back, by passers-by; to be swept up by the grasscutters and burned.13 And if anyone should come along and put them back in their bamboo boxes, cover them over with patterned embroidery, and linger or lie down to sleep beneath them, he would dream no proper dreams; on the contrary, he would most certainly be visited again and again by nightmares.
“Now your master has picked up some old straw dogs that had been presented by the former kings, and has called together his disciples to linger and lie down in sleep beneath them. Therefore the people chopped down the tree on him in Sung, wiped away his footprints in Wei, and made trouble for him in Shang and Chou – such were the dreams he had. They besieged him between Ch’en and Ts’ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food, till he hovered on the border between life and death – such were the nightmares he had.

“Nothing is as good as a boat for crossing water, nothing as good as a cart for crossing land. But though a boat will get you over water, if you try to push it across land, you may push till your dying day and hardly move it any distance at all. And are the past and present not like the water and the land, and the states of Chou and Lu not like a boat and a cart?

To hope to practice the ways of Chou in the state of Lu is like trying to push a boat over land – a great deal of work, no success, and certain danger to the person who tries it. The man who tries to do so has failed to understand the turning that has no direction, that responds to things and is never at a loss.

“Have you never seen a well sweep? Pull it, and down it comes; let go, and up it swings. It allows itself to be pulled around by men; it doesn’t try to pull them. So it can go up and down and never get blamed by anybody.

“Thus it is that the rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors are prized not because they were uniform, but because they were capable of bringing about order.15 The rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors may be compared to the haw, the pear, the orange, and the citron. Their flavors are quite different, yet all are pleasing to the mouth. Rituals and regulations are something that change in response to the times. If you take a monkey and dress him in the robes of the Duke of Chou, he will bite and tear at them, not satisfied until he has divested himself of every stitch. And a glance will show that past and present are no more alike than are a monkey and the Duke of Chou!

“The beautiful Hsi-shih, troubled with heartburn, frowned at her neighbors. An ugly woman of the neighborhood, seeing that Hsi-shih was beautiful, went home and likewise pounded her breast and frowned at her neighbors. But at the sight of her the rich men of the neighborhood shut tight their gates and would not venture out, while the poor men grabbed their wives and children by the hand and scampered off. The woman understood that someone frowning could be beautiful, but she did not understand where the beauty of the frown came from. A pity, indeed! Your master is going to end up in trouble!”

Confucius had gone along until he was fifty-one and had still not heard the Way. Finally he went south to P’ei and called on Lao Tan. “Ah, you have come,” said Lao Tan. “I’ve heard that you are a worthy man of the northern region. Have you found the Way?”

“Not yet,” said Confucius.
“Where did you look for it?” asked Lao Tan.
“I looked for it in rules and regulations, but five years went by and still I hadn’t found it.”
“Where else did you look for it?” asked Lao Tan.

“I looked for it in the yin and yang, but twelve years went by and I still hadn’t found it.”
“It stands to reason!” said Lao Tan. “If the Way could be presented, there is no man who would not present it to his ruler. If the Way could be offered, there is no man who would not offer it to his parents. If the Way could be reported, there is no man who would not report it to his brothers. If the Way could be bequeathed, there is no man who would not bequeath it to his heirs. But it cannot – and for none other than the following reason. If there is no host on the inside to receive it, it will not stay; if there is no mark on the outside to guide it, it will not go. If what is brought forth from the inside is not received on the outside, then the sage will not bring it forth. If what is taken in from the outside is not received by a host on the inside, the sage will not entrust it.”

“Fame is a public weapon – don’t reach for it too often. Benevolence and righteousness are the grass huts of the former kings; you may stop in them for one night but you mustn’t tarry there for long. A lengthy stay would invite many reproaches. The Perfect Man of ancient times used benevolence as a path to be borrowed, righteousness as a lodge to take shelter in. He wandered in the free and easy wastes, ate in the plain and simple fields, and strolled in the garden of no bestowal. Free and easy, he rested in inaction; plain and simple, it was not hard for him to live; bestowing nothing, he did not have to hand things out. The men of old called this the wandering of the Truth-picker.

“He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, never cease to gaze with greedy eyes – they are men punished by Heaven. Resentment and kindness, taking away and giving, reproof and instruction, life and death – these eight things are the weapons of the corrector.17 Only he who complies with the Great Change and allows no blockage will be able to use them. Therefore it is said, The corrector must be correct. If the mind cannot accept this fact, then the doors of Heaven will never open!”

