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The Teachings of Chuang Tzu

As with many spiritual texts from ancient times, the teachings attributed to Chuang Tzu are a mixed bag.   While some of it is very inspired and wise, there is an awful lot of dross which pads it out – almost to the point of ruining it. It may have started out as a shorter text of pure, unadulterated wisdom by a fellow called Chuang Tzu,  but it is evident that a number of other people have since come along and inserted their own thoughtless opinions and regurgitations.   How kind of them!   It means that I’ve had to carefully trawl through these teachings and extract the best bits.

Even within the wise sections, there is a lot of variety.    Chuang Tzu obviously liked to mix things up and oscillate his teachings to people of differing mentalities and levels of wisdom.    One minute, he might be giving simple teachings about relativity that a child could understand; the next, he is trying to inspire the most advanced students into the highest enlightenment.   This is a good technique as it serves to keep the reader alert and reinforces the important perception that spiritual teachings should be regarded as correctives to particular ailments, and not as final truths.

Watch out for his playful tone, however.   He is not as innocent as you may think.   His mind might be vast, his understanding deep, and his words pure, but he is utterly ruthless in his aims.    He will slay you, if you are not careful.


The Way is without beginning or end.   However, things have their life and death, and you cannot rely upon them for 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.

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.

Hence it is said: the Heavenly is on the inside, the human is on the outside. Virtue resides in the Heavenly.  Base yourself in Heaven, take your stand in virtue, and then, although you hasten or hold back, bend or stretch, you may return to the essential and speak of the ultimate.

Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn’t there?

The torch of chaos and doubt ‑ this is what the sage steers by.  He does not use things but relegates all to the constant. This is what it means to use clarity.

If a man follows his own mind and makes it his teacher, then who can be without a teacher?

Whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar, a leper or the beautiful Hsi‑shih, things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange, the Way makes them all into one.   Nothing is either complete or impaired, but all are made into one again. Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one.  He has no use for categories, but relegates all to the constant.  He relies upon this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way.

But to wear out your brain trying to make things into one without realizing that they are all the same ‑ this is called “three in the morning”.  What do I mean by “three in the morning”? When the monkey trainer was handing out acorns, he said, “You get three in the morning and four at night.” This made all the monkeys furious. “Well, then,” he said, “you get four in the morning and three at night.” The monkeys were all delighted. There was no change in the reality behind the words, and yet the monkeys responded with joy and anger.

The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed.    Those who came after them thought that things existed, but recognized no boundaries among them. And those after them thought there were boundaries, but recognized no right and wrong.  When right and wrong appeared, the Way was injured.  

The sage leans on the sun and moon, tucks the universe under his arm, merges himself with things, leaves the confusion and muddle as it is, and looks on slaves as exalted. Ordinary men strain and struggle; the sage is stupid and blockish. He takes part in ten thousand ages and achieves simplicity in oneness. For him, all the ten thousand things are what they are, and thus they enfold each other.

There is nothing in the world bigger than the tip of an autumn hair, and Mount T’ai is tiny. No one has lived longer than a dead child, and P’eng‑tsu died young.   Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me.

We have already become one, so how can I say anything? But I have just said that we are one, so how can I not be saying something?

Men claim that Mao‑ch’iang and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream, if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, which knows how to fix the standard of beauty for the world?

How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death I am not like a man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back?

Lady Li was the daughter of the border guard of Ai. When she was first taken captive and brought to the state of Chin, she wept until her tears drenched the collar of her robe. But later, when she went to live in the palace of the ruler, shared his couch with him, and ate the delicious meats of his table, she wondered why she had ever wept. How do I know that the dead do not wonder why they ever longed for life?

Once Chuang Tzu dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he woke up and there he was – Chuang Tzu, solid and unmistakable. But upon reflection, he didn’t know if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.

Forget the years; forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!

Great understanding is broad and unhurried; little understanding is cramped and busy. Great words are clear and bright; little words are shrill and quarrelsome.

In sleep, men’s spirits go visiting; in waking hours, their bodies hustle.  They become entangled with everything they meet.  Day after day, they use their minds in combat –  sometimes grandiose, sometimes sly, sometimes petty. Their little fears are callous and timid; their great fears are overwhelming.

