Chuang Tzu. Chapter 2. Argument: Contraries
spring from our subjective individuality. Identity of subjective
and objective. The centre where all distinctions are merged in
One. How to reach this point. Speech an obstacle. The negative
state. Light out of darkness.*
Tzu Ch'i of Nan-kuo sat leaning on a table. Looking
up to heaven, he sighed and became absent, as though soul and
body had parted.
Yen Ch'eng Tzu Yu, who was standing by him, exclaimed,
'What are you thinking about that your body should become thus
like dry wood, your mind like dead ashes? Surely the man now leaning
on the table is not he who was here just now.'
'My friend,' replied Tzu Ch'i, 'your question
is apposite. Today I have buried myself ... Do you understand?
... Ah! perhaps you only know the music of Man, and not that of
Earth. Or even if you have heard the music of Earth, you have
not heard the music of Heaven.'
'Pray explain', said Tzu Yu.
'The breath of the universe', continued Tzu Ch'i,
'is called wind. At times it is inactive. But when active, every
aperture resounds to the blast. Have you never listened to its
'Caves and dells of hill and forest, hollows
in huge trees of many a span in girth; these are like nostrils,
like mouths, like ears, like beam-sockets, like goblets, like
mortars, like ditches, like bogs. And the wind goes rushing through
them, sniffing, snoring, singing, soughing, puffing, purling,
whistling, whirring, now shrilly treble, now deeply bass, now
soft, now loud; until, with a lull, silence reigns supreme. Have
you never witnessed among the trees such a disturbance as this?'
'Well, then', enquired Tzu Yu, 'since the music
of earth consists of nothing more than holes, and the music of
man of pipes and flutes, of what consists the music of Heaven?'
'The effect of the wind upon these various apertures',
replied Tzu Ch'i, 'is not uniform. But what is it that gives to
each the individuality, to all the potentiality, of sound?
'Great knowledge embraces the whole: small knowledge,
a part only. Great speech is universal: small speech is particular.
'For whether the mind is locked in sleep or whether
in waking hours the body is released, we are subject to daily
mental perturbations, indecision, want of penetration, concealment,
fretting fear, and trembling terror. Now like a javelin the mind
flies forth, the arbiter of right and wrong. Now like a solemn
covenanter it remains firm, the guardian of rights secured. Then,
as under autumn and winter's blight, comes gradual decay, a passing
away, like the flow of water, never to return. Finally, the block
when all is choked up like an old drain the failing mind which
shall not see light again.
'Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, caution
and remorse, come upon us by turns, with everchanging mood. They
come like music from hollowness, like mushrooms from damp. Daily
and nightly they alternate within us, but we cannot tell whence
they spring. Can we then hope in a moment to our lay our finger
upon their very Cause?
'But for these emotions I should not be. But
for me, they would have no scope. So far we can go; but we do
not know what it is that brings them into play. 'Twould seem to
be a soul; but the clue as to its existence is wanting. That such
a Power operates, is credible enough, though we cannot see its
form. Perhaps it has functions without form.
'Take the human body with all its manifold divisions.
Which part of it does a man love best? Does he not cherish all
equally, or has he a preference? Do not all equally serve him?
And do these servitors then govern themselves, or are they subdivided
into rulers and subjects? Surely there is some soul which sways
'But whether or not we ascertain what are the
functions of this soul, it matters but little to the soul itself.
For coming into existence with this mortal coil of mine, with
the exhaustion of this mortal coil its mandate will also be exhausted.
To be harassed by the wear and tear of life, and to pass rapidly
through it without possibility of arresting one's course, ‹
is not this pitiful indeed? To labour without ceasing, and then,
without living to enjoy the fruit, worn out, to depart, suddenly,
one knows not whither, ‹ is not that a just cause for grief?
'What advantage is there in what men call not
dying? The body decomposes, and the mind goes with it. This is
our real cause for sorrow. Can the world be so dull as not to
see this? Or is it I alone who am dull, and others not so?
'If we are to be guided by the criteria of our
own minds, who shall be without a guide? What need to know of
the alternations of passion, when the mind thus affords scope
to itself? verily even the minds of fools! Whereas, for a mind
without criteria to admit the idea of contraries, is like saying,
I went to Yueh today, and got there yesterday. Or, like placing
nowhere somewhere, topography which even the Great Yu would fail
to understand; how much more I?
