Shan Hsing, or 'Correcting the Nature.'
1. Those who would correct their nature by means of the vulgar learning, seeking to restore it to its original condition, and those who would regulate their desires, by the vulgar ways of thinking, seeking thereby to carry their intelligence to perfection, must be pronounced to be deluded and ignorant people. The ancients who regulated the Tâo nourished their faculty of knowledge by their placidity, and all through life abstained from employing that faculty in action;-- they must be pronounced to have (thus also) nourished their placidity by their knowledge.
When the faculty of knowledge and the placidity (thus) blend together, and they nourish each other, then from the nature there come forth harmony and orderly method. The attributes (of the Tâo) constitute the harmony; the Tâo (itself) secures the orderly method. When the attributes appear in a universal practice of forbearance, we have Benevolence; when the path is all marked by orderly method, we have Righteousness; when the righteousness is clearly manifested, and (all) things are regarded with affection, we have Leal-heartedness; when the (heart's) core is thus (pure) and real, and carried back to its (proper) qualities, we have Music; when this sincerity appears in all the range of the capacity, and its demonstrations are in accordance with what is elegant, we have Ceremony. If ceremonies and Music are carried out in an imperfect and one-sided manner, the world is thrown into confusion. When men would rectify others, and their own virtue is beclouded, it is not sufficient to extend itself to them. If an attempt be made so to extend it, they also will lose their (proper) nature.
2. The men of old, while the chaotic condition was yet undeveloped, shared the placid tranquillity which belonged to the whole world. At that time the Yin and Yang were harmonious and still; their resting and movement proceeded without any disturbance; the four seasons had their definite times; not a single thing received any injury, and no living being came to a premature end. Men might be possessed of (the faculty of) knowledge, but they had no occasion for its use. This was what is called the state of Perfect Unity. At this time, there was no action on the part of any one, but a constant manifestation of spontaneity.
This condition (of excellence) deteriorated and decayed, till Sui-zan and Fû-hsî arose and commenced their administration of the world; on which came a compliance (with their methods), but the state of unity was lost. The condition going on to deteriorate and decay, Shan Nang and Hwang-Tî arose, and took the administration of the world, on which (the people) rested (in their methods), but did not themselves comply with them. Still the deterioration and decay continued till the lords of Thang and Yü began to administer the world. These introduced the method of governing by transformation, resorting to the stream (instead of to the spring), thus vitiating the purity and destroying the simplicity (of the nature). They left the Tâo, and substituted the Good for it, and pursued the course of Haphazard Virtue. After this they forsook their nature and followed (the promptings of) their minds. One mind and another associated their knowledge, but were unable to give rest to the world. Then they added to this knowledge (external and) elegant forms, and went on to make these more and more numerous. The forms extinguished the (primal) simplicity, till the mind was drowned by their multiplicity. After this the people began to be perplexed and disordered, and had no way by which they might return to their true nature, and bring back their original condition.
3. Looking at the subject from this point of view, we see how the world lost the (proper) course, and how the course (which it took) only led it further astray. The world and the Way, when they came together, being (thus) lost to each other, how could the men of the Way make themselves conspicuous in the world? and how could the world rise to an appreciation of the Way? Since the Way had no means to make itself conspicuous in the world, and the world had no means of rising to an appreciation of the Way, though sagely men might not keep among the hills and forests, their virtue was hidden;-- hidden, but not because they themselves sought to hide it.
Those whom the ancients called 'Retired Scholars' did not conceal their persons, and not allow themselves to be seen; they did not shut up their words, and refuse to give utterance to them; they did not hide away their knowledge, and refuse to bring it forth. The conditions laid on them by the times were very much awry. If the conditions of the times had allowed them to act in the world on a great scale, they would have brought back the state of unity without any trace being perceived (of how they did so), When those conditions shut them up entirely from such action, they struck their roots deeper (in themselves), were perfectly still and waited. It was thus that they preserved (the Way in) their own persons.
4. The ancients who preserved (the Way in) their own persons did not try by sophistical reasonings to gloss over their knowledge; they did not seek to embrace (everything in) the world in their knowledge, nor to comprehend all the virtues in it. Solitary and trembling they remained where they were, and sought the restoration of their nature. What had they to do with any further action? The Way indeed is not to be pursued, nor (all) its characteristics to be known on a small scale. A little knowledge is injurious to those characteristics; small doings are injurious to the Way;-- hence it is said, 'They simply rectified themselves.' Complete enjoyment is what is meant by 'the Attainment of the Aim.'
What was anciently called 'the Attainment of the Aim' did not mean the getting of carriages and coronets; it simply meant that nothing more was needed for their enjoyment. Now-a-days what is called 'the Attainment of the Aim' means the getting of carriages and coronets. But carriages and coronets belong to the body; they do not affect the nature as it is constituted. When such things happen to come, it is but for a time; being but for a time, their coming cannot be obstructed and their going cannot be stopped. Therefore we should not because of carriages and coronets indulge our aims, nor because of distress and straitness resort to the vulgar (learning and thinking); the one of these conditions and the other may equally conduce to our enjoyment, which is simply to be free from anxiety. If now the departure of what is transient takes away one's enjoyment, this view shows that what enjoyment it had given was worthless. Hence it is said, 'They who lose themselves in their pursuit of things, and lose their nature in their study of what is vulgar, must be pronounced people who turn things upside down.'