Chuang Tzu. Chapter 12. Argument: The
pre-eminence of Tao. All things informed thereby. The true Sage
illumined thereby. His attributes. His perfection. Man's senses
Vast as is the universe, its phenomena are regular. Countless
though its contents, the laws which govern these are uniform.
Many though its inhabitants, that which dominates them is sovereignty.
Sovereignty begins in virtue and ends in god. Therefore it is
Of old, the empire was under the sovereignty of inaction. There
was the virtue of God, nothing more.
Words being in accordance with Tao, the sovereignty of the empire
was correct. Delimitations being in accordance with Tao, the duties
of prince and subject were clear. Abilities being in accordance
with Tao, the officials of the empire governed. The point of view
being always in accordance with Tao, all things responded thereto.
Thus, virtue was the connecting link between God and man, while
Tao spread throughout all creation. Men were controlled by outward
circumstances, applying their in-born skill to the development
of civilized life. This skill was bound up with the circumstances
of life, and these with duty, and duty with virtue, and virtue
with Tao, and Tao with God.
Therefore it has been said, 'As for those who nourished the empire
of old, having no desires for themselves, the empire was not in
want. They did nothing, and all things proceeded on their course.
They preserved a dignified repose, and the people rested in peace.'
The Record says, 'By converging to One, all things may be accomplished.
By the virtue which is without intention, even the supernatural
may be subdued.'
The Master said, 'Tao covers and supports all things', so vast
is its extent. Each man should prepare his heart accordingly.
'To act by means of inaction is God. To speak by means of inaction
is exemplification of Tao. To love men and care for things in
charity. To recognize the unlike as the like is breadth of view.
To make no distinctions is liberal. To possess variety is wealth.
And so, to hold fast to virtue is strength. To complete virtue
is establishment. To follow Tao is to be prepared. And not to
run counter to the natural bias of things is to be perfect.
'He who fully realizes these ten points, by storing them within
enlarges his heart, and with this enlargement brings all creation
to himself. Such a man will bury gold on the hill-side and cast
pearls into the sea. He will not struggle for wealth, nor strive
for fame. He will not rejoice at old age, nor grieve over early
death. He will find no pleasure in success, no chagrin in failure.
He will not account a throne as his own private gain, nor the
empire of the world as glory personal to himself. His glory is
to know tha all things are One, and that life and death are but
phases of the same existence!'
The Master said, 'How profound in its repose, how infinite in
its purity, is Tao!
'If metal and stone were without Tao, they would not be capable
of emitting sound. And just as they possess the property of sound
but will not emit sound unless struck, so surely is the same principle
applicable to all creation.
'The man of complete virtue remains blankly passive as regards
what goes on around him. He is as originally by nature, and his
knowledge extends to the supernatural. Thus, his virtue expands
his heart, which goes forth to all who come to take refuge therein.
'Without Tao, form cannot be endued with life. Without virtue,
life cannot be endued with intelligence. To preserve one's form,
live out one's life, establish one's virtue, and realize Tao,
is not this complete virtue?
'Issuing forth spontaneously, moving without premeditation, all
things following in his wake, ‹ such is the man of complete
'He can see where all is dark. He can hear where all is still.
In the darkness he alone can see light. In the stillness he alone
can detect harmony. He can sink to the lowest depths of materialism.
To the highest heights of spirituality he can soar. This because
he stands in due relation to all things. Though a mere abstraction,
he can minister to their wants, and ever and anon receive them
without rest, ‹ the great, the small, the long, the short,
for ever without end.'
The Yellow Emperor travelled to the north of the Red Lake and
ascended the K'un-lun Mountains. Returning south he lost his magic
He employed Intelligence to find it, but without success. He
employed Sight to find it, but without success. He employed Speech
to find it, but without success. Finally, he employed Nothing,
and Nothing got it.
'Strange indeed', quoth the Emperor, 'that Nothing should have
been able to get it!'
