The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 13 (cont.): The Way of Heaven

Chuang Tzu

Thien Tâo, or 'The Way of Heaven.' (cont.)

9. The Master said, 'The Tâo does not exhaust itself in what is greatest, nor is it ever absent from what is least; and therefore it is to be found complete and diffused in all things. How wide is its universal comprehension! How deep is its unfathomableness! The embodiment of its attributes in benevolence and righteousness is but a small result of its spirit-like (working); but it is only the perfect man who can determine this. The perfect man has (the charge of) the world;-- is not the charge great? and yet it is not sufficient to embarrass him. He wields the handle of power over the whole world, and yet it is nothing to him. His discrimination detects everything false, and no consideration of gain moves him. He penetrates to the truth of things, and can guard that which is fundamental. So it is that heaven and earth are external to him, and he views all things with indifference, and his spirit is never straitened by them. He has comprehended the Tâo, and is in harmony with its characteristics; he pushes back benevolence and righteousness (into their proper place), and deals with ceremonies and music as (simply) guests:-- yes, the mind of the perfect man determines all things aright.'

10. What the world thinks the most valuable exhibition of the Tâo is to be found in books. But books are only a collection of words. Words have what is valuable in them;-- what is valuable in words is the ideas they convey. But those ideas are a sequence of something else;-- and what that something else is cannot be conveyed by words. When the world, because of the value which it attaches to words, commits them to books, that for which it so values them may not deserve to be valued;-- because that which it values is not what is really valuable.

Thus it is that what we look at and can see is (only) the outward form and colour, and what we listen to and can hear is (only) names and sounds. Alas! that men of the world should think that form and colour, name and sound, should be sufficient to give them the real nature of the Tâ. The form and colour, the name and sound, are certainly not sufficient to convey its real nature; and so it is that 'the wise do not speak and those who do speak are not wise.' How should the world know that real nature?

Duke Hwan, seated above in his hall, was (once) reading a book, and the wheelwright Phien was making a wheel below it. Laying aside his hammer and chisel, Phien went up the steps, and said, 'I venture to ask your Grace what words you are reading?' The duke said, 'The words of the sages.' 'Are those sages alive?' Phien continued. 'They are dead,' was the reply. 'Then,' said the other, 'what you, my Ruler, are reading are only the dregs and sediments of those old men.' The duke said, 'How should you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about the book which I am reading? If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you shall, die!' The wheelwright said, 'Your servant will look at the thing from the point of view of his own art. In making a wheel, if I proceed gently, that is pleasant enough, but the workmanship is not strong; if I proceed violently, that is toilsome and the joinings do not fit. If the movements of my hand are neither (too) gentle nor (too) violent, the idea in my mind is realised. But I cannot tell (how to do this) by word of mouth; there is a knack in it. I cannot teach the knack to my son, nor can my son learn it from me. Thus it is that I am in my seventieth year, and am (still) making wheels in my old age. But these ancients, and what it was not possible for them to convey, are dead and gone:-- so then what you, my Ruler, are reading is but their dregs and sediments!'