They bound off like an arrow, certain that they are the arbiters of right and wrong. They cling to their position as though they had sworn before the gods, so sure are they of victory.  But watch how they fade like fall and winter, dwindling day by day.  Watch how they drown in what they do.  They grow dark, as though sealed with seals, such are the excesses of their old age, and you cannot make them turn back.. When their minds draw near to death, nothing can restore them to the light.

Joy, anger, grief, delight, worry, regret, fickleness, inflexibility, modesty, willfulness, candor, insolence ‑ music from empty holes, mushrooms springing up in dampness, like day and night replacing each other before us, and no one knows where they sprout from.

A little while ago, when I went in to mourn the death of Lao Tan, I found old men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a son, and young men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a mother. To have gathered a group like that, he must have done something to make them weep for him,  even though he didn’t ask them to weep. This is to hide from Heaven, to turn your back on the true state of affairs and forget what you were born with. In the old days, this was called the crime of hiding from Heaven.

Lao Tan happened to come because it was his time, and he happened to leave because things follow their course. If you are content with the time and willing to follow along, then grief and joy have no Way to enter in. In the old days, this was called being freed from the bonds of God.

Though the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends.

Yen Hui said, “May I ask the proper way?”

“You must fast!” said Confucius.

Yen Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?”

“That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.”

“May I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”

Confucius said, “Make your will one! Don’t listen with your ears, listen with your mind. No, don’t listen with your mind, but listen with your spirit. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but spirit is empty and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.” 

Proof that a man is holding fast to the beginning lies in the fact of his fearlessness.

Life, death, preservation, loss, failure, success, poverty, riches, worthiness, unworthiness, slander, fame, hunger, thirst, cold, heat ‑ these are the alternations of the world, the workings of fate. Day and night they change place before us and wisdom cannot spy out their source. Therefore, they should not be enough to destroy your harmony.   If you can harmonize and delight in them, master them and never be at a loss for joy, if you can do this day and night without break and make it be spring with everything, mingling with all and creating the moment within your own mind ‑ this is what I call being whole in power.

The sage hatches no schemes, so what use has he for knowledge?  He suffers no loss, so what use has he for favors? He hawks no goods, so what use has he for peddling?   He has the form of a man but not the feelings of a man. Since he has the form of a man, he bands together with other men. Since he doesn’t have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot affect him. Puny and small, he wanders with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.

The True Man of ancient times did not rebel against want, did not grow proud in plenty, and did not plan his affairs. A man like this could commit an error and not regret it, could meet with success and not make a show, could climb the high places and not be frightened, could enter the water and not get wet, could enter the fire and not get burned.  In this way, his knowledge was able to climb all the way to the Infinite.

The True Man of ancient times slept without dreaming and woke without care; he ate without savoring and his breath came from deep inside. The True Man breathes with his heels; the mass of men breathe with their throats. Crushed and bound down, they gasp out their words as though they were retching. Deep in their passions and desires, they are shallow in the workings of Heaven.

The True Man of ancient times knew nothing of loving life, knew nothing of hating death. He emerged without delight; he went back in without a fuss. He came briskly, he went briskly, and that was all. He didn’t forget where he began; he didn’t try to find out where he would end. He received something and took pleasure in it; he forgot about it and handed it back again. This is what I call not using the mind to repel the Way, not using man to help out Heaven. This is what I call the True Man.

This was the True Man of old: his bearing was lofty and did not crumble.  He appeared to lack but accepted nothing.  He was dignified in his correctness but not insistent.   He was vast in his emptiness but not ostentatious.

Mild and cheerful, he seemed to be happy.  Reluctant, he could not help doing certain things.   Annoyed, he let it show in his face.   Relaxed, he rested in his virtue. Tolerant, he seemed to be part of the world.   Towering alone, he could be checked by nothing.  Withdrawn, he seemed to prefer to cut himself off.   Bemused, he forgot what he was going to say.

His liking and not liking were one.   His being one was one and his not being one was one. In being one, he was acting as a companion of Heaven. In not being one, he was acting as a companion of man. When man and Heaven do not defeat each other, then we may be said to have the True Man.

The Great Clod burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. So if I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death.