Confucius called on Lao Tan and spoke to him about benevolence and righteousness. Lao Tan said, “Chaff from the winnowing fan can so blind the eye that heaven, earth, and the four directions all seem to shift place. A mosquito or a horsefly stinging your skin can keep you awake a whole night. And when benevolence and righteousness in all their fearfulness come to muddle the mind ,18 the confusion is unimaginable. If you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity, you must move with the freedom of the wind, stand in the perfection of Virtue. Why all this huffing and puffing, as though you were carrying a big drum and searching for a lost child! The snow goose needs no daily bath to stay white; the crow needs no daily inking to stay black. Black and white in their simplicity offer no ground for argument; fame and reputation in their clamorousness19 offer no ground for envy. When the springs dry up and the fish are left stranded on the ground, they spew each other with moisture and wet each other down with spit – but it would be much better if they could forget each other in the rivers and lakes!”

When Confucius returned from his visit with Lao Tan, he did not speak for three days. His disciples said, “Master, you’ve seen Lao Tan – what estimation would you make of him?”
Confucius said, “At last I may say that I have seen a dragon – a dragon that coils to show his body at its best, that sprawls out to display his patterns at their best, riding on the breath of the clouds, feeding on the yin and yang. My mouth fell open and I couldn’t close it; my tongue flew up and I couldn’t even stammer. How could I possibly make any estimation of Lao Tan!”
Tzu-kung said, “Then is it true that the Perfect Man can command corpse-like stillness and dragon vision, the voice of thunder and the silence of deep pools; that he breaks forth into movement like Heaven and earth? If only I too could get to see him!”

In the end he went with an introduction from Confucius and called on Lao Tan. Lao Tan was about to sit down in the hall and stretch out his legs. In a small voice he said, “I’ve lived to see a great many years come and go. What advice is it you have for me?”

Tzu-kung said, “The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world in ways that were not the same, though they were alike in the praise and acclaim they won. I am told, Sir, that you alone do not regard them as sages. May I ask why?”

Lao Tan said, “Young man, come a little closer! Why do you say that they ruled in ways that were not the same?”

“Yao ceded the throne to Shun, and Shun ceded it to Yu. Yu wore himself out over it, and T’ang even resorted to war. King Wen obeyed Chou and did not dare to rebel; but his son King Wu turned against Chou and refused to remain loyal. Therefore I say that they were not the same.”

Lao Tan said, “Young man, come a little closer and I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world. In ancient times the Yellow Emperor ruled the world by making the hearts of the people one. Therefore, if there were those among the people who did not wail at the death of their parents, the people saw nothing wrong in this. Yao ruled the world by making the hearts of the people affectionate. Therefore, if there were those among the people who decided to mourn for longer or shorter periods according to the degree of kinship of the deceased, the people saw nothing wrong in this. Shun ruled the world by making the hearts of the people rivalrous. Therefore the wives of the people became pregnant and gave birth in the tenth month as in the past, but their children were not five months old before they were able to talk, and their baby laughter had hardly rung out before they had begun to distinguish one person from another. It was then that premature death first appeared. Yu ruled the world by causing the hearts of the people to change. It was assumed that each man had a heart of his own, that recourse to arms was quite all right. Killing a thief is not a case of murder, they said; every man in the world should look out for his own kind. As a result, there was great consternation in the world, and the Confucians and Mo-ists all came forward, creating for the first time the rules of ethical behavior. But what would they say of those men who nowadays make wives of their daughters?

“I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world! They called it `ruling,’ but in fact they were plunging it into the worst confusion. The `wisdom’ of the Three August Ones was such as blotted out the brightness of sun and moon above, sapped the vigor of hills and streams below, and overturned the round of the four seasons in between. Their wisdom was more fearsome than the tail of the scorpion; down to the smallest beast, not a living thing was allowed to rest in the true form of its nature and fate. And yet they considered themselves sages! Was it not shameful – their lack of shame!”

Tzu-kung, stunned and speechless, stood wondering which way to turn.
Confucius said to Lao Tan, “I have been studying the Six Classics – the Odes, the Documents, the Ritual, the Music, the Changes, and the Spring and Autumn, for what I would call a long time, and I know their contents through and through. But I have been around to seventy-two different rulers with them, expounding the ways of the former kings and making clear the path trod by the dukes of Chou and Shao, and yet not a single ruler has found anything to excite his interest. How difficult it is to persuade others, how difficult to make clear the Way!”
Lao Tzu said, “It’s lucky you didn’t meet with a ruler who would try to govern the world as you say. The Six Classics are the old worn-out paths of the former kings – they are not the thing which walked the path. What you are expounding are simply these paths. Paths are made by shoes that walk them, they are by no means the shoes themselves!

“The white fish hawk has only to stare unblinking at its mate for fertilization to occur. With insects, the male cries on the wind above, the female cries on the wind below, and there is fertilization. The creature called the lei is both male and female and so it can fertilize itself. Inborn nature cannot be changed, fate cannot be altered, time cannot be stopped, the Way cannot be obstructed. Get hold of the Way and there’s nothing that can’t be done; lose it and there’s nothing that can be done.”