Yao's tutor was Hsü Yu. The latter's tutor was Yeh Ch'üeh,
and Yeh Ch'üeh's tutor was Wang I, whose tutor was Pei I.
Yao enquird of Hsü Yu, saying, 'Would Yeh Ch'üeh do
to be emperor? I am going to get Wang I to ask him.'
'Alas!' cried Hsü Yu, 'that would be bad indeed for the
empire. Yeh Ch'üeh is a clever and capable man. He is by
nature better than most men, but he seeks by means of the human
to reach the divine. He strives to do no wrong; but he is ignorant
of the source from which wrong springs, Emperor forsooth! He avails
himself of the artificial and neglects the natural. He lacks unity
in himself. He worships intelligence and is always in a state
of ferment. He is a slave to circumstances and to things. Wherever
he looks, his surroundings respond. He himself responds to his
surroundings. He is always undergoing modifications and is wanting
in fixity. How should such a one be fit for emperor? Still every
clan has its elder. He may be leader of a clan, but not a leader
of leaders. A captain who has been successful in suppressing rebellion,
as minister is a bane, as soveriegn, a thief.'
Yao went to visit Hua. The border-warden of Hua said 'Ha! a Sage.
My best respects to you, Sir. I wish you a long life.'
'Don't!' replied Yao.
'I wish you plenty of money', continued the border-warden.
'Don't!' replied Yao.
'And many sons', added he.
'Don't!' replied Yao.
'Long life, plenty of money, and many sons', cried the warden,
'these are what all men desire. How is it you alone do not want
'Many sons', answered Yao, 'are many anxieties. Plenty of money
means plenty of trouble. Long life involves much that is not pleasant
to put up with. These three gifts do not advance virtue; therefore
I decline them.'
'At first I took you for a Sage', said the warden, 'but now I
find you are a mere man. God, in sending man into the world, gives
to each his proper function. If you have many sons and give to
each his proper function, what cause have you for anxiety?
'And similarly, if you have wealth and allow others to share
it, what troubles will you have?
'The true Sage dwells like the quail and feeds like a fledgeling.
He travels like the bird, leaving no trace behind. If there be
Tao in the empire, he and all things are in harmony. If there
be not Tao, he cultivates virtue in retirement. After a thousand
years of this weary world, he mounts aloft, and riding upon the
white clouds passes into the kingdom of God, whither the three
evils do not reach, and where he rests secure in eternity. What
is three to put up with in that?'
Thereupon the border-warden went off, and Yao followed him, saying,
'May I ask ‹', to which the warden only replied 'Begone!'
When Yao was Emperor, Poh Ch'eng Tzu Kao was one of his vassals.
But when Yao handed over the empire to Shun, and Shun to the Great
Yü, Poh Ch'eng Tzu Kao resigned his fief and betook himself
The Great Yü going to visit him, found him working in the
fields; whereupon he approached humbly, saying, 'When Yao was
emperor, you, Sir, were a vassal; but when Yao handed over the
empire to Shun, and Shun to me, you resigned your fief and betook
yourself to agriculture. May I enquire the reason of this?'
'When Yao ruled the empire', said Tzu Kao, 'the people exerted
themselves without reward and behaved themselves without punishment.
But now you reward and punish them, and yet they are not good.
From this point virtue will decline, the reign of force will begin,
and the troubles of after ages will date their rise. Away with
you! Do not interrupt my work.' And he quietly went on ploughing
At the beginning of beginning, even Nothing did not exist. Thence
came the period of the Nameless.
When One came into existence, there was One, but it was formless.
When things got that by which they came into existence, it was
called their virtue.
That which was formless, but divided, though without interstice,
was called destiny.
Then came the movement which gave life, and things produced in
accordance with the principles of life had what is called form.
When form encloses the spiritual part, each with its own characateristics,
that is its nature. By cultivating this nature, we are carried
back to virtue; and if this is perfected, we become as all things
were in the beginning. We become unconditioned, and the unconditioned
is great. As birds join their beaks in chirping, and beaks to
chirp must be joined, ‹ to be thus joined with the universe
without being more conscious of it than an idiot, this is divine
virtue, this is accordance with the eternal fitness of things.
