The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 12. Argument: The pre-eminence of Tao. All things informed thereby. The true Sage illumined thereby. His attributes. His perfection. Man's senses his bane*

Vast as is the universe, its phenomena are regular. Countless though its contents, the laws which govern these are uniform. Many though its inhabitants, that which dominates them is sovereignty. Sovereignty begins in virtue and ends in god. Therefore it is called divine.

Of old, the empire was under the sovereignty of inaction. There was the virtue of God, nothing more.

Words being in accordance with Tao, the sovereignty of the empire was correct. Delimitations being in accordance with Tao, the duties of prince and subject were clear. Abilities being in accordance with Tao, the officials of the empire governed. The point of view being always in accordance with Tao, all things responded thereto.

Thus, virtue was the connecting link between God and man, while Tao spread throughout all creation. Men were controlled by outward circumstances, applying their in-born skill to the development of civilized life. This skill was bound up with the circumstances of life, and these with duty, and duty with virtue, and virtue with Tao, and Tao with God.

Therefore it has been said, 'As for those who nourished the empire of old, having no desires for themselves, the empire was not in want. They did nothing, and all things proceeded on their course. They preserved a dignified repose, and the people rested in peace.'

The Record says, 'By converging to One, all things may be accomplished. By the virtue which is without intention, even the supernatural may be subdued.'

The Master said, 'Tao covers and supports all things', so vast is its extent. Each man should prepare his heart accordingly.

'To act by means of inaction is God. To speak by means of inaction is exemplification of Tao. To love men and care for things in charity. To recognize the unlike as the like is breadth of view. To make no distinctions is liberal. To possess variety is wealth. And so, to hold fast to virtue is strength. To complete virtue is establishment. To follow Tao is to be prepared. And not to run counter to the natural bias of things is to be perfect.

'He who fully realizes these ten points, by storing them within enlarges his heart, and with this enlargement brings all creation to himself. Such a man will bury gold on the hill-side and cast pearls into the sea. He will not struggle for wealth, nor strive for fame. He will not rejoice at old age, nor grieve over early death. He will find no pleasure in success, no chagrin in failure. He will not account a throne as his own private gain, nor the empire of the world as glory personal to himself. His glory is to know tha all things are One, and that life and death are but phases of the same existence!'

The Master said, 'How profound in its repose, how infinite in its purity, is Tao!

'If metal and stone were without Tao, they would not be capable of emitting sound. And just as they possess the property of sound but will not emit sound unless struck, so surely is the same principle applicable to all creation.

'The man of complete virtue remains blankly passive as regards what goes on around him. He is as originally by nature, and his knowledge extends to the supernatural. Thus, his virtue expands his heart, which goes forth to all who come to take refuge therein.

'Without Tao, form cannot be endued with life. Without virtue, life cannot be endued with intelligence. To preserve one's form, live out one's life, establish one's virtue, and realize Tao, is not this complete virtue?

'Issuing forth spontaneously, moving without premeditation, all things following in his wake, ‹ such is the man of complete virtue!

'He can see where all is dark. He can hear where all is still. In the darkness he alone can see light. In the stillness he alone can detect harmony. He can sink to the lowest depths of materialism. To the highest heights of spirituality he can soar. This because he stands in due relation to all things. Though a mere abstraction, he can minister to their wants, and ever and anon receive them without rest, ‹ the great, the small, the long, the short, for ever without end.'

The Yellow Emperor travelled to the north of the Red Lake and ascended the K'un-lun Mountains. Returning south he lost his magic pearl.

He employed Intelligence to find it, but without success. He employed Sight to find it, but without success. He employed Speech to find it, but without success. Finally, he employed Nothing, and Nothing got it.

'Strange indeed', quoth the Emperor, 'that Nothing should have been able to get it!'

Yao's tutor was Hsü Yu. The latter's tutor was Yeh Ch'üeh, and Yeh Ch'üeh's tutor was Wang I, whose tutor was Pei I.

Yao enquird of Hsü Yu, saying, 'Would Yeh Ch'üeh do to be emperor? I am going to get Wang I to ask him.'

'Alas!' cried Hsü Yu, 'that would be bad indeed for the empire. Yeh Ch'üeh is a clever and capable man. He is by nature better than most men, but he seeks by means of the human to reach the divine. He strives to do no wrong; but he is ignorant of the source from which wrong springs, Emperor forsooth! He avails himself of the artificial and neglects the natural. He lacks unity in himself. He worships intelligence and is always in a state of ferment. He is a slave to circumstances and to things. Wherever he looks, his surroundings respond. He himself responds to his surroundings. He is always undergoing modifications and is wanting in fixity. How should such a one be fit for emperor? Still every clan has its elder. He may be leader of a clan, but not a leader of leaders. A captain who has been successful in suppressing rebellion, as minister is a bane, as soveriegn, a thief.'

