1: The needed Tao is not enough
Those who would correct their nature by means of the vulgar learning, seeking to restore it to its original condition, and those who would regulate their desires by the vulgar [common] ways of thinking, seeking thereby to carry their intelligence to perfection, must be pronounced to be deluded and ignorant people. The ancients who regulated the Tao nourished their faculty of knowledge by their placidity, and all through life abstained from employing that faculty in action; – they must be pronounced to have (thus also) nourished their placidity by their knowledge.
When the faculty of knowledge and the placidity (thus) blend together, and they nourish each other, then from the nature there come forth harmony and orderly method. The attributes (of the Tao) constitute the harmony; the Tao (itself) secures the orderly method. When the attributes appear in a universal practice of forbearance, we have Benevolence; when the path is all marked by orderly method, we have Righteousness; when the righteousness is clearly manifested, and (all) things are regarded with affection, we have Leal-heartedness; when the (heart’s) core is thus (pure) and real, and carried back to its (proper) qualities, we have Music; when this sincerity appears in all the range of the capacity, and its demonstrations are in accordance with what is elegant, we have Ceremony. If Ceremonies and Music are carried out in an imperfect and one-sided manner, the world is thrown into confusion. When men would rectify others, and their own virtue is beclouded, it is not sufficient to extend itself to them. If an attempt be made so to extend it, they also will lose their (proper) nature.
2: The state of Excellent Unity
The men of old, while the chaotic condition was yet undeveloped, shared the placid tranquillity which belonged to the whole world. At that time the Yin and Yang were harmonious and still; their resting and movement proceeded without any disturbance; the four seasons had their definite times; not a single thing received any injury, and no living being came to a premature end. Men might be possessed of (the faculty of) knowledge, but they had no occasion for its use. This was what is called the state of Perfect Unity. At this time, there was no action on the part of any one, but a constant manifestation of spontaneity.
This condition (of excellence) deteriorated and decayed, till Sui-zän and Fu-hsi arose and commenced their administration of the world; on which came a compliance (with their methods), but the state of unity was lost. The condition going on to deteriorate and decay, Shän Näng and Hwang-Ti arose, and took the administration of the world, on which (the people) rested (in their methods), but did not themselves comply with them. Still the deterioration and decay continued till the lords of Tang and Yü began to administer the world. These introduced the method of governing by transformation, resorting to the stream (instead of to the spring), thus vitiating the purity and destroying the simplicity (of the nature). They left the Tao, and substituted the Good for it, and pursued the course of Haphazard Virtue. After this they forsook their nature and followed (the promptings of) their minds. One mind and another associated their knowledge, but were unable to give rest to the world. Then they added to this knowledge (external and) elegant forms, and went on to make these more and more numerous. The forms extinguished the (primal) simplicity, till the mind was drowned by their multiplicity. After this the people began to be perplexed and disordered, and had no way by which they might return to their true nature, and bring back their original condition.
3: Solid virtue may go unrecognised where the Way is generally lost to the world
Looking at the subject from this point of view, we see how the world lost the (proper) course, and how the course (which it took) only led it further astray. The world and the Way, when they came together, being (thus) lost to each other, how could the men of the Way make themselves conspicuous in the world? and how could the world rise to an appreciation of the Way? Since the Way had no means to make itself conspicuous in the world, and the world had no means of rising to an appreciation of the Way, though sagely men might not keep among the hills and forests, their virtue was hidden; – hidden, but not because they themselves sought to hide it.
Those whom the ancients called ‘Retired Scholars’ did not conceal their persons, and not allow themselves to be seen; they did not shut up their words, and refuse to give utterance to them; they did not hide away their knowledge, and refuse to bring it forth. The conditions laid on them by the times were very much awry. If the conditions of the times had allowed them to act in the world on a great scale, they would have brought back the state of unity without any trace being perceived (of how they did so), When those conditions shut them up entirely from such action, they struck their roots deeper (in themselves), were perfectly still and waited. It was thus that they preserved (the Way in) their own persons.
4: Attain enjoyment
The ancients who preserved (the Way in) their own persons did not try by sophistical reasonings to gloss over their knowledge; they did not seek to embrace (everything in) the world in their knowledge, nor to comprehend all the virtues in it. Solitary and trembling they remained where they were, and sought the restoration of their nature. What had they to do with any further action? The Way indeed is not to be pursued, nor (all) its characteristics to be known on a small scale. A little knowledge is injurious to those characteristics; small doings are injurious to the Way; – hence it is said,
‘They simply rectified themselves.’
Complete enjoyment is what is meant by ‘the Attainment of the Aim.’
