Chuang Tzu. Chapter 21. Argument: Tao
cannot be imparted in words. It is not at man's disposal. It does
not consist in formal morality. It is an inalienable element of
existence. Without it the soul dies. With it man is happy and
his immortality secure.*
T'ien Tzu Fang was in attendance upon Prince
Wen of Wei. He kept on praising Ch'i Kung, until at length Prince
Wen said, 'Is Ch'i Kung your tutor?'
'No', replied Tzu Fang, 'he is merely a neighbour.
He discourses admirably upon Tao. That is why I praise him.'
'Have you then no tutor?' enquired the Prince.
'I have', replied Tzu Fang.
'And who may he be?' said Prince Wen.
'Tung Kuo Shun Tzu', answered Tzu Fang.
'Then how is it you do not praise him?' asked
'He is perfect', replied Tzu Fang. 'In appearance,
a man; in reality, God. Unconditioned himself, he falls in with
the conditioned, to his own greater glory. Pure himself, he can
still tolerate others. If men are without Tao, by a mere look
he calls them to a sense of error, and causes their intentions
to melt away. How could I praise him?'
Thereupon Tzu Fang took his leave, and the Prince
remained for the rest of the day absorbed in silence. At length
he called an officer in waiting and said, 'How far beyond us is
the man of perfect virtue! Hitherto I have regarded the discussion
of holiness and wisdom, and the practice of charity and duty to
one's neighbour, as the utmost point attainable. But now that
I have heard of Tzu Fang's tutor, my body is relaxed and desires
not movement, my mouth is closed and desires not speech. All I
have learnt, verily it is mere undergrowth. And the kingdom of
Wei is my bane.
When Wen Poh Hsüeh Tzu was on his way to
Ch'i, he broke his journey in Lu. A certain man of Lu begged for
an interview, but Wen Poh Hsüeh Tzu said, 'No. I have heard
that the gentlemen of the Middle Kingdom are experts in ceremonies
and obligations, but wanting in knowledge of the human heart.
I do not wish to see him.'
So he went on to Ch'i; but once more at Lu, on
his way home, the same man again begged to have an interview.
'When I was last here', cried Wen Poh Hsüeh
Tzu, 'he asked to see me, and now again he asks to see me. Surely
he must have something to communicate.'
Whereupon he went and received the stranger,
and on returning gave vent to sighs. Next day he received again,
and again after the interview gave vent to sighs. Then his servant
asked him, saying, 'How is it that whenever you receive this stranger,
you always sigh afterwards?'
'I have already told you,' replied Wen Poh Hsüeh
Tzu, 'that the people of the Middle Kingdom are experts in ceremonies
and obligations but wanting in knowledge of the human heart. The
man who visited me came in and went out as per compasses and square.
His demeanour was now that of the dragon, now that of the tiger.
He criticized me as though he had been my son. He admonished me
as though he had been my father. Therefore I gave vent to sighs.'
When Confucius saw Wen Poh Hsüeh Tzu, the
former did not utter a word. Whereupon Tzu Lu said, 'Master, you
have long wished to see Wen Poh Hsüeh Tzu. How is it that
when you do see him you do not speak?'
'With such men as these', replied Confucius,
'you have only to look, and Tao abides. There is no room for speech.'
Yen Yüan asked Confucius, saying, 'Master,
when you go at a walk, I go at a walk. When you trot, I trot.
When you gallop, I gallop. But when you dash beyond the bounds
of mortality, I can only stand staring behind. How is this?'
'Explain yourself', said Confucius.
'I mean', continued Yen Y¨üan, 'that
as you speak, I speak. As you argue, I argue. As you preach Tao,
so I preach Tao. And by "when you dash beyond the bounds
of mortality I can only stand staring behind", I mean that
without speaking you make people believe you, without striving
you make people love you, without striving you make people love
you, without factitious attractions you gather people around you.
I cannot understand how this is so.'
'What is there to prevent you from finding out?
replied Confucius. 'There is no sorrow to be compared with the
death of the mind. The death of the body is of but secondary importance.
'The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
There is no place which he does not illuminate; and those who
have eyes and feet depend upon him to use them with success. When
he comes forth, that is existence; when he disappears, that is
'And every human being has that upon which he
depends for death or for life. But if I, receiving this mind-informed
body, pass without due modification to the end, day and night
subject to ceaseless wear and tear like a mere thing, unknowing
what the end will be, and in spite of this mind-informed body
conscious only that fate cannot save me from the inevitable graveyard,
‹ then I am consuming life until at death it is as though
you and I had but once linked arms to be finally parted for ever!
Is not that indeed a cause for sorrow?
'Now you fix your attention upon something in
me which, while you look, has already passed away. Yet you seek
for it as though it must be still there, ‹ like one who
seeks for a horse in a market-place. What I admire in you is transitory.
