1: Benevolence may win men, but –
Nieh Khüeh put four questions to Wang Î, not one of which did he know (how to answer). On this Nieh Khüeh leaped up, and in great delight walked away and informed Master Phu-i of it, who said to him,
‘Do you (only) now know it? He of the line of Yü was not equal to him of the line of Tai. He of Yü still kept in himself (the idea of) benevolence by which to constrain (the submission of) men; and he did win men, but he had not begun to proceed by what did not belong to him as a man. He of the line of Tai would sleep tranquilly, and awake in contented simplicity. He would consider himself now (merely) as a horse, and now (merely) as an ox. His knowledge was real and untroubled by doubts; and his virtue was very true: he had not begun to proceed by what belonged to him as a man.
2: Right bossing means going forth in correct ways and by proper, well regulated means
Kien Wu went to see the mad (recluse), Khieh-yü, who said to him,
‘What did Zäh-kung Shih tell you?’
The reply was,
‘He told me that when rulers gave forth their regulations according to their own views and enacted righteous measures, no one would venture not to obey them, and all would be transformed.’
‘That is but the hypocrisy of virtue. For the right ordering of the world it would be like trying to wade through the sea and dig through the Ho, or employing a musquito to carry a mountain on its back. And when a sage is governing, does he govern men’s outward actions? He is (himself) correct, and so (his government) goes on; – this is the simple and certain way by which he secures the success of his affairs. Think of the bird which flies high, to avoid being hurt by the dart on the string of the archer, and the little mouse which makes its hole deep under Shän-khiu to avoid the danger of being smoked or dug out; – are (rulers) less knowing than these two little creatures?’
3: “Let your mind find its enjoyment in pure simplicity”
Thien Kän, rambling on the south of (mount) Yin, came to the neighbourhood of the Liâo-water. Happening there to meet with the man whose name is not known’, he put a question to him, saying,
‘I beg to ask what should be done in order to (carry on) the government of the world.’
The nameless man said,
‘Go away; you are a rude borderer. Why do you put to me a question for which you are unprepared? I would simply play the part of the Maker of (all) things. When wearied, I would mount on the bird of the light and empty air, proceed beyond the six cardinal points, and wander in the region of nonentity, to dwell in the wilderness of desert space. What method have you, moreover, for the government of the world that you (thus) agitate my mind?’
(Thien Kän), however, again asked the question, and the nameless man said,
‘Let your mind find its enjoyment in pure simplicity; blend yourself with (the primary) ether in idle indifference; allow all things to take their natural course; and admit no personal or selfish consideration: do this and the world will be governed.’
4: All who toil their bodies and distress their minds are supposedly not truly bright
Master Yang-kü, having an interview with Lao Tan, said to him, ‘Here is a man, alert and vigorous in responding to all matters, clearsighted and widely intelligent, and an unwearied student of the Tao; – can he be compared to one of the intelligent kings?’
The reply was,
‘Such a man is to one of the intelligent kings but as the bustling underling of a court who toils his body and distresses his mind with his various contrivances. And moreover, it is the beauty of the skins of the tiger and leopard which makes men hunt them; the agility of the monkey, or (the sagacity of) the dog that catches the yak, which make men lead them in strings; but can one similarly endowed be compared to the intelligent kings?’
Yang dze-kü looked discomposed and said,
‘I venture to ask you what the government of the intelligent kings is.’
Lao Tan replied,
‘In the governing of the intelligent kings, their services overspread all under the sky, but they did not seem to consider it as proceeding from themselves; their transforming influence reached to all things, but the people did not refer it to them with hope. No one could tell the name of their agency, but they made men and things be joyful in themselves. Where they took their stand could not be fathomed, and they found their enjoyment in (the realm of) nonentity.’
5: Reverting to simple ways – and a wizard who ran away
In Käng there was a mysterious wizard called Ki-hsien. He knew all about the deaths and births of men, their preservation and ruin, their misery and happiness, and whether their lives would be long or short, foretelling the year, the month, the decade and the day like a spirit. When the people of Käng saw him, they all ran out of his way. Master Lieh went to see him, and was fascinated by him. Returning, he told Master Hu of his interview, and said,
‘I considered your doctrine, my master, to be perfect, but I have found another which is superior to it.’
