Chuang Tzu. Chapter 14. Argument: The Ultimate Cause.
Integrity of Tao. Music and Tao. Failure of Confucianism. Confucius
and Lao Tzu. Confucius attains to Tao.*
The sky turns round; the earth stands still; sun and moon pursue
one another. Who causes this? Who directs this? Who has leisure
enough to see that such movements continue?
'Some think there is a mechanical arrangement which makes these
movies move as they do. Others think that they revolve without
being able to stop.
'The clouds cause rain; rain causes clouds. Whose kindly bounty
is this? Who has leisure enough to see that such result is achieved?
'Wind comes from the north. It blows not east, now west; and
now it whirls aloft. Who puffs it forth? Who has leisure enough
to be flapping it this way or that? I should like to know the
cause of all this.'
We Han Chao said, 'Come here, and I will tell you. Above there
are the Six Influences and the Five Virtues. If a ruler keeps
in harmony with these, his rule is good; if not it is bad. By
following the nine chapters of the Lo book, his rule will be a
success and his virtue complete; he will watch over the interests
of his people, and all the empire will owe him gratitude. This
is to be an eminent ruler.'
Tang, a high official of Sung, asked Chuang Tzu about charity.
Chuang Tzu said, 'Tigers and wolves have it'.
'How so?' asked Tang.
'The natural love between parents and offspring', replied Chuang
Tzu, 'is not that charity?'
Tang then inquired about perfect charity.
'Perfect charity', said Chuang Tzu, 'does not admit of love for
'Without such love', replied Tang, 'it appears to me there would
be o such thing as affection, and without affection no filial
piety. Does perfect charity not admit of filial piety?'
'Not so', said Chuang Tzu. 'Perfect charity is the more extensive
term. Consequently, it was unnecessary to mention filial piety.
It was not that filial piety was omitted. It was merely not particularized.
'A man who travels southward to Ying, cannot see Mount Ming in
the north. Why? Because he is too far off.
'Therefore it has been said that it is easy to be respectfully
filial, but difficult to be affectionately filial. But even that
is easier than to become unconscius of one's natural obligations,
which is in turn easier than to cause others to be unconscious
of the operations thereof. Similarly, this is easier than to become
altogether unconscious of the world, which again is easier than
to cause the world to be unconscious of one's influence upon it.
'True virtue does nothing, yet it leaves Yao and Shun far behind.
Its good influence extends to ten thousand generations, yet no
man knoweth it to exist. What boots it then to sigh after charity
and duty to one's neighbour?
'Filial piety, fraternal love, charity, duty to one's neighbour,
loyalty, truth, chastity, and honesty, these are all studied efforts,
designed to aid the development of virtue. They are only parts
of a whole.
'Therefore it has been said, "Perfect honour includes all
the honour a country can give. Perfect wealth includes all the
wealth a country can give. Perfect ambition includes all the reputation
one can desire." And by parity of reasoning, Tao does not
admit of sub-division.'
Pei Men Ch'eng said to the Yellow Emperor, 'When your Majesty
played the Han -ch'ih in the wilds of Tung-t'ing, the first time
I heard it I was afraid, the second time I was amazed, and the
last time I was confused, speechless, overwhelmed'.
'You are not far from the truth', replied the Yellow Emperor.
'I played as a man, drawing inspiration from God. The execution
was punctilious, the expression sublime.
'Perfect must first shape itself according to a human standard;
then it follows the line of the divine; then it proceeds in harmony
with the five virtues; then it passes into spontaneity. The four
seasons are then blended, and all creation is brought into accord.
As the seasons come forth in turn, so are all things produced.
Now fullness, now decay, now soft and loud in turn, now clear,
now muffled, the harmony of Yin and Yang. Like a flash was the
sound which roused you as the insect world is roused, followed
by a thundering peal, without end and without beginning, now dying,
now living, now sinking, now rising, on and on without a moment's
break. And so you were afraid.
