The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 18: Perfect Enjoyment

Chuang Tzu

Kih Lo, or 'Perfect Enjoyment.'

1. Under the sky is perfect enjoyment to be found or not? Are there any who can preserve themselves alive or not? If there be, what do they do? What do they maintain? What do they avoid? What do they attend to? Where do they resort to? Where do they keep from? What do they delight in? What do they dislike?

What the world honours is riches, dignities, lonevity, and being deemed able. What it delights in is rest for the body, rich flavours, fine garments, beautiful colours, and pleasant music. What it looks down on are poverty and mean condition, short life and being deemed feeble. What men consider bitter experiences are that their bodies do not get rest and ease, that their mouths do not get food of rich flavour, that their persons are not finely clothed, that their eyes do not see beautiful colours, and that their ears do not listen to pleasant music. If they do not got these things, they are very sorrowful, and go on to be troubled with fears. Their thoughts are all about the body;-- are they not silly?

Now the rich embitter their lives by their incessant labours; they accumulate more wealth than they can use:-- while they act thus for the body, they make it external to themselves. Those who seek for honours carry their pursuit of them from the day into the night, full of anxiety about their methods whether they are skilful or not:-- while they act thus for the body they treat it as if it were indifferent to them. The birth of man is at the same time the birth of his sorrow; and if he live long he becomes more and more stupid, and the longer is his anxiety that he may not die; how great is his bitterness!-- while he thus acts for his body, it is for a distant result. Meritorious officers are regarded by the world as good; but (their goodness) is not sufficient to keep their persons alive. I do not know whether the goodness ascribed to them be really good or really not good. If indeed it be considered good, it is not sufficient to preserve their persons alive; if it be deemed not good, it is sufficient to preserve other men alive. Hence it is said, 'When faithful remonstrances are not listened to, (the remonstrant) should sit still, let (his ruler) take his course, and not strive with him.' Therefore when Tsze-hsü strove with (his ruler), he brought on himself the mutilation of his body. If he had not so striven, he would not have acquired his fame:-- was such (goodness) really good or was it not?

As to what the common people now do, and what they find their enjoyment in, I do not know whether the enjoyment be really enjoyment or really not. I see them in their pursuit of it following after all their aims as if with the determination of death, and as if they could not stop in their course; but what they call enjoyment would not be so to me, while yet I do not say that there is no enjoyment in it. Is there indeed such enjoyment, or is there not? I consider doing nothing (to obtain it) to be the great enjoyment, while ordinarily people consider it to be a great evil. Hence it is said, 'Perfect enjoyment is to be without enjoyment; the highest praise is to be without praise.' The right and the wrong (on this point of enjoyment) cannot indeed be determined according to (the view of) the world; nevertheless, this doing nothing (to obtain it) may determine the right and the wrong. Since perfect enjoyment is (held to be) the keeping the body alive, it is only by this doing nothing that that end is likely to be secured. Allow me to try and explain this (more fully):-- Heaven does nothing, and thence comes its serenity; Earth does nothing, and thence comes its rest. By the union of these two inactivities, all things are produced. How vast and imperceptible is the process!-- they seem to come from nowhere! How imperceptible and vast!-- there is no visible image of it! All things in all their variety grow from this Inaction. Hence it is said, 'Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that they do not do.' But what man is there that can attain to this inaction?

2. When Kwang-tsze's wife died, Hui-tsze went to condole with him, and, finding him squatted on the ground, drumming on the basin, and singing, said to him, 'When a wife has lived with her husband, and brought up children, and then dies in her old age, not to wail for her is enough. When you go on to drum on this basin and sing, is it not an excessive (and strange) demonstration?' Kwang-tsze replied, 'It is not so. When she first died, was it possible for me to be singular and not affected by the event? But I reflected on the commencement of her being. She had not yet been born to life; not only had she no life, but she had no bodily form; not only had she no bodily form, but she had no breath. During the intermingling of the waste and dark chaos, there ensued a change, and there was breath; another change, and there was the bodily form; another change, and there came birth and life. There is now a change again, and she is dead. The relation between these things is like the procession of the four seasons from spring to autumn, from winter to summer. There now she lies with her face up, sleeping in the Great Chamber; and if I were to fall sobbing and going on to wall for her, I should think that I did not understand what was appointed (for all). I therefore restrained myself!'