What was anciently called ‘the Attainment of the Aim’ did not mean the getting of carriages and coronets; it simply meant that nothing more was needed for their enjoyment. Now-a-days what is called ‘the Attainment of the Aim’ means the getting of carriages and coronets. But carriages and coronets belong to the body; they do not affect the nature as it is constituted. When such things happen to come, it is but for a time; being but for a time, their coming cannot be obstructed and their going cannot be stopped. Therefore we should not because of carriages and coronets indulge our aims, nor because of distress and straitness resort to the vulgar (learning and thinking); the one of these conditions and the other may equally conduce to our enjoyment, which is simply to be free from anxiety. If now the departure of what is transient takes away one’s enjoyment, this view shows that what enjoyment it had given was worthless. Hence it is said,
‘They who lose themselves in their pursuit of things, and lose their nature in their study of what is vulgar, must be pronounced people who turn things upside down.’
❋ How can we rectify ourselves among all those who live so as to lose themselves?
1: Zo of the Northern Sea teaches
The time of the autumn floods was come, and the hundred streams were all discharging themselves into the Ho. Its current was greatly swollen, so that across its channel from bank to bank one could not distinguish an ox from a horse. On this the (Spirit-) earl of the Ho laughed with delight, thinking that all the beauty of the world was to be found in his charge. Along the course of the river he walked east till he came to the North Sea, over which he looked, with his face to the east, without being able to see where its waters began. Then he began to turn his face round, looked across the expanse, (as if he were) confronting Zo, and said with a sigh,
‘What the vulgar saying expresses about him who has learned a hundred points (of the Tao), and thinks that there is no one equal to himself, was surely spoken of me. And moreover, I have heard parties making little of the knowledge of Kung-ni and the righteousness of Po-i, and at first I did not believe them. Now I behold the all-but-boundless extent (of your realms). If I had not come to your gate, I should have been in danger (of continuing in my ignorance), and been laughed at for long in the schools of our great System.’
Zo, (the Spirit-lord) of the Northern Sea, said,
‘A frog in a well cannot be talked with about the sea; – he is confined to the limits of his hole. An insect of the summer cannot be talked with about ice; – it knows nothing beyond its own season. A scholar of limited views cannot be talked with about the Tao; – he is bound by the teaching (which he has received). Now you have come forth from between your banks, and beheld the great sea. You have come to know your own ignorance and inferiority, and are in the way of being fitted to be talked with about great principles. Of all the waters under heaven there are none so great as the sea. A myriad streams flow into it without ceasing, and yet it is not filled; and afterwards it discharges them (also) without ceasing, and yet it is not emptied. In spring and in autumn it undergoes no change; it takes no notice of floods or of drought. Its superiority over such streams even as the Kiang and the Ho cannot be told by measures or numbers; and that I have never, notwithstanding this, made much of myself, is because I compare my own bodily form with (the greatness of) heaven and earth, and (remember that) I have received my breath from the Yin and Yang. Between heaven and earth I am but as a small stone or a small tree on a great hill. So long as I see myself to be thus small, how should I make much of myself? I estimate all within the four seas, compared with the space between heaven and earth, to be not so large as that occupied by a pile of stones in a large marsh! I estimate our Middle States, compared with the space between the four seas, to be smaller than a single little grain of rice in a great granary! When we would set forth the number of things (in existence), we speak of them as myriads; and man is only one of them. Men occupy all the nine provinces; but of all whose life is maintained by grain-food, wherever boats and carriages reach, men form only one portion. Thus, compared with the myriads of things, they are not equal to a single fine hair on the body of a horse. Within this range are comprehended all (the territories) which the five Tis received in succession from one another; all which the royal founders of the three dynasties contended for; all which excited the anxiety of Benevolent men; and all which men in office have toiled for. Po-i was accounted famous for declining (to share in its government), and Kung-ni was accounted great because of the lessons which he addressed to it. They acted as they did, making much of themselves; – therein like you who a little time ago did so of yourself because of your (volume of) water!’
2: Zo of the Northern Sea tells of men of great wisdom
The earl of the Ho said,
‘Well then, may I consider heaven and earth as (the ideal of) what is great, and the point of a hair as that of what is small?’
Zo of the Northern Sea replied,
‘No. The (different) capacities of things are illimitable; time never stops, (but is always moving on); man’s lot is ever changing; the end and the beginning of things never occur (twice) in the same way. Therefore men of great wisdom, looking at things far off or near at hand, do not think them insignificant for being small, nor much of them for being great: knowing how capacities differ illimitably. They appeal with intelligence to things of ancient and recent occurrence, without being troubled by the remoteness of the former, or standing on tiptoe to lay hold of the latter: knowing that time never stops in its course. They examine with discrimination (cases of) fulness and of want, not overjoyed by success, nor disheartened by failure: knowing the inconstancy of man’s lot. They know the plain and quiet path (in which things proceed), therefore they are not overjoyed to live, nor count it a calamity to die: the end and the beginning of things never occurring (twice) in the same way.