'When I played again, it was the harmony of the Yin and Yang,
lighted by the glory of the sun and moon; now broken, now prolonged,
now gentle, now severe, in one unbroken, unfathomable volume of
sound. Filling valley and gorge, stopping the ears and dominating
the senses, adapting itself to the capacities of things, ‹
the sounds whirled around on all sides, with shrill note and clear
The spirits of darkness kept to their domain. Sun, moon, and stars,
pursued their appointed course. When the melody was exhausted
I stopped; if the melody did not stop, I went on. You would have
sympathized, but you could not understand. You would have looked,
but you could not see. You would have pursued but you would not
overtake. You stood dazed in the middle of the wilderness, leaning
against a tree and crooning, your eye conscious of exhausted vision,
your strength failing for the pursuit, and so unable to overtake
me. Your frame was but an empty shell. You were completely at
a loss, and so you were amazed.
'Then I played in sounds which produce no amazement, the melodious
law of spontaneity, springing forth like nature's countless buds,
in manifold but formless joy, as though poured forth to the dregs,
in deep but soundless bass. Beginning nowhere, the melody rested
in void; some would say dead, others alive, others real, others
ornamented, as it scattered itself on all sides in never to be
'The wondering world enquires of the Sage. He is in relation
with its variations and follows the same eternal law.
'When no machinery is set in motion, and yet the instrumentation
is complete, this is the music of God. The mind awakes to its
enjoyment without waiting to be called. Accordingly, Yu Piao praised
it, saying, "Listening you cannot hear its sound; gazing
you cannot see its form. It fills heaven and earth. It embraces
the six cardinal points." Now you desired to listen to it,
but you were not able to grasp its existence. And so you were
'My music first induced fear; and as a consequence, respect.
I then added amazement, by which you were isolated. And lastly,
confusion; for confusion means absence of sense, and absence of
sense means Tao, and Tao means absorption therein.'
When Confucius travelled west to the Wei State, Yen Yüan
asked Shih Chin, saying, 'What do you think of my Master?'
'Alas!' replied Shih Chin, 'he is not a success'.
'How so?' enquired Yen Yüan.
'Before the straw dog has been offered in sacrifice', replied
Shih Chin, 'it is kept in a box, wrapped up in an embroidered
cloth, and the augur fasts before using it. But when it has once
been offered up, passers-by trample over its body, and fuel-gatherers
pick it up for burning. Then, if any one should take it, and again
putting it in a box and wrapping it up in an embroidered cloth,
watch and sleep alongside, he would not only dream, but have nightmare
into the bargain.
'Now your Master has been thus treating the ancients, who are
like the dog which has already been offered in sacrifice. He causes
his disciples to watch and sleep alongside of them. Consequently,
his tree has been cut down in Sung; they will have none of him
in Wei; in fact, his chances among the Shangs and the Chous are
exhausted. Is not this the dream? And then to be surrounded by
the Ch'ens and the Ts'ais, seven days without food, death staring
him in the face, is not this the nightmare?
'For travelling by water there is nothing like a boat. For travelling
by land there is nothing like a cart. This is because a boat moves
readily in water; but were you to try to push it on land you would
never succeed it making it go. Now ancient and modern times may
be likened unto water and land; Chou and Lu to the boat and the
cart. To try to make the customs of Chou succeed in Lu, is like
pushing a boat on land: great trouble and no result, except certain
injury to oneself. Your Master has not yet learnt the doctrine
of non-angularity, of self-adaptation to externals.
'Have you never seen a well-sweep? You pull it, and down it comes.
You release it, and up it goes. It is the man who pulls the well-sweep,
and not the well-sweep which pulls the man; so that both in coming
down and going up, it does not run counter to the wishes of the
man. And so it was that the ceremonial and obligations and laws
of the Three Emperors and Five Rulers did not aim at uniformity
of application but at good government of the empire. Their ceremonial,
obligations, laws, etc., were like the cherry-apple, the pear,
the orange, and the pumelo, all differing in flavour but each
palatable. They changed with the changing season.
'Dress up a monkey in the robes of Chou Kung, and it will not
be happy until they are torn to shreds. And the difference between
past and present is much the same as the difference between Chou
Kung and a monkey.