You hide your boat in the ravine and your fish net in the swamp and tell yourself that they will be safe. But in the middle of the night a strong man shoulders them and carries them off, and in your stupidity you don’t know why it happened. You think you are doing right to hide little things in big ones, and yet they get away from you. But if you were to hide the world in the world, so that nothing could get away, this would be the final reality of the constancy of things.

The sage wanders in the realm where things cannot get away from him, and all are preserved.  He delights in early death; he delights in old age; he delights in the beginning; he delights in the end.

The Way has its reality and its signs, but is without movement or form. You can hand it down, but you cannot receive it.   You can understand it, but you cannot see it.  It is its own source, its own root. Before Heaven and earth existed it was there.

It exists beyond the highest point, and yet you cannot call it lofty; it exists beneath the limit of the six directions, and yet you cannot call it deep. It was born before Heaven and earth, and yet you cannot say it has been there for long.  It is earlier than the earliest time, and yet you cannot call it old.

Who can join with others without joining with others? Who can do with others without doing with others? Who can climb up to heaven and wander in the mists, roam the infinite, and forget life forever and forever? 

Sages look upon life as a swelling tumor, a protruding cyst, and upon death as the draining of a sore or the bursting of a boil. To men such as these, how could there be any question of putting life first or death last? 

We go around telling each other, I do this, I do that ‑ but how do we know this “I” really has any “I” to it? You dream you’re a bird and soar up into the sky; you dream you’re a fish and dive down in the pool. But now, when you tell me about it, I don’t know whether you are awake or whether you are dreaming. Running around accusing others is not as good as laughing, and enjoying a good laugh is not as good as going along with things. Be content to go along and forget about change and then you can enter the mysterious oneness of Heaven. 

This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine – he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn’t think himself righteous; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn’t think himself benevolent. He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn’t think himself long-lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn’t think himself skilled. It is with him alone I wander.

Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten benevolence and righteousness!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten rites and music!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving! ”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I can sit down and forget everything!”

Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything.’-”

Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”

Yang Tzu‑chu went to see Lao Tan and said, “Here is a man swift as an echo, strong as a beam, with a wonderfully clear understanding of the principles of things, studying the Way without ever letting up ‑ a man like this could compare with an enlightened king, couldn’t he?”

Lao Tan said, “In comparison to the sage, a man like this is a drudging slave, a craftsman bound to his calling, wearing out his body, grieving his mind. They say it is the beautiful markings of the tiger and the leopard which attract the hunters, the nimbleness of the monkey and the ability of the dog to catch rats which lead to them being chained. A man like this ‑ how could he compare to an enlightened king?”

Yang Tzu‑chu, much taken aback, said, “May I venture to ask about the government of the enlightened king?”

Lao Tan said, “The government of the enlightened king? His achievements pervade the world, but appear not to be his own doing. His transforming influence touches the ten thousand things, but the people do not depend on him. With him there is no promotion or praise ‑ he lets everything find its own enjoyment. He takes his stand on what cannot be fathomed and wanders where there is nothing at all.”

Do not pursue fame; do not scheme; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all.

The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror – going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing.  In this way, he can attain victory over things and not hurt himself.

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, 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, then these eight delights will grow warped and crooked, jumbled and deranged, and 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!

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 the mind and brings death to it.

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!

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 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!

People who have heads and feet but no minds and no ears ‑ there are mobs of them.  A man’s movements, his birth and death, his ups and downs ‑ none of these can he do anything about. Yet he thinks that he is the master of them! Forget things, forget Heaven, and be called a forgetter of self. The man who has forgotten self may be said to have entered Heaven. 

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 meet one like that, you will have real cause for astonishment.

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.

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 root and branches of his argument no longer match!   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.

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. 

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.

To harmonize with men is called human joy; to harmonize with Heaven is called Heavenly joy.

For him who understands Heavenly joy, life is the working of Heaven and death is the transformation of things.   With his single mind in repose, he is king of the world.   The spirits do not afflict him, and his soul knows no weariness.  With 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. 

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.

It moves in no direction at all, rests in mysterious shadow. Some call it death, some call it life, some call it fruit, some call it flower. It flows and scatters, and bows before no constant tone. The world, perplexed by it, goes to the sage for instruction, for the sage is the comprehender of true form and the completer of fate. When the Heavenly mechanism is put into action and the five vital organs are all complete this may be called the music of Heaven. Wordless, it delights the mind.

