The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 22: Knowledge Rambling in the North

Chuang Tzu

Kih Pei Yû, or 'Knowledge Rambling in the North.'

1. Knowledge had rambled northwards to the region of the Dark Water, where he ascended the height of Imperceptible Slope, when it happened that he met with Dumb Inaction. Knowledge addressed him, saying, 'I wish to ask you some questions:-- By what process of thought and anxious consideration do we get to know the Tâo? Where should we dwell and what should we do to find our rest in the Tâo? From what point should we start and what path should we pursue to make the Tâo our own?' He asked these three questions, but Dumb Inaction gave him no reply. Not only did he not answer, but he did not know how to answer.

Knowledge, disappointed by the fruitlessness of his questions, returned to the south of the Bright Water, and ascended the height of the End of Doubt, where he saw Heedless Blurter, to whom he put the same questions, and who replied, 'Ah! I know, and will tell you.' But while he was about to speak, he forgot what he wanted to say.

Knowledge, (again) receiving no answer to his questions, returned to the palace of the Tî, where he saw Hwang-Tî, and put the questions to him. Hwang-Tî said, 'To exercise no thought and no anxious consideration is the first step towards knowing the Tâo; to dwell nowhere and do nothing is the first step towards resting in the Tâo; to start from nowhere and pursue no path is the first step towards making the Tâo your own.'

Knowledge then asked Hwang-Tî, saying, 'I and you know this; those two did not know it; which of us is right?' The reply was, 'Dumb Inaction is truly right; Heedless Blurter has an appearance of being so; I and you are not near being so. (As it is said), "Those who know (the Tâo) do not speak of it; those who speak of it do not know it;" and "Hence the sage conveys his instructions without the use of speech." The Tâo cannot be made ours by constraint; its characteristics will not come to us (at our call). Benevolence may be practised; Righteousness may be partially attended to; by Ceremonies men impose on one another. Hence it is said, "When the Tâo was lost, its Characteristics appeared. When its Characteristics were lost, Benevolence appeared. When Benevolence was lost, Righteousness appeared. When Righteousness was lost, Ceremonies appeared. Ceremonies are but (the unsubstantial) flowers of the Tâo, and the commencement of disorder." Hence (also it is further said), "He who practises the Tâo, daily diminishes his doing. He diminishes it and again diminishes it, till he arrives at doing nothing. Having arrived at this non-inaction, there is nothing that he does not do." Here now there is something, a regularly fashioned utensil;-- if you wanted to make it return to the original condition of its materials, would it not be difficult to make it do so? Could any but the Great Man accomplish this easily?

'Life is the follower of death, and death is the predecessor of life; but who knows the Arranger (of this connexion between them)? The life is due to the collecting of the breath. When that is collected, there is life; when it is dispersed, there is death. Since death and life thus attend on each other, why should I account (either of) them an evil?

'Therefore all things go through one and the same experience. (Life) is accounted beautiful because it is spirit-like and wonderful, and death is accounted ugly because of its foetor and putridity. But the foetid and putrid is transformed again into the spirit-like and wonderful, and the spirit-like and wonderful is transformed again into the foetid and putrid. Hence it is said, "All under the sky there is one breath of life, and therefore the sages prized that unity."'

Knowledge said to Hwang-Tî, 'I asked Dumb Inaction, and he did not answer me. Not only did he not answer me, but he did not know how to answer me. I asked Heedless Blurter, and while he wanted to tell me, he yet did not do so. Not only did he not tell me, but while he wanted to tell me, he forgot all about my questions. Now I have asked you, and you knew (all about them);-- why (do you say that) you are not near doing so?' Hwang-Tî replied, 'Dumb Inaction was truly right, because he did not know the thing. Heedless Blurter was nearly right, because he forgot it. I and you are not nearly right, because we know it.' Heedless Blurter heard of (all this), and considered that Hwang-Tî knew how to express himself (on the subject).

2. (The operations of) Heaven and Earth proceed in the most admirable way, but they say nothing about them; the four seasons observe the clearest laws, but they do not discuss them ; all things have their complete and distinctive constitutions, but they say nothing about them.

The sages trace out the admirable operations of Heaven and Earth, and reach to and understand the distinctive constitutions of all things; and thus it is that the Perfect Man (is said to) do nothing and the Greatest Sage to originate nothing, such language showing that they look to Heaven and Earth as their model. Even they, with their spirit-like and most exquisite intelligence, as well as all the tribes that undergo their transformations, the dead and the living, the square and the round, do not understand their root and origin, but nevertheless they all from the oldest time by it preserve their being.

Vast as is the space included within the six cardinal points, it all (and all that it contains) lies within (this twofold root of Heaven and Earth); small as is an autumn hair, it is indebted to this for the completion of its form. All things beneath the sky, now rising, now descending, ever continue the same through this. The Yin and Yang, and the four seasons revolve and move by it, each in its proper order. Now it seems to be lost in obscurity, but it continues; now it seems to glide away, and have no form, but it is still spirit-like. All things are nourished by it, without their knowing it. This is what is called the Root and Origin; by it we may obtain a view of what we mean by Heaven.

3. Nieh Khüeh asked about the Tâo from Phei-î, who replied, 'If you keep your body as it should be, and look only at the one thing, the Harmony of Heaven will come to you. Call in your knowledge, and make your measures uniform, and the spiritual (belonging to you) will come and lodge with you; the Attributes (of the Tâo) will be your beauty, and the Tâo (itself) will be your dwelling-place. You will have the simple look of a new-born calf, and will not seek to know the cause (of your being what you are).' Phei-î had not finished these words when the other dozed off into a sleep.

Phei-î was greatly pleased, and walked away, singing as he went,

'Like stump of rotten tree his frame,
Like lime when slaked his mind became.
Real is his wisdom, solid, true,
Nor cares what's hidden to pursue.
0 dim and dark his aimless mind!
No one from him can counsel find.
What sort of man is he?'

4. Shun asked (his attendant) Khang, saying, 'Can I get the Tâo and hold it as mine?' The reply was, 'Your body is not your own to hold;-- how then can you get and hold the Tâo?' Shun resumed, 'If my body be not mine to possess and hold, who holds it?' Khang said, 'It is the bodily form entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth. Life is not yours to hold. It is the blended harmony (of the Yin and Yang), entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth. Your nature, constituted as it is, is not yours to hold. It is entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth to act in accordance with it. Your grandsons and sons are not yours to hold. They are the exuviae entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth. Therefore when we walk, we should not know where we are going; when we stop and rest, we should not know what to occupy ourselves with when we eat, we should not know the taste of our food;-- all is done by the strong Yang influence of Heaven and Earth'. How then can you get (the Tâo), and hold it as your own?'