'When Hsi Shih was distressed in mind, she knitted her brows.
An ugly woman of the village, seeing how beautiful she looked,
went home, and having worked herself into a fit frame of mind,
knitted her brows. The result was that the rich people of the
place barred up their doors and would not come out, while the
poor people took their wives and children and departed elsewhere.
That woman saw the beauty of knitted brows, but she did not see
wherein the beauty of knitted brows lay. Alas! your Master is
emphatically not a success.'
Confucius had lived to the age of fifty-one without hearing Tao,
when he went south to P'ei, to see Lao Tzu.
Lao Tzu said, 'So you have come, Sir, have you? I hear you are
considered a wise man up north. Have you got Tao?'
'Not yet', answered Confucius.
'In what direction', asked Lao Tzu, 'have you sought for it?'
'I sought it for five years', replied Confucius, 'in the science
of numbers, but did not succeed'.
'And then? ... ' continued Lao Tzu.
'Then', said Confucius, 'I spent twelve years seeking for it
in the doctrine of the Yin and Yang, also without success.'
'Just so', rejoined Lao Tzu. 'Were Yao something which could
be presented, there is no man but would present it to this sovereign,
or to his parents. Could it be imparted or given, there is no
man but would impart it to his brother or give it to his child.
But this is impossible, for the following reason. Unless there
is a suitable endowment within, Tao will not abide. Unless there
is outward correctness, Tao will not operate. The external being
unfitted for the impression of the internal, the true Sage does
not seek to imprint. The internal being unfitted for the reception
of the external, the true Sage does not seek to receive.
'Reputation is public property; you may not appropriate it in
excess. Charity and duty to one's neighbour are as caravenserais
established by wise rulers of old; you may stop there one night,
but not for long, or you will incur reproach.
'The perfect men of old took their road through charity, stopping
a night with duty to their neighbour, on their way to ramble in
transcendental space. Feeding on the produce of non-cultivation,
and establishing themselves in the domain of no obligations, they
enjoyed their transcendental inaction. Their food was ready to
hand; and being under no obligations to others, they did not put
any one under obligation to themselves. The ancients called this
the outward visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
'Those who make wealth their all in all, cannot bear loss of
money. Those who make distinction their all in all, cannot bear
loss of fame. Those who affect power will not place authority
in the hands of others. Anxious while holding, distressed if losing,
yet never taking warning from the past and seeing the folly of
their pursuit, ‹ such men are the accursed of God.
'Resentment, gratitude, taking, giving, censure of self, instruction
of others, power of life and death, these eight are the instruments
of right; but only he who can adapt himself to the vicissitudes
of fortune, without being carried away, is fit to use them. Such
a one is an upright man among the upright. And he whose heart
is not so constituted, the door of divine intelligence is not
yet opened for him.'
Confucius visited Lao Tzu, and spoke of charity and duty to one's
Lao Tzu said, 'The chaff from winnowing will blind a man's eyes
so that he cannot tell the points of the compass. Mosquitoes will
keep a man awake all night with their biting. And just in the
same way this talk of charity and duty to one's neighbour drives
me nearly crazy. Sir! strive to keep the world to its own original
simplicity. And as the wind bloweth where it listeth, so let Virtue
establish itself. Wherefore such undue energy, as though searching
for a fugitive with a big drum?
'The heron is white without a daily bath. The raven is black
without daily colouring itself. The original simplicity of black
and of white is beyond the reach of argument. The vista of fame
and reputation is not worthy of enlargement. When the pond dries
up and the fishes are left upon dry ground, to moisten them with
the breath or to damp them with a little spittle is not to be
compared with leaving them in the first instance in their native
rivers and lakes.'
On returning from this visit to Lao Tzu, Confucius did not speak
for three days. A disciple asked him, saying, 'Master, when you
saw Lao Tzu, in what direction did you admonish him?'
'I saw a Dragon', replied Confucius, ' A dragon which by convergence
showed a body, by radiation became colour, and riding upon the
clouds of heaven, nourished the two Principles of Creation. My
mouth was agape: I could not shut it. How then do you think I
was going to admonish Lao Tzu?'