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 ceremony; to lose everything and yet possess everything, at ease in the Infinite, where all good things come to attend ‑ this is the Way of Heaven and earth, the Virtue of the sage. 

There is no grief greater than the death of the mind ‑ beside it, the death of the body is a minor matter

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 serenity. When it rebels against nothing, this is the height of purity.

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.

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. 

People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use ‑ this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body.

Man lives his life immersed in worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that time worrying instead of dying.  What a bitter lot indeed!  This is a callous way to treat the body.

To live is to borrow. And if we borrow to live, then life must be a pile of trash.

If you want to nourish a bird with what nourishes a bird, then you should let it roost in the deep forest, play among the banks and islands, float on the rivers and lakes, eat mudfish and minnows, follow the rest of the flock in flight and rest, and live any way it chooses.  Fish live in water and thrive, but if men tried to live in water they would die. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the former sages never required the same ability from all creatures or made them all do the same thing.

He who has mastered the true nature of life does not labor over what life cannot do. He who has mastered the true nature of fate does not labor over what knowledge cannot change.

Why is abandoning the affairs of the world and forgetting life worthwhile? If you abandon the affairs of the world, your body will be without toil. If you forget life, your vitality will be unimpaired. With your body complete and your vitality made whole again, you may become one with Heaven. 

If a man can get hold of the Way and exhaust it fully, how can things obstruct him? He may rest within the bounds that know no excess, hide within the borders that know no source, wander where the ten thousand things have their beginning and end, unify his nature, nourish his breath, unite his virtue, and thereby communicate with that which creates all things. A man like this guards what belongs to Heaven and keeps it whole. His spirit has no flaw, so how can things enter and injure him?

When a drunken man falls from a carriage, though the carriage may be going very fast, he won’t be killed. He has bones and joints the same as other men, and yet he is not injured because his spirit is whole. He didn’t know he was riding, and he doesn’t know he has fallen out. Life and death, alarm and terror do not enter his breast, and so he can bang against things without fear of injury.

If a man can keep himself whole like this by means of wine, how much more can he keep himself whole by means of Heaven!  The sage hides himself in Heaven ‑ hence, there is nothing that can harm him.

Do not try to develop what is natural to man; instead, develop what is natural to Heaven. He who develops Heaven benefits life; he who develops man injures life.

Do not reject what is of Heaven, do not neglect what is of man, and the people will be close to the attainment of Truth.

When a man becomes a good swimmer, he forgets the water.  He may never have seen a boat before and yet he will know how to handle it.  That’s because he sees the water as so much dry land and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart.

Even if the ten thousand things were to capsize all around the sage, it wouldn’t affect him.   So where can he go and not be at ease?

Be without imperiousness, be without conventionality ‑ let this be your carriage.

If a man, having lashed two hulls together, is crossing a river, and an empty boat happens along and bumps into him, no matter how hot‑tempered the man may be, he will not get angry. But if there should be someone in the other boat, then he will shout out to haul this way or veer that. If his first shout is unheeded, he will shout again, and if that is not heard, he will shout a third time, this time with a torrent of curses following.

In the first instance, he wasn’t angry; now in the second he is. Earlier he faced emptiness, now he faces occupancy. If a man could succeed in making himself empty, and in that way wander through the world, then who could do him harm?”

The straight‑trunked tree is the first to be felled; the well of sweet water is the first to run dry.  Yet here you are, showing off your wisdom in order to astound the ignorant, working at your good conduct in order to distinguish yourself from the disreputable, going around bright and shining as though you were carrying the sun and moon in your hand!   That’s why you can’t escape!

His Way flows abroad, but he does not rest in brightness; his Virtue moves, but he does not dwell in fame. Vacant, addled, he seems close to madness. Wiping out his footprints, sloughing off his power, he does not work for success or fame. So he has no cause to blame other men, nor other men to blame him. 

It is easy to be indifferent to the afflictions of Heaven, but hard to be indifferent to the benefits of man. 