'Speech is not mere breath. It is differentiated
by meaning. Take away that, and you cannot say whether it is speech
or not. Can you even distinguish it from the chirping of young
'But how can Tao be so obscured that we speak
of it as true and false? And how can speech be so obscured that
it admits the idea of contraries? How can Tao go away and yet
not remain? How can speech exist and yet be impossible?
'Tao is obscured by our want of grasp. Speech
is obscured by the gloss of this world. Hence the affirmatives
and negatives of the Confucian and Mohist schools, each denying
what the other affirmed and affirming what the other denied. But
he who would reconcile affirmative with negative and negative
with affirmative, must do so by the light of nature.
'There is nothing which is not objective: there
is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start
from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge is it possible
to proceed to objective knowledge. Hence it has been said, "The
objective emanates from the subjective; the subjective is consequent
upon the objective. This is the Alternation Theory." Nevertheless,
when one is born, the other dies. When one is possible, the other
is impossible. When one is affirmative the other is negative.
Which being the case, the true sage rejects all distinctions of
this and that. He takes his refuge in God, and places himself
in subjective relation with all things.
'And inasmuch as the subjective is also objective,
and the objective also subjective, and as the contraries under
each are indistinguishably blended, does it not become impossible
for us to say whether subjective and objective really exist at
'When subjective and objective are both without
their correlates, that is the very axis of Tao. And when that
axis passes through the centre at which all Infinities converge,
positive and negative alike blend into an infinite One. Hence
it has been said that there is nothing like the light of nature.
'To take a finger in illustration of a finger
not being a finger is not so good so as to take something which
is not a finger. To take a horse in illustration of a horse not
being a horse is not so good as to take something which is not
'So with the universe and all that in it is.
These things are but fingers and horses in this sense. The possible
is possible: the impossible is impossible. Tao operates, and given
results follow. Things receive names and are what they are. They
achieve this by their natural affinity for what they are and their
natural antagonism to what they are not. For all things have their
own particular constitutions and potentialitites. Nothing can
exist without these.
'Therefore it is that, viewed from the standpoint
of Tao, a beam and a pillar are identical. So are ugliness and
beauty, greatness, wickedness, perverseness, and strangeness.
Separation is the same as construction: construction is the same
as destruction. Nothing is subject either to construction or to
destruction, for these conditions are brought together into One.
'Only the truly intelligent understand this principle
of the identity of all things. They do not view things as apprehended
by themselves, subjectively; but transfer themselves into the
position of the things viewed. And viewing them thus they are
able to comprehend them, nay, to master them; ‹ and he who
can master them is near. So it is that to place oneself in subjective
relation with externals, without consciousness of their objectivity,
‹ this is Tao. But to wear out one's intellect in an obstinate
adherence to the individuality of things, not recognizing the
fact that all things are One, ‹ this is called Three in
'What is Three in the Morning?' asked Tzu Yu.
'A keeper of monkeys', replied Tzu Ch'i, 'said
with regard to their rations of chestnuts that each monkey was
to have three in the morning and four at night. But at this the
monkeys were very angry, so the keeper said they might have four
in the morning and three at night, with which arrangement they
were all well pleased. The actual number of the chestnuts remained
the same, but there was an adaptation to the likes and dislikes
of those concerned. Such is the principle of putting onself into
subjective relation with externals.
'Wherefore the true Sage, while regarding contraries
as identical, adapts himself to the laws of Heaven. This is called
following two courses at once.
'The knowledge of the men of old had a limit.
It extended back to a period when matter did not exist. That was
the extreme point to which their knowledge reached.
'The second period was that of matter, but of
'The third epoch saw matter conditioned, but
contraries were still unknown. When these appeared, Tao began
to decline. And with the decline of Tao, individual bias arose.
'Have then these states of falling and rising
real existences? Surely they are but as the falling and rising
of Chao Wen's music, the consequences of his playing.
'Chao Wen played the guitar. Shih K'uang wielded
the baton. Hui Tzu argued. Herein these three men excelled, and
in the practice of such arts they passed their lives.
'Hui Tzu's particular views being very different
from those of the world in general, he was correspondingly anxious
to enlighten people. But he did not enlighten them as he should
have done, and consequently ended in the obscuring of the "hard
and white". Subsequently, his son searched his works for
some clue, but never succeeded in establishing the principle.
And indeed if such were possible to be established, then even
I am established; but if not then neither I nor anything in the
universe is established!
'Therefore what the true Sage aims at is the
light which comes out of darkness. He does not view things as
apprehended by himself, subjectively, but transfers himself into
the position of the things viewed. This is called using the light.
