1. Among the disciples of Lâo Tan there was a Kang-sang Khû, who had got a greater knowledge than the others of his doctrines, and took up his residence with it in the north at the hill of Wei-lêi. His servants who were pretentious and knowing he sent away, and his concubines who were officious and kindly he kept at a distance; living (only) with those who were boorish and rude, and employing (only) the bustling and ill-mannered. After three years there was great prosperity in Wei-lêi, and the people said to one another, 'When Mr. Kang-sang first came here, he alarmed us, and we thought him strange; our estimate of him after a short acquaintance was that he could not do us much good; but now that we have known him for years, we find him a more than ordinary benefit. Must he not be near being a sage? Why should you not unite in blessing him as the representative of our departed (whom we worship), and raise an altar to him as we do to the spirit of the grain?' Kang-sang heard of it, kept his face indeed to the south but was dissatisfied.
His disciples thought it strange in him, but he said to them, 'Why, my disciples, should you think this strange in me? When the airs of spring come forth, all vegetation grows; and, when the autumn arrives, all the previous fruits of the earth are matured. Do spring and autumn have these effects without any adequate cause? The processes of the Great Tâo have been in operation. I have heard that the Perfect man dwells idly in his apartment within its surrounding walls, and the people get wild and crazy, not knowing how they should repair to him. Now these small people of Wei-lêi in their opinionative way want to present their offerings to me, and place me among such men of ability and virtue. But am I a man to be set up as such a model? It is on this account that I am dissatisfied when I think of the words of Lâo Tan.'
2. His disciples said, 'Not so. In ditches eight cubits wide, or even twice as much, big fishes cannot turn their bodies about, but minnows and eels find them sufficient for them; on hillocks six or seven cubits high, large beasts cannot conceal themselves, but foxes of evil omen find it a good place for them. And moreover, honour should be paid to the wise, offices given to the able, and preference shown to the good and the beneficial. From of old Yâo and Shun acted thus;-- how much more may the people of Wei-lêi do so! 0 Master, let them have their way!'
Kang-sang replied, 'Come nearer, my little children. If a beast that could hold a carriage in its mouth leave its hill by itself, it will not escape the danger that awaits it from the net; or if a fish that could swallow a boat be left dry by the flowing away of the water, then (even) the ants are able to trouble it. Thus it is that birds and beasts seek to be as high as possible, and fishes and turtles seek to lie as deep as possible. In the same way men who wish to preserve their bodies and lives keep their persons concealed, and they do so in the deepest retirement possible. And moreover, what was there in those sovereigns to entitle them to your laudatory mention? Their sophistical reasonings (resembled) the reckless breaking down of walls and enclosures and planting the wild rubus and wormwood in their place; or making the hair thin before they combed it; or counting the grains of rice before they cooked them. They would do such things with careful discrimination; but what was there in them to benefit the world? If you raise the men of talent to office, you will create disorder; making the people strive with one another for promotion; if you employ men for their wisdom, the people will rob one another (of their reputation). These various things are insufficient to make the people good and honest. They are very eager for gain;-- a son will kill his father, and a minister his ruler (for it). In broad daylight men will rob, and at midday break through walls. I tell you that the root of the greatest disorder was planted in the times of Yâo and Shun. The branches of it will remain for a thousand ages; and after a thousand ages men will be found eating one another.'
3. (On this) Nan-yung Khû abruptly sat right up and said, 'What method can an old man like me adopt to become (the Perfect man) that you have described?' Kang-sang Tsze said, 'Maintain your body complete; hold your life in close embrace; and do not let your thoughts keep working anxiously:-- do this for three years, and you may become the man of whom I have spoken.' The other rejoined, 'Eyes are all of the same form, I do not know any difference between them:-- yet the blind have no power of vision. Ears are all of the same form; I do not know any difference between them:-- yet the deaf have no power of hearing. Minds are all of the same nature, I do not know any difference between them;-- yet the mad cannot make the minds of other men their own. (My) personality is indeed like (yours), but things seem to separate between us. I wish to find in myself what there is in you, but I am not able to do so. You have now said to me, "Maintain your body complete; hold your life in close embrace; and do not let your thoughts keep working anxiously." With all my efforts to learn your Way, (your words) reach only my ears.' Kang-sang replied, 'I can say nothing more to you,' and then he added, 'Small flies cannot transform the bean caterpillar; Yüeh fowls cannot hatch the eggs of geese, but Lû fowls can. It is not that the nature of these fowls is different; the ability in the one case and inability in the other arise from their different capacities as large and small. My ability is small and not sufficient to transform you. Why should you not go south and see Lâo-tsze?'
4. Nan-yung Khû hereupon took with him some rations, and after seven days and seven nights arrived at the abode of Lâo-tsze, who said to him, 'Are you come from Khû's?' 'I am,' was the reply. 'And why, Sir, have you come with such a multitude of attendants?' Nan-yung was frightened, and turned his head round to look behind him. Lâo-tsze said, 'Do you not understand my meaning?' The other held his head down and was ashamed, and then he lifted it up, and sighed, saying, 'I forgot at the moment what I should reply to your question, and in consequence I have lost what I wished to ask you.' 'What do you mean?' 'If I have not wisdom, men say that I am stupid, while if I have it, it occasions distress to myself. If I have not benevolence, then (I am charged) with doing hurt to others, while if I have it, I distress myself. If I have not righteousness, I (am charged with) injuring others, while if I have it, I distress myself. How can I escape from these dilemmas? These are the three perplexities that trouble me; and I wish at the suggestion of Khû to ask you about them.' Lâo-tsze replied, 'A little time ago, when I saw you and looked right into your eyes, I understood you, and now your words confirm the judgment which I formed. You look frightened and amazed. You have lost your parents, and are trying with a pole to find them at the (bottom of) the sea. You have gone astray; you are at your wit's end. You wish to recover your proper nature, and you know not what step to take first to find it. You are to be pitied!'