Beasts that feed on grass do not fret over a change of pasture; creatures that live in water do not fret over a change of stream. They accept the minor shift as long as the all‑important constant is not lost.  Be like them and joy, anger, grief, and happiness can never enter your breast.

In this world, the ten thousand things come together in One.  If you can find that One and become identical with it, then your four limbs and hundred joints will become dust and refuse; life and death will be as day and night, and nothing whatever can confound you.

Since the ten thousand transformations continue without even the beginning of an end, how could they bring anxiety to your mind? He who practices the Way understands all this 

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

Only when there is no pondering and no cogitation will you know the Way. Only when you have no surroundings and follow no practices will you find rest in the Way. Only when there is no path and no procedure can you reach the Way.

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

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

Dark and hidden, the Way seems not to exist and yet it is there.  Lush and unbounded, it possesses no form but only spirit.   The ten thousand things are shepherded by it, though they do not understand it ‑ this is what is called the Source, the Root. This is what may be perceived in Heaven.

Body like a withered corpse, mind like dead ashes, true in the realness of knowledge, not one to go searching for reasons – dim, dark, mindless, you cannot consult with him: what kind of man is this?

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

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

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

“It is a form lent you by Heaven and earth.  You do not have possession of life ‑ it is a harmony lent by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of your inborn nature and fate – they are contingencies lent by Heaven and earth.   All is the work of the Powerful Yang in the world. How then could it be possible to gain possession of anything?”

The Way has no trace of its coming, no limit to its going. Gateless, roomless, it is airy and open as the highways of the four directions. He who follows along with it will be strong in his four limbs, keen and penetrating in intellect, sharp‑eared, bright‑eyed, wielding his mind without wearying it, responding to things without prejudice. Heaven cannot help but be high, earth cannot help but be broad, the sun and moon cannot help but revolve, the ten thousand things cannot help but flourish. Is this not the Way?

Breadth of learning does not necessarily mean knowledge; eloquence does not necessarily mean wisdom ‑ therefore the sage rids himself of these things. That which can be increased without showing any sign of increase, or diminished without suffering any diminution ‑ that is what the sage holds fast to. Deep, unfathomable, it is like the sea; tall and craggy, it ends only to begin again, transporting and weighing the ten thousand things without ever failing them.

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

Master Tung‑kuo asked Chuang Tzu, “This thing called the Way ‑ where does it exist?”

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

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

“It is in the ant.”

“As low a thing as that?”

“It is in the panic grass.”

“But that’s lower still!”

“It is in the tiles and shards.”

“How can it be so low?”

“It is in the piss and shit!”

Master Tung‑kuo made no reply.

Chuang Tzu said, “Sir, your questions simply don’t get at the substance of the matter.  You must not expect to find the Way in any particular place ‑ there is no thing that escapes its presence! Such is the Perfect Way, and so too are the truly great words. ‘Complete’, ‘universal’, ‘all‑inclusive’ ‑ these three are different words with the same meaning. All point to a single reality.

“Why don’t you try wandering with me to the Palace of Not‑Even‑Anything?   Identity and concord will be the basis of our discussions and they will never come to an end, never reach exhaustion. Why not join with me in inaction, in tranquil quietude, in hushed purity, in harmony and leisure?

“Already my will is vacant and blank.  I go nowhere and don’t know how far I’ve gone. I go and come and don’t know where to stop. I’ve already been there and back, and I don’t know when the journey is done. I ramble and relax in unbounded vastness.  Great Knowledge enters in, and I don’t know where it will ever end.”

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

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

“Things that come forth can never precede all other things, because there were already things existing then; and before that, too, there were already things existing ‑ so on without end. The sage’s love of mankind, which never comes to an end, is modeled on this principle.”

The men of old changed on the outside but not on the inside. The men of today change on the inside but not on the outside. He who changes along with things is identical with him who does not change.

When the men of ancient times spoke of the fulfillment of ambition, they did not mean fine carriages and caps. They meant simply that their joy was so complete that it could not be made greater.

You should find the same joy in one condition as you would in any other and thereby be free of care.   But here you are, when certain things take their leave, you cease to be joyful.

Though you might experience joy on occasion, 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. 