‘We must reckon that what men know is not so much as what they do not know, and that the time since they were born is not so long as that which elapsed before they were born. When they take that which is most small and try to fill with it the dimensions of what is most great, this leads to error and confusion, and they cannot attain their end. Looking at the subject in this way, how can you know that the point of a hair is sufficient to determine the minuteness of what is most small, or that heaven and earth are sufficient to complete the dimensions of what is most large?’
❋ A sense of proportions may be trained.
3: Zo of the Northern Sea discourses
The earl of the Ho said,
‘The disputers of the world all say, “That which is most minute has no bodily form; and that which is most great cannot be encompassed; ” – is this really the truth?’
Zo of the Northern Sea replied,
‘When from the standpoint of what is small we look at what is great, we do not take it all in; when from the standpoint of what is great we look at what is small, we do not see it clearly. Now the subtile essence is smallness in its extreme degree; and the vast mass is greatness in its largest form. Different as they are, each has its suitability, – according to their several conditions. But the subtile and the gross both presuppose that they have a bodily form. Where there is no bodily form, there is no longer a possibility of numerical division; where it is not possible to encompass a mass, there is no longer a possibility of numerical estimate. What can be discoursed about in words is the grossness of things; what can be reached in idea is the subtilty of things. What cannot be discoursed about in words, and what cannot be reached by nice discrimination of thought, has nothing to do either with subtilty or grossness.
‘Therefore while the actions of the Great Man are not directed to injure men, he does not plume himself on his benevolence and kindness; while his movements are not made with a view to gain, he does not consider the menials of a family as mean; while he does not strive after property and wealth, he does not plume himself on declining them; while he does not borrow the help of others to accomplish his affairs, he does not plume himself on supporting himself by his own strength, nor does he despise those who in their greed do what is mean; while he differs in his conduct from the vulgar, he does not plume himself on being so different from them; while it is his desire to follow the multitude, he does not despise the glib-tongued flatterers. The rank and emoluments of the world furnish no stimulus to him, nor does he reckon its punishments and shame to be a disgrace. He knows that the right and the wrong can (often) not be distinguished, and that what is small and what is great can (often) not be defined. I have heard it said, “The Man of Tao does not become distinguished; the greatest virtue is unsuccessful; the Great Man has no thought of self; ” – to so great a degree may the lot be restricted.’
❋ Greatest virtue can be quite unsuccessful if the conditions do not follow suit too.
4: Views on noble and mean by Zo of the Northern Sea
The earl of the Ho said,
‘Whether the subject be what is external in things, or what is internal, how do we come to make a distinction between them as noble and mean, and as great or small?’
Zo of the Northern Sea replied,
‘When we look at them in the light of the Tao, they are neither noble nor mean. Looking at them in themselves, each thinks itself noble, and despises others. Looking at them in the light of common opinion, their being noble or mean does not depend on themselves. Looking at them in their differences from one another, if we call those great which are greater than others, there is nothing that is not great, and in the same way there is nothing that is not small. We shall (thus) know that heaven and earth is but (as) a grain of the smallest rice, and that the point of a hair is (as) a mound or a mountain; – such is the view given of them by their relative size. Looking at them from the services they render, allowing to everything the service which it does, there is not one which is not serviceable; and, extending the consideration to what it does not do, there is not one which is not unserviceable. We know (for instance) that East and West are opposed to each other, and yet that the one cannot be without (suggesting the idea of) the other; – (thus) their share of mutual service is determined. Looking at them with respect to their tendencies, if we approve of what they approve, then there is no one who may not be approved of; and, if we condemn what they condemn, there is no one who may not be condemned. There are the cases of Yao and Kieh, each of whom approved of his own course, and condemned the other; – such is the view arising from the consideration of tendency and aim.
‘Formerly Yao and Shun resigned (their thrones), and yet each continued to be Ti; Kih-khwâi resigned (his marquisate) which led to his ruin. Tang and Wu contended (for the sovereignty), and each became king; the duke of Pâi contended (for Ku), which led to his extinction. Looking at the subject from these examples of striving by force and of resigning, and from the conduct of Yao (on the one hand) and of Kieh (on the other), we see that there is a time for noble acting, and a time for mean; – these characteristics are subject to no regular rule.
❋ To be of service can often work for good too.
5: Zo goes on talking
‘A battering ram may be used against the wall of a city, but it cannot be employed to stop up a hole; – the uses of implements are different. The (horses) Khih-ki and Hwâ-liu could in one day gallop 1000 li, but for catching rats they were not equal to a wild dog or a weasel; – the gifts of creatures are different. The white horned owl collects its fleas in the night-time, and can discern the point of a hair, but in bright day it stares with its eyes and cannot see a mound or a hill; – the natures of creatures are different.
