The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 6. Argument: The human and the divine. The pure men of old. Their qualifications. Their self-abstraction. All things as ONE. The known and the unknown. Life a boon. Death a transiton. Life eternal open to all. The way there.*

He who knows what God is, and who knows what Man is, has attained. Knowing what God is, he knows that he himself proceeded therefrom. Knowing what Man is, he rests in the knowledge of the known, waiting for the knowledge of the unknown. Working out one's allotted span, and not perishing in mid career, ‹ this is the fullness of knowledge.

Herein, however, there is a flaw. Knowledge is dependent upon fulfilment. And as this fulfilment is uncertain, how can it be known that my divine is not really human, my human really divine? We must have pure men, and then only can we have pure knowledge.

But what is a pure man? The pure men of old acted without calculation, not seeking to secure results. They laid no plans. Therefore, failing, they had no cause for regret; succeeding, no cause for congratulation. And thus they could scale heights without fear; enter water without becoming wet; fire, without feeling hot. So far had their wisdom advanced towards Tao.

The pure men of old slept without dreams, and waked without anxiety. They ate without discrimination, breathing deep breaths. For pure men draw breath from their uttermost depths; the vulgar only from their throats. Out of the crooked, words are retched up like vomit. If men's passions are deep, their divinity is shallow.

The pure men of old did not know what it was to love life or to hate death. They did not rejoice in birth, nor strive to put off dissolution. Quickly come, and quickly go; no more. They did not forget whence it was they had sprung, neither did they seek to hasten their return thither. Cheerfully they played their allotted parts, waiting patiently for the end. This is what is called not to lead the heart astray from Tao, nor to let the human seek to supplement the divine. And this is what is meant by a pure man.

Such men are in mind absolutely free; in demeanour, grave; in expression, cheerful. If it is freezing cold, it seems to them like autumn; if blazing hot, like spring. Their passions occur like the four seasons. They are in harmony with all creation, and none know the limit thereof. And so it is that a perfect man can destroy a kingdom and yet not lose the hearts of the people, while the benefits he hands down to ten thousand generations do not proceed from love of his fellow-man.

He who delights in man, is himself not a perfect man. His affection is not true charity. Depending upon opportunity, he has not true worth.

He who is not conversant with both good and evil is not a superior man. He who disregards his reputation is not what a man should be. He who is not absolutely oblivious of his own existence can never be a ruler of men.

Thus Hu Pu Hsieh, Wu Kuang, Poh I, Shu Ch'i, Chi Tsu, Hsü Yü, Chi T'o, and Shen T'u Ti, were the servants of rulers, and did the behests of others, not their own.

The pure men of old did their duty to their neighbours, but did not associate with them. They behaved as though wanting in themselves, but without flattering others. Naturally rectangular, they were not uncompromisingly hard. They manifested their independence without going to extremes. They appeared to smile as if pleased, when the expression was only a natural response. Their outward semblance derived its fascination from the store of goodness within. They seemed to be of the world around them, while proudly treading beyond its limits. They seemed to desire silence, while in truth they had dispensed with language. They saw in penal laws a trunk; in social ceremonies, wings; in wisdom, a useful accessory; in morality, a guide. For them penal laws meant a merciful administration; social ceremonies, a passport through the world; wisdom, an excuse for doing what they could not help; and morality, walking like others upon the path. And thus all men praised them for the worthy lives they led.

For what they cared for could be reduced to ONE, and what they did not care for to ONE also. That which was ONE was ONE, and that which was not ONE was likewise ONE. In that which was ONE, they were of God; in that which was not ONE, they were of Man. And so between the human and the divine no conflict ensued. This was to be a pure man.

Life and Death belong to Destiny. Their sequence, like day and night, is of God, beyond the interference of man, an inevitable law.

A man looks upon God as upon his father, and loves him in like measure. Shall he then not love that which is greater than God? A man looks upon a ruler of men as upon some one better than himself, for whom he would sacrifice his life. Shall he not then do so for the Supreme Ruler of Creation?

When the pond dries up, and the fishes are left upon dry ground, to moisten them with the breath or to damp them with spittle is not to be compared with leaving them in the first instance in their native rivers and lakes. And better than praising Yao and blaming Chieh would be leaving them both and attending to the development of Tao.

Nature gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. And surely that which is such a kind arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.

