Chuang Tzu. Chapter 19. Argument: The
soul is from God. Man's body its vehicle. The soul quickening
the body is life. Care of the internal and of the external must
be simultaneous. In due nourishment of both is Tao.*
Those who understand the conditions of life devote no attention
to things which life cannot accomplish. Those who understand the
conditions of destiny devote no attention to things over which
knowledge has no control.
For the due nourishment of our physical frames, certain things
are needful. Yet where such things abound, the physical frame
is not always nourished. For the preservation of life it is necessary
that there should be no abandoment of the physical frame. Yet
where the physical frame is not abandoned, life does not always
Life comes, and cannot be declined. It goes, and cannot be stopped.
But alas! the world thinks that to nourish the frame is enough
to keep life. And if indeed it is not enough, what then is the
world to do?
Although not enough, it must still be done. It cannot be neglected.
For if one is to neglect the physical frame, better far to retire
at once from the world. By renouncing the world, one gets rid
of the cares of the world. The result is a natural level, which
is equivalent to a rebirth. And he who is reborn is near.
But what inducement is there to renounce the affairs of men,
to become indifferent to life? In the first case, the physical
body suffers no wear and tear; in the second, the vitality is
left unharmed. And he whose physical frame is perfect and whose
vitality is in its original purity, he is one with God.
Heaven and earth are the father and mother of all things. When
they unite, the result is shape. When they disperse, the original
condition is renewed. But if body and vitality are both perfect,
this state is called fit for translation. Such perfection of vitality
goes back to the minister of God. Lieh Tzu asked Kuan Yin, saying,
'The perfect man can walk through solid bodies without obstruction.
He can pass through fire without being burnt. He can scale the
highest heights without fear. How does he bring himself to this?'
'It is because he is in a condition of absolute purity', replied
Kuan Yin. 'It is not cunning which enables him to dare such feats.
Be seated, and I will tell you.
'All that has form, sound, and colour, may be classed under the
head thing. Man differs so much from the rest, and stands at the
head of all things, simply because the latter are but what they
appear and nothing more. But man can attain to formlessness and
vanquish death. And with that which is in possession of the eternal,
how can mere things compare?
'Man may rest in the eternal fitness; he may abide in the everlasting;
and roam from the beginning to the end of all creation. He may
bring his nature to a condition of one; he may nourish his strength;
he may harmonize his virtue, and so put himself into partnership
with God. Then, when his divinity is thus assured, and his spirit
closed in on all sides, how can anything find a passage within?
'A drunken person who falls out of a cart, though he may suffer,
does not die. His bones are the same as other people's; but he
meets his accident in a different way. His spirit is in a condition
of security. He is not conscious of riding in the cart; neither
is he conscious of falling out of it. Ideas of life, death, fear,
etc., cannot penetrate his breast; and so he does not suffer from
contact with objective existences. And if such security is to
be got from wine, how much more is it to be got from God. It is
in God that the Sage seeks his refuge, and so he is free from
'An avenger does not snap in twain the murderous weapon; neither
does the most spiteful man carry his resentment to a tile which
may have hit him on the head. And by the extension of this principle,
the empire would be at peace; no more confusion of war, no more
punishment of death.
'Do not develop your artificial intelligence, but develop that
intelligence which is from God. From the latter, results virtue;
from the former, cunning. And those who do not shrink from the
natural, nor wallow in the artificial, they are near to perfection.'
When Confucius was on his way to the Ch'u State, he came to a
forest where he saw a hunchback catching cicadas as though with
'How clever you are!' cried Confucius. 'Have you any way of doing
'I have a way', replied the hunchback. 'In the fifth and sixth
moons I practise balancing two balls one on top of the other.
If they do not fall, I do not miss many cicadas. When I can balance
three balls, I only miss one in ten; and when five, then it is
as though I caught the cicadas with my hand. My body is as motionless
as the stump of a tree; my arms like dead branches. Heaven and
earth and all creation may be around me, but I am conscious only
of my cicada's wings. How should I not succeed?'
Confucius looked round at his disciples and said, 'Singleness
of purpose induces concentration of the faculties. Of such is
the success of this hunchback.'
Yen Yüan said to Confucius, 'When I crossed over the Shang-shen
rapid, the boatman managed his craft with marvellous skill. I
asked him if handling a boat could be learnt. "It can",
replied he. "the way of those who know how to keep you afloat
is more like sinking you. They row as if the boat wasn't there."
'I enquired what this meant, but he would not tell me. May I
ask its signification.'
'It means', answered Confucius, 'that such a man is oblivious
of the water around him. He regards the rapid as though dry land.
He looks upon an upset as an ordinary cart accident. And if a
man can but be impervious to capsizings and accidents in general,
whither should he not be able comfortably to go?
'A man who plays for counters will play well. If he stakes his
girdle, he will be nervous; if yellow gold, he will lose his wits.
His skill is the same in each case, but he is distracted by the
value of his stake. And every one who attaches importance to the
external, becomes internally without resource.'