Yao went to visit Hua. The border-warden of Hua said 'Ha! a Sage. My best respects to you, Sir. I wish you a long life.'

'Don't!' replied Yao.

'I wish you plenty of money', continued the border-warden.

'Don't!' replied Yao.

'And many sons', added he.

'Don't!' replied Yao.

'Long life, plenty of money, and many sons', cried the warden, 'these are what all men desire. How is it you alone do not want them?'

'Many sons', answered Yao, 'are many anxieties. Plenty of money means plenty of trouble. Long life involves much that is not pleasant to put up with. These three gifts do not advance virtue; therefore I decline them.'

'At first I took you for a Sage', said the warden, 'but now I find you are a mere man. God, in sending man into the world, gives to each his proper function. If you have many sons and give to each his proper function, what cause have you for anxiety?

'And similarly, if you have wealth and allow others to share it, what troubles will you have?

'The true Sage dwells like the quail and feeds like a fledgeling. He travels like the bird, leaving no trace behind. If there be Tao in the empire, he and all things are in harmony. If there be not Tao, he cultivates virtue in retirement. After a thousand years of this weary world, he mounts aloft, and riding upon the white clouds passes into the kingdom of God, whither the three evils do not reach, and where he rests secure in eternity. What is three to put up with in that?'

Thereupon the border-warden went off, and Yao followed him, saying, 'May I ask ‹', to which the warden only replied 'Begone!'

When Yao was Emperor, Poh Ch'eng Tzu Kao was one of his vassals. But when Yao handed over the empire to Shun, and Shun to the Great Yü, Poh Ch'eng Tzu Kao resigned his fief and betook himself to agriculture.

The Great Yü going to visit him, found him working in the fields; whereupon he approached humbly, saying, 'When Yao was emperor, you, Sir, were a vassal; but when Yao handed over the empire to Shun, and Shun to me, you resigned your fief and betook yourself to agriculture. May I enquire the reason of this?'

'When Yao ruled the empire', said Tzu Kao, 'the people exerted themselves without reward and behaved themselves without punishment. But now you reward and punish them, and yet they are not good. From this point virtue will decline, the reign of force will begin, and the troubles of after ages will date their rise. Away with you! Do not interrupt my work.' And he quietly went on ploughing as before.

At the beginning of beginning, even Nothing did not exist. Thence came the period of the Nameless.

When One came into existence, there was One, but it was formless. When things got that by which they came into existence, it was called their virtue.

That which was formless, but divided, though without interstice, was called destiny.

Then came the movement which gave life, and things produced in accordance with the principles of life had what is called form. When form encloses the spiritual part, each with its own characateristics, that is its nature. By cultivating this nature, we are carried back to virtue; and if this is perfected, we become as all things were in the beginning. We become unconditioned, and the unconditioned is great. As birds join their beaks in chirping, and beaks to chirp must be joined, ‹ to be thus joined with the universe without being more conscious of it than an idiot, this is divine virtue, this is accordance with the eternal fitness of things.

Confucius asked Lao Tzu, saying, 'There are persons who cultivate Tao according to fixed rules of possible and impossible, fit and unfit, just as the schoolmen speak of separating hardness from whiteness as though these could be hung up on different pegs. Could such persons be termed sages?'

'That', replied Lao Tzu, 'is but the skill of the handicraftsman, wearing out body and soul alike. The powers of the hunting-dog involve it in trouble; the cleverness of the monkey brings it down from the mountains. Ch'iu, what I mean you cannot understand, neither can you put it into words. Those who have a head and feet, but no mind nor ears, are many. Those who have a body without a body or appearance of one, and yet there they are, ‹ are none. Movement and rest, life and death, rise and fall, are not at the beck and call of man. Cultivation of self is in his own hands. To be unconscious of objective existences and of God, this is to be unconscious of one's own personality. And he who is unconscious of his own personality, combines in himself the human and the divine.'

Chiang Lü Mien went to see Chi Ch'e, and said, 'The Prince of Lu begged me to instruct him, but I declined. However, he would take no refusal, so I was obliged to do so. I don't know if I was correct in my doctrine or not. Please note that what I said. I told him to be decorous and thrifty; to advance the public-spirited and loyal, and to have no partialities. Then, I said, no one would venture to oppose him.'

Chi Ch'e sniggered and said, 'Your remarks on the virtues of Princes may be compared with the mantis stretching out its feelers and trying to stop a carriage, ‹ not likely to effect the object proposed. Besides, he would be placing himself in the position of a man who builds a lofty tower and makes a display of his valuables where all his neighbours will come and gaze at them.'

'Alas! I fear I am but a fool', replied Chiang Lü Mien. 'Nevertheless, I should be glad to be instructed by you in the proper course to pursue.'

