The Chuang Tzu


Chuang Tzu. Chapter 22. Argument: Inaction and Tao. The universe our model. Spontaneity our watchword. Omnipresence and indivisibility of Tao. External activity, internal passivity. Man's knowlwedge finite. Illustrations.*

When Knowledge travelled north, across the Black Water, and over the Dark-Steep Mountain, he met Do-nothing Say-nothing and asked of him as follows:

'Kindly tell me by what thoughts, by what cogitations, may Tao be known? By resting in what, by according in what, may Tao be approached? By following what, by pursuing what, may Tao be attained?'

To these three questions, Do-nothing Say-nothing returned no answer. Not that he would not answer, but that he could not. So when Knowledge got no reply, he turned round and went off to the south of the White Water and up the Ku-Chüeh Mountain, where he saw All-in-extremes, and to him he put the same questions.

'Ha!' cried All-in-extremes, 'I know. I will tell you ...'

But just as he was about to speak he forgot what he wanted to say. So when Knowledge got no reply, he went back to the palace and asked the Yellow Emperor. The latter said, 'By no thoughts, by no cogitations, Tao may be known. By resting in nothing, by according in nothing, Tao may be approached. By following nothing, by pursuing nothing, Tao may be attained.'

Then Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, 'Now you and I know this, but those two know it not. Who is right?'

'Of those two', replied the Yellow Emperor, 'Do-nothing Say-nothing is genuinely right, and All-in-extremes is near. You and I are wholly wrong. Those who understand it do not speak about it, those who speak about it do not understand it. Therefore the Sage teaches a doctrine which does not find expression in words. Tao cannot be made to come. Virtue cannot be reached. Charity can be evoked. Duty to one's neighbour can be wrongly directed. Ceremonies are mere shames.

'Therefore it has been said, "If Tao perishes, then Te will perish. If Te perishes, then charity will perish. If charity perishes, then duty to one's neighbour will perish. If duty to one's neighbour perishes, then ceremonies will perish. Ceremonies are but a showy ornament of Tao, while oft-times the source of trouble."

'Therefore it has been said, "Those who practise Tao suffer daily loss. If that loss proceeds until inaction ensues, then by that very inaction there is nothing which cannot be done."

'Now, we are already beings. And if we desire to revert to our original condition, how difficult that is! 'Tis a change to which only the greatest among us are equal.

'Life follows upon death. Death is the beginning of life. Who knows when the end is reached? The life of man results from convergence of the vital fluid. Its convergence is life; its dispersion, death. If then life and death are but consecutive states, what need have I to complain?

'Therefore all things are One. What we love is animation. What we hate is corruption. But corruption in its turn becomes animation, and animation once more becomes corruption.

'Therefore it has been said, The world is permeated by a single vital fluid, and Sages accordingly venerate One.'

Then Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, 'I asked Do-nothing Say-nothing, but he did not answer me. Not that he would not; he could not. So I asked All-in-extremes. He was just going to tell me, but he did not tell me. Not that he would not; but just as he was going to do so, he forgot what he wanted to say. Now I ask you, and you tell me. How then are you wholly wrong?'

'Of those two', replied the Yellow Emperor, 'the former was genuinely right, inasmuch as he did not know. The latter was near, inasmuch as he forgot. You and I are wholly wrong, inasmuch as we know.'

When All-in-extremes heard of this, he considered that the Yellow Emperor had spoken well.

The universe is very beautiful, yet it says nothing. The four seasons abide by a fixed law, yet they are not heard. All creation is based upon absolute principles, yet nothing speaks.

And the true Sage, taking his stand upon the beauty of the universe, pierces the principles of created things. Hence the saying that the perfect man does nothing, the true Sage performs nothing, beyond gazing at the universe.

For man's intellect, however keen, face to face with the countless evolutions of things, their death and birth, their squareness and roundness, ‹ can never reach the root. There creation is, and there it has ever been.

The six cardinal points, reaching into infinity, are ever included in Tao. An autumn spikelet, in all its minuteness, must carry Tao within itself. There is nothing on earth which does not rise and fall, but it never perishes altogether. The Yin and Yang, and the four seasons, keep to their proper order. Apparently destroyed, yet really existing; the material gone, the immaterial left; ‹ such is the law of creation, which passeth all understanding. This is called the root, whence a glimpse may be obtained of God.

Yeh Ch'üeh enquired of P'i I about Tao. The latter said, 'Keep your body under proper control, your gaze concentrated upon One and the peace of God will descend upon you. Keep back your knowledge, and concentrate your thoughts upon One, ‹ and the holy spirit shall abide within you. Virtue shall beautify you, Tao shall establish you, aimless as a new-born calf which recks not now it came into the world.'

While P'i I was still speaking, Yeh Ch'üeh had gone off to sleep; at which the former rejoiced greatly, and departed singing,

'Body like dry bone,
Mind like dead ashes;
This is true knowledge,
Not to strive after knowing the whence.
In darkness, in obscurity,
The mindless cannot plan;
What manner of man is that?'

