The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 4. Argument: People must fall in with their mortal environment. Virtue should be passive, not active. One should be rather than do. Talent is a hindrance. But of petty uselessness great usefulness is achieved.*

Yen Hui went to take leave of Confucius.

'Whither are you bound?' asked the Master.

'I am going to the State of Wei', was the reply.

'And what do you propose to do there?' continued Confucius.

'I hear', answered Yen Hui, 'that the Prince of Wei is of mature age, but of an unmanageable disposition. He behaves as if the State were of no account, and will not see his own faults. Consequently, the people perish; and their corpses lie about like so much undergrowth in a marsh. They are at extremities. And I have heard you, Sir, say that if a State is well governed, it may be neglected; but that if it is badly governed, then we should visit it. The science of medicine embraces many various diseases. I would test my knowledge in this sense, that perchance I may do some good to that State.'

'Alas!' cried Confucius, 'you will only succeed in bringing evil upon yourself. For Tao must not be distributed. If it is, it will lose its unity. If it loses its unity, it will be uncertain; and so cause mental disturbance, from which there is no escape.

'The sages of old first got Tao for themselves, and then got it for others. Before you possess this yourself, what leisure have you to attend to the doings of wicked men? Besides, do you know what Virtue results in and where Wisdom ends? Virtue results in a desire for fame; Wisdom ends in contentions. In the struggle for fame men crush each other, while their wisdom but provokes rivalry. Both are baleful instruments, and may not be incautiously used.

'Besides, those who, before influencing by their own solid virtue and unimpeachable sincerity, and before reaching the heart by the example of their own disregard for name and fame, go and preach charity and duty to one's neighbour to wicked men, ‹ only make these men hate them for their very goodness' sake. Such persons are called evil speakers. And those who speak evil of others are apt to be evil spoken of themselves. That, alas! will be your end.

'On the other hand, if the Prince loves the good and hates the bad, what object will you have in inviting him to change his ways? Before you have opened your mouth to preach, the Prince himself will have seized the opportunity to wrest the victory from you. Your eye will fall, your expression fade, your words will stick, your face will change, and your heart will die within you. It will be as though you took fire to quell fire, water to quell water, which is popularly known as "pouring oil on the flames". And if you begin with concessions, there will be no end to them. Neglect this sound advice, and you will be the victim of that violent man.

'Of old, Chieh murdered Kuan Lung Feng, and Chou slew Prince Pi Kan. Their victims were both men who cultivated virtue themselves in order to secure the welfare of the people. But in doing this they offended their superiors; and therefore, because of that very moral culture, their superiors got rid of them, in order to guard their own reputations.

'Of old, Yao attacked the Ts'ung-chuh and Hsü-ao countries, and Yü attacked the Yu-hu country. Homes were desolated and families destroyed by the slaughter of the inhabitants. Yet they fought without ceasing, and strove for victory to the last. These are instances known to all. Now if the Sages of old failed in their efforts against this love of fame, this desire for victory, ‹ are you likely to succeed? But of course you have a scheme. Tell it to me.'

'Gravity of demeanour', replied Yen Hui, 'and dispassionateness; energy and singleness of purpose, ‹ will this do?"

'Alas!' said Confucius, 'that will not do. If you make a show of being perfect and obtrude yourself, the Prince's mood will be doubtful. Ordinarily, he is not opposed, and so he had come to take actual pleasure in trampling upon the feelings of others. And if he has thus failed in the practice of routine virtues, do you expect that he will take readily to higher ones? You may insist, but without result. Outwardly you will be right, but inwardly wrong. How then will you make him mend his ways?'

'Just so', replied Yen Hui. 'I am inwardly straight, and outwardly crooked, completed after the models of antiquity.

'He who is inwardly straight is a servant of God. And he who is a servant of God knows that the Son of Heaven and himself are equally the children of God. Shall then such a one trouble whether man visits him with evil or with good? Man indeed regards him as a child; and this is to be a servant of God.

'He who is outwardly crooked is a servant of man. He bows, he kneels, he folds his hands; ‹ such is the ceremonial of a minister. What all men do, shall I dare not to do? What all men do, none will blame me for doing. This is to be a servant of man.