Confucius asked Lao Tzu, saying, 'There are persons who cultivate
Tao according to fixed rules of possible and impossible, fit and
unfit, just as the schoolmen speak of separating hardness from
whiteness as though these could be hung up on different pegs.
Could such persons be termed sages?'
'That', replied Lao Tzu, 'is but the skill of the handicraftsman,
wearing out body and soul alike. The powers of the hunting-dog
involve it in trouble; the cleverness of the monkey brings it
down from the mountains. Ch'iu, what I mean you cannot understand,
neither can you put it into words. Those who have a head and feet,
but no mind nor ears, are many. Those who have a body without
a body or appearance of one, and yet there they are, ‹ are
none. Movement and rest, life and death, rise and fall, are not
at the beck and call of man. Cultivation of self is in his own
hands. To be unconscious of objective existences and of God, this
is to be unconscious of one's own personality. And he who is unconscious
of his own personality, combines in himself the human and the
Chiang Lü Mien went to see Chi Ch'e, and said, 'The Prince
of Lu begged me to instruct him, but I declined. However, he would
take no refusal, so I was obliged to do so. I don't know if I
was correct in my doctrine or not. Please note that what I said.
I told him to be decorous and thrifty; to advance the public-spirited
and loyal, and to have no partialities. Then, I said, no one would
venture to oppose him.'
Chi Ch'e sniggered and said, 'Your remarks on the virtues of
Princes may be compared with the mantis stretching out its feelers
and trying to stop a carriage, ‹ not likely to effect the
object proposed. Besides, he would be placing himself in the position
of a man who builds a lofty tower and makes a display of his valuables
where all his neighbours will come and gaze at them.'
'Alas! I fear I am but a fool', replied Chiang Lü Mien.
'Nevertheless, I should be glad to be instructed by you in the
proper course to pursue.'
'The government of the perfect Sage', explained Chi Ch'ie, 'consists
in influencing the hearts of the people so as to cause them to
complete their education, to reform their manners, to subdue the
rebel mind, and to exert themselves one and all for the common
good. This influence operates in accordance with the natural disposition
of the people, who are thus unconscious of its operation. He who
can so act has no need to humble himself before the teachings
of Yao and Shun. He makes the desires of the people coincident
with virtue, and their hearts rest therein.'
When Tzu Kung went south to the Ch'u State on his way back to
the Chin State, he passed through Han-yin. There he saw an old
man engaged in making a ditch to connect his vegetable garden
with a well. He had a pitcher in his hand, with which he was bringing
up water and pouring it into a ditch, ‹ great labour with
very little result.
'If you had a machine here', cried Tzu Kung, 'in a day you could
irrigate a hundred times your present area. The labour required
is trifling as compared with the work done. Would you not like
to have one?'
'What is it?' asked the gardener.
'It is a contrivance made of wood', replied Tzu Kung, 'heavy
behind and light in front. It draws up water as you do with your
hands, but in a constantly overflowing stream. It is called a
Thereupon the gardener flushed up and said, 'I have heard from
my teacher that those who have cunning implements are cunning
in their dealings, and that those who are cunning in their dealings
have cunning in their hearts, and that those who have cunning
in their hearts cannot be pure and incorrupt, and that those who
are not pure and incorrupt are restless in spirit, and that those
who are restless in spirit are not vehicles for Tao. It is not
that I do not know of these things. I should be ashamed to use
At this Tzu Kung was much abashed, and said nothing. Then the
gardener asked him who he was, to which Tzu Kung replied that
he was a disciple of Confucius.
