Chuang Tzu. Chapter 16. Argument: Tao
unattainable by mundane arts. To be reached through repose. The
world's infancy. The reign of peace. Government sets in. Tao decliens.
The true Sages of old. Their purity of aim.*
Those who exercise their faculties in mere worldly studies, hoping
thereby to revert to their original conditon; and those who sink
their aspirations in mundane thoughts, hoping thereby to reach
enlightenment; these are the dullards of the earth.
The ancients, in cultivating Tao, begat knowledge out of repose.
When born, this knowledge was not applied to any purpose; and
so it may be said that out of knowledge they begat repose. Knowledge
and repose thus mutually producing each other, harmony and order
were developed. Virtue is harmony; Tao is order.
Virtue all-embracing, hence charity. Tao all-influenceing, hence
duty to one's neighbour. From the establishment of these two springs
loyalty. Then comes music, an expression of inward purity and
truth; followed by ceremonial, or sincerity expressed in oranamental
guise. If music and ceremonial are ill regulated, the empire is
plunged into confusion. And to attempt to correct others while
one's own virtue is clouded, is to set one's own virtue a task
for which it is inadequate, the result being that the natural
constitution of the object will suffer.
Primeval man enjoyed perfect tranquillity throughout life. In
his day, the Positive and Negative principles were peacefully
united; spiritual beings gave no trouble; the four seasons followed
in due order; nothing suffered any injury; death was unknown;
men had knowledge, but no occasion to use it. This may be called
perfection of unity. At that period, nothing was ever made so;
but everything was so.
By and by, virtue declined. Sui Jen and Fu Hsi ruled the empire.
There was still natural adaptation, but the unity was gone.
A further decline in virtue. Shen Nung and Huang Ti ruled the
empire. There was peace, but the natural adaptation was gone.
Again virtue declined. Yao and Shun ruled the empire. Systems
of government and moral reform were introduced. Man's original
integrity was scattered. Goodness led him astray from Tao; his
actions imperiled his virtue. Then he discarded natural instinct
and took up with the intellectual. Mind was pitted against mind,
but it was impossible thus to settle the empire. So art and learning
were added. But art obliterated the original constitution, and
learning overwhelmed mind; upon which confusion sets in, and man
was unable to revert to his natural instincts, to the condition
in which he at first existed.
Thus it may be said that the world destroys Tao, and that Tao
destroys the world. And the world and Tao thus mutually destroying
each other, how can the men of Tao elevate the world, and how
can the world elevate the Tao? Tao cannot elevate the world; neither
can the world elevate Tao. Though the Sages were not to dwell
on mountain and in forest, their virtue would still be hidden:
hidden, but not by themselves.
Those of old who were called retired scholars, were not men who
hid their bodies, or kept back their words, or concealed their
wisdom. It was that the age was not suitable for their mission.
If the age was suitable and their mission a success over the empire,
they simply effaced themselves in the unity which prevailed. If
the age was unsuitable and their mission a failure, they fell
back upon their own resources and waited. Such is the way to preserve
Those of old who preserved themselves, did not ornament their
knowledge with rhetoric. They did not exhaust the empire with
their knowledge. They did not exhaust virtue. They kept quietly
to their own spheres, and reverted to their natural instincts.
What then was left for them to do?
Tao does not deal with detail. Virtue does not take cognizance
of trifles. Trifles injure virtue; detail injures Tao. Wherefore
it has been said, 'Self-reformation is enough.' He whose happiness
is complete has attained his desire.
Of old, attainment of desire did not mean office. It meant that
nothing could be added to the sum of happiness. But now it does
mean office, though office is external and is not a part of oneself.
That which is adventitious, comes. Coming, you cannot prevent
it; going, you cannot arrest it. Therefore, not to look on office
as the attainment of desire, and not because of poverty to become
a toady, but to be equally under all conditions, that is to be
But nowadays, both having and not having are causes of unhappiness.
From which we may infer that even happiness is not exempt from
sorrow. Wherefore it has been said, 'Those who over-estimate the
external and lose their natural instincts in worldiness, these
are the people of topsy-turvydom.'
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.