Can you be a little baby? The baby howls all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse.  It makes fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped. It stares all day without blinking its eyes ‑ it has no preferences in the world of externals. To move without knowing where you are going, to sit at home without knowing what you are doing, traipsing and trailing about with other things, riding along with them on the same wave ‑ this is the basic rule of life‑preservation.

The Perfect Man joins with others in seeking his food from the earth.  But he does not become embroiled with them in gossip or in questions of profit and loss. He does not join them in their shady doings, he does not join them in their plots, he does not join them in their projects. Brisk and unflagging, he goes; rude and unwitting, he comes. This is what is called the basic rule of life‑preservation.

If you do not perceive the sincerity within yourself and yet try to move forth, each movement will miss the mark. If outside concerns enter and are not expelled, each movement will only add failure to failure.

He who does what is not good in clear and open view will be seized and punished by men. He who does what is not good in the shadow of darkness will be seized and punished by ghosts. Only he who clearly understands both men and ghosts will be able to walk alone.

Only when form learns to imitate the formless will it find serenity.

The Complete Man hates Heaven, and hates the Heavenly in man. How much more, then, does he hate the “I” who distinguishes between Heaven and man!

The man who has had his feet cut off in punishment discards his fancy clothes – praise and blame no longer touch him. The chained convict climbs the highest peak without fear ‑ he has abandoned all thought of life and death.

If you try to fulfill all your appetites and desires and indulge your likes and dislikes, then you bring affliction to the true form of your inborn nature.  And if you try to deny your appetites and desires and forcibly change your likes and dislikes, then you bring affliction to your ears and eyes.

All attempts to create something admirable are the weapons of evil. You may think you are practicing benevolence and righteousness, but in effect you will be creating a kind of artificiality. Where a model exists, copies will be made of it.   Where success has been gained, boasting follows.   Where debate exists, there will be outbreaks of hostility.   If you must do something, cultivate the sincerity which is in your breast and use it to respond without opposition to the true form of Heaven and earth.=

The wise man is not happy without the modulations of idea and thought; the rhetorician is not happy without the progression of argument and rebuttal; the examiner is not happy without the tasks of interrogation and intimidation.  They are all penned in by these things.

Servants to circumstance, they delight in change, and if the moment comes when they can put their talents to use, they cannot keep from acting. In this way, they all follow along with the turning years, letting themselves be changed by things.  Driving their bodies and natures on and on, they drown in the ten thousand things, and, to the end of their days, they never turn back.

The sea does not refuse the rivers that come flowing eastward into it ‑ it is the perfection of greatness. The sage embraces all heaven and earth, and his bounty extends to the whole world, yet no one knows who he is or what family he belongs to. For this reason, in life he holds no titles, in death he receives no posthumous names. Relatives do not gather about him, names do not stick to him ‑ that is why he is called a Great Man.

A dog is not considered superior merely because it is good at barking; a man is not considered worthy merely because he is good at speaking. Much less, then, is he to be considered great.

Nothing possesses a larger measure of greatness than Heaven and earth, yet when have they ever gone in search of greatness? He who understands what it means to possess greatness does not seek, does not lose, does not reject, and does not change himself for the sake of things. He returns to himself and finds the inexhaustible; he follows antiquity and discovers the imperishable ‑ this is the sincerity of the Great Man.

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

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

To understand the Great Unity, to understand the Great Yin, to understand the Great Eye, to understand the Great Equality, to understand the Great Method, to understand the Great Trust, to understand the Great Serenity ‑ this is perfection. With the Great Unity you may penetrate it; with the Great Yin, unknot it; with the Great Eye, see it; with the Great Equality, follow it; with the Great Method, embody it; with the Great Trust, reach it; with the Great Serenity, hold it fast.

Be done with days and there will be no more years!  No inside, no outside. 

Tai Chin‑jen said, “There is a creature called the snail ‑ does Your Majesty know it?”


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

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

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

“They have no limits,” said the ruler.

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

“Yes,” said the ruler.

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

“No difference,” said the king.

After the visitor left, the king sat stupefied, as though lost to the world. 

Chickens squawk, dogs bark  ‑ this is something men understand. But no matter how great their understanding, they cannot explain in words how the chicken and the dog have come to be what they are, nor can they imagine in their minds what they will become in the future. You may pick apart and analyze till you have reached what is so minute that it is without form, what is so large that it cannot be encompassed. But whether you say that “nothing does it” or that “something makes it like this”, you have not yet escaped from the realm of “things”, and so in the end you fall into error.