'Are you not one who extends his learning with a view to being
a Sage; who talks big in order to put himself above the rest of
mankind; who plays in a key in which no one can sing so as to
spread his reputation abroad? Rather become unconscius of self
and shake off the trammels of the flesh, ‹ and you will
be near. But if you cannot govern your own self, what leisure
have you for governing the empire? Begone! Do not interrupt my
Tzu Kung changed colour and slunk away, being not at all pleased
with this rebuff; and it was not before he had travelled some
thirty li that he recovered his usual appearance.
'What did the man we met do', asked a disciple, 'that you should
change colour and not recover for such a long time?'
'I used to think there was only one man in all the world', replied
Tzu Kung. 'I did not know that there was also this man. I have
heard the Master say that the test of a scheme is its practicability,
and that success must be certain. The minimum of effort with the
maximum of success, ‹ such is the way of the Sage.
'Not so this manner of man. Aiming at Tao, he perfects his virtue.
By perfecting his virtue he prfects his body, and by perfecting
his body he perfects his spiritual part. And the perfection of
the spiritual part is the Tao of the Sage. Coming into life he
is as one of the people, knowing not whither he is bound. How
complete is his purity? Success, profit, skill, ‹ these
have no place in his heart. Such a man, if he does not will it,
he does not stir; if he does not wish it, he does not act. If
all the world praises him, he does not heed. If all the world
blames him, he does not repine. The praise and the blame of the
world neither advantage him nor otherwise. He may be called a
man of perfect virtue. As for me, I am but a mere creature of
So he went back to Lu to tell Confucius. But Confucius said,
'That fellow pretends to a knowledge of the science of the ante-mundane.
He knows something, but not much. His government is of the internal,
not of the external. What is there wonderful in a man by clearness
of intelligence becoming pure, by inaction reverting to his original
integrity, and with his nature and his spiritual part wrapped
up in a body, passing through this common world of ours? Besides,
to you and to me the science of the ante-mundane is not worth
As Chun Mang was starting eastwards to the ocean, he fell in
with Yüan Feng on the shore of the eastern sea.
'Whither bound?' cried the latter.
'I am going to the ocean', replied Chun Mang.
'What are you going to do there?' asked Yüan Feng.
'The ocean', said Chun Mang, 'is a thing you cannot fill by pouring
in, nor empty by taking out. I am simply on a trip'.
'But surely you have intentions with regard to the straight-browed
people? ... Come, tell me how the Sage governs.'
'Oh, the government of the Sage', answered Chun Mang. 'The officials
confine themselves to their functions. Ability is secure of employment.
The voice of the people is heard, and action is taken accordingly.
Men's words and deeds are their own affairs, and so the empire
is at peace. A beck or a call, and the people flock together from
all sides. This is how the Sage governs.'
'Tell me about the man of perfect virtue', said Yüan Feng.
'The man of perfect virtue', replied Chun Mang, 'in repose has
no thoughts, in action no anxiety. He recognizes no right, nor
wrong, nor good, nor bad. Within the Four Seas, when all profit
‹ that is his pleasure; when all share ‹ that is his
repose. Men cling to him as children who have lost their mothers;
they rally round him as wayfarers who have missed their road.
He has wealth and to spare, but he knows not whence it comes.
He has food and drink more than sufficient, but knows not who
provides it. Such is a man of virtue.'
'And now', said Yüan Feng, 'tell me about the divine man.'
'The divine man', replied Chun Mang, 'rides upon the glory of
the sky where his form can no longer be discerned. This is called
absorption into light. He fulfils his destiny. He acts in accordance
with his nature. He is at one with God and man. For him all affairs
cease to exist, and all things revert to their original state.
This is called envelopment in darkness.'
Men Wu Kuei and Ch'ih Chang Man Chi were looking at Wu Wang's
'He is not equal to the Great Yü', said the latter; and
consequently 'we are involved in all these troubles'.
'May I ask', replied Men Wu Kuei, 'if the empire was under proper
government when the Great Yü began to govern it, or had he
first to quell disorder and then to proceed to government?'
'If the empire had all been under proper government', sid the
other, 'what would there have been for the Great Yü to do?
