The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 32. Argument: Outward manifestation of inward grace. Its dangers. Self-esteem. Its errors. Inscrutability of Tao. Artificiality of Confucius. Tests of virtue. Chuang Tzu declines office. His death.*

When Lieh Tzu went to Ch'i, half way there he turned round and came back. Falling in with Poh Hun Wu Jen, the latter said, 'How is it you are so soon back again?'

'I was afraid', replied Lieh Tzu.

'Afraid of what?' asked Poh Hun Wu Jen.

'Out of ten restaurants at which I ate', said Lieh Tzu, 'five would take no payment'.

'And what is there to be afraid of in that?' enquired Poh Hun Wu Jen.

'The truth within not being duly assimilated', replied Lieh Tzu, 'a certain brightness is visible externally. And to conquer men's hearts by force of the external is to induce in oneself a disregard for authority and age which is the precursor of trouble.

'A restaurant keeper is one who lives by retailing soup. When his returns are counted up, his profit is but small, and his influence is next to nothing. But if such a man could act thus, how much more the ruler of a large State? His bodily powers worn out in the duties of his position, his mental powers exhausted by details of administration, he would entrust me with the government and stimulate me by reward. That is what I was afraid of.'

'Your inner lights are good', replied Poh Hun Wu Jen' 'but if you remain stationary at this point, the world will still gather around you'.

Shortly afterwards Poh Hun Wu Jen went to visit Lieh Tzu, and lo! his courtyard was filled with boots.

Poh Hun Wu Jen stood there awhile, facing the north, his cheek all wrinkled by resting it on his staff. Then, without a word, he departed.

Upon this being announced to Lieh Tzu, he seized his shoes and ran out barefoot. When he reached the outer gate, he called aloud, 'Master! now that you have come, will you not give me medicine?'

'It is all over!' cried Poh Hun Wu Jen. 'I told you that the world would gather around you. It is not that you can make people gather around you. You cannot prevent them from doing so. Of what use would my instruction be? Exerting influence thus unduly over others, you are by them influenced in turn. You disturb your natural constitution, and are of no further account.

'The shrewd grow weary, the wise grieve. Those who are without abilities have no ambitions. With full bellies they roam happily about, like drifting boats, not caring whither they are bound.'

There was a man of the Cheng State, named Huan. He pursued his studies at a place called Ch'iu-shih. After three years only, he had graduated as a Confucianist; and like a river which fertilizes its banks to a distance of nine li, so did his good influence reach into three families.

He caused his younger brother to graduate as a Mohist. But inasmuch as in the question of Confucianism versus Mohism, the father took the side of the Mohist, at the end of ten years Huan committed suicide.

Then the father dreamed that Huan appeared to him and said, 'It was I who caused your son to become a Mohist. Why give all the credit to him who is but as the fruit of an autumn pine?'

Verily God does not reward man for what he does, but for what he is. And it was in this sense that the younger brother was caused to become a Mohist. Whereas a man who should regard his distinctive abilities as of his own making, without reference to his parents, would be like the man of Ch'i who dug a well and then wanted to keep others away from it. Hence the saying that the men of today are all Huans.

Wherefore it follows that men of true virtue are unconcious of its possession. How much more then the man of Tao? This is what the ancients called escaping the vengeance of God.

The true Sage rests in that which gives rest, and not in that which does not give rest. The world rests in that which does not give rest, and not in that which does give rest.

Chuang Tzu said, 'To know Tao is easy. The difficulty lies in the elimination of speech. To know Tao without speech appertains to the natural. To know Tao with speech appertains to the artificial. The men of old were natural, not artifical.

'Chu P'ing Man spent a large patrimony in learning under Chih Li I how to kill dragons. By the end of three years he was perfect, but there was no direction in which he could show his skill.

'The true Sage regards certainties as uncertainties; therefore he is never up in arms. Men in general regard uncertainties as certainties; therefore they are constantly up in arms. To accustom oneself to arms causes one to fly to arms on every provocation; and to trust to arms is to perish.

'The intelligence of the mean man does not rise beyond bribes and letters of recommendation. His mind is be-clouded with trivialities. Yet he would penetrate the mystery of Tao, and of creation, and rise to participation in the One. The result is that he is confounded by time and space; and that trammelled by objective existences, he fails to reach apprehension of that age before anything was.

'But the perfect man, ‹ he carries his mind back to the period before the beginning. Content to rest in the oblivion of nowhere, passing away like flowing water, he is merged in the clear depths of the infinite.

'Alas! man's knowledge reaches to the hair on a hair, but not to eternal peace.'

A man of the Sung State, named Ts'ao Shang, acted as political agent for the prince of Sung at the court of the Ch'in State. When he went thither, he had a few carriages; but the prince of Ch'in was so pleased with him that he added one hundred more.

On his return to Sung, he visited Chuang Tzu and said, 'As for living in poverty in a dirty hovel, earning a scanty subsistence by making sandals, with shrivelled face and yellow ears, ‹ this I could not do. Interviewing a powerful ruler, with a retinue of a hundred carriages, ‹ that is my forte.'

'When the prince of Ch'in is sick', replied Chuang Tzu, 'and he summons his physician to open a bail or cleanse an ulcer, the latter gets one carriage. The man who licks his piles gets five. The more degrading the work, the greater the number of carriages given. You, Sir, must have been attending to his piles to get so many carriages. Begone with you!'