Nevertheless, why should you grieve? Although my old self is constantly
passing away, there remains that which does not pass away.'
Confucius went to see Lao Tzu. The latter had
just washed his head, and his hair was hanging down his back to
dry. He looked like a lifeless body; so Confucius waited awhile,
but at length approached and said, 'Do my eyes deceive me, or
is this really so? Your frame, Sir, seems like dry wood, as if
it had been left without that which informs it with the life of
'I was wandering', replied Lao Tzu, 'in the unborn.'
'What does that mean?' asked Confucius.
'My mind is trammelled', replied Lao Tzu, 'and
I cannot know. My mouth is closed and I cannot speak. But I will
try to tell you what is probably the truth.
'The perfect Negative principle is majestically
passive. The perfect Positive principle is powerfully active.
Passivity emanates from heaven above; activity proceeds from earth
beneath. The interaction of the two results in that harmony by
which all things are produced. There may be a First Cause, but
we never see his form. His report fills space. There is darkness
and light. Days come and months go. Work is being constantly performed,
yet we never witness the performance. Life must bring us from
somewhere, and death must carry us back. Beginning and end follow
ceaselessly one upon the other, and we cannot say when the series
will be exhausted. If this is not the work of a First Cause, what
is it ?'
'Kindly explain', said Confucius, 'what is to
be got by wandering as you said'.
'The result', answered Lao Tzu, 'is perfect goodness
and perfect happiness. And he who has these is a perfect man.'
'And by what means', enquired Confucius, 'can
this be attained?'
'Animals', said Lao Tzu, 'that eat grass do not
mind a change of pasture. Creatures that live in water do not
mind a change of pond. A slight change may be effected so long
as the essential is untouched.
'Joy, anger, sorrow, happiness, find no place
in that man's breast; for to him all creation is One. And all
things being thus united in One, his body and limbs are but as
dust of the earth, and life and death, beginning and end, are
but as night and day, and cannot destroy his peace. How much less
such trifles as gain or loss, misfortune or good fortune?
'He rejects rank as so much mud. For he knows
that if a man is of honourable rank, the honour is in himself,
and cannot be lost by change of condition, nor exhausted by countless
modifications of existence. Who then can grieve his heart? Those
who practise Tao understand the secret of this.'
'Master', said Confucius, 'your virtue equals
that of Heaven and Earth; yet you still employ perfect precepts
in the cultivation of your heart. Who among the sages of old could
have uttered such words?'
'Not so', answered Lao Tzu. 'The fluidity of
water is not the result of any effort on the part of the water,
but is its natural property. And the virtue of the perfect man
is such that even without cultivation there is nothing which can
withdraw from his sway. Heaven is naturally high, the earth is
naturally solid, the sun and moon are naturally bright. Do they
cultivate these attributes?'
Confucius went forth and said to Yen Hui, 'In
point of Tao, I am but as an animalcule in vinegar. Had not the
Master opened my eyes, I should not have perceived the vastness
of the universe.'
When Chuang Tzu was at an interview with Duke
Ai of Lu, the latter said, 'We have many scholars, Sir, in Lu,
but few of your school.'
'In Lu,' replied Chuang Tzu, 'there are but few
'Look at the number who wear scholars' robes',
said the Duke. 'How can you say they are few?'
'Scholars who wear round hats', answered Chuang
Tzu, 'know the seasons of Heaven. Scholars who wear square shoes
know the shape of Earth. And scholars who loosely gird themselves
are ready to decide whatever questions may arise. But scholars
who have Tao do not necessarily wear robes; neither does the wearing
of robes necessarily mean that a scholar has Tao. If your Highness
does not think so, why not issue an order through the Middle Kingdom,
making death the punishment for all who wear the robes without
having the Tao?'
Thereupon Duke Ai circulated this mandate for
five days, the result being that not a single man in Lu dared
to don scholars' robes, ‹ with the exception of one old
man who, thus arrayed, took his stand at the Duke's gate.
The Duke summoned him to the presence, and asked
him many questions on politics, trying to entangle him, but in
vain. Then Chuang Tzu said, 'If there is only one scholar in Lu,
surely that is not many'.
Rank and power had no charms for Poh Li Ch'i.
So he took to feeding cattle. His cattle were always fat, which
caused Duke Mu of Ch'in to ignore his low condition and entrust
him with the administration.
Shun cared nothing for life or death. He was
therefore able to influence men's hearts.
Prince Yüan of Sung desiring to have a picture
painted, the officials of that department presented themselves,
and after making obeisance stood waiting for the order, more than
half of them already licking their brushes and mixing their ink.
One of them arrived late. He sauntered in without
hurrying himself; and when he had made obeisance, did not wait
but went off home.