Confucius stayed home for three months and then came to see Lao Tan once again. “I’ve got it,” he said. “The magpie hatches its young, the fish spit out their milt, the slim-waisted wasp has its stages of transformation, and when baby brother is born, big brother howls.21 For a long time now I have not been taking my place as a man along with the process of change. And if I do not take my own place as a man along with the process of change, how can I hope to change other men?”
Lao Tzu said, “Good, Ch’iu – now you’ve got it!”

TO BE CONSTRAINED IN WILL, lofty in action, aloof from the world, apart from its customs, elevated in discourse, sullen and critical, indignation his whole concern – such is the life favored by the scholar in his mountain valley, the man who condemns the world, the worn and haggard one who means to end it all with a plunge into the deep. To discourse on benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, and good faith, to be courteous, temperate, modest, and deferential, moral training his whole concern – such is the life favored by the scholar who seeks to bring the world to order, the man who teaches and instructs, who at home and abroad lives for learning. To talk of great accomplishments, win a great name, define the etiquette of ruler and subject, regulate the position of superior and inferior, the ordering of the state his only concern – such is the life favored by the scholar of court and council, the man who would honor his sovereign and strengthen his country, the bringer of accomplishment, the annexer of territory. To repair to the thickets and ponds, living idly in the wilderness, angling for fish in solitary places, inaction his only concern – such is the life favored by the scholar of the rivers and seas, the man who withdraws from the world, the unhurried idler. To pant, to puff, to hail, to sip, to spit out the old breath and draw in the new, practicing bear-hangings and bird-stretchings, longevity his only concern – such is the life favored by the scholar who practices Induction, the man who nourishes his body, who hopes to live to be as old as P’eng-tsu.

But to attain loftiness without constraining the will; to achieve moral training without benevolence and righteousness, good order without accomplishments and fame, leisure without rivers and seas, long life without Induction; to lose everything and yet possess everything, at ease in the illimitable, where all good things come to attend – this is the Way of Heaven and earth, the Virtue of the sage. So it is said, Limpidity, silence, emptiness, inaction – these are the level of Heaven and earth, the substance of the Way and its Virtue. So it is said, The sage rests; with rest comes peaceful ease, with peaceful ease comes limpidity, and where there is ease and limpidity, care and worry cannot get at him, noxious airs cannot assault him. Therefore his Virtue is complete and his spirit unimpaired.

So it is said, With the sage, his life is the working of Heaven, his death the transformation of things. In stillness, he and the yin share a single Virtue; in motion, he and the yang share a single flow. He is not the bearer of good fortune, nor the initiator of bad fortune. Roused by something outside himself, only then does he respond; pressed, only then does he move; finding he has no choice, only then does he rise up. He discards knowledge and purpose and follows along with the reasonableness of Heaven. Therefore he incurs no disaster from Heaven, no entanglement from things, no opposition from man, no blame from the spirits. His life is a floating, his death a rest. He does not ponder or scheme, does not plot for the future. A man of light, he does not shine; of good faith, he keeps no promises. He sleeps without dreaming, wakes without worry. His spirit is pure and clean, his soul never wearied. In emptiness, nonbeing, and limpidity, he joins with the Virtue of Heaven.

So it is said, Grief and happiness are perversions of Virtue; joy and anger are transgressions of the Way; love and hate are offenses against Virtue. When the mind is without care or joy, this is the height of Virtue. When it is unified and unchanging, this is the height of stillness. When it grates against nothing, this is the height of emptiness. When it has no commerce with things, this is the height of limpidity. When it rebels against nothing, this is the height of purity.

So it is said, If the body is made to labor and take no rest, it will wear out; if the spiritual essence is taxed without cessation, it will grow weary, and weariness will bring exhaustion. It is the nature of water that if it is not mixed with other things, it will be clear, and if nothing stirs it, it will be level. But if it is dammed and hemmed in and not allowed to flow, then, too, it will cease to be clear. As such, it is a symbol of Heavenly Virtue. So it is said, To be pure, clean, and mixed with nothing; still, unified, and unchanging; limpid and inactive; moving with the workings of Heaven – this is the way to care for the spirit.

