Chuang Tzu. Chapter 20. Argument: The
alternatives of usefulness and uselessness. Tao a tertium quid.
The human a hindrance to the divine. Altruism. Adaptation. Destiny.*
Chuang Tzu was travelling over a mountain when he saw a huge
tree well covered with foliage. A woodsman had stopped near by,
not caring to take it; and on Chuang Tzu enquiring the rason,
he was told that it was of no use.
'This tree', cried Chuang Tzu, 'by virtue of being good for nothing
succeeds in completing its allotted span'.
When Chuang Tzu left the mountain, he put up at the house of
an old friend. The latter was delighted, and ordered a servant
to kill a goose and cook it.
'Which shall I kill?' enquired the servant; 'the one that cackles
or the one that doesn't?"
His master told him to kill the one which did not cackle. And
accordingly, the next day, a disciple asked Chuang Tzu, saying,
'Yesterday, that tree on the mountain, because good for nothing,
was to succeed in completing its allotted span. But now our host's
goose, which is good for nothing, has to die. Upon which horn
of the dilemma will you rest?'
'I rest', replied Chuang Tzu with a smile, 'halfways between
the two. In that position, appearing to be what I am not, it is
impossible to avoid the troubles of mortality; though, if charioted
upon Tao and floating far above mortality, this would not be so.
No praise, no blame; both great and small; changing with the change
of time, but ever without special effort; both above and below;
making for harmony with surroundings; reaching creation's First
Cause; swaying all things and swayed by none; how then shall such
troubles come? This was the method of Shen Nung and Huang Ti.
'But amidst the mundane passions and relationships of man, such
would not be the case. For where there is union, there is also
separation; where there is completion, there is also destruction;
where there is purity, there is also oppression; where there is
honour, there is also disparagement; where there is doing, there
is also undoing; where there is openness, there is also underhandedness;
and where there is no semblance, there is also deceit. How then
can there be any fixed point? Alas indeed! Take note, my disciples,
that such is to be found only in the domain of Tao.'
I Liao of Shih-nan paid a visit to the prince of Lu. The latter
wore a melancholy look; whereupon the philosopher of Shih-nan
enquired what was the cause.
'I study the doctrines of the ancient Sages', replied the prince.
'I carry on the work of my predecessors. I respect religion. I
honor the good. Never for a moment do I relax in these points;
yet I cannot avoid misfortune, and consequently I am sad.'
'Your Highness' method of avoiding misfortune', said the philosopher
of Shih-nan, 'is but a shallow one. A handsome fox or a striped
leopard will live in a mountain forest, hiding beneath some precipitous
cliff. This is their repose. They come out at night and keep in
by day. This is their caution. Though under the stress of hunger
and thirst, they lie hidden, hardly venturing to slink secretly
to the river bank in search of food. This is their resoluteness.
Nevertheless, they do not escape the misfortune of the net and
the trap. But what crime have they committed? 'Tis their skin
which is the cause of their trouble; and is not the State of Lu
your Highness' skin? I would have your Highness put away body
and skin alike, and cleansing your heart and purging it of passion,
betake yourself to the land where mortality is not.
'In Nan-yüeh there is a district, called Established-Virtue.
Its people are simple and honest, unselfish, and without passions.
They can make, but cannot keep. They give, but look for no return.
They are not conscious of fulfilling obligations. They are not
conscious of subservience to etiquette. Their actions are altogether
uncontrolled, yet they tread in the way of the wise. Life is for
enjoyment; death, for burial. And thither I would have your Highness
proceed, power discarded and the world is left behind, only putting
trust in Tao.'
'The road is long and dangerous', said the prince. 'Rivers and
hills to be crossed, and I without boat or chariot; ‹ what
'Unhindered by body and unfettered in mind', replied the philosopher,
'your Highness will be a chariot to yourself'.
'But the road is long and dreary', argued the prince, 'and uninhabited.
I shall have no one to turn to for help; and how, without food,
shall I ever be able to get there?'
'Decrease expenditure and lessen desires', answered the philosopher,
'and even though without provisions, there will be enough. And
then through river and over sea your Highness will travel into
shoreless illimitable space. From the border-land, those who act
as escort will return; but thence onwards your Highness will travel
'It is the human in ourselves which is our hindrance; and the
human in others which causes our sorrow. The great Yao had not
this human element himself, nor did he perceive it in others.
And I would have your Highness put off this hindrance and rid
yourself of this sorrow, and roam with Tao alone through the realms
of Infinite Nought.
'Suppose a boat is crossing a river, and another empty boat is
about to collide with it. Even an irritable man would not lose
his temper. But suposing there was someone in the second boat.
Then the occupant of the first would shout to him to keep clear.
And if the other did not hear the first time, nor even when called
to three times, bad language would inevitably follow. In the first
case there was no anger, in the second there was; because in the
first case the boat was empty, and in the second it was occupied.