‘Hence the sayings, “Shall we not follow and honour the right, and have nothing to do with the wrong? shall we not follow and honour those who secure good government, and have nothing to do with those who produce disorder?” show a want of acquaintance with the principles of Heaven and Earth, and with the different qualities of things. It is like following and honouring Heaven and taking no account of Earth; it is like following and honouring the Yin and taking no account of the Yang. It is clear that such a course cannot be pursued. Yet notwithstanding they go on talking so: if they are not stupid, they are visionaries. The Ti sovereigns resigned their thrones to others in one way, and the rulers of the three dynasties transmitted their thrones to their successors in another. He who acts differently from the requirements of his time and contrary to its custom is called an usurper; he who complies with the time and follows the common practice is said to be righteous. Hold your peace, O earl of the Ho. How should you know what constitutes being noble and being mean, or who are the small and who the great?’
6: Zo of the Northern Sea: “Be severe and strict, scrupulous, yet gentle – large-minded too.”
The earl of the Ho said,
‘Very well. But what am I to do? and what am I not to do? How am I to be guided after all in regard to what I accept or reject, and what I pursue or put away from me?’
Zo of the Northern Sea replied,
‘From the standpoint of the Tao, what is noble? and what is mean? These expressions are but the different extremes of the average level. Do not keep pertinaciously to your own ideas, which put you in such opposition to the Tao. What are few? and what are many? These are denominations which we employ in thanking (donors) and dispensing gifts. Do not study to be uniform in doing so; – it only shows how different you are from the Tao. Be severe and strict, like the ruler of a state who does not selfishly bestow his favours. Be scrupulous, yet gentle, like the tutelary spirit of the land, when sacrifice is offered to him who does not bestow his blessing selfishly. Be large-minded like space, whose four terminating points are illimitable, and form no particular enclosures. Hold all things in your love, favouring and supporting none specially. This is called being without any local or partial regard; all things are equally regarded; there is no long or short among them.
‘There is no end or beginning to the Tao. Things indeed die and are born, not reaching a perfect state which can be relied on. Now there is emptiness, and now fulness; – they do not continue in one form. The years cannot be reproduced; time cannot be arrested. Decay and growth, fulness and emptiness, when they end, begin again. It is thus that we describe the method of great righteousness, and discourse about the principle pervading all things. The life of things is like the hurrying and galloping along of a horse. With every movement there is a change; with every moment there is an alteration. What should you be doing? what should you not be doing? You have only to be allowing this course of natural transformation to be going on.’
7: The tranquil Zo of the Northern Sea – no water drowns him
The earl of the Ho said,
‘What then is there so valuable in the Tao?’
Zo of the Northern Sea replied,
‘He who knows the Tao, is sure to be well acquainted with the principles (that appear in the procedures of things). Acquainted with (those) principles, he is sure to understand how to regulate his conduct in all varying circumstances. Having that understanding, he will not allow things to injure himself. Fire cannot burn him who is (so) perfect in virtue, nor water drown him; neither cold nor heat can affect him injuriously; neither bird nor beast can hurt him. This does not mean that he is indifferent to these things; it means that he discriminates between where he may safely rest and where he will be in peril; that he is tranquil equally in calamity and happiness; that he is careful what he avoids and what he approaches; – so that nothing can injure him. Hence it is said, “What is heavenly is internal; what is human is external.” The virtue (of man) is in what is Heavenly. If you know the operation of what is Heavenly and what is Human, you will have your root in what is Heavenly and your position in Virtue. You will bend or stretch (only) after the (necessary) hesitation; you will have returned to the essential, and may be pronounced to have reached perfection.’
‘What do you mean,’ pursued the earl, ‘by the Heavenly, and by the Human?’
‘Oxen and horses have four feet; – that is what I call their Heavenly (constitution). When horses’ heads are haltered, and the noses of oxen are pierced, that is what I call (the doing of) Man. Hence it is said, “Do not by the Human (doing) extinguish the Heavenly (constitution); do not for your (Human) purpose extinguish the appointment (of Heaven); do not bury your (proper) fame in (such) a pursuit of it; carefully guard (the Way) and do not lose it: this is what I call reverting to your True (Nature).”‘
❋ Refrain from taming animals and underlings, if it results in good-natured happiness.
8: The dragon, millipede, serpent, and the wind
The khwei [a sort of dragon with one foot, or a worm] desires to be like the millipede; the millipede to be like the serpent; the serpent like the wind; the wind to be like the eye; and the eye to be like the mind.
The khwei said to the millipede,
‘With my one leg I hop about, and can hardly manage to go along. Now you have a myriad feet which you can employ; how is it that you are so abundantly furnished?’