The man who owns a sword from Kan or Yueh lays it in a box and stores it away, not daring to use it, for to him it is the greatest of treasures. Pure spirit reaches in the four directions, flows now this way, now that – there is no place it does not extend to. Above, it brushes Heaven; below, it coils on the earth. It transforms and nurses the ten thousand things, but no one can make out its form. Its name is called One-with-Heaven. The way to purity and whiteness is to guard the spirit, this alone; guard it and never lose it, and you will become one with spirit, one with its pure essence, which communicates and mingles with the Heavenly Order.2 The common saying has it, “The ordinary man prizes gain, the man of integrity prizes name, the worthy man honors ambition, the sage values spiritual essence.” Whiteness means there is nothing mixed in; purity means the spirit is never impaired. He who can embody purity and whiteness may be called the True Man.

THOSE WHO SET ABOUT MENDING the inborn nature through vulgar learning, hoping thereby to return once more to the Beginning; those who set about muddling their desires through vulgar ways of thought, hoping thereby to attain clarity – they may be called the blind and benighted people.

The men of ancient times who practiced the Way employed tranquility to cultivate knowledge. Knowledge lived in them, yet they did nothing for its sake. So they may be said to have employed knowledge to cultivate tranquility. Knowledge and tranquility took turns cultivating each other, and harmony and order emerged from the inborn nature.
Virtue is harmony, the Way is order. When Virtue embraces all things, we have benevolence. When the Way is in all respects well ordered, we have righteousness. When righteousness is clearly understood and all things cling to it, we have loyalty. When within there is purity, fullness, and a return to true form, we have music. When good faith is expressed in face and body and there is a compliance with elegance, we have rites. But if all emphasis is placed on the conduct of rites and music, then the world will fall into disorder. The ruler, in his efforts to rectify, will draw a cloud over his own virtue, and his virtue will no longer extend to all things. And should he try to force it to extend, then things would invariably lose their inborn nature.

The men of old dwelt in the midst of crudity and chaos; side by side with the rest of the world, they attained simplicity and silence there. At that time the yin and yang were harmonious and still, ghosts and spirits worked no mischief, the four seasons kept to their proper order, the ten thousand things knew no injury, and living creatures were free from premature death. Although men had knowledge, they did not use it. This was called the Perfect Unity. At this time, no one made a move to do anything, and there was unvarying spontaneity.
The time came, however, when Virtue began to dwindle and decline, and then Sui Jen and Fu Hsi stepped forward to take charge of the world. As a result there was compliance, but no longer any unity. Virtue continued to dwindle and decline, and then Shen Nung and the Yellow Emperor stepped forward to take charge of the world. As a result, there was security, but no longer any compliance. Virtue continued to dwindle and decline, and then Yao and Shun stepped forward to take charge of the world.3 They set about in various fashions to order and transform the world, and in doing so defiled purity and shattered simplicity. The Way was pulled apart for the sake of goodness; Virtue was imperiled for the sake of conduct. After this, inborn nature was abandoned and minds were set free to roam, mind joining with mind in understanding; there was knowledge, but it could not bring stability to the world. After this, “culture” was added on, and “breadth” was piled on top. “Culture” destroyed the substantial, “breadth” drowned the mind, and after this the people began to be confused and disordered. They had no way to revert to the true form of their inborn nature or to return once more to the Beginning.

From this we may see that the world has lost the Way, and the Way has lost the world; the world and the Way have lost each other. What means does a man of the Way have to go forward in the world? What means does the world have to go forward in the Way? The Way cannot go forward in the world, and the world cannot go forward in the Way. So, although the sage does not retire to dwell in the midst of the mountain forest, his Virtue is already hidden. It is already hidden, and therefore he does not need to hide it himself.

The so-called scholars in hiding of ancient times did not conceal their bodies and refuse to let them be seen; they did not shut in their words and refuse to let them out; they did not stow away their knowledge and refuse to share it. But the fate of the times was too much awry. If the fate of the times had been with them and they could have done great deeds in the world, then they would have returned to Unity and left no trace behind. But the fate of the times was against them and brought them only great hardship in the world, and therefore they deepened their roots, rested in perfection, and waited. This was the way they kept themselves alive.

Those in ancient times who wished to keep themselves alive did not use eloquence to ornament their knowledge. They did not use their knowledge to make trouble for the world; they did not use their knowledge to make trouble for Virtue. Loftily they kept to their places and returned to their inborn nature. Having done that, what more was there for them to do? The way has no use for petty conduct; Virtue has no use for petty understanding. Petty understanding injures Virtue; petty conduct injures the Way. Therefore it is said, Rectify yourself, that is all.5 When joy is complete, this is called the fulfillment of ambition.
When the men of ancient times spoke of the fulfillment of ambition, they did not mean fine carriages and caps. They meant simply that joy was so complete that it could not be made greater. Nowadays, however, when men speak of the fulfillment of ambition, they mean fine carriages and caps. But carriages and caps affect the body alone, not the inborn nature and fate. Such things from time to time may happen to come your way. When they come, you cannot keep them from arriving, but when they depart you cannot stop them from going. Therefore carriages and caps are no excuse for becoming puffed up with pride, and hardship and poverty are no excuse for fawning on the vulgar. You should find the same joy in one condition as in the other and thereby be free of care, that is all. But now, when the things that happened along take their leave, you cease to be joyful. From this point of view, though you have joy, it will always be fated for destruction. Therefore it is said, Those who destroy themselves in things and lose their inborn nature in the vulgar may be called the upside-down people.