Master Hu replied,
‘I have communicated to you but the outward letter of my doctrine, and have not communicated its reality and spirit; and do you think that you are in possession of it? However many hens there be, if there be not the cock among them, how should they lay (real) eggs? When you confront the world with your doctrine, you are sure to show in your countenance (all that is in your mind), and so enable (this) man to succeed in interpreting your physiognomy. Try and come to me with him, that I may show myself to him.’
‘The hens’ signify the letter of the doctrine; ‘the cock,’ its spirit; ‘the eggs,’ a real knowledge of it. – J. Legge
On the morrow, accordingly, Master Lieh came with the man and saw Master Ha. When they went out, the wizard said,
‘Alas! your master is a dead man. He will not live; – not for ten days more! I saw something strange about him; – I saw the ashes (of his life) all slaked with water!’
When Master Lieh reentered, he wept till the front of his jacket was wet with his tears, and told Master Hu what the man had said. Master Hu said,
‘I showed myself to him with the forms of (vegetation beneath) the earth. There were the sprouts indeed, but without (any appearance of) growth or regularity: he seemed to see me with the springs of my (vital) power closed up. Try and come to me with him again.’
Next day, accordingly, Master Lieh brought the man again and saw Master Hu. When they went out, the man said,
‘It is a fortunate thing for your master that he met with me. He will get better; he has all the signs of living! I saw the balance (of the springs of life) that had been stopped (inclining in his favour).’
Master Lieh went in, and reported these words to his master, who said,
‘I showed myself to him after the pattern of the earth (beneath the) sky. Neither semblance nor reality entered (into my exhibition), but the springs (of life) were issuing from beneath my feet; – he seemed to see me with the springs of vigorous action in full play. Try and come with him again.’
Next day Master Lieh came with the man again, and again saw Master Hu with him. When they went out, the wizard said,
‘Your master is never the same. I cannot understand his physiognomy. Let him try to steady himself, and I will again view him.’
Master Lieh went in and reported this to Master Hu, who said,
‘This time I showed myself to him after the pattern of the grand harmony (of the two elemental forces), with the superiority inclining to neither. He seemed to see me with the springs of (vital) power in equal balance. Where the water wheels about from (the movements of) a dugong, there is an abyss; where it does so from the arresting (of its course), there is an abyss; where it does so, and the water keeps flowing on, there is an abyss. There are nine abysses with their several names, and I have only exhibited three of them. Try and come with him again.’
Next day they came, and they again saw Master Hu. But before he had settled himself in his position, the wizard lost himself and ran away.
‘Pursue him,’ said Master Hu, and Master Lieh did so, but could not come up with him. He returned, and told Master Hu, saying,
‘There is an end of him; he is lost; I could not find him.’
Master Hu rejoined,
‘I was showing him myself after the pattern of what was before I began to come from my author. I confronted him with pure vacancy, and an easy indifference. He did not know what I meant to represent. Now he thought it was the idea of exhausted strength, and now that of an onward flow, and therefore he ran away.
After this, Master Lieh considered that he had not yet begun to learn (his master’s doctrine). He returned to his house, and for three years did not go out. He did the cooking for his wife. He fed the pigs as if he were feeding men. He took no part or interest in occurring affairs. He put away the carving and sculpture about him, and returned to pure simplicity. Like a clod of earth he stood there in his bodily presence. Amid all distractions he was (silent) and shut up in himself. And in this way he continued to the end of his life.
6: A perfect guy antecipates nothing clumsily
Non-action (makes its exemplifier) the lord of all fame; non-action (serves him as) the treasury of all plans; non-action (fits him for) the burden of all offices; non-action (makes him) the lord of all wisdom. The range of his action is inexhaustible, but there is nowhere any trace of his presence. He fulfils all that he has received from Heaven, but he does not see that he was the recipient of anything. A pure vacancy (of all purpose) is what characterises him. When the perfect man employs his mind, it is a mirror. It conducts nothing and anticipates nothing; it responds to (what is before it), but does not retain it. Thus he is able to deal successfully with all things, and injures none.
