The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 22 (cont.): Knowledge Rambling in the North

Chuang Tzu

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

5. Confucius asked Lâo Tan, saying, 'Being at leisure to-day, I venture to ask you about the Perfect Tâo.' Lâo Tan replied, 'You must, as by fasting and vigil, clear and purge your mind, wash your spirit white as snow, and sternly repress your knowledge. The subject of the Tâo is deep, and difficult to describe;-- I will give you an outline of its simplest attributes.

'The Luminous was produced from the Obscure; the Multiform from the Unembodied; the Spiritual from the Tâo; and the bodily from the seminal essence. After this all things produced one another from their bodily organisations. Thus it is that those which have nine apertures are born from the womb, and those with eight from eggs. But their coming leaves no trace, and their going no monument; they enter by no door; they dwell in no apartment:-- they are in a vast arena reaching in all directions. They who search for and find (the Tâo) in this are strong in their limbs, sincere and far-reaching in their thinking, acute in their hearing, and clear in their seeing. They exercise their minds without being toiled; they respond to everything aright without regard to place or circumstance. Without this heaven would not be high, nor earth broad; the sun and moon would not move, and nothing would flourish:-- such is the operation of the Tâo.

'Moreover, the most extensive knowledge does not necessarily know it; reasoning will not make men wise in it;-- the sages have decided against both these methods. However you try to add to it, it admits of no increase; however you try to take from it, it admits of no diminution;-- this is what the sages maintain about it. How deep it is, like the sea! How grand it is, beginning again when it has come to an end! If it carried along and sustained all things, without being overburdened or weary, that would be like the way of the superior man, merely an external operation; when all things go to it, and find their dependence in it;-- this is the true character of the Tâo.

'Here is a man (born) in one of the middle states. He feels himself independent both of the Yin and Yang, and dwells between heaven and earth; only for the present a mere man, but he will return to his original source. Looking at him in his origin, when his life begins, we have (but) a gelatinous substance in which the breath is collecting. Whether his life be long or his death early, how short is the space between them! It is but the name for a moment of time, insufficient to play the part of a good Yâo or a bad Kieh in.

'The fruits of trees and creeping plants have their distinctive characters, and though the relationships of men, according to which they are classified, are troublesome, the sage, when he meets with them, does not set himself in opposition to them, and when he has passed through them, he does not seek to retain them; he responds to them in their regular harmony according to his virtue; and even when he accidentally comes across any of them, he does so according to the Tâo. It was thus that the Tâo flourished, thus that the kings arose.

'Men's life between heaven and earth is like a white colt's passing a crevice, and suddenly disappearing. As with a plunge and an effort they all come forth; easily and quietly they all enter again. By a transformation they live, and by another transformation they die. Living things are made sad (by death), and mankind grieve for it; but it is (only) the removal of the bow from its sheath, and the emptying the natural satchel of its contents. There may be some confusion amidst the yielding to the change; but the intellectual and animal souls are taking their leave, and the body will follow them:-- This is the Great Returning home.

'That the bodily frame came from incorporeity, and will return to the same, is what all men in common know, and what those who are on their way to (know) it need not strive for. This is what the multitudes of men discuss together. Those whose (knowledge) is complete do not discuss it;-- such discussion shows that their (knowledge) is not complete. Even the most clear-sighted do not meet (with the Tâo);-- it is better to be silent than to reason about it. The Tâo cannot be heard with the ears;-- it is better to shut the ears than to try and hear it. This is what is called the Great Attainment.'

6. Tung-kwo Tsze asked Kwang-tsze, saying, 'Where is what you call the Tâo to be found?' Kwang-tsze replied, 'Everywhere.' The other said, 'Specify an instance of it. That will be more satisfactory.' ' It is here in this ant.' 'Give a lower instance.' 'It is in this panic grass.' 'Give me a still lower instance.' 'It is in this earthenware tile.' 'Surely that is the lowest instance?' 'It is in that excrement.' To this Tung-kwo Tsze gave no reply.

Kwang-tsze said, 'Your questions, my master, do not touch the fundamental point (of the Tâo). They remind me of the questions addressed by the superintendents of the market to the inspector about examining the value of a pig by treading on it, and testing its weight as the foot descends lower and lower on the body. You should not specify any particular thing. There is not a single thing without (the Tâo). So it is with the Perfect Tâo. And if we call it the Great (Tâo), it is just the same. There are the three terms,-- "Complete," "All-embracing," "the Whole." These names are different, but the reality (sought in them) is the same; referring to the One thing.

'Suppose we were to try to roam about in the palace of No-where;-- when met there, we might discuss (about the subject) without ever coming to an end. Or suppose we were to be together in (the region of) Non-action;-- should we say that (the Tâo was) Simplicity and Stillness? or Indifference and Purity? or Harmony and Ease? My will would be aimless. If it went nowhere, I should not know where it had got to; if it went and came again, I should not know where it had stopped; if it went on going and coming, I should not know when the process would end. In vague uncertainty should I be in the vastest waste. Though I entered it with the greatest knowledge, I should not know how inexhaustible it was. That which makes things what they are has not the limit which belongs to things, and when we speak of things being limited, we mean that they are so in themselves. (The Tâo) is the limit of the unlimited, and the boundlessness of the unbounded.

'We speak of fulness and emptiness; of withering and decay. It produces fulness and emptiness, but is neither fulness nor emptiness; it produces withering and decay, but is neither withering nor decay. It produces the root and branches, but is neither root nor branch; it produces accumulation and dispersion, but is itself neither accumulated nor dispersed.'