A boat may be hidden in a creek, or in a bog, safe enough. But at midnight a strong man may come and carry away the boat on his back. The dull of vision do not perceive that however you conceal things, small ones in larger ones, there will always be a chance of losing them. But if you conceal the whole universe in the whole universe, there will be no place left wherein it may be lost. The laws of matter make this to be so.

To have attained to the human form must be always a source of joy. And then, to undergo countless transitions, with only the infinite to look forward to, what incomparable bliss is that! Therefore it is that the truly wise rejoice in that which can never be lost, but endures always. For if we can accept early death, old age, a beginning, and an end, why not that which informs all creation and is of all phenomena the Ultimate Cause?

Tao has its laws, and its evidences. It is devoid both of action and of form. It may be transmitted, but cannot be received. It may be obtained, but cannot be seen. Before heaven and earth were, Tao was. It has existed without change from all time. Spiritual beings drew their spirituality therefrom, while the universe became what we can see it now. To Tao, the zenith is not high, nor the nadir low; no point in time is long ago, nor by lapse of ages has it grown old.

Hsi Wei obtained Tao, and so set the universe in order. Fu Hsi obtained it, and was able to establish eternal principles. The Great Bear obtained it, and has never erred from its course. The sun and moon obtained it, and have never ceased to revolve. K'an P'i obtained it, and established the K'un-lun mountains. P'ing I obtained it, and rules over the streams. Chien Wu obtained it, and dwells on Mount T'ai. The Yellow Emperor obtained it, and soared upon the clouds to heaven. Chuan Hsü obtained it, and dwells in the Dark Palace. Yü Chang obtained it, and fixed himself at the North Pole. Hsi Wang Mu obtained it, and settled at Shao Kuang; since when, no one knows; until when, no one knows either. P'eng Tsu obtained it, and lived from the time of Shun until the time of the Five Princes. Fu Yüeh obtained it, and as the Minister of Wu Ting got the empire under his control. And now, charioted upon one constellation and drawn by another, he has been enrolled among the stars of heaven.

Nan Po Tzu K'uei said to Nü Yü, 'You are old, Sir, and yet your complexion is like that of a child. How is this?'

Nü Yü replied, 'I have learnt Tao'.

'Could I get Tao by studying it?' asked the other.

'I fear not', said Nü Yü. 'You are not the sort of man. There was Pu Liang I. He had all the qualifications of a sage, but not Tao. Now I had Tao, though none of the qualifications. But do you imagine that much as I wished it I was able to teach Tao to him so that he should be a perfect sage? Had it been so, then to teach Tao to one who has the qualifications of a sage would be an easy matter. No, Sir. I imparted as though withholding; and in three days, for him, this sublunary state had ceased to exist. When he had attained to this, I withheld again; and in seven days more, for him, the external world had ceased to be. And so again for another nine days, when he became unconscious of his own existence. He became first etherealized, next possessed of perfect wisdom, then without past or present, and finally able to enter there where life and death are no more, ‹ where killing does not take away life, nor does prolongation of life add to the duration of existence. In that state, he is ever in accord with the exigencies of the environment; and this is to be Battered but not Bruised. And he who can be thus battered but not bruised is on the way to perfection.'

'And how did you manage to get hold of all this?' asked Nan Po Tzu K'uei.

'I got it from books', replied Nü Yü; 'and the books got it from learning, and learning from investigation, and investigation from co-ordination, and co-ordination from application, and application from desire to know, and desire to know from the unknown, and the unknown from the great void, and the great void from infinity!'

Four men were conversing together, when the following resolution was suggested: 'Whosoever can make Inaction the head, Life the backbone, and Death the tail, of his existence, that man shall be admitted to friendship with us.' The four looked at each other and smiled; and tacitly accepting the conditons, became friends forthwith.

By and by, one of them, named Tzu Yü, fell ill, and another, Tzu Ssu, went to see him. 'Verily God is great!' said the sick man. 'See how he has doubled me up. My back is so hunched that my viscera are at the top of my body. My cheeks are level with my navel. My shoulders are higher than my neck. My hair grows up towards the sky. The whole economy of my organism is deranged. Nevertheless, my mental equilibrium is not disturbed. So saying, he dragged himself painfully to a well, where he could see himself, and continued, 'Alas, that God should have doubled me up like this!'

'Are you afraid?' asked Tzu Ssu.