'He who is completed after the models of antiquity is a servant of the Sages of old. Although I utter the words of warning and take him to task, it is the Sages of old who speak, and not I. Thus my uprightness will not bring me into trouble, the servant of the Sages of old. 'Will this do?'

'Alas!' replied Confucius, 'No. Your plans are too many and are lacking in prudence. However, your firmness will secure you from harm; but that is all. You will not influence him to such an extent that he shall deem to follow the dictates of his own heart.'

'Then', said Yen Hui, "I am without resource, and venture to ask for a method.'

Confucius said, 'FAST ... Let me explain. You have a method, but it is difficult to practise. Those which are easy are not from God.'

'Well', replied Yen Hui, 'my family is poor, and for many months we have tasted neither wine nor flesh. Is not that fasting?'

'The fasting of religious observance it is', answered Confucius, 'but not the fasting of the heart.'

'And may I ask', said Yen Hui, 'in what consists the fasting of the heart?'

'Cultivate unity', replied Confucius. 'You hear not with the ears, but with the mind; not with the mind, but with your soul. But let hearing stop with the ears. Let the working of the mind stop with itself. Then the soul will be a negative existence, passively responsive to externals. In such a negative existence, only Tao can abide. And that negative state is the fasting of the heart.'

'Then', said Yen Hui, 'the reason I could not get the use of this method is my own individuality. If I could get the use of it, my individuality would have gone. Is this what you mean by the negative state?'

'Exactly so', replied the Master. 'Let me tell you. If you can enter this man's domain without offending his amour propre, cheerful if he hears you, passive if he does not; without science, without drugs, simply living there in a state of complete indifference, you will be near success. It is easy to stop walking: the trouble is to walk without touching the ground. As an agent of man, it is easy to deceive; but not as an agent of God. You have heard of winged creatures flying. You have never heard of flying without wings. You have heard of men being wise with wisdom. You have never heard of men wise without wisdom.

'Look at that window. Through it an empty room becomes bright with scenery; but the landscape stops outside. Were this not so, we should have an exemplification of sitting still and running away at one and the same time.

'In this sense, you may use your ears and eyes to communicate within, but shut out all wisdom from the mind. And there where the supernatural can find shelter, shall not man find shelter too? This is the method for regenerating all creation. It was the instrument which Yü and Shun employed. It was the secret of the success of Fu Hsi and Chi Chü. Shall it not then be adopted by mankind in general?'

Tzu Kao, Duke of She, being about to go on a mission to the Ch'i State, asked Confucius, saying, 'The mission my sovereign is sending me on is a most important one. Of course, I shall be received with all due respect, but they will not take the same interest in the matter that I shall. And as an ordinary person cannot be pushed, still less a Prince, I am in a state of great alarm.

'Now you, Sir, have told me that in all undertakings great and small, Tao alone leads to a happy issue. Otherwise that, failing success, there is to be feared punishment from without, and with success, punishment from within; while exemption in case either of success or non-success falls only to the share of those who possess the virtue required.

'Well, I am not dainty with my food; neither am I always wanting to cool myself when hot. However, this morning I received my orders, and this evening I have been drinking iced water. I am so hot inside. Before I have put my hand to the business I am suffering punishment from within; and if I do not succeed I am sure to suffer punishment from without. Thus I get both punishments, which is really more than I can bear. Kindly tell me what there is to be done.'

'There exist two sources of safety', Confucius replied. 'One is Destiny: the other is Duty. A child's love for its parents is destiny. It is inseparable from the child's life. A subject's allegiance to his sovereign is duty. Beneath the canopy of heaven there is no place to which he can escape from it. These two sources of safety may be explained as follows. To serve one's parents withut reference to place but only to the service, is the acme of filial piety. To serve one's prince without reference to the act but only to the service, is the perfection of a subject's loyalty. To serve one's own heart so as to permit neither joy nor sorrow within, but to cultivate resignation to the inevitable, ‹ this is the climax of Virtue.

'Now a minister often finds himself in circumstances over which he has no control. But if he simply confines himself to his work, and is utterly oblivious of self, what leisure has he for loving life or hating death? And so you may safely go.