The Prince sent a man to see what he did. He
took off his clothes and squatted down bare-backed.
'He will do', cried the Prince. 'He is a true
When Wen Wang was on a tour of inspection in
Tsang, he saw an old man fishing. But his fishing was not real
fishing, for he did not fish to catch fish, but to amuse himself.
So Wen Wang wished to employ him in the administration
of government, but feared lest his own ministers, uncles, and
brothers, might object. On the other hand, if he let the old man
go, he could not bear to think of the people being deprived of
such an influence.
Accordingly, that very morning he informed his
minsiters, saying, 'I once dreamt that a Sage of a black colour
and with a large beard, riding upon a parti-coloured horse with
red stockings on one side, appeared and instructed me to place
the administration in the hands of the old gentleman of Tsang,
promising that the people would benefit greatly thereby.'
The ministers at once said, 'It is a command
from your Highness' father'.
'I think so', answered Wen Wang. 'But let us
try by divination.'
'It is a command from your Highness' late father',
said the ministers, 'and may not be disobeyed. What need for divination?'
So the old man of Tsang was received and entrusted
with the administration. He altered none of the existing statutes.
He issued no unjust regulations. And when, after three years,
Wen Wang made another inspection, he found all dangerous organizations
broken up, the officials doing their duty as a matter of course,
while the use of measures of grain was unknown within the four
boundaries of the State. There was thus unanimity in the public
voice, singleness of official purpose, and identity of interests
So Wen Wang appointed the old man Grand Tutor;
and then, standing with his face to the north, asked him, saying,
'Can such government be extended over the empire?'
The old man of Tsang was silent and made no reply.
He then abruptly took leave, and by the evening of that same day
had disappeared, never to be heard of again.
Yen Yüan said to Confucius, 'If Wen Wang
was unable to do this of himself, how was he able to do it by
'Silence!' cried Confucius: 'It is not for you
to criticize Wen Wang who succeeded in fulfilling his mission.
The dream was merely to satisfy the vulgar mind.'
Lieh Yü K'ou exhibited his skill in archery
to Poh Hun Wu Jen. Drawing the bow to its full, he placed a cup
of water on his elbow and began to let fly. Hardly was one arrow
out of sight ere another was on the string, the archer standing
all the time like a statue.
'But this is shooting under ordinary conditions',
cried Poh Hun Wu Jen; 'it is not shooting under extraordinary
conditions. Now I will ascend a high mountain with you, and stand
on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet in height, and see
how you can shoot then.'
Thereupon Wu Jen went with Lieh Tzu up a high
mountain, and stood on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet
in height, approaching it backwards until one-fifth of his feet
overhung the chasm, when he beckoned to Lieh Tzu to come on. But
the latter had fallen prostrate on the ground, with the sweat
pouring down to his heels.
'The perfect man', said Wu Jen, 'soars up to
the blue sky, or dives down to the yellow springs, or flies to
some extreme point of the compass, without change of countenance.
But you are terrified, and your eyes are dazed. Your internal
economy is defective.'
Chien Wu said to Sun Shu Ao, 'Sir, you have been
three times called to office without showing any elation, and
you have been three times dismissed without displaying any chagrin.
At first, I doubted you; but now I notice that your breathing
is perfectly regular. How do you manage thus to control your emotions?'
'I am no better than other people', replied Sun
Shu Ao. 'I regard office when it comes as something which may
not be declined; when it goes, as something which cannot be kept.
To me both the getting and losing are outside my own self; and
therefore I feel no chagrin. How am I better than other people?
'Besides, I am not conscious of office being
either in the hands of others or in my own. If it is in the hands
of others, my own personality disappears; if in mine, theirs.
And amidst the cares of deliberation and investigation, what leisure
has one for troubling about rank?'
When Confucius heard this, he said, 'The perfect
Sages of old! ‹ cunning men could not defeat them; beautiful
women could not seduce them; robbers could not steal from them;
Fu Hsi and the Yellow Emperor could not make friends of them.
Life and death are great; yet these gave them no pang. How much
less then rank and power!
'The souls of such men pierced through huge mountains
as though they had been nothing; descended into the abyss without
getting wet; occupied lowly stations without chagrin. They filled
the whole universe; and the more they gave to others, the more
they had themselves.'
The prince of Ch'u was sitting with the Prince
of Fan. By and by, one of the officials of Ch'u said, 'There were
three indications of the destruction of the Fan State'.
'The destruction of the Fan State', cried the
Prince of Fan, 'did not suffice to injure my existence. And while
the destruction of the Fan State did not suffice to injure my
existence, the preservation of the Ch'u State will not be enough
to preserve yours. From this point of view it will be seen that
while we Fans have not begun to be destroyed, you Ch'us have not
begun to exist.'
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.