Chuang Tzu. Chapter 13. Argument: Tao
is repose. Repose the secret of the universe. Cultivation of essentials.
Neglect of accidentals. The sequence of Tao. Spontaneity of true
virtue. Tao is unconditioned. Tao cannot be conveyed.*
The Tao of God operates ceaselessly; and all things are produced.
The Tao of the sovereign operates ceaselessly; and the empire
rallies around him. The Tao of the Sage operates ceaselessly;
and all within the limit of surrounding ocean acknowledge his
sway. He who apprehends God, who is in relation with the Sage,
and who recognizes the radiating virtue of the sovereign, ‹
his actions will be to him unconscious, the actions of repose.
The repose of the Sage is not what the world calls repose. His
repose is the result of his mental attitude. All creation could
not disturb his equilibrium: hence his repose.
When water is still, it is like a mirror, reflecting the beard
and the eyebrows. It gives the accuracy of the water-level, and
the philosopher makes it his model. And if water thus derives
lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind?
The mind of the Sage being in repose becomes the mirror the universe,
the speculum of all creation.
Repose, tranquillity, stillness, inaction, these were the levels
of the universe, the ultimate perfection of Tao. Therefore wise
rules and Sages rest therein. Resting therein they reach the unconditioned,
from which springs the conditioned; and with the conditioned comes
order. Again, from the unconditioned comes repose, and from repose
comes movement, and from movement comes attainment. Further, from
repose comes inaction, and from inactions comes potentiality of
action. And inaction is happiness; and where there is happiness
no cares can abide, and life is long.
Repose, tranquillity, stillness, inaction, these were the source
of all things. Due perception of this was the secret of Yao's
success as a ruler, and of Shun's success as his minister. Due
perception of this constitutes the virtue of sovereigns on the
throne, the Tao of the inspired Sage and of the uncrowned King
below. Keep to this in retirement, and the lettered denizens of
sea and dale will recognize your power. Keep to this when coming
forward to pacify a troubled world, and your merit shall be great
and your name illustrious, and the empire united into one. In
your repose you will be wise; in your movements, powerful. By
inaction you will gain honour; and by confining yourself to the
pure and simple, you will hinder the whole world from struggling
with you to show.
To fully apprehend the scheme of the universe, this is called
the great secret of being in accord with God, whereby the empire
is so administered that the result is accord with man. To be in
accord with man is human happiness; to be in accord with God is
the happiness of God.
Chuang Tzu said, 'O my exemplar! Thou who destroyest all things,
and dost not account it cruelty; those who benefitest all time,
and dost not account it charity; thou who art older than antiquity
and dost not account it age; thou who supportest the universe,
shaping the many forms therein, and dost not account it skill;
‹ this is the happiness of God!'
Therefore it has been said, 'Those who enjoy the happiness of
God, when born into the world, are but fulfilling their divine
functions; when they die, they do but undergo a physical change.
In repose, they exert the influence of the Negative; in motion,
they wield the power of the Positive.'
Thus, those who enjoy the happiness of God have no grievance
against God, no grudge against man. Nothing material injures them;
nothing spiritual punishes them. Accordingly it has been said,
'Their motion is that of heaven; their repose is that of earth.
Mental equilibrium gives them the empire of the world. Evil spirits
do not harass them without; demons do not trouble them within.
Mental equilibrium gives them sovereingty over all creation.'
Which signifies that in repose to extend to the whole universe
and to be in relation with all creation, this is the whole happiness
of God. This enables the mind of the Sage to cherish the whole
For the action of the wise ruler is modelled upon the universe,
is guided by Tao, and is ever occupied in inaction. By inaction,
he administers the empire, and has energy to spare; but by action
he finds his energy inadequate to the administration of the empire.
Therefore the men of old set great store by inaction.
But if rulers practise inaction and the rules also practise inaction,
the ruled will equal the rulers, and will not be as their subjects.