'But I have yet more to tell you. All intercourse, if personal, should be characterized by sincerity. If from a distance, it should be carried on in loyal terms. These terms will have to be transmitted by some one. Now the transmission of messages of good- or ill-will is hardest thing possible. Messages of good-will are sure to be overdone with fine phrases; messages of ill-will with harsh ones. In each case the result is exaggeration, and a consequent failure to carry conviction, for which the envoy suffers. Therefore it was said in the Fa-yen, "Confine yourself to simple statements of fact, shorn of all superfluous expression of feeling, and your risk will be small."

'In trials of skill, at first all is friendliness; but at last it is all antagonism. Skill is pushed too far. So on festive occasions, the drinking which is in the beginning orderly enough, degenerates into riot and disorder. Festivity is pushed too far. It is in fact the same with all things: they begin with good faith and end with contempt. From small beginnings come great endings.

'Speech is like wind to wave. Action is liable to divergence from its true goal. By wind, waves are easily excited. Divergence from the true goal is fraught with danger. Thus angry feelings rise up without a cause. Specious words and dishonest arguments follow, as the wild random cries of an animal at the point of death. Both sides give way to passion. For where one party drives the other too much into a corner, resistance will always be provoked without apparent cause. And if the cause is not apparent, how much less will the ultimate effect be so?

'Therefore it is said in the Fa-yen, "Neither deviate from nor travel beyond your instructions. To pass the limit is to go to excess."

'To deviate from, or to travel beyond instructions, may imperil the negotiation. A settlement to be successful must be lasting. It is too late to change an evil settlement once made.

'Therefore let yourself be carried along without fear, taking refuge in no alternative to preserve you from harm on either side. This is the utmost you can do. What need for considering your obligations? Better leave all to Destiny, difficult as this may be.' Yen Ho was about to become tutor to the eldest son of Duke Ling of the Wei State. Accordingly he observed to Chü Poh Yü,

'Here is a man whose disposition is naturally of a low order. To let him take his own unprincipled way is to endanger the State. To try to restrain him is to endanger one's personal safety. He has just wit enough to see faults in others, but not to see his own. I am consequently at a loss what to do.'

'A good question indeed', replied Chü Poh Yü, 'You must be careful, and begin by self-reformation. Outwardly you may adapt yourself, but inwardly you must keep up to your own standard. In this there are two points to be guarded against. You must not let the outward adaptation penetrate within, nor the inward standard manifest itself without. In the former case, you will fall, you will be obliterated, you will collapse, you lie prostrate. In the latter case, you will be a sound, a name, a bogie, an uncanny thing. If he would play the child, do you play the child too. If he cast aside all sense of decorum, do you do so too. As far as he goes, do you go also. Thus you will reach him without offending him.

'Don't you know the story of the praying mantis? In its rage it stretched out its arms to prevent a chariot from passing, unaware that this was beyond its strength, so admirable was its energy! Be cautious. If you are always offending others by your superiority, you will probably come to grief.

'Do you not know that those who keep tigers do not venture to give them live animals as food, for fear of exciting their fury when killing the prey? Also, that whole animals are not given, for fear of exciting the tigers' fury when rending them? The periods of hunger and repletion are carefully watched in order to prevent such outbursts. The tiger is of a different species from man; but the latter too is manageable if properly managed, unmanageable if excited to fury.

'Those who are fond of horses surround them with various conveniences. Sometimes mosquitoes or flies trouble them; and then, unexpectly to the animal, a groom will brush them off, the result being that the horse breaks his bridle, and hurts his head and chest. The intention is good, but there is a want of real care for the horse. Against this you must be on your guard.'

A certain artisan was traveling to the Ch'i State. On reaching Ch'ü-yüan, he saw a sacred li tree, large enough to hide an ox behind it, a hundred spans in girth, towering up ten cubits over the hill top, and carrying behind it branches, many tens of the smallest of which were of a size for boats. Crowds stood gazing at it, but our artisan took no notice, and went on his way without even casting a look behind. His apprentice however gazed his fill, and when he caught up his master, said, 'Ever since I have handled an adze in your service, I have never seen such a splendid piece of timber as that. How was it that you, sir, did not care to stop and look at it?'