The millipede said,
‘It is not so. Have you not seen one ejecting saliva? The largest portion of it is like a pearl, while the smaller portions fall down like a shower of mist in innumerable drops. Now I put in motion the springs set in me by Heaven, without knowing how I do so.’
The millipede said to the serpent,
‘I go along by means of my multitude of feet; and yet how is it that I do not go so fast as you who have no feet at all?’
The serpent replied,
‘How can the method of moving by the springs set in us by Heaven be changed? How could I make use of feet?’
The serpent said to the wind,
‘I get along by moving my backbone and ribs, thus appearing to have some (bodily) means of progression. But now you, Sir, rise with a blustering force in the North Sea, and go on in the same way to the South Sea; – seemingly without any such means. How does it take place?’
The wind said,
‘Yes. With such a blustering force I rise in the North Sea and go on to the South Sea. But you can point to me, and therein are superior to me, as you are also in treading on me. Yet notwithstanding, it is only I who can break great trees, and blow down great houses. Therefore he whom all that are small cannot overcome is a great overcomer. But it is only he who is the sagely man that is the Great Conqueror (of all).’
9: Confucius travelling and singing
When Confucius was travelling in Khwang, some people of Sung (once) surrounded him (with a hostile intention) several ranks deep; but he kept singing to his lute without stopping. Tzu-lu came in, and saw him, and said,
‘How is it, Master, that you are so pleased?’
‘Come here, and I will tell you. I have tried to avoid being reduced to such a strait for a long time; and that I have not escaped shows that it was so appointed for me. I have sought to find a ruler that would employ me for a long time, and that I have not found one, shows the character of the time. Under Yao and Shun there was no one in the kingdom reduced to straits like mine; and it was not by their sagacity that men succeeded as they did. Under Kieh and Kâu no (good and able man) in the kingdom found his way to employment; and it was not for (want of) sagacity that they failed to do so. It was simply owing to the times and their character.
‘People that do business on the water do not shrink from meeting iguanodons and dragons; – that is the courage of fishermen. Those who do business on land do not shrink from meeting rhinoceroses and tigers; – that is the courage of hunters. When men see the sharp weapons crossed before them, and look on death as going home; – that is the courage of the determined soldier. When he knows that his strait is determined for him, and that the employment of him by a ruler depends on the character of the time, and then meeting with great distress is yet not afraid; – that is the courage of the sagely man. Wait, my good Yu, and you will see what there is determined for me in my lot.’
A little afterwards, the leader of the armed men approached and took his leave, saying,
‘We thought you were Yang Hu, and therefore surrounded you. Now we see our mistake.’
(With this) he begged to take his leave, and withdrew.
10: Kung Tzu Mâu to Kung-sun Lung
Kung-sun Lung asked Mâu of Wei, saying,
‘When I was young, I learned the teachings of the former kings; and when I was grown up, I became proficient in the practice of benevolence and righteousness. I brought together the views that agreed and disagreed; I considered the questions about hardness and whiteness; I set forth what was to be affirmed and what was not, and what was allowable and what was not; I studied painfully the various schools of thought, and made myself master of the reasonings of all their masters. I thought that I had reached a good understanding of every subject; but now that I have heard the words of Master Chuang, they throw me into a flutter of surprise. I do not know whether it be that I do not come up to him in the power of discussion, or that my knowledge is not equal to his. But now I do not feel able to open my mouth, and venture to ask you what course I should pursue.’
Kung Tzu Mâu leant forward on his stool, drew a long breath, looked up to heaven, smiled, and said,
‘Have you not heard of the frog of the dilapidated well, and how it said to the turtle of the Eastern Sea, “How I enjoy myself? I leap upon the parapet of this well. I enter, and having by means of the projections formed by the fragments of the broken tiles of the lining proceeded to the water, I draw my legs together, keep my chin up, (and strike out). When I have got to the mud, I dive till my feet are lost in it. Then turning round, I see that of the shrimps, crabs, and tadpoles there is not one that can do like me. Moreover, when one has entire command of all the water in the gully, and hesitates to go forward, it is the greatest pleasure to enjoy one’s self here in this dilapidated well; – why do not you, Master, often come and enter, and see it for yourself? “The turtle of the Eastern Sea (was then proceeding to go forward), but before he had put in his left foot, he found his right knee caught and held fast. On this he hesitated, drew back, and told (the frog) all about the sea, saying, “A distance of a thousand li is not sufficient to express its extent, nor would (a line of) eight thousand cubits be equal to sound its depth. In the time of Yü, for nine years out of ten the flooded land (all drained into it), and its water was not sensibly increased; and in the time of Tang for seven years out of eight there was a drought, but the rocks on the shore (saw) no diminution of the water because of it. Thus it is that no change is produced in its waters by any cause operating for a short time or a long, and that they do not advance nor recede for any addition or subtraction, whether great or small; and this is the great pleasure afforded by the Eastern Sea.” When the frog of the dilapidated well heard this, he was amazed and terror-struck, and lost himself in surprise.