'I am not', replied Tzu Yü. 'What have I to fear? Ere long I shall be decomposed. My left shoulder will become a cock, and I shall herald the approach of morn. My right shoulder will become a cross-bow, and I shall be able to get broiled duck. My buttocks will become wheels; and with my soul for a horse, I shall be able to ride in my own chariot. I obtained life because it was my time: I am now parting with it in accordance with the same law. Content with the natural sequence of these states, joy and sorrow teach me not. I am simply, as the ancients expressed it, hanging in the air, unable to cut myself down, bound with the trammels of material existence. But man has ever given way before God: why, then, should I be afraid?'

By and by, another of the four, named Tzu Lai, fell ill, and lay gasping for breath, while his family stood weeping around. The fourth friend Tzu Li, went to see him. 'Chut!' cried he to the wife and children; 'begone! you balk his decomposition?' Then, leading against the door, he said,

'Verily, God is great! I wonder what he will make of you now. I wonder whither you will be sent. Do you think he will make you into a rat or into the shoulders of a snake?'

'A son', answered Tzu Lai, 'must go whithersoever his parents bid him. Nature is no other than a man's parents. If she bid me die quickly, and I demur, then I am an unfilial son. She can do me no wrong. Tao gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. And surely that which is sure a kind arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.

'Suppose that the boiling metal in a smelting-pot were to bubble up and say, "Make of me an Excalibur"; I think the caster would reject that metal as uncanny. And if a sinner like myself were to say to God, "Make of me a man, make of me a man"; I think he too would reject me as uncanny. The universe is the smelting-pot, and god is the caster. I shall go whithersoever I am sent, to wake unsconscious of the past, as a man wakes from a dreamless sleep.'

Tzu Sang Hu, Meng Tzu Fan, and Tzu Ch'in Chang, were conversing together, when it was asked, 'Who can be, and yet not be? Who can do, and yet not do? Who can mount to heaven, and roaming through the clouds, pass beyond the limits of space, oblivious of existence, for ever and ever without end?'

The three looked at each other and smiled; and as neither had any misgivings, they became friends accordingly.

Shortly afterwards Tzu Sang Hu died; whereupon Confucius sent Tzu Kung to take part in the mourning. But Tzu Kung found that one had composed a song which the other was accompanying of the psaltery, as follows:

Ah! come back to us, Sang Hu,

Ah! come back to us, Sang Hu.

Thou hast already returned to thy true state,

While we still remain here as men, alas!

Tzu Kung hurried in and said, 'How can you sing alongside of a corpse? Is this decorum?'

The two men looked at each other and laughed, saying, 'What should this man know of decorum indeed?'

Tzu Kung went back and told Confucius, asking him 'What manner of men are these? Their object is nothingness and a separation from their corporeal frames. They can sit near a corpse and yet sing, unmoved. There is no class for such. What are they?'

'These men', replied Confucius, 'travel beyond the rule of life. I travel within it. Consequently, our paths do not meet; and I was wrong in sending you to mourn. They consider themselves as one with God, recognizing no distinctions between human and divine. They look on life as a huge tumour from which death sets them free. All the same they know not where they were before birth, nor where they will be after death. Though admitting different elements, they take their stand upon the unity of all things. They ignore their passions. They take no count of their ears and eyes. Backwards and forwards through all eternity, they do not admit a beginning or end. They stroll beyond the dust and dirt of mortality, to wander in the realms of inaction. How should such men trouble themselves with the conventionalities of this world, or care what people may think of them?'

'But if such is the case', said Tzu Kung, 'why should we stick to the rule?'

'God has condemned me to this', replied Confucius. 'Neverthless, you and I may perhaps escape from it.'

'By what method?' asked Tzu Kung.

'Fishes', replied Confucius, 'are born in water. Man is born in Tao. If fishes get ponds to live, they thrive. If man gets Tao to live in, he may live his life in peace. Hence the saying, "All that a fish wants is water! all that a man wants is Tao".'

'May I ask', said Tzu Kung, 'about divine men?'

'Divine men', replied Confucius, 'are divine to man, but ordinary to God. Hence the saying that the meanest being in heaven would be the best on earth; and the best on earth, the meanest in heaven.;

Yen Hui said to Confucius, 'When Meng Sun Ts'ai's mother died, he wept, but without sniveling; he grieved but his grief was not heartfelt; he wore mourning but without howling. Yet although wanting in these three points, he is considered the best mourner in the State of Lu. Surely this is the name and not the reality. I am astonished at it.'