THE TIME OF THE AUTUMN FLOODS came and the hundred streams poured into the Yellow River. Its racing current swelled to such proportions that, looking from bank to bank or island to island, it was impossible to distinguish a horse from a cow. Then the Lord of the River1 was beside himself with joy, believing that all the beauty in the world belonged to him alone. Following the current, he journeyed east until at last he reached the North Sea. Looking east, he could see no end to the water.

The Lord of the River began to wag his head and roll his eyes. Peering far off in the direction of Jo,2 he sighed and said, “The common saying has it, `He has heard the Way a mere hundred times but he thinks he’s better than anyone else.’ It applies to me. In the past, I heard men belittling the learning of Confucius and making light of the righteousness of Po Yi,3 though I never believed them. Now, however, I have seen your unfathomable vastness. If I hadn’t come to your gate,4 I would have been in danger. I would forever have been laughed at by the masters of the Great Method!”

Jo of the North Sea said, “You can’t discuss the ocean with a well frog – he’s limited by the space he lives in. You can’t discuss ice with a summer insect – he’s bound to a single season. You can’t discuss the Way with a cramped scholar – he’s shackled by his doctrines. Now you have come out beyond your banks and borders and have seen the great sea – so you realize your own pettiness. From now on it will be possible to talk to you about the Great Principle.
“Of all the waters of the world, none is as great as the sea. Ten thousand streams flow into it – I have never heard of a time when they stopped – and yet it is never full. The water leaks away at Wei-lu 5 – I have never heard of a time when it didn’t – and yet the sea is never empty. Spring or autumn, it never changes. Flood or drought, it takes no notice. It is so much greater than the streams of the Yangtze or the Yellow River that it is impossible to measure the difference. But I have never for this reason prided myself on it. I take my place with heaven and earth and receive breath from the yin and yang. I sit here between heaven and earth as a little stone or a little tree sits on a huge mountain. Since I can see my own smallness, what reason would I have to pride myself?

“Compare the area within the four seas with all that is between heaven and earth – is it not like one little anthill in a vast marsh? Compare the Middle Kingdom with the area within the four seas – is it not like one tiny grain in a great storehouse? When we refer to the things of creation, we speak of them as numbering ten thousand – and man is only one of them. We talk of the Nine Provinces where men are most numerous, and yet of the whole area where grain and foods are grown and where boats and carts pass back and forth, man occupies only one fraction.6 Compared to the ten thousand things, is he not like one little hair on the body of a horse? What the Five Emperors passed along, what the Three Kings fought over, what the benevolent man grieves about, what the responsible man labors over – all is no more than this! 7 Po Yi gained a reputation by giving it up; Confucius passed himself off as learned because he talked about it. But in priding themselves in this way, were they not like you a moment ago priding yourself on your flood waters?”

“Well then,” said the Lord of the River, “if I recognize the hugeness of heaven and earth and the smallness of the tip of a hair, will that do?”

“No indeed!” said Jo of the North Sea. “There is no end to the weighing of things, no stop to time, no constancy to the division of lots, no fixed rule to beginning and end. Therefore great wisdom observes both far and near, and for that reason recognizes small without considering it paltry, recognizes large without considering it unwieldy, for it knows that there is no end to the weighing of things. It has a clear understanding of past and present, and for that reason it spends a long time without finding it tedious, a short time without fretting at its shortness, for it knows that time has no stop. It perceives the nature of fullness and emptiness, and for that reason it does not delight if it acquires something nor worry if it loses it, for it knows that there is no constancy to the division of lots. It comprehends the Level Road, and for that reason it does not rejoice in life nor look on death as a calamity, for it knows that no fixed rule can be assigned to beginning and end.

“Calculate what man knows and it cannot compare to what he does not know. Calculate the time he is alive and it cannot compare to the time before he was born. Yet man takes something so small and tries to exhaust the dimensions of something so large! Hence he is muddled and confused and can never get anywhere. Looking at it this way, how do we know that the tip of a hair can be singled out as the measure of the smallest thing possible? Or how do we know that heaven and earth can fully encompass the dimensions of the largest thing possible?”

The Lord of the River said, “Men who debate such matters these days all claim that the minutest thing has no form and the largest thing cannot be encompassed. Is this a true statement?”