And so it is with man. If he could only roam empty through life,
who would be able to injure him?'
Pei Kung She, minister to Duke Ling of Wei, levied contributions
for making bells. An altar was built outside the city gate; and
in three months the bells, upper and lower, were all hung.
When Wang Tzu Ch'ing Chi saw them, he asked, saying, 'How, Sir,
did you manage this?'
'In the domain of One', replied She, 'there may not be managing.
I have heard say that which is carved and polished reverts nevertheless
to its natural condition. And so I made allowances for ignorance
and for suspicion. I betrayed no feeling when welcomed or dismissed.
I forbade not those who came, nor detained those who went away.
I showed no resentment towards the unwilling, nor gratitude towards
those who gave. Every one subscribed what he liked; and thus in
my daily collection of subscriptions, no injury was done. ‹
How much more then those who have the great way?'
When Confucius was hemmed in between Ch'en and Ts'ai, he passed
seven days without food.
The minister Jen went to condole with him, and said, 'You were
near, Sir, to death'.
'I was indeed', replied Confucius.
'Do you fear death, Sir?' enquired Jen.
'I do', said Confucius.
'Then I will try to teach you', said Jen, 'the way not to die.
'In the eastern sea there are certain birds, called the ierh.
they behave themselves in a modest and unassuming manner, as though
unpossessed of ability. They fly simultaneously: they roost in
a body. In advancing, none strives to be first; in retreating,
none ventures to be last. In eating, none will be the first to
begin; it is considered proper to take the leavings of others.
Therefore, in their own ranks they are at peace, and the outside
world is unable to harm them. And thus they escape trouble.
'Straight trees are the first felled. Sweet wells are soonest
exhausted. And you, you make a show of your knowledge in order
to startle fools. You cultivate yourself in contrast to the degradation
of others. And you blaze along as though the sun and moon were
under your arms; consequently, you cannot avoid trouble.
'Formerly, I heard a very wise man say, Self-praise is no recommendation.
In merit achieved there is deterioration. In fame achieved there
is loss. Who can discard both merit and fame and become one with
the rest? Tao pervades all things but is not seen. Te moves through
all things but its place is not known. In its purity and constancy,
it may be compared with the purposeless. Remaining concealed,
rejecting power, it works not for merit nor for fame. Thus, not
censuring others, it is not censured by others.
'And if the perfect man cares not for fame, why, Sir, should
you take pleasure in it?'
'Good indeed!' replied Confucius; and forthwith he took leave
of his friends and dismissed his disciples and retired to the
wilds, where he dressed himself in skins and serge and fed on
acorns and chestnuts. He passed among the beasts and birds and
they took no heed of him. And if so, how much more among men?
Confucius asked Tzu Sang Hu, saying, 'I have been twice expelled
from Lu. My tree was cut down in Sung. I have been tabooed in
Wei. I am a failure in Shang and Chou. I was surrounded between
Ch'en and Ts'ai. And in addition to all these troubles, my friends
have separated from me and my disciples are gone. How is this?
'Have you not heard', replied Sang Hu, 'how when the men of Kuo
fled, one of them, named Lin Hui, cast aside most valuable regalia
and carried away his child upon his back? Someone suggested that
he was influenced by the value of the child; ‹ but the child's
value was small. Or by the inconvenience of the regalia; ‹
but the inconvenience of the child would be much greater. Why
then did he leave behind the regalia and carry off the child?
'Lin Hui himself said, "The regalia involved a mere question
of money. The child was from God."
'And so it is that in trouble and calamity mere money questions
are neglected, while we ever cling nearer to that which is from
God. And between neglecting and clinging to, the difference is
'The friendship of the superior man is negative like water. The
friendship of the mean man is full-flavoured like wine. That of
the superior man passes from the negative to the affectionate.
That of the mean man passes from the full-flavoured to nothing.
The friendship of the mean man begins without due cause, and in
like manner comes to an end.
'I hear and obey', replied Confucius; and forthwith he went quietly
home, put an end to his studies and cast aside his books. His
disciples no longer saluted him as teacher; but his love for them
deepened every day.
On another occasion, Sang Hu said to him again, 'When Shun was
about to die, he commanded the Great Yü as follows: Be careful.
Act in accordance with your physical body. Speak in accordance
with your feelings. You will thus not get into difficulty with
the former nor suffer annoyance in the latter. And as under these
conditions you will not stand in need of outward embellishment
of any kind, it follows that you therefore will not stand in need
Chuang Tzu put on cotton clothes with patches in them, and arranging
his girdle and tying on his shoes, went to see the prince of Wei.
'How miserable you look, Sir! cried the prince.