I look for the roots of the past, but they extend back and back without end. I search for the termination of the future, but it never stops unfolding.    The Way cannot be thought of as being, nor can it be thought of as nonbeing. In calling it “the Way” we are only adopting a temporary expedient.

If you talk in a worthy manner, you can talk all day long and all of it will pertain to the Way. But if you talk in an unworthy manner, you can talk all day long and all of it will pertain to mere things. The perfection of the Way ‑ neither words nor silence are worthy of expressing it. Not to talk, not to be silent ‑ this is the highest form of debate.

You take pride in practicing charity and making people happy ‑ the shame of it will follow you all your days! These are the actions of mediocre men ‑ men who pull each other around with fame, drag each other into secret schemes, join together to praise Yao and condemn Chieh, when the best thing would be to forget them both and put a stop to praise!

Even the most perfect wisdom can be outwitted by ten thousand schemers. 

If you have the capacity to wander, how can you keep from wandering?   If you do not have the capacity to wander, how can you wander?

A will that takes refuge in conformity, or in behavior which is aloof and eccentric ‑ neither of these is compatible with perfect wisdom and solid virtue.  Though you may be one time a ruler, another time a subject, this is merely a matter of circumstances.  Such distinctions change with the age and you cannot call either one or the other lowly.

To admire antiquity and despise the present ‑ this is the fashion of scholars.  Only the Perfect Man can wander in the world without taking sides, can follow along with men without losing himself. His teachings are not to be learned, and one who understands his meaning has no need for him.

Stillness and silence can benefit the ailing, massage can give relief to the aged, and rest and quiet can put a stop to agitation.  These are remedies which the troubled and weary man has recourse to. The man who is at ease does not need them and has never bothered to ask about them.

Similarly, the Holy Man does not bother to ask what methods the sage uses to reform the world.

The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you have caught the fish, you can forget the trap. Words exist because of meaning; once you have grasped the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?”

Recited words are intended to put an end to argument. They can do this because they are the words of the elders.  However, if one is ahead of others in age, but does not have a grasp of the root and branch of things which is commensurate with his years, then he cannot really be said to be ahead of others. An old man who has not grasped the Way deserves to be looked on as a mere stale remnant of the past. 

When the living start doing things, they are dead.

Penumbra said to Shadow, “A little while ago you were looking down and now you’re looking up, a little while ago your hair was bound up and now it’s hanging loose, a little while ago you were sitting and now you’re standing up, a little while ago you were walking and now you’re still ‑ why is this?”

Shadow said, “Why bother asking about such things? I do them, but I don’t know why I do them.   I’m the shell of the cicada, the skin of the snake ‑ something which seems to be but isn’t.  In firelight or sunlight I draw together, in darkness or night I disappear. But do you suppose I have to wait around for those things?

To act out of worldly ambition, to band with others in cliquish friendships, to study in order to show off to others, to teach in order to please one’s own pride, to mask one’s evil deeds behind benevolence and righteousness, to deck oneself out with carriages and horses – I could never bear to do such things!

Prince Mou of Wei, who was living in Chung‑shan, said to Chan Tzu, “My body is here beside these rivers and seas, but my mind is still back there beside the palace towers of Wei. What should I do about it?”

“Attach more importance to life!” said Chan Tzu. “He who regards life as important will think lightly of material gain.”

“I know that’s what I should do,” said Prince Mou. “But I can’t overcome my inclinations.”

“If you can’t overcome your inclinations, then follow them!” said Chan Tzu.

“But won’t that do harm to the spirit?”

“If you can’t overcome your inclinations and yet you try to force yourself not to follow them, this is to do a double injury to yourself. Men who do such double injury to themselves are never found in the ranks of the long‑lived!”

When a man gets through to the Way, this is called “getting through”. ‘ When he is blocked off from the Way, this is called “being blocked”.

The men of ancient times who had attained the Way were happy, regardless of whether they were blocked in or getting through. It was not the fact that they were blocked or not that made them happy. As long as you have really grabbed hold of the Way, then being blocked or getting through are no more than the orderly alternation of cold and heat, of wind and rain.