'There remains, however, Speech. Is that to be
enrolled under either category of contraries, or not? Whether
it is so enrolled or not, it will in any case belong to one or
the other, and thus be as though it had an objective existence.
At any rate, I should like to hear some speech which belongs to
'If there was a beginning, then there was a time
before that beginning. And a time before the time which was before
the time of that beginning.
'If there is existence, there must have been
non-existence. And if there was a time when nothing existed, then
there must have been a time before that ‹ when even nothing
did not exist. Suddenly, when nothing came into existence, could
one really say whether it belonged to the category of existence
or of non-existence? Even the very words I have just now uttered,
‹ I cannot say whether they have really been uttered or
'There is nothing under the canopy of heaven
greater than the tip of an autumn spikelet. A vast mountain is
a small thing. Neither is there any age greater than that of a
child cut off in infancy. P'eng Tsu himself died young. The universe
and I came into being together; and I, and everything therein,
'If then all things are One, what room is there
for Speech? On the other hand, since I can utter these words,
how can Speech not exist?
'If it does exist, we have One and Speech = two;
and two and one = three. From which point onwards even the best
mathematicians will fail to reach: how much more then will ordinary
'Hence, if from nothing you can proceed to something,
and subsequently reach three, it follows that it would be still
more easy if you were to start from something. To avoid such progression,
you must put yourself into subjective relation with the external.
'Before conditions existed, Tao was. Before definitions
existed, Speech was. Subjectively, we are conscious of certain
delimitations which are,
Right and Left
Relationship and Obligation
Division and Discrimination
Emulation and Contention.
These are called the Eight Predicables Predictables?
For the true Sage, beyond the limits of an external
world, they exist, but are not recognized. By the true Sage, within
the limits of an external world, they are recognized, but are
not assigned. And so, with regard to the wisdom of the ancients,
as embodied in the canon of Spring and Autumn, the true Sage assigns,
but does not justify by argument. And thus, classifying he does
not clasify; arguing, he does not argue.'
'How can that be? asked Tzu Yu.
'The true Sage', answered Tzu Ch'i, 'keeps his
knowledge within him, while men in general set forth theirs in
argument, in order to convince each other. And therefore it is
said that in argument he does not manifest himself.
'Perfect Tao does not declare itself. Nor does
perfect argument express itself in words. Nor does perfect charity
show itself in act. Nor is perfect honesty absolutely incorruptible.
Nor is perfect courage absolutely unyielding.
'For the Tao which shines forth is not Tao. Speech
which argues falls short of its aim. Charity which has fixed points
loses its scope. Honesty which is absolute is wanting in credit.
Courage which is absolute misses its object. These five are, as
it were, round, with a strong bias towards squareness. Therefore
that knowledge which stops at what it does not know, is the highest
'Who knows the argument which can be argued without
words? The Tao which does not declare itself as Tao? He who knows
this may be said to be of God. To be able to pour in without making
full, and pour out without making empty, in ignorance of the power
by which such results are accomplished, this is accounted Light.'
Of old, the Emperor Yao said to Shun, 'I would
smite the Tsungs, and the Kueis, and the Hsü-aos. Ever since
I have been on the throne I have had this desire. What do you
'These three States', replied Shun, 'are paltry
out-of-the-way places. Why can you not shake off this desire?
Once upon a time, ten suns came out together, and all things were
illuminated thereby. How much more then should virtue excel suns?'
Yeh Ch'üeh asked Wang I, saying, 'Do you
know for certain that all things are subjectively the same?'
'How can I know?' answered Wang I. 'Do you know
what you do not know?'
'How can I know?' replied Yeh Ch'üeh. 'But
can then nothing be known?'
'How can I know?' said Wang I. 'Nevertheless,
I will try to tell you. How can it be known that what I call knowing
is not really not knowing and that what I call not knowing is
not really knowing? Now I would ask you this. If a man sleeps
in a damp place, he gets lumbago and dies. But how about an eel?
And living up in a tree is precarious and trying to the nerves:
‹ but how about monkeys? Of the man, the eel, and the monkey,
whose habitat is the right one, absolutely? Human beings feed
on flesh, deer on grass, centipedes on snakes' brains, owls and
crows on mice. Of these four, whose is the right taste, absolutely?
Monkey mates with monkey, the buck with the doe; eels consort
with fishes, while men admire Mao Ch'iang and Li Chi, at the sight
of whom fishes plunge deep down in the water, birds soar high
in the air, and deer hurry away. Yet who shall say which is the
correct standard of beauty? In my opinion, the standard of human
virtue, and of positive and negative, is so obscured that it is
impossible to actually know it as such.'
