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.)

7. A-ho Kan and Shan Nang studied together under Lao-lung Kî. Shan Nang was leaning forward on his stool, having shut the door and gone to sleep in the day time. At midday A-ho Kan pushed open the door and entered, saying, 'Lao-lung is dead.' Shan Nang leant forward on his stool, laid hold of his staff and rose. Then he laid the staff aside with a clash, laughed and said, 'That Heaven knew how cramped and mean, how arrogant and assuming I was, and therefore he has cast me off, and is dead. Now that there is no Master to correct my heedless words, it is simply for me to die!' Yen Kang, (who had come in) to condole, heard these words, and said, 'It is to him who embodies the Tâo that the superior men everywhere cling. Now you who do not understand so much as the tip of an autumn hair of it, not even the ten-thousandth part of the Tâo, still know how to keep hidden your heedless words about it and die;-- how much more might he who embodied the Tâo do so! We look for it, and there is no form; we hearken for it, and there is no sound. When men try to discuss it, we call them dark indeed. When they discuss the Tâo, they misrepresent it.'

Hereupon Grand Purity asked Infinitude, saying, 'Do you know the Tâo?' 'I do not know it,' was the reply. He then asked Do-nothing, Who replied, 'I know it.' 'Is your knowledge of it determined by various points?' 'It is.' 'What are they?' Do-nothing said, 'I know that the Tâo may be considered noble, and may be considered mean, that it may be bound and compressed, and that it may be dispersed and diffused. These are the marks by which I know it.' Grand Purity took the words of those two, and asked No-beginning, saying, 'Such were their replies; which was right? and which was wrong? Infinitude's saying that he did not know it? or Do-nothing's saying that he knew it?' No-beginning said, 'The "I do not know it" was profound, and the "I know it" was shallow. The former had reference to its internal nature; the latter to its external conditions.' Grand Purity looked up and sighed, saying, 'Is "not to know it" then to know it? And is "to know it" not to know it? But who knows that he who does not know it (really) knows it?' No-beginning replied, 'The Tâo cannot be heard; what can be heard is not It. The Tâo cannot be seen; what can be seen is not It. The Tâo cannot be expressed in words; what can be expressed in words is not It. Do we know the Formless which gives form to form? In the same way the Tâo does not admit of being named.'

No-beginning (further) said, 'If one ask about the Tâo and another answer him, neither of them knows it. Even the former who asks has never learned anything about the Tâo. He asks what does not admit of being asked, and the latter answers where answer is impossible. When one asks what does not admit of being asked, his questioning is in (dire) extremity. When one answers where answer is impossible, he has no internal knowledge of the subject. When people without such internal knowledge wait to be questioned by others in dire extremity, they show that externally they see nothing of space and time, and internally know nothing of the Grand Commencement. Therefore they cannot cross over the Khwan-lun, nor roam in the Grand Void.'

8. Starlight asked Non-entity, saying, 'Master, do you exist? or do you not exist?' He got no answer to his question, however, and looked stedfastly to the appearance of the other, which was that of a deep void. All day long he looked to it, but could see nothing; he listened for it, but could hear nothing; he clutched at it, but got hold of nothing. Starlight then said, 'Perfect! Who can attain to this? I can (conceive the ideas of) existence and non-existence, but I cannot (conceive the ideas of) non-existing non-existence, and still there be a nonexisting existence. How is it possible to reach to this?'

9. The forger of swords for the Minister of War had reached the age of eighty, and had not lost a hair's-breadth of his ability. The Minister said to him, 'You are indeed skilful, Sir. Have you any method that makes you so?' The man said, 'Your servant has (always) kept to his work. When I was twenty, I was fond of forging swords. I looked at nothing else. I paid no attention to anything but swords. By my constant practice of it, I came to be able to do the work without any thought of what I was doing. By length of time one acquires ability at any art; and how much more one who is ever at work on it! What is there which does not depend on this, and succeed by it?'

10. Zan Khiû asked Kung-nî, saying, 'Can it be known how it was before heaven and earth?' The reply was, 'It can. It was the same of old as now.' Zan Khiû asked no more and withdrew. Next day, however, he had another interview, and said, 'Yesterday I asked whether it could be known how it was before heaven and earth, and you, Master, said, "It can. As it is now, so it was of old." Yesterday, I seemed to understand you clearly, but to-day it is dark to me. I venture to ask you for an explanation of this.' Kung-nî said, 'Yesterday you seemed to understand me clearly, because your own spiritual nature had anticipated my reply. Today it seems dark to you, for you are in an unspiritual mood, and are trying to discover the meaning. (In this matter) there is no old time and no present; no beginning and no ending. Could it be that there were grandchildren and children before there were (other) grandchildren and children?'

Zan Khiû had not made any reply, when Kung-nî went on, 'Let us have done. There can be no answering (on your part). We cannot with life give life to death; we cannot with death give death to life. Do death and life wait (for each other)? There is that which contains them both in its one comprehension. Was that which was produced before Heaven and Earth a thing? That which made things and gave to each its character was not itself a thing. Things came forth and could not be before things, as if there had (previously) been things;-- as if there had been things (producing one another) without end. The love of the sages for others, and never coming to an end, is an idea taken from this.'

11. Yen Yüan asked Kung-nî, saying, 'Master, I have heard you say, "There should be no demonstration of welcoming; there should be no movement to meet;"-- I venture to ask in what way this affection of the mind may be shown.' The reply was, 'The ancients, amid (all) external changes, did not change internally; now-a-days men change internally, but take no note of external changes. When one only notes the changes of things, himself continuing one and the same, he does not change. How should there be (a difference between) his changing and not changing? How should he put himself in contact with (and come under the influence of) those external changes? He is sure, however, to keep his points of contact with them from being many. The park of Shih-wei, the garden of Hwang-Tî, the palace of the Lord of Yü, and the houses of Thang and Wû;-- (these all were places in which this was done). But the superior men (so called, of later days), such as the masters of the Literati and of Mohism, were bold to attack each other with their controversies; and how much more so are the men of the present day! Sages in dealing with others do not wound them; and they who do not wound others cannot be wounded by them. Only he whom others do not injure is able to welcome and meet men.

'Forests and marshes make me joyful and glad; but before the joy is ended, sadness comes and succeeds to it. When sadness and joy come, I cannot prevent their approach; when they go, I cannot retain them. How sad it is that men should only be as lodging-houses for things, (and the emotions which they excite)! They know what they meet, but they do not know what they do not meet; they use what power they have, but they cannot be strong where they are powerless. Such ignorance and powerlessness is what men cannot avoid. That they should try to avoid what they cannot avoid, is not this also sad? Perfect speech is to put speech away; perfect action is to put action away; to digest all knowledge that is known is a thing to be despised.'