Jo of the North Sea said, “If from the standpoint of the minute we look at what is large, we cannot see to the end. If from the standpoint of what is large we look at what is minute, we cannot distinguish it clearly. The minute is the smallest of the small, the gigantic is the largest of the large, and it is therefore convenient to distinguish between them. But this is merely a matter of circumstance. Before we can speak of coarse or fine, however, there must be some form. If a thing has no form, then numbers cannot express its dimensions, and if it cannot be encompassed, then numbers cannot express its size. We can use words to talk about the coarseness of things and we can use our minds to visualize the fineness of things. But what words cannot describe and the mind cannot succeed in visualizing – this has nothing to do with coarseness or fineness.

“Therefore the Great Man in his actions will not harm others, but he makes no show of benevolence or charity. He will not move for the sake of profit, but he does not despise the porter at the gate. He will not wrangle for goods or wealth, but he makes no show of refusing or relinquishing them. He will not enlist the help of others in his work, but he makes no show of being self-supporting, and he does not despise the greedy and base. His actions differ from those of the mob, but he makes no show of uniqueness or eccentricity. He is content to stay behind with the crowd, but he does not despise those who run forward to flatter and fawn. All the titles and stipends of the age are not enough to stir him to exertion; all its penalties and censures are not enough to make him feel shame. He knows that no line can be drawn between right and wrong, no border can be fixed between great and small. I have heard it said, `The Man of the Way wins no fame, the highest virtue8 wins no gain, the Great Man has no self.’ To the most perfect degree, he goes along with what has been allotted to him.”
The Lord of the River said, “Whether they are external to things or internal, I do not understand how we come to have these distinctions of noble and mean or of great and small.”
Jo of the North Sea said, “From the point of view of the Way, things have no nobility or meanness. From the point of view of things themselves, each regards itself as noble and other things as mean. From the point of view of common opinion, nobility and meanness are not determined by the individual himself.

“From the point of view of differences, if we regard a thing as big because there is a certain bigness to it, then among all the ten thousand things there are none that are not big. If we regard a thing as small because there is a certain smallness to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not small. If we know that heaven and earth are tiny grains and the tip of a hair is a range of mountains, then we have perceived the law of difference.
“From the point of view of function, if we regard a thing as useful because there is a certain usefulness to it, then among all the ten thousand things there are none that are not useful. If we regard a thing as useless because there is a certain uselessness to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not useless. If we know that east and west are mutually opposed but that one cannot do without the other, then we can estimate the degree of function.

“From the point of view of preference, if we regard a thing as right because there is a certain right to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not right. If we regard a thing as wrong because there is a certain wrong to it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not wrong. If we know that Yao and Chieh each thought himself right and condemned the other as wrong, then we may understand how there are preferences in behavior.

“In ancient times Yao abdicated in favor of Shun and Shun ruled as emperor; K’uai abdicated in favor of Chih and Chih was destroyed.9 T’ang and Wu fought and became kings; Duke Po fought and was wiped out.10 Looking at it this way, we see that struggling or giving way, behaving like a Yao or like a Chieh, may be at one time noble and at another time mean. It is impossible to establish any constant rule.

“A beam or pillar can be used to batter down a city wall, but it is no good for stopping up a little hole – this refers to a difference in function. Thoroughbreds like Ch’i-chi and Hua-liu could gallop a thousand li in one day, but when it came to catching rats they were no match for the wildcat or the weasel – this refers to a difference in skill. The horned owl catches fleas at night and can spot the tip of a hair, but when daylight comes, no matter how wide it opens its eyes, it cannot see a mound or a hill – this refers to a difference in nature. Now do you say, that you are going to make Right your master and do away with Wrong, or make Order your master and do away with Disorder? If you do, then you have not understood the principle of heaven and earth or the nature of the ten thousand things. This is like saying that you are going to make Heaven your master and do away with Earth, or make Yin your master and do away with Yang. Obviously it is impossible. If men persist in talking this way without stop, they must be either fools or deceivers!

“Emperors and kings have different ways of ceding their thrones; the Three Dynasties had different rules of succession. Those who went against the times and flouted custom were called usurpers; those who went with the times and followed custom were called companions of righteousness. Be quiet, be quiet, O Lord of the River! How could you understand anything about the gateway of nobility and meanness or the house of great and small?”