7: Chaos may come to an end
The Ruler of the Southern Sea was Shu, the Ruler of the Northern Sea was Hu, and the Ruler of the Centre was Chaos. Shu and Hu were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well. They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said,
‘Men all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing, while this (poor) Ruler alone has not one. Let us try and make them for him.’
Accordingly they dug one orifice in him every day; and at the end of seven days Chaos died.
1: Know when enough is enough
A ligament uniting the big toe with the other toes and an extra finger may be natural growths, but they are more than is good for use. Excrescences on the person and hanging tumours are growths from the body, but they are unnatural additions to it. There are many arts of benevolence and righteousness, and the exercise of them is distributed among the five viscera; but this is not the correct method according to the characteristics of the Tao. Thus it is that the addition to the foot is but the attachment to it of so much useless flesh, and the addition to the hand is but the planting on it of a useless finger. (So it is that) the connecting (the virtues) with the five viscera renders, by excess or restraint, the action of benevolence and righteousness bad, and leads to many arts as in the employment of (great) powers of hearing or of vision.
2: An extraordinary power could lead to excessive use
Therefore an extraordinary power of vision leads to the confusion of the five colours and an excessive use of ornament. (Its possessor), in the resplendence of his green and yellow, white and black, black and green, will not stop till he has become a Li Ku. An extraordinary power of hearing leads to a confusion of the five notes, and an excessive use of the six musical accords. (Its possessor), in bringing out the tones from the instruments of metal, stone, silk, and bamboo, aided by the Hwang-kung and Tâ-lü (tubes), will not stop till he has become a Shih Khwang. (So), excessive benevolence eagerly brings out virtues and restrains its (proper) nature, that (its possessor) may acquire a famous reputation, and cause all the organs and drums in the world to celebrate an unattainable condition; and he will not stop till he has become a Zäng (Shän) or a Shih (Zhiu). An extraordinary faculty in debating leads to the piling up of arguments like a builder with his bricks, or a net-maker with his string. (Its possessor) cunningly contrives his sentences and enjoys himself in discussing what hardness is and what whiteness is, where views agree and where they differ, and pressing on, though weary, with short steps, with (a multitude of) useless words to make good his opinion; nor will he stop till he has become a Yang (Ku) or Mo (Ti). But in all these cases the parties, with their redundant and divergent methods, do not proceed by that which is the correct path for all under the sky. That which is the perfectly correct path is not to lose the real character of the nature with which we are endowed. Hence the union (of parts) should not be considered redundance, nor their divergence superfluity; what is long should not be considered too long, nor what is short too short. A duck’s legs, for instance, are short, but if we try to lengthen them, it occasions pain; and a crane’s legs are long, but if we try to cut off a portion of them, it produces grief. Where a part is by nature long, we are not to amputate, or where it is by nature short, we are not to lengthen it. There is no occasion to try to remove any trouble that it may cause.
❋ The fit path is not to lose one’s soundness and inborn character.
3: On low-leveled benevolence and righteousness
The presumption is that benevolence and righteousness are not constituents of humanity; for to how much anxiety does the exercise of them give rise! Moreover when another toe is united to the great toe, to divide the membrane makes you weep; and when there is an extra finger, to gnaw it off makes you cry out. In the one case there is a member too many, and in the other a member too few; but the anxiety and pain which they cause is the same. The benevolent men of the present age look at the evils of the world, as with eyes full of dust, and are filled with sorrow by them, while those who are not benevolent, having violently altered the character of their proper nature, greedily pursue after riches and honours. The presumption therefore is that benevolence and righteousness are contrary to the nature of man: how full of trouble and contention has the world been ever since the three dynasties began!
