The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 7. Argument: Princes should reign, not rule. Rulers find their standards of right in themselves. They thus coerce their people into obeying artificial laws, instead of leaving them to obey natural laws. By action they accomplish nothing. By inaction there is nothing which they would not accomplish. Individuals think they know what the empire wants. In reality it is the empire itself which knows best. *

Ye Ch'ueh asked Wang I four questions, none of which he could answer. Thereat the former was greatly delighted, and went off and told P'u Tzu.

'Have you only just found that out?' said P'u I Tzu. 'The Emperor Shun was not equal to T'ai Huang. Shun was all for charity in his zeal for mankind; but although he succeeded in government, he himself never rose about the level of artificiality. Now T'ai Huang was peaceful when asleep and inactive when awake. At one time he would think himself a horse; at another, an ox. His wisdom was substantial and above suspicion. His virtue was genuine indeed. And yet he never sank to the level of artificality.'

Chien Wu meeting the eccentric Chieh Yü, the latter enquired, saying, 'What did Jih Chung Shih teach you?'

'He taught me', replied Chien Wu, 'about the laws and regulations which princes evolve, and which he said none would venture not to hear and obey'.

'That is a false teaching indeed', replied Chieh Y¨ü. 'To attempt to govern mankind thus, as well try to wade through the sea, to hew a passage through a river, or make a mosquito fly away with a mountain!'

'The government of the truly wise man has no concern with externals. He first perfects himself, and then by virtue thereof he is enabled to accomplish what he wants.

'The bird flies high to avoid snare and dart. The mouse burrows down below the hill to avoid being smoked or cut out of its nest. Is your wit below that of these two creatures?'

T'ien Ken was travelling on the south of the Yin mountain. He had reached the river Liao when he met a certain Sage to whom he said, 'I beg to ask about the government of the empire'.

'Begone!' cried the Sage. 'You are a low fellow, and your question is ill-timed. God has just turned me out a man. That is enough for me. Borne on light pinions I can soar beyond the cardinal points, to the land of nowhere, in the domain of nothingness. And you come to worry me with government of the empire!'

But T'ien Ken enquired a second time, and the Sage replied, 'Resolve your mental energy into abstraction, your physical energy into action. Allow yourself to fall in with the natural order of phenomena, without admitting the element of self, ‹ and the empire will be governed.'

Yang Tzu Chü went to see Lao Tzu, and said, 'Suppose a man were ardent and courageous, acquainted with the order and principles of things, and untiring in the pursuit of Tao ‹ would he be accounted a wise ruler?'

'From the point of view of a truly wise man', replied Lao Tzu, 'such a one would be a mere handicraftsman, wearing out body and mind alike. The tiger and the pard suffer from the beauty of their skins. The cleverness of the monkey, the tractability of the ox, bring them both to the tether. It is not on such grounds that a ruler may be accounted wise.'

'But in what, then', cried Yang Tzu Chü, 'does the government of a wise man consist?'

'The goodness of a wise ruler', answered Lao Tzu, 'covers the whole empire, yet he himself seems to know it not. It influences all creation, yet none is conscious thereof. It appears under countless forms, bringing joy to all things. It is based upon the baseless, and travels through the realms of Nowhere.'

In the State of Cheng there was a wonderful magician, named Chi Han. He knew all about birth and death, gain and loss, misfortune and happiness, long life and short life, ‹ predicting events to a day with supernatural accuracy. The people of Cheng used to flee at his approach; but Lieh Tzu went to see him, and became so infatuated that on his return he said to Hu Tzu, 'I used to look upon your Tao as perfect. Now I know something more perfect still.'

'So far', replied Hu Tzu, 'I have only taught you the ornamentals, not the essentials, of Tao; and yet you think you know all about it. Without cocks in your poultry-yard, what sort of eggs do you lay? If you go about trying to force Tao down people's throats, you will be simply exposing yourself. Bring your friend with you, and let me show myself to him.'

So next day Lieh Tzu went with Chi Han to see Hu Tzu, and when they came out Chi Han said, 'Alas! your teacher is doomed. He cannot live. I hardly give him ten days. I am astonished at him. He is but wet ashes.'

Lieh Tzu went in and wept bitterly, and told Hu Tzu; but the latter said, 'I showed myself to him just now as the earth shows us its outward form, motionless and still, while production is all the time going on. I merely prevented him from seeing my pent-up energy within. Bring him again.'

Next day the interview took place as before; but as they were leaving Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu, 'It is lucky for your teacher that he met me. He is better. He will recover. I saw he had recuperative power.'

Lieh Tzu went in and told Hu Tzu; whereupon the latter replied, 'I showed myself to him just now as heaven shows itself in all its dispassionate grandeur, letting a little energy run out of my heels. He was thus able to detect that I had some. Bring him here again.'

Next day a third interview took place, and as they were leaving, Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu, 'Your teacher is never one day like another. I can tell nothing from his physiognomy. Get him to be regular, and I will then examine him again.'

This being repeated to Hu Tzu as before, the latter said, 'I showed myself to him just now in a state of harmonious equilibrium. Where the whale disports itself, ‹ is the abyss. Where water is at rest, is the abyss. Where water is in motion, ‹ is the abyss. The abyss has nine names. These are three of them.'

Next day the two went once more to see Hu Tzu; but Chi Han was unable to stand still, and in his confusion turned and fled.

'Pursue him!' cried Hu Tzu; whereupon Lieh Tzu ran after him, but could not overtake him, so he returned and told Hu Tzu that the fugitive had disappeared.

'I showed myself to him just now', said Hu Tzu, 'as Tao appeared before time was. I was to him as a great blank, existing of itself. He knew not who I was. His face fell. He became confused. And so he fled.'

Upon this Lieh Tzu stood convinced that he had not yet acquired any real knowledge, and at once set to work in earnest, passing three years without leaving the house. He helped his wife to cook the family dinner, and fed his pigs just like human beings. He discarded the artificial and reverted to the natural. He became merely a shape. Amidst confusion, he was unconfounded. And so he continued to the end.

By Inaction, fame comes as the spirits of the dead come to the boy who impersonates the corpse. By Inaction, one can become the centre of thought, the focus of responsibility, the arbiter of wisdom. Full allowance must be made for others, while remaining unmoved oneself. There must be a thorough compliance with divine principles, without any manifestation thereof. All of which may be summed up in the one word passivity. For the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing: it refuses nothing. It receives, but does not keep. And thus he can triumph over matter, without injury to himself.

The ruler of the southern sea was called Shu. The ruler of the northern sea was called Hu. The ruler of the central zone was called Hun Tun. Shu and Hu often met on Hun Tun's territory, and being always well treated by him, determined to repay his kindess.

They said, 'All men have seven holes, for seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing. Hun Tun alone has none. We will bore some for him.'

So every day they bored one hole; but on the seventh day Hun Tun died.

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


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