Duke Ai of Lu asked Yen Ho, saying, 'Were I to make Confucius a pillar of my realm, would the State be profited thereby?'

'It would be most perilous!' replied Yen Ho. 'Confucius is a man of outward show and of specious words. He mistakes the branch for the root. He seeks to impress the people by an overbearing demeanour, the hollowness of which he does not perceive. If he suits you, and you entrust him with the welfare of the State, it will only be by mistake that he will succeed.

'To cause the people to leave the true and study the false does not so much affect the people of today as those of coming generations. Wherefore it is better not to have Confucius.

'The difficulty of governing lies in the inability to practise self-effacement. Man does not govern as God does.

'Merchants and traders are altogether out of the pale. Or if chance ever brings them within it, their rights are never freely admitted.

'External punishments are inflicted by metal and wood. Internal punishments are inflicted by anxiety and remorse. Fools who incur external punishment are treated with metal or wood. Those who incur internal punishment are devoured by the conflict of emotions. It is only the pure and perfect man who can succeed in avoiding both.'

Confucius said, 'The heart of man is more dangerous than mountains and rivers, more difficult to understand than Heaven itself. Heaven has its periods of spring, summer, autumn, winter, daytime and night. Man has an impenetrable exterior, and his motives are inscrutable. Thus some men appear to be retiring when they are really forward. Others have abilities, yet appear to be worthless. Others are compliant, yet gain their ends. Others take a firm stand, yet yield the point. Others go slow, yet advance quickly.

'Those who fly to duty towards their neighbour as though thirsting after it, drop it as though something hot. Thus the loyalty of the superior man is tested by employing him at a distance, his respectfulness by employing him near at hand. His ability, by troublesome missions. His knowledge, by unexpected questions. His trustworthiness, by specification of time limits. His integrity by entrusting him with money. His fidelity, by dangerous tasks. His decorum, by filling him with wine. His morality, by placing him in disreputable surroundings. Under the application of these nine tests, the inferior man stands revealed.

'Cheng K'ao Fu, on receiving his first appointment, bowed his head. On receiving his second appointment, he hunched his back. On receiving his third appointment, he fell upon his face, walking away at the side of the path. Who would not try to be like him?

'Yet ordinary men, on their first appointment, become self-important. On their second, they give themselves airs in their chariots. On their third, they call their own fathers by their personal names. Which of them can be compared with Hsü Yu of old?

'There is nothing more fatal than intentional virtue, when the mind looks outwards. For by thus looking outwards, the power of introspection is destroyed.

'There are five sources of injury to virtue. Of these, that which aims at virtue is the chief. What is it to aim at virtue? Why a man who aims at virtue practises what he approves and condemns what he does not practise.

'There are eight causes of failure, three certain elements of success. There are six sources of strength and weakness.

'Beauty, a long beard, size, height, robustness, grace, courage, daring ‹ these eight, in which men surpass their fellows, are therefore passports to failure.

'Modesty, compliance, humility, ‹ these three are sure roads to success.

'Wisdom manifests itself in the external. Courage makes itself many enemies. Charity and duty towards one's neighbour incur many reproaches.

'To him who can penetrate the mystery of life, all things are revealed. He who can estimate wisdom as its true value, is wise. He who comprehends the Greater Destiny, becomes himself part of it. He who comprehends the Lesser Destiny, resigns himself to the inevitable.'

A man who had been to see the prince of Sung and had been presented with ten chariots, was putting on airs in the presence of Chuang Tzu.

'At Ho-Shang', said the latter, 'there was a poor man who supported his family by plaiting rushes. One day his son dived into the river and got a pearl worth a thousand ounces of silver. The father bade him fetch a stone and smash it to pieces, explaining that he could only have got such a pearl very deep down from under the nose of the dragon, which must have been asleep. And he said he was afraid that when the dragon waked, the boy would have a poor chance.

'Now the State of Sung is deeper than a deep river, and the prince of Sung is fiercer than a dragon. To get these chariots, you must have caught him asleep. And when he wakes, you will be ground to powder.'

Some prince having invited Chuang Tzu to enter his service, Chuang Tzu said in reply to the envoy, 'Sir, have you ever noticed a sacrificial ox? It is bedecked with ribbons and fares sumptuously. But when it comes to be slaughtered for the temple, would it not gladly exchange places with some neglected calf?'

When Chuang Tzu was about to die, his disciples expressed a wish to give him a splendid funeral. But Chuang Tzu said, 'With Heaven and Earth for my coffin and shell; with the sun, moon and stars as my burial regalia; and with all creation to escort me to the grave, are not my funeral paraphernalia ready to hand?'

'We fear', argued the disciples, 'lest the carrion kite should eat the body of our Master'; to which Chuang Tzu replied, 'Above ground I shall be food for kites; below I shall be food for mole-crickets and ants. Why rob one to feed the other?

'If you adopt, as absolute, a standard of evenness which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely even. If you adopt, as absolute, a criterion of right which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely right. Those who trust to their senses become slaves to objective existences. Those alone who are guided by their intuitions find the true standard. So far are the senes less reliable than the intuitions. Yet fools trust to their senses to know what is good for mankind, with alas! but external results.'

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


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