And moreover, in employing the hook and line, the compass and square, to give things their correct form you must cut away portions of what naturally belongs to them; in employing strings and fastenings, glue and varnish to make things firm, you must violently interfere with their qualities. The bendings and stoppings in ceremonies and music, and the factitious expression in the countenance of benevolence and righteousness, in order to comfort the minds of men: these all show a failure in observing the regular principles (of the human constitution). All men are furnished with such regular principles; and according to them what is bent is not made so by the hook, nor what is straight by the line, nor what is round by the compass, nor what is square by the carpenter’s square. Nor is adhesion effected by the use of glue and varnish, nor are things bound together by means of strings and bands. Thus it is that all in the world are produced what they are by a certain guidance, while they do not know how they are produced so; and they equally attain their several ends while they do not know how it is that they do so. Anciently it was so, and it is so now; and this constitution of things should not be made of none effect. Why then should benevolence and righteousness be employed as connecting (links), or as glue and varnish, strings and bands, and the enjoyment arising from the Tao and its characteristics be attributed to them? – it is a deception practised upon the world. Where the deception is small, there will be a change in the direction (of the objects pursued); where it is great, there will be a change of the nature itself. How do I know that it is so? Since he of the line of Yü called in his benevolence and righteousness to distort and vex the world, the world has not ceased to hurry about to execute their commands; – has not this been by means of benevolence and righteousness to change (men’s views) of their nature?
❋ Pursuing riches and honours may degrade one’s innermost being.
4: By different causes
I will therefore try and discuss this matter. From the commencement of the three dynasties downwards, nowhere has there been a man who has not under (the influence of external) things altered (the course of) his nature. Small men for the sake of gain have sacrificed their persons; scholars for the sake of fame have done so; great officers, for the sake of their families; and sagely men, for the sake of the kingdom. These several classes, with different occupations, and different reputations, have agreed in doing injury to their nature and sacrificing their persons. Take the case of a male and female slave; – they have to feed the sheep together, but they both lose their sheep. Ask the one what he was doing, and you will find that he was holding his bamboo tablets and reading. Ask the other, and you will find that she was amusing herself with some game. They were differently occupied, but they equally lose their sheep. (So), Po-i died at the foot of Shâu-yang to maintain his fame, and the robber Kih died on the top of Tung-ling in his eagerness for gain. Their deaths were occasioned by different causes, but they equally shortened their lives and did violence to their nature; – why must we approve of Po-i, and condemn the robber Kih? In cases of such sacrifice all over the world, when one makes it for the sake of benevolence and righteousness, the common people style him ‘a superior man,’ but when another does it for the sake of goods and riches, they style him ‘a small man.’
The action of sacrificing is the same, and yet we have ‘the superior man’ and ‘the small man!’ In the matter of destroying his life, and doing injury to his nature, the robber Kih simply did the same as Po-i; – why must we make the distinction of ‘superior man’ and ‘small man’ between them?
5: Good is simply of the Way
Moreover, those who devote their nature to (the pursuit) of benevolence and righteousness, though they should attain to be like Zäng (Shän) and Shih (Zhiu), I do not pronounce to be good; those who devote it to (the study of) the five flavours, though they attain to be like Shu-r, I do not pronounce to be good; those who devote it to the (discrimination of the) five notes, though they attain to be like Shih Khwang, I do not pronounce to be quick of hearing; those who devote it to the (appreciation of the) five colours, though they attain to be like Li Ku, I do not pronounce to be clear of vision. When I pronounce men to be good, I am not speaking of their benevolence and righteousness; – the goodness is simply (their possession of) the qualities (of the Tao). When I pronounce them to be good, I am not speaking of what are called benevolence and righteousness; but simply of their allowing the nature with which they are endowed to have its free course. When I pronounce men to be quick of hearing, I do not mean that they hearken to anything else, but that they hearken to themselves; when I pronounce them to be clear of vision, I do not mean that they look to anything else, but that they look to themselves. Now those who do not see themselves but see other things, who do not get possession of themselves but get possession of other things, get possession of what belongs to others, and not of what is their own; and they reach forth to what attracts others, and not to that in themselves which should attract them. But thus reaching forth to what attracts others and not to what should attract them in themselves, be they like the robber Kih or like Po-i, they equally err in the way of excess or of perversity. What I am ashamed of is erring in the characteristics of the Tao, and therefore, in the higher sphere, I do not dare to insist on the practice of benevolence and righteousness, and, in the lower, I do not dare to allow myself either in the exercise of excess or perversity.