'The government of the perfect Sage', explained Chi Ch'ie, 'consists in influencing the hearts of the people so as to cause them to complete their education, to reform their manners, to subdue the rebel mind, and to exert themselves one and all for the common good. This influence operates in accordance with the natural disposition of the people, who are thus unconscious of its operation. He who can so act has no need to humble himself before the teachings of Yao and Shun. He makes the desires of the people coincident with virtue, and their hearts rest therein.'

When Tzu Kung went south to the Ch'u State on his way back to the Chin State, he passed through Han-yin. There he saw an old man engaged in making a ditch to connect his vegetable garden with a well. He had a pitcher in his hand, with which he was bringing up water and pouring it into a ditch, ‹ great labour with very little result.

'If you had a machine here', cried Tzu Kung, 'in a day you could irrigate a hundred times your present area. The labour required is trifling as compared with the work done. Would you not like to have one?'

'What is it?' asked the gardener.

'It is a contrivance made of wood', replied Tzu Kung, 'heavy behind and light in front. It draws up water as you do with your hands, but in a constantly overflowing stream. It is called a well-sweep.'

Thereupon the gardener flushed up and said, 'I have heard from my teacher that those who have cunning implements are cunning in their dealings, and that those who are cunning in their dealings have cunning in their hearts, and that those who have cunning in their hearts cannot be pure and incorrupt, and that those who are not pure and incorrupt are restless in spirit, and that those who are restless in spirit are not vehicles for Tao. It is not that I do not know of these things. I should be ashamed to use them.'

At this Tzu Kung was much abashed, and said nothing. Then the gardener asked him who he was, to which Tzu Kung replied that he was a disciple of Confucius.

'Are you not one who extends his learning with a view to being a Sage; who talks big in order to put himself above the rest of mankind; who plays in a key in which no one can sing so as to spread his reputation abroad? Rather become unconscius of self and shake off the trammels of the flesh, ‹ and you will be near. But if you cannot govern your own self, what leisure have you for governing the empire? Begone! Do not interrupt my work.'

Tzu Kung changed colour and slunk away, being not at all pleased with this rebuff; and it was not before he had travelled some thirty li that he recovered his usual appearance.

'What did the man we met do', asked a disciple, 'that you should change colour and not recover for such a long time?'

'I used to think there was only one man in all the world', replied Tzu Kung. 'I did not know that there was also this man. I have heard the Master say that the test of a scheme is its practicability, and that success must be certain. The minimum of effort with the maximum of success, ‹ such is the way of the Sage.

'Not so this manner of man. Aiming at Tao, he perfects his virtue. By perfecting his virtue he prfects his body, and by perfecting his body he perfects his spiritual part. And the perfection of the spiritual part is the Tao of the Sage. Coming into life he is as one of the people, knowing not whither he is bound. How complete is his purity? Success, profit, skill, ‹ these have no place in his heart. Such a man, if he does not will it, he does not stir; if he does not wish it, he does not act. If all the world praises him, he does not heed. If all the world blames him, he does not repine. The praise and the blame of the world neither advantage him nor otherwise. He may be called a man of perfect virtue. As for me, I am but a mere creature of impulse.'

So he went back to Lu to tell Confucius. But Confucius said, 'That fellow pretends to a knowledge of the science of the ante-mundane. He knows something, but not much. His government is of the internal, not of the external. What is there wonderful in a man by clearness of intelligence becoming pure, by inaction reverting to his original integrity, and with his nature and his spiritual part wrapped up in a body, passing through this common world of ours? Besides, to you and to me the science of the ante-mundane is not worth knowing.'

As Chun Mang was starting eastwards to the ocean, he fell in with Yüan Feng on the shore of the eastern sea.

'Whither bound?' cried the latter.

'I am going to the ocean', replied Chun Mang.

'What are you going to do there?' asked Yüan Feng.

'The ocean', said Chun Mang, 'is a thing you cannot fill by pouring in, nor empty by taking out. I am simply on a trip'.

'But surely you have intentions with regard to the straight-browed people? ... Come, tell me how the Sage governs.'

'Oh, the government of the Sage', answered Chun Mang. 'The officials confine themselves to their functions. Ability is secure of employment. The voice of the people is heard, and action is taken accordingly. Men's words and deeds are their own affairs, and so the empire is at peace. A beck or a call, and the people flock together from all sides. This is how the Sage governs.'

'Tell me about the man of perfect virtue', said Yüan Feng.

'The man of perfect virtue', replied Chun Mang, 'in repose has no thoughts, in action no anxiety. He recognizes no right, nor wrong, nor good, nor bad. Within the Four Seas, when all profit ‹ that is his pleasure; when all share ‹ that is his repose. Men cling to him as children who have lost their mothers; they rally round him as wayfarers who have missed their road. He has wealth and to spare, but he knows not whence it comes. He has food and drink more than sufficient, but knows not who provides it. Such is a man of virtue.'