Shun asked Ch'eng, saying, 'Can one get Tao so as to have it for one's own?'

'Your very body', replied Ch'eng, 'is not your own. How should Tao be?'

'If my body', said Shun, 'is not my own, pray whose is it?'

'It is the delegated image of God', replied Ch'eng. 'Your life is not your own. It is the delegated harmony of God. Your individuality is not your own. It is the delegated adaptability of God. Your posterity is not your own. It is the delegated exuviae of God. You move, but know not how. You are at rest, but know not why. You taste, but know not the cause. These are the operation of God's laws. How then should you get Tao so as to have it for your own?'

Confucius said to Lao Tzu, 'Today you are at leisure. Pray tell me about perfect Tao.'

'Purge your heart by fasting and discipline', answered Lao Tzu. 'Wash your soul as white as snow. Discard your knowledge. Tao is abstruse and difficult of discussion. I will try, however, to speak to you of its outline.

'Light is born of darkness. Classification is born of formlessness. The soul is born of Tao. The body is born of the vital essence.

'Thus all things produce after their kind. Creatures with nine channels of communication are born from the womb. Creatures with eight are born from the egg. Of their coming there is no trace. In their departure there is no goal. No entrance gate, no dwelling-house, they pass this way and that, as though at the meeting of cross-roads.

'Those who enter herein become strong of limb, subtle of thought, and clear of sight and hearing. They suffer no mental fatigue, nor meet with physical resistance.

'Heaven cannot but be high. Earth cannot but be broad. The sun and moon cannot but revolve. All creation cannot but flourish. To do so is their Tao.

'But it is not from extensive study that this may be known, nor by dialectic skill that this may be made clear. The true Sage will have none of these. It is in addition without gain, in diminution without loss, that the true Sage finds salvation.

'Unfathomable as the sea, wondrously ending only to begin again, informing all creation without being exhausted, the Tao of the perfect man is spontaneous in its operation. That all creation can be informed by it without exhaustion, is its Tao.

'In the Middle Kingdom there are men who recognize neither positive nor negative. They abide between heaven and earth. They act their part as mortals, and then return to the Cause.

'From that standpoint, life is but a concentration of the vital fluid, whose longest and shortest terms of existence vary by an inappreciable space, hardly enough for the classification of Yao and Chieh.

'Tree-fruits and plant-fruits exhibit order in their varieties; and the relationships of man, though more difficult to be dealt with, may still be reduced to order. The true Sage who meets with these, does not violate them. Neither does he continue to hold fast by them. Adaptation by arrangement is Te. Spontaneous adaptation is Tao, by which sovereigns flourish and princes succeed.

'Man passes through this sublunary life as a white horse passes a crack. Here one moment, gone the next. Neither are there any not equally subject to the ingress and egress of mortality. One modification brings life; then another, and it is death. Living creatures cry out, human beings sorrow. The bow-sheath is slipped off; the clothes-bag is dropped; and in the confusion the soul wings its flight, and the body follows, on the great journey home!

'The reality of the formless, the unreality of that which has form, ‹ this is known to all. Those who are on the road to attainment care not for these things, but the people at large discuss them. Attainment implies non-discussion: discussion implies non-attainment. Manifested, Tao has no objective value; hence silence is better than argument. It cannot be translated into speech; better then say nothing at all. This is called the great attainment.'

Tung Kuo Tzu asked Chuang Tzu, saying, 'What you call Tao, where is it?'

'There is nowhere', replied Chuang Tzu, 'where it is not'.

'Tell me one place at any rate where it is', said Tung Kuo Tzu.

'It is in the ant', replied Chuang Tzu.

'Why go so low down?' asked Tung Kuo Tzu.

'It is in a tare', said Chuang Tzu.

'Still lower', objected Tung Kuo Tzu.

'It is in a potsherd', said Chuang Tzu.

'Worse still!' cried Tung Kuo Tzu.

'It is in ordure', said Chuang Tzu. And Tung Kuo Tzu made no reply.

'Sir', continued Chuang Tzu, 'your question does not touch the essential. When Huo, inspector of markets, asked the managing director about the fatness of pigs, the test was always made in parts least likely to be fat. Do not therefore insist in any particular direction; for there is nothing which escapes. Such is perfect Tao; and such also is ideal speech. Whole, entire, all, are three words which sound differently but mean the same. Their purport is One.

'Try to reach with me the palace of Nowhere, and there, amidst the identity of all things, carry your discussions into the infinite. Try to practise with me inaction, wherein you may rest motionless, without care, and be happy. For thus my mind becomes an abstraction. It wanders not, and yet is not conscious of being at rest. It goes and comes and is not conscious of stoppages. Backwards and forwards without being conscious of any goal. Up and down the realms of Infinity, wherein even the greatest intellect would fail to find an end.

'That which makes things the things they are, is not limited to such things. The limits of things are their own limits in so far as they are things. The limits of the limitless, the limitlessness of the limited, ‹ these are called fullness and emptiness, renovation and decay. Tao causes fullness and emptiness, but it is not either. It causes renovation and decay, but it is not either

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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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