1: Deal with things as you can
Horses can with their hoofs tread on the hoarfrost and snow, and with their hair withstand the wind and cold; they feed on the grass and drink water; they prance with their legs and leap: this is the true nature of horses. Though there were made for them grand towers and large dormitories, they would prefer not to use them. But when Po-lâo (arose and) said,
‘I know well how to manage horses, (men proceeded) to singe and mark them, to clip their hair, to pare their hoofs, to halter their heads, to bridle them and hobble them, and to confine them in stables and corrals. (When subjected to this treatment), two or three in every ten of them died. (Men proceeded further) to subject them to hunger and thirst, to gallop them and race them, and to make them go together in regular order. In front were the evils of the bit and ornamented breast-bands, and behind were the terrors of the whip and switch. (When so treated), more than half of them died.’
The (first) potter said,
‘I know well how to deal with clay; and (men proceeded) to mould it into circles as exact as if made by the compass, and into squares as exact as if formed by the measuring square.’
The (first) carpenter said,
‘I know well how to deal with wood; and (men proceeded) to make it bent as if by the application of the hook, and straight as if by the application of the plumb-line. But is it the nature of clay and wood to require the application of the compass and square, of the hook and line? And yet age after age men have praised Po-lâo, saying,
‘He knew well how to manage horses,’ and also the (first) potter and carpenter, saying,
‘They knew well how to deal with clay and wood.’
This is just the error committed by the governors of the world.’
❋ Apt equipment often helps nowadays.
2: Adhere to practical benevolence
According to my idea, those who knew well to govern mankind would not act so. The people had their regular and constant nature: they wove and made themselves clothes; they tilled the ground and got food. This was their common faculty. They were all one in this, and did not form themselves into separate classes; so were they constituted and left to their natural tendencies. Therefore in the age of perfect virtue men walked along with slow and grave step, and with their looks steadily directed forwards. At that time, on the hills there were no foot-paths, nor excavated passages; on the lakes there were no boats nor dams; all creatures lived in companies; and the places of their settlement were made close to one another. Birds and beasts multiplied to flocks and herds; the grass and trees grew luxuriant and long. In this condition the birds and beasts might be led about without feeling the constraint; the nest of the magpie might be climbed to, and peeped into. Yes, in the age of perfect virtue, men lived in common with birds and beasts, and were on terms of equality with all creatures, as forming one family; – how could they know among themselves the distinctions of superior men and small men? Equally without knowledge, they did not leave (the path of) their natural virtue; equally free from desires, they were in the state of pure simplicity. In that state of pure simplicity, the nature of the people was what it ought to be. But when the sagely men appeared, limping and wheeling about in (the exercise of) benevolence, pressing along and standing on tiptoe in the doing of righteousness, then men universally began to be perplexed. (Those sages also) went to excess in their performances of music, and in their gesticulations in the practice of ceremonies, and then men began to be separated from one another. If the raw materials had not been cut and hacked, who could have made a sacrificial vase from them? If the natural jade had not been broken and injured, who could have made the handles for the libation-cups from it? If the attributes of the Tao had not been disallowed, how should they have preferred benevolence and righteousness? If the instincts of the nature had not been departed from, how should ceremonies and music have come into use? If the five colours had not been confused, how should the ornamental figures have been formed? If the five notes had not been confused, how should they have supplemented them by the musical accords? The cutting and hacking of the raw materials to form vessels was the crime of the skilful workman; the injury done to the characteristics of the Tao in order to the practice of benevolence and righteousness was the error of the sagely men.
3: Horses in the open country
Horses, when living in the open country, eat the grass, and drink water; when pleased, they intertwine their necks and rub one another; when enraged, they turn back to back and kick one another; – this is all that they know to do. But if we put the yoke on their necks, with the moonlike frontlet displayed on all their foreheads, then they know to look slily askance, to curve their necks, to rush viciously, trying to get the bit out of their mouths, and to filch the reins (from their driver); – this knowledge of the horse and its ability thus to act the part of a thief is the crime of Po-lâo. In the time of (the Ti) Ho-hsü, the people occupied their dwellings without knowing what they were doing, and walked out without knowing where they were going. They filled their mouths with food and were glad; they slapped their stomachs to express their satisfaction. This was all the ability which they possessed. But when the sagely men appeared, with their bendings and stoppings in ceremonies and music to adjust the persons of all, and hanging up their benevolence and righteousness to excite the endeavours of all to reach them, in order to comfort their minds, then the people began to stump and limp about in their love of knowledge, and strove with one another in their pursuit of gain, so that there was no stopping them: this was the error of those sagely men.