On the other hand, if the ruled practise action and rulers also
practise action, rulers will assimilate themselves to the ruled,
and will not be as their masters. Rulers must practise inaction
in order to administer the empire. The ruled must practise action
in order to subserve the interests of the empire. This is an unchangeable
Thus, the men of old, although their knowledge did not extend
throughout the universe, were not troubled in mind. Although their
intellectual powers beautified all creation, they did not rejoice.
Although their abilities exhausted all things within the limits
of ocean, they did not act.
Heaven has no parturitions, yet all things are evolved. Earth
knows no increment, yet all things are nourished. The wise ruler
practises inaction, and the empire applauds him. Therefore it
has been said, 'There is nothing more mysterious than heaven,
nothing richer than earth, nothing greater than the wise ruler.'
Wherefore also it has been said, 'The virtue of the wise ruler
makes him the peer of heaven and earth.' Charioted upon the universe,
with all creation for his team, he passes along the highway of
The essential is in the ruler; the accidental in the ruled. The
ultima ratio lies with the prince; representation is the duty
of the minister.
Appeal to arms is the lowest form of virtue. Rewards and punishments
are the lowest form of education. Ceremonies and laws are the
lowest form of government. Music and fine clothes are the lowest
form of happiness. Weeping and mourning are the lowest form of
grief. These five should follow the movements of the mind.
The ancients indeed cultivated the study of accidentals, but
they did not allow it to precede that of essentials. The prince
precedes, the minister follows. The father precedes, the son follows.
The elder brother precedes, the younger follows. Seniors precede,
juniors follow. Men precede, women follow. Husbands precede, wives
follow. Distinctions of rank and precedence are part of the scheme
of the universe, and the Sage adopts them accordingly. In point
of spirituality, heaven is honourable, earth is lowly. Spring
and summer precede autumn and winter: such is the order of the
seasons. In the constant production of all things, there are phases
of existence. There are the extremes of maturity and decay, the
perpetual tide of change. And if heaven and earth, divinest of
all, admit of rank and precedence, how much more man?
In the ancestral temple, parents rank before all; at court, the
most honourable; in the village, the elders; in matters to be
accomplished, the most trustworthy. Such is the order which appertains
to Tao. He who in considering Tao disregards his order, thereby
disregards Tao; and he who in considering Tao disregards Tao,
‹ whence will he secure Tao?
Therefore, those of old who apprehended Tao, first apprehended
god. Tao came next, and then charity and duty to one's neighbour,
and then the functions of public life, and then forms and names,
and then employment according to capacity, and then distinctions
of good and bad, and then discrimination between right and wrong,
and then rewards and punishments. Thus wise men and fools met
with their dues; the exalted and the humble occupied their proper
places. And the virtuous and the worthless being each guided by
their own natural instincts, it was necessary to distinguish capabilities,
and to adopt a corresponding nomenclature, in order to serve the
ruler, nourish the ruled, administer things generally, and elevate
self. Where knowledge and plans are of no avail, one must fall
back upon the natural. This is perfect peace, the acme of good
government. Therefore it has been written, 'Wherever there is
form, there is also its name'. Forms and names indeed the ancients
had, but did not give precedence to them.
Thus, those of old who considered Tao, passed through five phases
before forms and names were reached, and nine before rewards and
punishments could be discussed. To rise per saltum to forms and
names is to be ignorant of their source; to rise per saltum to
rewards and punishments is to be ignorant of their beginning.
Those who invert the process of discussing Tao, arguing in a directly
contrary sense, are rather to be governed by others than able
to govern others themselves.
To rise per saltum to forms and names and rewards and punishments,
this is to understand the instrumental part of government, but
not to understand the great principle of government. This is to
be of use in the administration of the empire, but not to be able
to administer the empire. This is to be a sciolist, a man of narrow
Ceremonies and laws were indeed cultivated by the ancients; but
they were employed in the serve of the rulers by the ruled. Rulers
did not employ them as a means of nourishing the ruled.
Of old, Shun asked Yao, saying, 'How does your Majesty employ
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.