‘And moreover, when you, who have not wisdom enough to know where the discussions about what is right and what is wrong should end, still desire to see through the words of Master Chuang, that is like employing a mosquito to carry a mountain on its back, or a millipede to gallop as fast as the Ho runs; – tasks to which both the insects are sure to be unequal. Still further, when you, who have not wisdom enough to know the words employed in discussing very mysterious subjects, yet hasten to show your sharpness of speech on any occasion that may occur, is not this being like the frog of the dilapidated well?
‘And that (Master Chuang) now plants his foot on the Yellow Springs (below the earth), and anon rises to the height of the Empyrean. Without any regard to south and north, with freedom he launches out in every direction, and is lost in the unfathomable. Without any regard to east and west, starting from what is abysmally obscure, he comes back to what is grandly intelligible. (All the while), you, Sir, in amazement, search for his views to examine them, and grope among them for matter for discussion; – this is just like peeping at the heavens through a tube, or aiming at the earth with an awl; are not both the implements too small for the purpose? Go your ways, Sir.
‘And have you not heard of the young learners of Shâu-ling, and how they did in Han-tan? Before they had acquired what they might have done in that capital, they had forgotten what they had learned to do in their old city, and were marched back to it on their hands and knees. If now you do not go away, you will forget your old acquirements, and fail in your profession.’
Kung-sun Lung gaped on the speaker, and could not shut his mouth, and his tongue clave to its roof. He slank away and ran off.
❋ It is fit to search so as to be able to ascertain well.
11: Chuang Tzu in the mud, so to speak
Master Chuang was (once) fishing in the river Phu, when the king of Ku sent two great officers to him, with the message,
‘I wish to trouble you with the charge of all within my territories.’
Master Chuang kept on holding his rod without looking round, and said,
‘I have heard that in Ku there is a spirit-like tortoise-shell, the wearer of which died 3000 years ago, and which the king keeps, in his ancestral temple, in a hamper covered with a cloth. Was it better for the tortoise to die, and leave its shell to be thus honoured? Or would it have been better for it to live and keep on dragging its tail through the mud?’
The two officers said,
‘It would have been better for it to live and draw its tail after it over the mud.’
‘Go your ways. I will keep on drawing my tail after me through the mud.’
12: Chuang Tzu to Hui Tzu
Master Hui being a minister of state in Liang, Master Chuang went to see him. Some one had told Master Hui that Master Chuang was come with a wish to supersede him in his office, on which he was afraid, and instituted a search for the stranger all over the kingdom for three days and three nights. (After this) Master Chuang went and saw him, and said,
‘There is in the south a bird, called “the Young Phoenix”; – do you know it? Starting from the South Sea, it flies to the Northern; never resting but on the bignonia, never eating but the fruit of the melia azederach, and never drinking but from the purest springs. An owl, which had got a putrid rat, (once), when a phoenix went passing overhead, looked up to it and gave an angry scream. Do you wish now, in your possession of the kingdom of Liang, to frighten me with a similar scream?’
13: On the dam
Master Chuang and Master Hui were walking on the dam over the Hâo, when the former said,
‘These thryssas come out and play about at their ease; – that is the enjoyment of fishes.’
The other said,
‘You are not a fish; how do you know what constitutes the enjoyment of fishes?’
Master Chuang rejoined,
‘You are not I. How do you know that I do not know what constitutes the enjoyment of fishes?’
Master Hui said,
‘I am not you; and though indeed I do not fully know you, you certainly are not a fish, and (the argument) is complete against your knowing what constitutes the happiness of fishes.’
Master Chuang replied,
‘Let us keep to your original question. You said to me, “How do you know what constitutes the enjoyment of fishes?” You knew that I knew it, and yet you put your question to me; – well, I know it (from our enjoying ourselves together) over the Hâo.’
1: Sadly, many become more and more stupid, bitter, and a anxious from living. They do not know full well what to go for
Under the sky is perfect enjoyment to be found or not? Are there any who can preserve themselves alive or not? If there be, what do they do? What do they maintain? What do they avoid? What do they attend to? Where do they resort to? Where do they keep from? What do they delight in? What do they dislike?
What the world honours is riches, dignities, longevity, and being deemed able. What it delights in is rest for the body, rich flavours, fine garments, beautiful colours, and pleasant music. What it looks down on are poverty and mean condition, short life and being deemed feeble. What men consider bitter experiences are that their bodies do not get rest and case, that their mouths do not get food of rich flavour, that their persons are not finely clothed, that their eyes do not see beautiful colours, and that their ears do not listen to pleasant music. If they do not get these things, they are very sorrowful, and go on to be troubled with fears. Their thoughts are all about the body; – are they not silly?
