The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 27: Metaphorical Language

Chuang Tzu

Yü Yen, or 'Metaphorical Language.'

1. Of my sentences nine in ten are metaphorical; of my illustrations seven in ten are from valued writers. The rest of my words are like the water that daily fills the cup, tempered and harmonised by the Heavenly element in our nature.

The nine sentences in ten which are metaphorical are borrowed from extraneous things to assist (the comprehension of) my argument. (When it is said, for instance), 'A father does not act the part of matchmaker for his own son,' (the meaning is that) 'it is better for another man to praise the son than for his father to do so.' The use of such metaphorical language is not my fault, but the fault of men (who would not otherwise readily understand me).

Men assent to views which agree with their own, and oppose those which do not so agree. Those which agree with their own they hold to be right, and those which do not so agree they hold to be wrong. The seven out of ten illustrations taken from valued writers are designed to put an end to disputations. Those writers are the men of hoary eld, my predecessors in time. But such as are unversed in the warp and woof, the beginning and end of the subject, cannot be set down as of venerable eld, and regarded as the predecessors of others. If men have not that in them which fits them to precede others, they are without the way proper to man, and they who are without the way proper to man can only be pronounced defunct monuments of antiquity.

Words like the water that daily issues from the cup, and are harmonised by the Heavenly Element (of our nature), may be carried on into the region of the unlimited, and employed to the end of our years. But without words there is an agreement (in principle). That agreement is not effected by words, and an agreement in words is not effected by it. Hence it is said, 'Let there be no words.' Speech does not need words. One may speak all his life, and not have spoken a (right) word; and one may not have spoken all his life, and yet all his life been giving utterance to the (right) words. There is that which makes a thing allowable, and that which makes a thing not allowable. There is that which makes a thing right, and that which makes a thing not right. How is a thing right? It is right because it is right. How is a thing wrong? It is wrong because it is wrong. How is a thing allowable? It is allowable because it is so. How is a thing not allowable? It is not allowable because it is not so. Things indeed have what makes them right, and what makes them allowable. There is nothing which has not its condition of right; nothing which has not its condition of allowability. But without the words of the (water-) cup in daily use, and harmonised by the Heavenly Element (in our nature), what one can continue long in the possession of these characteristics?

All things are divided into their several classes, and succeed to one another in the same way, though of different bodily forms. They begin and end as in an unbroken ring, though how it is they do so be not apprehended. This is what is called the Lathe of Heaven; and the Lathe of Heaven is the Heavenly Element in our nature.

2. Kwang-tsze said to Hui-tsze, 'When Confucius was in his sixtieth year, in that year his views changed. What he had before held to be right, he now ended by holding to be wrong; and he did not know whether the things which he now pronounced to be right were not those which he had for fifty-nine years held to be wrong.' Hui-tsze replied, 'Confucius with an earnest will pursued the acquisition of knowledge, and acted accordingly.' Kwang-tsze rejoined, 'Confucius disowned such a course, and never said that it was his. He said, "Man receives his powers from the Great Source (of his being), and he should restore them to their (original) intelligence in his life. His singing should be in accordance with the musical tubes, and his speech a model for imitation. When profit and righteousness are set before him, and his liking (for the latter) and dislike (of the former), his approval and disapproval, are manifested, that only serves to direct the speech of men (about him). To make men in heart submit, and not dare to stand up in opposition to him; to establish the fixed law for all under heaven:-- ah! ah! I have not attained to that."'

3. Tsang-tsze twice took office, and on the two occasions his state of mind was different. He said, 'While my parents were alive I took office, and though my emolument was only three fû (of grain), my mind was happy. Afterwards when I took office, my emolument was three thousand kung; but I could not share it with my parents, and my mind was sad.' The other disciples asked Kung-nî, saying, 'Such an one as Shan may be pronounced free from all entanglement:-- is he to be blamed for feeling as he did?' The reply was, 'But he was subject to entanglement. If he had been free from it, could he have had that sadness? He would have looked on his three fû and three thousand kung no more than on a heron or a mosquito passing before him.'