T'ien K'ai Chih had an audience of Duke Wei of Chou. Then Duke
asked him, saying, 'I have heard that Chu Hsien is studying the
art of life. As you are a companion of his, pray tell me anything
you know about it.'
'I do but ply the broom at his outer gate', replied T'ien K'ai
Chih' 'what should I know about my Master's researches?'
'Don't be so modest', said the Duke. 'I am very anxious to hear
'Well', replied T'ien, 'I have heard my master say that keeping
life is like keeping a flock of sheep. You look out for the laggards,
and whip them up.'
'What does that mean?' asked the Duke.
'In the State of Lu', said T'ien, 'there was a man named Shan
Pao. He lived on the mountains and drank water. All wordly interests
he had put aside. And at the age of seventy, his complexion was
like that of a child. Unlucklily, he one day fell in with a hungry
tiger who killed and ate him.
'There was also a man named Chang I, who frequented the houses
of rich and poor alike. At the age of forty he was attacked by
some internal disease and died.
'Shan Pao took care of his inner self, and a tiger ate his external
man. Chang I took care of himself externally, but disease attacked
him internally. These two individuals both omitted to whip up
Confucius said, 'Neither affecting obscurity, nor courting prominence,
but unconsciously occupying the happy mean, he who can attain
to these three will enjoy a surpassing fame.
'In dangerous parts, where one wayfarer out of ten meets his
death, fathers and sons and brothers will counsel each other not
to travel without a sufficient escort. Is not this wisdom? And
there where men are also greatly in danger, in the list of passion,
in the banquet hour, not to warn them is error indeed.'
The Grand Augur, in his ceremonial robes, approached the shambles
and thus addressed the pigs:
'How can you object to die? I shall fatten you for three months.
I shall discipline myself for ten days and fast for three. I shall
strew fine grass, and place you bodily upon a carved sacrificial
dish. Does not this satisfy you?'
Then speaking from the pigs' point of view, he continued, 'It
is better perhaps after all to live on bran and escape the shambles
'But then', added he, speaking from his own point of view, 'to
enjoy honour when alive one would readily die on a war-shield
or in the heads-man's basket'.
So he rejected the pigs' point of view and adopted his own point
of view. In what sense then was he different from the pigs?
When Duke Huan was out hunting, with Kuan chung as his charioteer,
he saw a ghost. Catching hold of Kuan Chung's hand, he asked him,
saying, 'What do you see?'
'I see nothing', replied Kuan Chung. But when the Duke was home
he became delirious, and for many days was unable to go out.
There came a certain Huang Tzu Kao Ngao of the Chi' State and
said, 'Your Highness is self-injured. How could a ghost injure
you? When the vital strength is dissipated in anger, and is not
renewed, there is a deficiency. When its tendency is in one direction
upwards, the result is to incline men to wrath. When its tendency
is in one direction downwards, the result is loss of memory. When
it remains stagnant, in the middle of the body, the result is
'Very well', said the Duke, 'but are there such things as ghosts?'
'There are', replied Huang. 'There is the mud spirit Li; the
fire spirit Kao; Lei T'ing, the spirit of the dust-bin; P'ei O
and Wa Lung, spirits of the north-east; Yi Yang of the north-west;
Wang Hsiang of the water; the Hsin of the hills; the K'uei of
the mountain; the P'ang Huang of the moor; the Wei I of the marsh.'
'And what may the Wei be like?' asked the Duke.
'The Wei I', replied Huang, 'is as broad as a cart-wheel and
as long as the shaft. It wears purple clothes and a red cap. It
is a sentient being, and whenver it hears the rumble of thunder,
it stands up in a respectful attitude. Those who see this ghost
are like to be chieftains among men.'
The Duke laughed exultingly and said, 'The very one I saw!' Thereupon
he dressed himself and sat up; and ere the day had closed, without
knowing it, his sickness had left him.
Chi Hsing Tzu was training fighting cocks for the prince. At
the end of ten days the latter asked if they were ready. 'Not
yet', replied Chi; 'they are in the stage of seeking fiercely
for a foe'.
Again ten days elapsed, and the prince made a further enquiry.
'Not yet', replied Chi; 'they are still excited by the sounds
and shadows of other cocks.'
Ten days more, and the prince asked again. 'Not yet', answered
Chi; 'the sight of an enemy is still enough to excite them to
But after another ten days, when the prince again enquired, Chi
said, 'They will do. Other cocks may crow, but they will take
no notice. To look at them one might say they were of wood. Their
virtue is complete. Strange cocks will not dare meet them, but
Confucius was looking at the cataract at Lüliang. It fell
from a height of thirty jen, and its foam reached forty li away.
No scaly, finny creature could enter therein. Yet Confucius saw
an old man go in, and thinking that he was suffering from some
trouble and desirous of ending his life, bade a disciple run along
the side to try and save him. The old man emerged about a hundred
paces off, and with flowing hair went carolling along the bank.
Confucius followed him and said, 'I had thought, Sir, you were
a spirit, but now I see you are a man. Kindly tell me, is there
any way to deal thus with water?'