Now the rich embitter their lives by their incessant labours; they accumulate more wealth than they can use: while they act thus for the body, they make it external to themselves. Those who seek for honours carry their pursuit of them from the day into the night, full of anxiety about their methods whether they are skilful or not: while they act thus for the body they treat it as if it were indifferent to them. The birth of man is at the same time the birth of his sorrow; and if he live long he becomes more and more stupid, and the longer is his anxiety that he may not die; how great is his bitterness! – while he thus acts for his body, it is for a distant result. Meritorious officers are regarded by the world as good; but (their goodness) is not sufficient to keep their persons alive. I do not know whether the goodness ascribed to them be really good or really not good. If indeed it be considered good, it is not sufficient to preserve their persons alive; if it be deemed not good, it is sufficient to preserve other men alive. Hence it is said,
‘When faithful remonstrances are not listened to, (the remonstrant) should sit still, let (his ruler) take his course, and not strive with him.’
Therefore when Tzu-hsü strove with (his ruler), he brought on himself the mutilation of his body. If he had not so striven, he would not have acquired his fame: was such (goodness) really good or was it not?
As to what the common people now do, and what they find their enjoyment in, I do not know whether the enjoyment be really enjoyment or really not. I see them in their pursuit of it following after all their aims as if with the determination of death, and as if they could not stop in their course; but what they call enjoyment would not be so to me, while yet I do not say that there is no enjoyment in it. Is there indeed such enjoyment, or is there not? I consider doing nothing (to obtain it) to be the great enjoyment’, while ordinarily people consider it to be a great evil. Hence it is said,
‘Perfect enjoyment is to be without enjoyment; the highest praise is to be without praise.’
The right and the wrong (on this point of enjoyment) cannot indeed be determined according to (the view of) the world; nevertheless, this doing nothing (to obtain it) may determine the right and the wrong. Since perfect enjoyment is (held to be) the keeping the body alive, it is only by this doing nothing that that end is likely to be secured. Allow me to try and explain this (more fully): Heaven does nothing, and thence comes its serenity; Earth does nothing, and thence comes its rest. By the union of these two inactivities, all things are produced. How vast and imperceptible is the process! – they seem to come from nowhere! How imperceptible and vast! – there is no visible image of it! All things in all their variety grow from this Inaction. Hence it is said,
‘Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that they do not do.’
But what man is there that can attain to this inaction?
❋ What common people call enjoyment would not be so to all.
❋ Heaven and Earth are moving extremely swiftly – take that into account if you can.
2: Chuang Tzu drumming on the basin after his wife died
When Master Chuang’s wife died, Master Hui went to condole with him, and, finding him squatted on the ground, drumming on the basin, and singing, said to him,
‘When a wife has lived with her husband, and brought up children, and then dies in her old age, not to wail for her is enough. When you go on to drum on this basin and sing, is it not an excessive (and strange) demonstration?’
Master Chuang replied,
‘It is not so. When she first died, was it possible for me to be singular and not affected by the event? But I reflected on the commencement of her being. She had not yet been born to life; not only had she no life, but she had no bodily form; not only bad she no bodily form, but she had no breath. During the intermingling of the waste and dark chaos, there ensued a change, and there was breath; another change, and there was the bodily form; another change, and there came birth and life. There is now a change again, and she is dead. The relation between these things is like the procession of the four seasons from spring to autumn, from winter to summer. There now she lies with her face up, sleeping in the Great Chamber; and if I were to fall sobbing and going on to wail for her, I should think that I did not understand what was appointed (for all). I therefore restrained myself!’
3: Mr. Deformed and Mr. One-foot
Mr. Deformed and Mr. One-foot were looking at the mound-graves of the departed in the wild of Kun-lun, where Hwang-Ti had entered into his rest. Suddenly a tumour began to grow on their left wrists, which made them look distressed as if they disliked it. The former said to the other,
‘Do you dread it?’
‘No,’ replied he, ‘why should I dread it? Life is a borrowed thing. The living frame thus borrowed is but so much dust. Life and death are like day and night. And you and I were looking at (the graves of) those who have undergone their change. If my change is coming to me, why should I dislike it?’
❋ A fatalistic outlook is hardly for remedying ills.
4: Chuang Tzu and the bleached skull he slept on
When Master Chuang went to Ku, he saw an empty skull, bleached indeed, but still retaining its shape. Tapping it with his horse-switch, he asked it, saying,
‘Did you, Sir, in your greed of life, fail in the lessons of reason, and come to this? Or did you do so, in the service of a perishing state, by the punishment of the axe? Or was it through your evil conduct, reflecting disgrace on your parents and on your wife and children? Or was it through your hard endurances of cold and hunger? Or was it that you had completed your term of life?’