'If you then', asked Yeh Ch'üeh, 'do not
know what is bad for you, is the Perfect Man equally without this
'The Perfect Man', answered Wang I, 'is a spiritual
being. Were the ocean itself scorched up, he would not feel hot.
Were the Milky Way frozen hard, he would not feel cold. Were the
mountains to be riven with thunder, and the great deep to be thrown
up by storm, he would not tremble. In such case, he would mount
upon the clouds of heaven, and driving the sun and the moon before
him, would pass beyond the limits of this external world, where
death and life have no more victory over man; ‹ how much
less what is bad for him?'
Chü Ch'iao addressed Chang Wu Tzu as follows:
'I heard Confucius say, "The true sage pays no heed to mundane
affairs. He neither seeks gain nor avoids injury. He asks nothing
at the hands of man. He adheres, without questioning, to Tao.
Without speaking, he can speak; and he can speak and yet say nothing.
And so he roams beyond the limits of this dusty world. These",
added Confucius, "are wild words". Now to me they are
the skilful embodiment of Tao. What, Sir, is your opinion?'
'Points upon which the Yellow Emperor doubted',
replied Chang Wu Tzu, 'how should Confucius know? You are going
too fast. You see your egg, and expect to hear it crow. You look
at your cross-bow, and expect to have broiled pigeon before you.
I will say a few words to you at random, and do you listen at
'How does the Sage seat himself by the sun and
moon, and hold the universe in his grasp? He blends everything
into one harmonious whole, rejecting the confusion of this and
that. Rank and precedence, which the vulgar prize, the Sage stolidly
ignores. The revolutions of ten thousand years leave his Unity
unscathed. The universe itself may pass away, but he will flourish
'How do I know that love of life is not a delusion
after all? How do I know but that he who dreads to die is not
as a child who has lost the way and cannot find his home?
'The Lady Li Chi was the daughter of Ai Feng.
When the Duke of Chin first got her, she wept until the bosom
of her dress was drenched with tears. But when she came to the
royal residence, and lived with the Duke, and ate rich food, she
repented of having wept. How then do I know that the dead repent
of having previously clung to life?
'Those who dream of the banquet, wake to lamentation
and sorrow. Those who dream of lamentation and sorrow wake to
join the hunt. While they dream, they do not know that they dream.
Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and
only when they awake do they know it was a dream.
By and by comes the Great Awakening, and then
we find out that this life is really a great dream. Fools think
they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know if they are
really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams;
and I who say you are dreams, ‹ I am but a dream myself.
This is a paradox. Tomorrow a sage may arise to explain it; but
that tomorrow will not be until ten thousand generations have
Granting that you and I argue. If you beat me,
and not I you, are you necessarily right and I wrong? Or if I
beat you and not you me, am I necessarily right and you wrong?
Or are we both partly right and partly wrong? Or are we both wholly
right and wholly wrong? You and I cannot know this, and consequently
the world will be in ignorance of the truth.
'Who shall I employ as arbiter between us? If
I employ some one who takes your view, he will side with you.
How can such a one arbitrate between us? If I employ some one
who takes my view, he will side with me. How can such a one arbitrate
between us? And if I employ some one who either differs from,
or agrees with, both of us, he will be equally unable to decide
between us. Since then you, and I, and man, cannot decide, must
we not depend upon Another? Such dependence is as though it were
not dependence. We are embraced in the obliterating unity of God.
There is perfect adaption to whatever may eventuate; and so we
complete our allotted span.
'But what is it to be embraced in the obliterating
unity of God? It is this. With reference to positive and negative,
to that which is so and that which is not so, ‹ if the positive
is really positive, it must necessarily be different from its
negative: there is no room for argument. And if that which is
so really is so, it must necessarily be different from that which
is not so: there is no room for argument.
'Take no heed of time, nor of right and wrong.
But passing into the realm of the Infinite, take your final rest
The Penumbra said to the Umbra. 'At one moment
you move: at another you are at rest. At one moment you sit down:
at another you get up. Why this instability of purpose?' 'I depend',
replied the Umbra, 'upon something which causes me to do as I
do; and that something depends in turn upon something else which
causes it to do as it does. My dependence is like that of a snake's
scales or of a cicada's wings. How can I tell why I do one thing,
or why I do not do another?'
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was
a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and
purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies
as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man.
Suddenly, I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not
know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether
I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a
butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. The transition is called
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from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second