“Well then,” said the Lord of the River, “what should I do and what should I not do? How am I to know in the end what to accept and what to reject, what to abide by and what to discard?”
Jo of the North Sea said, “From the point of view of the Way, what is noble or what is mean? These are merely what are called endless changes. Do not hobble your will, or you will be departing far from the Way! What is few, or what is many? These are merely what are called boundless turnings.11 Do not strive to unify your actions, or you will be at sixes and sevens with the Way! Be stern like the ruler of a state – he grants no private favor. Be benign and impartial like the god of the soil at the sacrifice – he grants no private blessing. Be broad and expansive like the endlessness of the four directions – they have nothing which bounds or hedges them. Embrace the ten thousand things universally – how could there be one you should give special support to? This is called being without bent. When the ten thousand things are unified and equal, then which is short and which is long?

“The Way is without beginning or end, but things have their life and death – you cannot rely upon their fulfillment. One moment empty, the next moment full – you cannot depend upon their form. The years cannot be held off; time cannot be stopped. Decay, growth, fullness, and emptiness end and then begin again. It is thus that we must describe the plan of the Great Meaning and discuss the principles of the ten thousand things. The life of things is a gallop, a headlong dash – with every movement they alter, with every moment they shift. What should you do and what should you not do? Everything will change of itself, that is certain!”
“If that is so,” said the Lord of the River, “then what is there valuable about the Way?”
Jo of the North Sea said, “He who understands the Way is certain to have command of basic principles. He who has command of basic principles is certain to know how to deal with circumstances. And, he who knows how to deal with circumstances will not allow things to do him harm. When a man has perfect virtue, fire cannot burn him, water cannot drown him, cold and heat cannot afflict him, birds and beasts cannot injure him. I do not say that he makes light of these things. I mean that he distinguishes between safety and danger, contents himself with fortune or misfortune, and is cautious in his comings and goings. Therefore nothing can harm him.

“Hence it is said: the Heavenly is on the inside, the human is on the outside. Virtue resides in the Heavenly. Understand the actions of Heaven and man, base yourself upon Heaven, take vour stand in virtue ,12 and then, although you hasten or hold back, bend or stretch, you may return to the essential and speak of the ultimate.”

“What do you mean by the Heavenly and the human?”

Jo of the North Sea said, “Horses and oxen have four feet – this is what I mean by the Heavenly. Putting a halter on the horse’s head, piercing the ox’s nose – this is what I mean by the human. So I say: do not let what is human wipe out what is Heavenly; do not let what is purposeful wipe out what is fated; do not let [the desire for] gain lead you after fame. Be cautious, guard it, and do not lose it – this is what I mean by returning to the True.”
The K’uei13 envies the millepede, the millepede envies the snake, the snake envies the wind, the wind envies the eye, and the eye envies the mind.

The K’uei said to the millepede, “I have this one leg that I hop along on, though I make little progress. Now how in the world do you manage to work all those ten thousand legs of yours?”
The millepede said, “You don’t understand. Haven’t you ever watched a man spit? He just gives a hawk and out it comes, some drops as big as pearls, some as fine as mist, raining down in a jumble of countless particles. Now all I do is put in motion the heavenly mechanism in me – I’m not aware of how the thing works.”

The millepede said to the snake, “I have all these legs that I move along on, but I can’t seem to keep up with you who have no legs. How is that?”

The snake said, “It’s just the heavenly mechanism moving me along – how can I change the way I am? What would I do with legs if I had them?”

The snake said to the wind, “I move my backbone and ribs and manage to get along, though I still have some kind of body. But now you come whirling up from the North Sea and go whirling off to the South Sea, and you don’t seem to have any body. How is that?”

The wind said, “It’s true that I whirl up from the North Sea and whirl off to the South Sea. But if you hold up a finger against me you’ve defeated me, and if you trample on me you’ve likewise defeated me. On the other hand, I can break down big trees and blow over great houses – this is a talent that I alone have. So I take all the mass of little defeats and make them into a Great Victory. To make a Great Victory – only the sage is capable of that!”

When Confucius was passing through K’uang, the men of Sung surrounded him with several encirclements of troops, but he went right on playing his lute and singing without a stop.” Tzu Lu went in to see him and said, “Master, how can you be so carefree?”

Confucius said, “Come, I will explain to you. For a long time I have tried to stay out of the way of hardship. That I have not managed to escape it is due to fate. For a long time I have tried to achieve success. That I have not been able to do so is due to the times. If it happens to be the age of a Yao or a Shun, then there are no men in the world who face hardship – but this is not because their wisdom saves them. If it happens to be the age of a Chieh or a Chou, then there are no men in the world who achieve success – but this is not because their wisdom fails them. It is time and circumstance that make it so.

“To travel across the water without shrinking from the sea serpent or the dragon – this is the courage of the fisherman. To travel over land without shrinking from the rhinoceros or the tiger – this is the courage of the hunter. To see the bare blades clashing before him and to look upon death as though it were life – this is the courage of the man of ardor.15 To understand that hardship is a matter of fate, that success is a matter of the times, and to face great difficulty without fear – this is the courage of the sage. Be content with it, Tzu Lu. My fate has been decided for me.”