'It's not worth talking about', replied his master. 'It's good for nothing. Make a boat of it, ‹ 'twould sink. A coffin, 'twould rot. Furniture, 'twould be worm-eaten. It is wood of no quality, and of no use. That is why it has attained its present age.'

When the artisan reached home, he dreamt that the tree appeared to him in a dream and spoke as follows: 'What is it that you compare me with? Is it with the more elegant trees? ‹ The cherry-apple, the pear, the orange, the pumelo, and other fruit-bearers, as soon as their fruit ripens are stripped and treated with indignity. The great boughs are snapped off, the small ones scattered abroad. Thus do these trees by their own value injure their own lives. They cannot fulfil their allotted span of years, but perish prematurely in mid-career from their entanglement with the world around them. Thus it is with all things. For a long period my aim was to be useless. Many times I was in danger, but at length I succeeded, and so became useful as I am today. But had I then been of use, I should not now be of the great use I am. Moreover, you and I belong both to the same category of things. Have done then with this criticism of others. Is a good-for-nothing fellow whose dangers are not yet passed a fit person to talk of a good-for-nothing tree?'

When the artisan awaked and told his dream, his apprentice said, 'If the tree aimed at uselessness, how was it that it became a sacred tree?'

'What you don't understand', replied his master, 'don't talk about. That was merely to escape from the attacks of its enemies. Had it not become sacred, how many would have wanted to cut it down! The means of safety adopted were different from ordinary means, and to test these by ordinary canons leaves one far wide of the mark,'

Tzu Ch'i of Nan-poh was travelling on the Shang mountain when he saw a large tree which astonished him very much. A thousand chariot teams could have found shelter under its shade.

'What tree is this?' cried Tzu Ch'io. 'Surely it must have unusually fine timber.' Then looking up, he saw that its branches were too crooked for rafters; while as to the trunk he saw that its irregular grain made it valueless for coffins. He tasted a leaf, but it took the skin off his lips; and its odour was so strong that it would make a man as it were drunk for three days together.

'Ah!' cried Tzu Ch'i. 'This tree is good for nothing, and that is how it has attained this size. A wise man might well follow its example.'

In the State of Sung there is a place called Ching-shih, where thrive the beech, the cedar, and the mulberry. Such as are of a one-handed span or so in girth are cut down for monkey-cages. Those of two or three two-handed spans are cut down for the beams of fine houses. Those of seven or eight such spans are cut down for the solid sides of rich men's coffins. Thus they do not fulfil their allotted span of years, but perish in mid-career beneath the axe. Such is the misfortune which overtakes worth.

For the sacrifices to the River god, neither bulls with white cheeks, nor pigs with large snouts, nor men suffering from piles, were allowed to be used. This had been revealed to the soothsayers, and these characteristics were consequently regarded as inauspicious. The wise, however, would regard them as extremely auspicious.

There was a hunchback named Su. His jaws touched his navel. His shoulders were higher than his head. His hair knot looked up to the sky. His viscera were upside down. His buttocks were where his ribs should have been. By tailoring, or washing, he was easily able to earn his living. By sifting rice he could make enough to support a family of ten. When orders came down for a conscription, the hunchback stood unconcerned among the crowd. And similarly, in matters of public works, his deformity shielded him from being employed.

On the other hand, when it came to donations of grain, the huncback received as much as three chung, and of firewood, ten faggots. And if physical deformity was thus enough to preserve his body until its allotted end, how much more would not moral and mental deformity avail!

When Confucius was in the Ch'u State, the eccentric Chieh Yü passed his door, saying, 'O phoenix, O phoenix, how has thy virtue fallen! unable to wait for the coming years or to go back into the past. If Tao prevails on earth, prophets will fulfil their mission. If Tao does not prevail, they will but preserve themselves. At the present day they will but just escape.

'The honours of this world are light as feathers, yet none estimate them at their true value. The misfortunes of this life are weighty as the earth itself, yet none can keep out of their reach. No more, no more, seek to influence by virtue. Beware, beware, move cautiously on! O ferns, O ferns, wound not my steps! Through my tortuous journey would not my feet! Hills suffer from the trees they produce. Fat burns by its own combustibility. Cinnamon trees furnish food: therefore they are cut down. The lacquer tree is felled for use. All men know the use of useful things; but they do not know the use of useless things.'

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




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