'It is poverty, not misery', replied Chuang Tzu. 'A man who has
Tao cannot be miserable. Ragged clothes and old boots make poverty,
not misery. Mine is what is called being out of harmony with one's
'Has your Highness never seen a climbing ape? Give it some large
tree, and it will twist and twirl among the branches as though
monarch of all it surveys. Yi and Feng Meng can never catch a
glimpse of it.
'But put it in a bramble bush, and it will move cautiously with
sidelong glances, trembling all over with fear. Not that its muscles
relax in the face of difficulty, but because it is at a disadvantage
as regards position, and is unable to make use of its skill. And
how should any one, living under foolish sovereigns and wicked
ministers, help being miserable, even though he might wish not
to be so?
'It was under such circumstances that Pi Kan was disembowelled.'
When Confucius was hemmed in between Ch'en and Ts'ai and had
gone seven days without fod, then, holding in his left hand a
piece of dry wood and in his right hand a dry stick, he sang a
ballad of Piao Shih. He had an instrument, but the gamut was wanting.
There was sound, but no tune. The sound of the wood accompanied
by the voice of the man yielded a harsh result, but it was in
keeping with the feelings of his audience.
Yen Hui, who was standing by in a respectful attitude, thereupon
began to turn his eyes about him; and Confucius, fearing lest
he should be driven by exaltation into bragging, or by a desire
for safety into sorrow, spoke to him as follows:
'Hui! it is easy to escape injury from God; it is difficult to
avoid the benefits of man. There is no beginning and there is
no end. Man and God are one. Who then was singing just now?'
'Pray, Sir, what do you mean', asked Yen Hui, 'by saying that
it is easy to escape injury from God?'
'Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat', replied Confucius, 'are but
as fetters in the path of life. They belong to the natural laws
which govern the universe; and in obedience thereto I pass on
my allotted course. The subject dares not disregard the mandates
of his prince. And if this is man's duty to man, how much more
shall it be his duty to God?
'What is the meaning of difficult to avoid the benefits of man?'
asked Yen Hui.
'If one begins', replied Confucius, 'by adaptation to surroundings,
rank and power follow without cease. Such advantages are external;
they are not derived from oneself. And my life is more or less
dependent upon the external. The superior man does not steal these;
nor does the good man pilfer them. What then do I but take them
as they come?
'Therefore it has been said that no bird is so wise as the swallow.
If it sees a place unfit to dwell in, it will not bestow a glance
thereon; and even though it drop food there, it will leave the
food and fly away. Now swallows fear man. Yet they dwell among
men. Because they find their natural abode.
'And what is the meaning', enquired Yen Hui, 'of no beginning
and no end?'
'The work goes on', replied Confucius, 'and no man knoweth the
cause. How then shall he know the end, or the beginning? There
is nothing left to us but to wait.'
'And that man and God are One', said Yen Hui. 'What does that
'That man is', replied Confucius, 'is from God. That God is,
is also from God. That man is not God, is his nature. The Sage
quietly waits for death at the end.'
When Chuang Tzu was wandering in the park at Tiao-ling, he saw
a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven
feet across. Its eyes were an inch in circumference. And it flew
close past ChuangTzu's head to alight in a chestnut grove.
'What manner of bird is this?' cried Chuang Tzu. 'With strong
wings it does not fly away. With large eyes it does not see.'
So he picked up his skirts and strode towards it with his cross-bow,
anxious to get a shot. Just then he saw a cicada enjoying itself
in the shade, forgetful of all else. And he saw a mantis spring
and seize it, forgetting in the act its own body, which the strange
bird immediately pounced upon and made its prey. And this it was
which had caused the bird to forget its own nature.
'Alas!' cried Chuang Tzu with a sign, 'how creatures injure one
another. Loss follows the pursuit of gain.'
So he laid aside his bow and went home, driven away by the park-keeper
who wanted to know what business he had there.
For three months after this, Chuang Tzu did not leave the house;
and at length Lin Chü asked him, saying, 'Master, how is
it that you have not been out for so long?'
'While keeping my physical frame', replied Chuang Tzu, 'I lost
sight of my real self. Gazing at muddy water, I lost sight of
the clear abyss. Besides, I have learnt from the Master as follows:
'When you go into the world, follow its customs'. Now when I strolled
into the park at Tiao-ling, I forgot my real self. That strange
bird which flew close past me to the chestnut grove, forgot its
nature. The keeper of the chestnut grove took me for a thief.
Consequently I have not been out.'
When Yang Tzu went to the Sung State, he passed a night at an
The innkeeper had two concubines, one beautiful, the other ugly.
The latter he loved; the former, he hated.
Yang Tzu asked how this was; whereupon one of the inn servants
said, 'The beautiful one is so conscious of her beauty that one
does not think her beautiful. The ugly one is so conscious of
her ugliness that one does not think her ugly.'
'Note this, my disciples!' cried Yang Tzu. 'Be virtuous, but
without being consciusly so; and wherever you go, you will be
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.