Shortly afterwards the leader of the armed men came forward and apologized. “We thought you were Yang Huo and that was why we surrounded you. Now that we see you aren’t, we beg to take leave and withdraw.”

Kung-sun Lung said to Prince Mou of Wei,16 “When I was young I studied the Way of the former kings, and when I grew older I came to understand the conduct of benevolence and righteousness. I reconciled difference and sameness, distinguished hardness and whiteness, and proved that not so was so, that the unacceptable was acceptable. I confounded the wisdom of the hundred schools and demolished the arguments of a host of speakers. I believed that I had attained the highest degree of accomplishment. But now I have heard the words of Chuang Tzu and I am bewildered by their strangeness. I don’t know whether my arguments are not as good as his, or whether I am no match for him in understanding. I find now that I can’t even open my beak. May I ask what you advise?”

Prince Mou leaned on his armrest and gave a great sigh, and then he looked up at the sky and laughed, saying, “Haven’t you ever heard about the frog in the caved-in well? He said to the great turtle of the Eastern Sea, `What fun I have! I come out and hop around the railing of the well, or I go back in and take a rest in the wall where a tile has fallen out. When I dive into the water, I let it hold me up under the armpits and support my chin, and when I slip about in the mud, I bury my feet in it and let it come up over my ankles. I look around at the mosquito larvae and the crabs and polliwogs and I see that none of them can match me. To have complete command of the water of one whole valley and to monopolize all the joys of a caved-in well-this is the best there is! Why don’t you come some time and see for yourself?’
“But before the great turtle of the Eastern Sea had even gotten his left foot in the well his right knee was already wedged fast. He backed out and withdrew a little, and then began to describe the sea. `A distance of a thousand li cannot indicate its greatness; a depth of a thousand fathoms cannot express how deep it is. In the time of Yu there were floods for nine years out of ten, and yet its waters never rose. In the time of T’ang there were droughts for seven years out of eight, and yet its shores never receded. Never to alter or shift, whether for an instant or an eternity; never to advance or recede, whether the quantity of water flowing in is great or small – this is the great delight of the Eastern Sea!’

“When the frog in the caved-in well heard this, he was dumfounded with surprise, crestfallen, and completely at a loss. Now your knowledge cannot even define the borders of right and wrong and still you try to use it to see through the words of Chuang Tzu – this is like trying to make a mosquito carry a mountain on its back or a pill bug race across the Yellow River. You will never be up to the task!

“He whose understanding cannot grasp these minute and subtle words, but is only fit to win some temporary gain – is he not like the frog in the caved-in well? Chuang Tzu, now – at this very moment he is treading the Yellow Springs17 or leaping up to the vast blue. To him there is no north or south – in utter freedom he dissolves himself in the four directions and drowns himself in the unfathomable. To him there is no east or west – he begins in the Dark Obscurity and returns to the Great Thoroughfare. Now you come niggling along and try to spy him out or fix some name to him, but this is like using a tube to scan the sky or an awl to measure the depth of the earth – the instrument is too small, is it not? You’d better be on your way! Or perhaps you’ve never heard about the young boy of Shou-ling who went to learn the Han-tan Walk. He hadn’t mastered what the Han-tan people had to teach him when he forgot his old way of walking, so that he had to crawl all the way back home. Now if you don’t get on your way, you’re likely to forget what you knew before and be out of a job!”

Kung-sun Lung’s mouth fell open and wouldn’t stay closed. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and wouldn’t come down. In the end he broke into a run and fled.

Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u River, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”
Chuang Tzu held on to the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

“It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.
Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

When Hui Tzu was prime minister of Liang, Chuang Tzu set off to visit him. Someone said to Hui Tzu, “Chuang Tzu is coming because he wants to replace you as prime minister!” With this Hui Tzu was filled with alarm and searched all over the state for three days and three nights trying to find Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu then came to see him and said, “In the south there is a bird called the Yuan-ch’u – I wonder if you’ve ever heard of it? The Yuan-ch’u rises up from the South Sea and flies to the North Sea, and it will rest on nothing but the Wu-t’ung tree, eat nothing but the fruit of the Lien, and drink only from springs of sweet water. Once there was an owl who had gotten hold of a half-rotten old rat, and as the Yuan-ch’u passed by, it raised its head, looked up at the Yuan-ch’u, and said, `Shoo!’ Now that you have this Liang state of yours, are you trying to shoo me?”

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”

Hui Tzu said, “You’re not a fish – how do you know what fish enjoy?”

Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

Hui Tzu said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish – so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”
Chuang Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy – so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”

Awaken Philosophy

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Source: AWAKEN


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