Having given expression to these questions, he took up the skull, and made a pillow of it when he went to sleep. At midnight the skull appeared to him in a dream, and said,
‘What you said to me was after the fashion of an orator. All your words were about the entanglements of men in their lifetime. There are none of those things after death. Would you like to hear me, Sir, tell you about death?’
‘I should,’ said Master Chuang, and the skull resumed:
‘In death there are not (the distinctions of) ruler above and minister below. There are none of the phenomena of the four seasons. Tranquil and at ease, our years are those of heaven and earth. No king in his court has greater enjoyment than we have.’
Master Chuang did not believe it, and said,
‘If I could get the Ruler of our Destiny to restore your body to life with its bones and flesh and skin, and to give you back your father and mother, your wife and children, and all your village acquaintances, would you wish me to do so?’
The skull stared fixedly at him, knitted its brows, and said,
‘How should I cast away the enjoyment of my royal court, and undertake again the toils of life among mankind?’
5: Confucius approving very much of Chuang Tzu sayings
When Yen Yüan went eastwards to Khi, Confucius wore a look of sorrow. Tzu-kung left his mat, and asked him, saying,
‘Your humble disciple ventures to ask how it is that the going eastwards of Hui to Khi has given you such a look of sadness.’
‘Your question is good. Formerly Master Chuang used words of which I very much approve. He said, “A small bag cannot be made to contain what is large; a short rope cannot be used to draw water from a deep well.” So it is, and man’s appointed lot is definitely determined, and his body is adapted for definite ends, so that neither the one nor the other can be augmented or diminished. I am afraid that Hui will talk with the marquis of Khi about the ways of Hwang-Ti, Yao, and Shun, and go on to relate the words of Sui-zän and Shän Näng. The marquis will seek (for the correspondence of what he is told) in himself; and, not finding it there, will suspect the speaker; and that speaker, being suspected, will be put to death. And have you not heard this? – Formerly a sea-bird alighted in the suburban country of Lu. The marquis went out to meet it, (brought it) to the ancestral temple, and prepared to banquet it there. The Kiu-shâo was performed to afford it music; an ox, a sheep, and a pig were killed to supply the food. The bird, however, looked at everything with dim eyes, and was very sad. It did not venture to eat a single bit of flesh, nor to drink a single cupful; and in three days it died.
‘The marquis was trying to nourish the bird with what he used for himself, and not with the nourishment proper for a bird. They who would nourish birds as they ought to be nourished should let them perch in the deep forests, or roam over sandy plains; float on the rivers and lakes; feed on the eels and small fish; wing their flight in regular order and then stop; and be free and at ease in their resting-places. It was a distress to that bird to hear men speak; what did it care for all the noise and hubbub made about it? If the music of the Kiu-shâo or the Hsien-khih were performed in the wild of the Thung-thing lake, birds would fly away, and beasts would run off when they heard it, and fishes would dive down to the bottom of the water; while men, when they hear it, would come all round together, and look on. Fishes live and men die in the water. They are different in constitution, and therefore differ in their likes and dislikes. Hence it was that the ancient sages did not require (from all) the same ability, nor demand the same performances. They gave names according to the reality of what was done, and gave their approbation where it was specially suitable. This was what was called the method of universal adaptation and of sure success.’
6: Lieh Tzu talking to a skull by the road-side
Master Lieh (once) upon a journey took a meal by the road-side. There he saw a skull a hundred years old, and, pulling away the bush (under which it lay), he pointed to it and said,
‘It is only you and I who know that you are not dead, and that (aforetime) you were not alive. Do you indeed really find (in death) the nourishment (which you like)? Do I really find (in life my proper) enjoyment? The seeds (of things) are multitudinous and minute. On the surface of the water they form a membranous texture. When they reach to where the land and water join they become the (lichens which we call the) clothes of frogs and oysters. Coming to life on mounds and heights, they become the plantain; and, receiving manure, appear as crows’ feet. The roots of the crow’s foot become grubs, and its leaves, butterflies. This butterfly, known by the name of hsü, is changed into an insect, and comes to life under a furnace. Then it has the form of a moth, and is named the khü-to. The khü-to after a thousand days becomes a bird, called the kan-yü-ku. Its saliva becomes the sze-mi, and this again the shih-hsi (or pickle-eater). The i-lo is produced from the pickle-eater; the hwang-kwang from the kiu-yu; the mâu-zui from the pu-khwan. The ying-hsi uniting with a bamboo, which has long ceased to put forth sprouts, produces the khing-ning; the khing-ning, the panther; the panther, the horse; and the horse, the man. Man then again enters into the great Machinery (of Evolution), from which all things come forth (at birth), and which they enter at death.’