'Meng Sun', said Confucius, 'did all that was required. He made an advance towards wisdom. He could not do less; while all the time actually doing less.

'Meng Sun knows not whence we come nor whither we go. He knows not whether the end will come early or late. Passing into life as a man, he quietly awaits his passage into the unknown. What should the dead know of the living, or the living know of the dead? Even you and I may be in a dream from which we have not yet awaked.

'Then again, he adapts himself physically, while avoiding injury to his higher self. He regards a dying man simply as one who is going home. He sees others weep, and he naturally weeps too.

'Besides, a man's personality is something of which he is subjectively conscious. It is impossible for him to say if he is really that which he is conscious of being. You dream you are a bird, and soar to heaven. You dream you are a fish, and dive into the ocean's depths. And you cannot tell whether the man now speaking is awake or in a dream.

'A pleasurable sensation precedes the smile it evokes. The smile itself is not dependent upon a reminding nudge. Resign yourself, unconscius of all changes, and you shall enter into the pure, the divine, the ONE.'

I Erh Tzu went to see Hsü Yü. The latter asked him, saying, 'How has Yao benefited you?'

'He bade me', replied the former, 'practise charity and do my duty, and distinguish clearly between right and wrong'.

'Then what do you want here?' said Hsü Yu. 'If Yao has already branded you with charity of heart and duty, and cut off your nose with right and wrong, what do you do in this free-and-easy, care-for-nobody, topsy-turvy neighbourhood?'

'Nevertheless', replied I Erh Tzu, 'I should like to be on its confines'.

'If a man has lost his eyes', retored Hsü Yu, 'it is impossible for him to join in the appreciation of beauty. A man with a film over his eyes cannot tell a blue sacrificial robe from a yellow one.'

'Wu Chuang's disregard of her beauty', answered I Erh Tzu, 'Chu Liang's disregard of his strength, the Yellow Emperor's abandonment of wisdom, ‹ all these were brought about by a process of filing and hammering. And how do you know but that God would rid me of my brands, and give me a new nose, and make me fit to become a disciple of yourself?'

'Ah! replied Hsü Yu, 'that cannot be known. But I will just give you an outline. The Master I serve succours all things, and does not account it duty. He continues his blessings through countless generations, and does not account it charity. Dating back to the remotest antiquity, he does not account himself old. Covering heaven, supporting earth, and fashioning the various forms of things, he does not account himself skilled. He it is whom you should seek.'

'I am getting on', observed Yen Hui to Confucius.

'How so?' asked the latter.

'I have got rid of charity and duty', replied the former.

'Very good', replied Confucius,' but not perfect'.

Another day Yen Hui met Confucius and said, 'I am getting on'.

'How so?' asked Confucius.

'I have got rid of ceremonial and music', answered Yen Hui.

'Very good', said Confucius, 'but not perfect'.

On a third occasion Yen Hui met Confucius and said, 'I am getting on'.

'How so?' asked the Sage.

'I have got rid of everything', replied Yen Hui.

'Got rid of everything!' said Confucius eagerly. 'What do you mean by that?'

'I have freed myself from my body', answered Yen Hui. 'I have discarded my reasoning powers. And by thus getting rid of body and mind, I have become ONE with the Infinite. This is what I mean by getting rid of everything.'

'If you have become ONE', cried Confucius, 'there can be no room for bias. If you have passed into space, you are indeed without beginning or end. And if you have really attained to this, I trust to be allowed to follow in your steps.'

Tzu Yü and Tzu Sang were friends. Once when it had rained for ten days, Tzu Yü said, 'Tzu Sang is dangerously ill'. So he packed up some food and went to see him. Arriving at the door, he heard something between singing and lamentation, accompanied with the sound of music, as follows:

'O Father! O Mother! O Heaven! O Man!

These words seemed to be uttered with a great effort; whereupon Tzu Yü went in and asked what it all meant.

'I was trying to think who could have brought me to this extreme', replied Tzu Sang, 'but I could not guess. My father and mother would hardly wish me to be poor. Heaven covers all equally. Earth suports all equally. How can they make me in particular poor? I was seeking to know who it was, but without success. Surely then I am brought to this extreme by Destiny.'

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


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