He was as ointment to a sore. Only bald men use wigs; only sick
people want doctors. And the Sage blushes when a filial son, with
anxious look, administers medicine to cure his loving father.
'In th Golden Age, good men were not appreciated; ability was
not conspicuous. Rulers were mere beacons, while the people were
free as the wild deer. They were upright without being conscious
of duty to their neighbours. They loved one another without being
conscious of charity. They were true without being conscious of
loyalty. They were honest without being conscious of good faith.
They acted freely in all things without recognizing obigations
to any one. Thus, their deeds left no trace; their affairs were
not handed down to posterity.
'A filial son does not humour his parents. A loyal minister does
not flatter his prince. This is the acme of filial piety and loyalty.
To assent to whatever a parent or a prince says, and to praise
whatever a parent or a prince does, this is what the world calls
unfilial and disloyal conduct, though apparently unaware that
the principle is of universal application. For though a man assents
to whatever the world says, and praises whatever the world does,
he is not dubbed a toady; from which one might infer that the
world is severer than a father and more respected than a prince!
'If you tell a man he is a wheedler, he will not like it. If
you tell him he is a flatterer, he will be angry. Yet he is everlastingly
both. But all such sham and pretence is what the world likes,
and consequently people do not punish each other for doing what
they do themselves. For a man to arrange his dress, or make a
display, or suit his expression so as to get into the good graces
of the world, and yet not to call himself a flatterer; to identity
himself in every way with the yeas and nays of his fellows, and
yet not to call himself one of them; ‹ this is the height
'A man who knows that he is a fool is not a great fool. A man
who knows his error is not greatly in error. Great error can never
be shaken off; a great fool never becomes clear-headed. If three
men are travelling and one man makes a mistake, they may still
arrive at their destination, error being in the minority. But
if two of them make a mistake, then they will not succeed, error
being in the majority. And now, as all the world is in error,
I, though I know the true path, am alas! unable to guide.
'Grand music does not appeal to vulgar ears. Give them the Che-yang
or the Huang-kua, and they will roar with laughter. And likewise
great truths not finding utterance, common-places carry the day.
Two earthen instruments will drown the sound of one metal one;
and the result will not be melodious.
'And now, as all the world is in error, I, though I know the
true path, ‹ how shall I guess? If I know that I cannot
succeed and yet try to force success, this would be but another
source of error. Better, then, to desist and strive no more. But
if I strive not, who will?
'An ugly man who has a son born to him in the middle of the night
will hurry up with a light, in dread lest the child should be
'An old tree is cut down to make sacrificial vessels, which are
then ornamented with colour. The stump remains in a ditch. The
sacrificial vessels and the stump in the ditch are very differently
treated as regards honour and dishonour; equally, as far as destruction
of the wood's original nature is concerned. Similarly, the acts
of Robber Che and of Tseng and Shih are very different; but the
loss of original nature is in each case the same.
'The causes of this loss are five in number; viz. ‹ The
five colours confuse the eye, and the eyes fail to see clearly.
The five sounds confuse the ear, and the ear fails to hear accurately.
The five scents confuse the nose, and obstruct the sense of smell.
The five tastes cloy the palate, and vitiate the sense of taste.
Finally, likes and dislikes cloud the understanding, and cause
dispersion of the original nature.
'These five are the banes of life; yet Yang and Mih regarded
them as the summum bonum. They are not my summum bonum. For if
men who are thus festered can be said to have attained the summum
bonum, the pigeons and owls in a cage may also be said to have
attained the summum bonum!
'Besides, to stuff one's inside with likes and dislikes and sounds
and colours; to encompass one's outside with fur caps, feather
hats, the carrying of tablets, or girding of sashes full of rubbish
inside while swathed in magnificence without ‹ and still
to talk of having attained the summum bonum; ‹ then the
prisoner with arms tied behind him and fingers in the squeezer,
the tiger or the leopard which has just been put in a cage, may
justly consider that they too have attained the summum bonum!'
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.