Crooked or straight, pursue to the limit the Heaven in you.  Turn your face to the four directions, ebb and flow with the seasons.

Do not strive to make your conduct consistent, do not try to perfect your righteousness, or you will lose what you already have. Do not race after riches, do not risk your life for success, or you will let slip the Heaven within you.

Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow and who hated his footprints, and so he tried to run away from them. But the more he lifted his feet and put them down again, the more footprints he made. And no matter how fast he ran, his shadow never left him, and so, thinking he was still going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without a stop until his strength gave out and he fell down dead. He didn’t understand that by lolling in the shade he could have eliminated his shadow and by resting in quietude he could have put an end to his footprints. 

He who lacks purity and sincerity cannot move others. Therefore he who forces himself to lament, though he may sound sad, will awaken no grief. He who forces himself to be angry, though he may sound fierce, will arouse no awe. And he who forces himself to be affectionate, though he may smile, will create no air of harmony. True sadness need make no sound to awaken grief; true anger need not show itself to arouse awe; true affection need not smile to create harmony. When a man has the Truth within himself, his spirit may move among external things. That is why the Truth is to be prized! 

Rites are something created by the vulgar men of the world; the Truth is that which is received from Heaven. By nature it is the way it is and cannot be changed. Therefore the sage patterns himself on Heaven, prizes the Truth, and does not allow himself to be cramped by the vulgar.

The stupid man does the opposite of this. He is unable to pattern himself on Heaven and instead frets over human concerns. He does not know enough to prize the Truth, but instead, plodding along with the crowd, he allows himself to be changed by vulgar ways, and so is never content.

When the Creator rewards a man, he does not reward what is man‑made in the man but what is Heaven‑made.

The understanding of the little man never gets beyond gifts and wrappings, letters and calling cards. He wastes his spirit on the shallow and trivial, and yet wants to be the savior of both the world and the Way, to blend both form and emptiness in the Great Unity. Such a man will blunder and go astray in time and space; his body entangled, he will never come to know the Great Beginning.

By contrast, the Perfect Man lets his spirit return to Beginninglessness.   He lies down in pleasant slumber in the Village of Not‑Anything‑At‑All.   Like water, he flows through the Formless, or trickles forth from the Great Purity.  How pitiful ‑ you whose understanding can be encompassed in a hair‑tip, who know nothing of the Great Tranquility!

When Chuang Tzu was about to die, his disciples expressed a desire to give him a sumptuous burial.

Chuang Tzu said, “I will have heaven and earth for my coffin and coffin shell, the sun and moon for my pair of jade discs, the stars and constellations for my pearls and beads, and the ten thousand things for my parting gifts. The furnishings for my funeral are already prepared ‑ what is there to add?”

“But we’re afraid the crows and kites will eat you, Master!” said his disciples.

Chuang Tzu said, “Above ground I’ll be eaten by crows and kites, below ground I’ll be eaten by mole crickets and ants. Wouldn’t it be rather bigoted to deprive one group in order to supply the other?

The scholar cramped in one corner of learning tries to judge the beauty of Heaven and earth, to pry into the principles of the ten thousand things, to scrutinize the perfection of the ancients, but never is he able to encompass the true beauty of Heaven and earth, to describe the true face of holy brightness.

Because of this, the Way that is sagely within and kingly without has fallen into darkness and is no longer clearly perceived, has become shrouded and no longer shines forth.

When a man does not dwell in self, things spontaneously reveal their forms to him. His movement is like that of water, his stillness like that of a mirror, his responses like those of an echo. Blank‑eyed, he seems to be lost; motionless, he has the clarity of water. Because he is one with it, he achieves harmony; should he ever reach out for it, he would lose it.   Never does he go ahead of other men, but always follows in their wake.

Others all grasp what is in front; he alone grasps what is behind.  Others all grasp what is full; he alone grasps what is empty. He never stores away ‑ therefore he has more than enough.  In his movements he is easygoing and does not wear himself out. Dwelling in inaction, he scoffs at skill. Others all seek good fortune; he alone keeps himself whole by becoming twisted.  He takes profundity to be the root and frugality to be the guideline.

Awaken Mind

Awaken Spirit

Source: AWAKEN


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