Upon this Tzu Kung remarked, 'Ha! then a man can sit corpse-like
manifesting his dragon-power around, his thunder-voice heard through
profound silence reigns, his movements like those of the universe?
I too would go and see him.'
So on the strength of his connection with Confucius, Tzu Kung
obtained an interview. Lao Tzu received him distantly and with
dignity, saying in a low voice, 'I am old, Sir. What injunctions
may you have to give me?'
'The administration of the Three Kings and of the Five Rulers',
replied Tzu Kung, 'was not uniform; but their reputation has been
identical. How then, Sir, is it that you do not regard them as
'Come nearer, my son', said Lao Tzu. 'What mean you by not uniform?'
'Yao handed over the empire to Shun', replied Tzu Kung; 'and
Shun to Yü. Yü employed labour, and T'ang employed troops.
Wen Wang followed Chou Hsin and did not venture to oppose him.
Wu Wang opposed him and would not follow. Therefore I said not
'Come nearer, my son', said Lao Tzu, 'and I will tell you about
the Three Kings and the Five Rulers.
'The Yellow Emperor's administration caused the affections of
the people to be catholic. Nobody wept for the death of his parents,
and nobody found faults.
'The administration of Yao diverted the affections of the people
into particular channels. If a man slew the slayer of his parents,
nobody blamed him.
'The administration of Shun brought a spirit of rivalry among
the people: Children were born after ten months' gestation; when
five months old, they could speak; and ere they were three years
of age, could already tell one person from another. And so early
death came into the world.
'The administration of Yü wrought a change in the hearts
of the people. Individuality prevailed, and force was called into
play. Killing robbers was not accounted murder; and throughout
the empire people became sub-divided into classes. There was great
alarm on all sides, and the Confucianists and the Mohists arose.
At first the relationships were duly observed; but what about
the women of today?
'Let me tell you. The government of the Three Kings and Five
Rulers was so only in name. In reality, it was utter confusion.
The wisdom of the Three Kings was opposed to the brilliancy of
the sun and moon above, destructive of the energy of land and
water below, and subversive of the influence of the four seasons
between. That wisdom is more harmful than a hornet's tail, preventing
the very animals from putting themselves into due relation with
the conditions of their existence, and yet they call themselves
Sages! Is not their shamefulness shameful indeed?
'At thios Tzu Kung became ill at ease.
Confucius said to Lao Tzu, 'I arranged the Six Canons of Poetry,
History, Rites, Music, Changes, and Spring and Autumn. I spent
much time over them, and I am well acquainted with their purport.
I used them in admonishing seventy-two rulers, by discourses on
the wisdom of ancient sovereigns and illustrations from the lives
of Chou and Shao. Yet not one ruler has in any way adopted my
suggestions. Alas that man should be so difficult to persuade,
and wisdom so difficult to illustrate.'
'It is well for you, Sir', replied Lao Tzu, 'that you did not
come across any real ruler of mankind. Your Six Canons are but
the worn-out foot-prints of ancient Sages. And what are footprints?
Why, the words you now utter are as it were foot-prints. Foot-prints
are made by the shoe: they are not the shoe itself.
'Fish-hawks gaze at each other with motionless eyes, and their
young are produced. The male of a certain insect chirps with the
wind while the female chirps against it, and their offspring is
produced. There is another animal which, being an hermaphrodite,
produces its own offspring. Nature cannot be changed. Destiny
cannot be altered. Time cannot stop. Tao cannot be obstructed.
Once attain to Tao, and there is nothing which you cannot accomplish.
Without it, there is nothing which you can accomplish.'
For three months after this Confucius did not leave his house.
Then he again visited Lao Tzu and said, 'I have attained. Birds
lay eggs, fish spawn, insects undergo metamorphosis, and mammals
suckle their young. For a long time I have not been enlightened.
And he who is not enlightened himself, how should he enlighten
Lao Tzu said, 'Ch'iu, you have attained!'
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.