'No', reoplied the old man; 'I have no way. There was my original
condition to begin with; then habit growing into nature; and lastly
acquiescence in destiny. Plunging in with the whirl, I come out
with the swirl. I accommodate myself to the water, not the water
to me. And so I am able to deal with it after this fashion.'
'What do you mean,' enquired Confucius, 'by your original condition
to begin with, habit growing into nature, and acquiescence in
'I was born', replied the old man, 'upon dry land, and accommodated
myself to dry land. That was my original condition. Growing up
on the water, I accommodated myself to the water. That was what
I meant by nature. And doing as I did without being conscious
of any effort so to do, that was what I meant by destiny.' Ch'ing,
the chief carpenter, was carving wood into a stand for hanging
musical instruments. When finished, the work appeared to those
who saw it as though of supernatural execution. And the prince
of Lu asked him, syaing, 'What mystery is there in your art?'
'No mystery, your Highness', replied Ch'ing; 'and yet there is
'When I am about to make such a stand, I stand against any diminution
of my vital power. I first reduce my mind to absolute quiescence.
Three days in this condition, and I become oblivious of any reward
to be gained. Five days, and I become oblivious of any fame to
be acquired. Seven days, and I become unconscious of my four limbs
and my physical frame. Then, with no thought of the Court present
to my mind, my skill becomes concentrated, and all disturbing
elements from without are gone. I enter some mountain forest.
I search for a suitable tree. It contains the form required, which
is afterwards elaborated. I see the stand in my mind's eye, and
then set to work. Otherwise, there is nothing. I bring my own
natural capacity into relation with that of the wood. What was
suspected to be of supernatural execution in my work was due soley
Tung Yeh Chi exhibited his charioteering skill before Duke Chuang.
Backwards and forwards he drove in lines which might have been
ruled, sweeping round at each end in curves which might have been
described by compasses.
The Duke, however, said that this was nothing more than weaving;
and bidding him drive round and round a hundred times, returned
Yen Ho came upon him, and then went in and said to the Duke,
'Chi's horses are on the point of breaking down'.
The Duke remained silent, making no reply; and in a short time
it was announced that the horses had actually broken down, and
that Chi had gone away.
'How could you tell this?' said the Duke to Yen Ho.
'Because', replied the latter, 'Chi was trying to make his horses
perform a task to which they were unequal. Therefore I said they
would break down.'
Ch'ui the artisan could draw circles with his hand better than
with compasses. His fingers seemed to accommodate themselves so
naturally to the thing he was working at, that it was unnecessary
to fix his attention. His mental faculties thus remained one,
and suffered no hindrance.
To be unconscious of one's feet implies that the shoes are easy.
To be unconscious of a waist implies that the girdle is easy.
The intelligence being unconscious of positive and negative implies
that the heart is at ease. No modifications within, no yielding
to influences without; this is ease under all conditions. And
he who beginning with ease is never not at ease, is unconscious
of the ease of ease.
A certain Sun Hsiu went to the house of Pien Ch'ing Tzu and complained,
saying, 'In peace I am not considered wanting in propriety. In
times of trouble I am not considered wanting in courage. Yet my
crops fail; and officially I am not a success. From my village
an outcast, I am an outlaw from my State. How have I offended
against God that he should visit me with such a fate?'
'Have you not heard', replied Pien Tzu, 'how the perfect man
conducts himself? He is oblivious of his physical organization.
He is beyond the reach of sight and hearing. He moves outside
the limits of this dusty world, rambling transcendentally in the
domain of no-affairs. This is called acting but not from self-confidence,
influencing but not from authority.
'But you, you make a show of your knowledge in order to startle
fools. You cultivate yourself in contrast to the degradation of
others. And you blaze along as though the sun and moon were under
your arms. Whereas, that you have a whole body in a whole skin,
and have not perished in mid career, dumb, blind, or halt, but
actually hold a place among men, ‹ this ought to be enough
fo ryou. Why rail at God? Begone?
Sun Hsiu went away, and Pien Tzu went in and sat down. Shortly
afterwards, he looked up to heaven and sighed; whereupon a disciple
asked him what was the matter.
'When Hsiu was here just now', answered Pien Tzu, 'I spoke to
him of the virtue of the perfect man. I fear lest he be startled
and so driven on to doubt.'
'No, Sir', answered the disciple. 'If he was right and you were
wrong, wrong will never drive right into doubt. If, on the other
hand, he was wrong and you were right, he brought his doubt with
him, and you are not responsible.'
'Not so', said Pien Tzu. 'Of old, when a bird alighted outside
the capital of Lu, the prince was delighted, and killed an ox
to feed it and had the Chiu Shao played to entertain it. The bird,
however, was timid and dazed and dared not to eat or drink. This
was treating the bird like oneself. But to treat a bird as a bird
would treat like a bird, you must put it to roost in a deep forest,
let it swim in river or lake, and feed at its ease on the plain.
Now Sun Hsiu is a man of small understanding; and for me to speak
to him of the perfect man is like setting a mouse to ride in a
coach or a band of music to play to a qual. How should he not
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.