'And now', said Yüan Feng, 'tell me about the divine man.'

'The divine man', replied Chun Mang, 'rides upon the glory of the sky where his form can no longer be discerned. This is called absorption into light. He fulfils his destiny. He acts in accordance with his nature. He is at one with God and man. For him all affairs cease to exist, and all things revert to their original state. This is called envelopment in darkness.'

Men Wu Kuei and Ch'ih Chang Man Chi were looking at Wu Wang's troops.

'He is not equal to the Great Yü', said the latter; and consequently 'we are involved in all these troubles'.

'May I ask', replied Men Wu Kuei, 'if the empire was under proper government when the Great Yü began to govern it, or had he first to quell disorder and then to proceed to government?'

'If the empire had all been under proper government', sid the other, 'what would there have been for the Great Yü to do? He was as ointment to a sore. Only bald men use wigs; only sick people want doctors. And the Sage blushes when a filial son, with anxious look, administers medicine to cure his loving father.

'In th Golden Age, good men were not appreciated; ability was not conspicuous. Rulers were mere beacons, while the people were free as the wild deer. They were upright without being conscious of duty to their neighbours. They loved one another without being conscious of charity. They were true without being conscious of loyalty. They were honest without being conscious of good faith. They acted freely in all things without recognizing obigations to any one. Thus, their deeds left no trace; their affairs were not handed down to posterity.

'A filial son does not humour his parents. A loyal minister does not flatter his prince. This is the acme of filial piety and loyalty. To assent to whatever a parent or a prince says, and to praise whatever a parent or a prince does, this is what the world calls unfilial and disloyal conduct, though apparently unaware that the principle is of universal application. For though a man assents to whatever the world says, and praises whatever the world does, he is not dubbed a toady; from which one might infer that the world is severer than a father and more respected than a prince!

'If you tell a man he is a wheedler, he will not like it. If you tell him he is a flatterer, he will be angry. Yet he is everlastingly both. But all such sham and pretence is what the world likes, and consequently people do not punish each other for doing what they do themselves. For a man to arrange his dress, or make a display, or suit his expression so as to get into the good graces of the world, and yet not to call himself a flatterer; to identity himself in every way with the yeas and nays of his fellows, and yet not to call himself one of them; ‹ this is the height of folly.

'A man who knows that he is a fool is not a great fool. A man who knows his error is not greatly in error. Great error can never be shaken off; a great fool never becomes clear-headed. If three men are travelling and one man makes a mistake, they may still arrive at their destination, error being in the minority. But if two of them make a mistake, then they will not succeed, error being in the majority. And now, as all the world is in error, I, though I know the true path, am alas! unable to guide.

'Grand music does not appeal to vulgar ears. Give them the Che-yang or the Huang-kua, and they will roar with laughter. And likewise great truths not finding utterance, common-places carry the day. Two earthen instruments will drown the sound of one metal one; and the result will not be melodious.

'And now, as all the world is in error, I, though I know the true path, ‹ how shall I guess? If I know that I cannot succeed and yet try to force success, this would be but another source of error. Better, then, to desist and strive no more. But if I strive not, who will?

'An ugly man who has a son born to him in the middle of the night will hurry up with a light, in dread lest the child should be like himself.

'An old tree is cut down to make sacrificial vessels, which are then ornamented with colour. The stump remains in a ditch. The sacrificial vessels and the stump in the ditch are very differently treated as regards honour and dishonour; equally, as far as destruction of the wood's original nature is concerned. Similarly, the acts of Robber Che and of Tseng and Shih are very different; but the loss of original nature is in each case the same.

'The causes of this loss are five in number; viz. ‹ The five colours confuse the eye, and the eyes fail to see clearly. The five sounds confuse the ear, and the ear fails to hear accurately. The five scents confuse the nose, and obstruct the sense of smell. The five tastes cloy the palate, and vitiate the sense of taste. Finally, likes and dislikes cloud the understanding, and cause dispersion of the original nature.

'These five are the banes of life; yet Yang and Mih regarded them as the summum bonum. They are not my summum bonum. For if men who are thus festered can be said to have attained the summum bonum, the pigeons and owls in a cage may also be said to have attained the summum bonum!

'Besides, to stuff one's inside with likes and dislikes and sounds and colours; to encompass one's outside with fur caps, feather hats, the carrying of tablets, or girding of sashes full of rubbish inside while swathed in magnificence without ‹ and still to talk of having attained the summum bonum; ‹ then the prisoner with arms tied behind him and fingers in the squeezer, the tiger or the leopard which has just been put in a cage, may justly consider that they too have attained the summum bonum!'

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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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