The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 28 (cont.): Kings who have wished to resign the Throne

Chuang Tzu

Zang Wang, or 'Kings who have wished to resign the Throne.' (cont.)

8. When Confucius was reduced to extreme distress between Khan and Tshâi, for seven days he had no cooked meat to eat, but only some soup of coarse vegetables without any rice in it. His countenance wore the appearance of great exhaustion, and yet he kept playing on his lute and singing inside the house. Yen Hui (was outside), selecting the vegetables, while Tsze-lû and Tsze-kung were talking together, and said to him, 'The Master has twice been driven from Lû; he had to flee from Wei; the tree (beneath which he rested) was cut down in Sung; he was reduced to extreme distress in Shang and Kâu; he is held in a state of siege here between Khan and Tshâi; any one who kills him will be held guiltless; there is no prohibition against making him a prisoner. And yet he keeps playing and singing, thrumming his lute without ceasing. Can a superior man be without the feeling of shame to such an extent as this?' Yen Hui gave them no reply, but went in and told (their words) to Confucius, who pushed aside his lute, and said, 'Yû and Tshze are small men. Call them here, and I will explain the thing to them.'

When they came in, Tsze-lû said, 'Your present condition may be called one of extreme distress.' Confucius replied, 'What words are these! When the Superior man has free course with his principles, that is what we call his success; when such course is denied, that is what we call his failure. Now I hold in my embrace the principles of benevolence and righteousness, and with them meet the evils of a disordered age;-- where is the proof of my being in extreme distress? Therefore looking inwards and examining myself, I have no difficulties about my principles; though I encounter such difficulties (as the present), I do not lose my virtue. It is when winter's cold is come, and the hoar-frost and snow are falling, that we know the vegetative power of the pine and cypress. This strait between Khan and Tshâi is fortunate for me.' He then took back his lute so that it emitted a twanging sound, and began to play and sing. (At the same time) Tsze-lû, hurriedly, seized a shield, and began to dance, while Tsze-kung said, 'I did not know (before) the height of heaven nor the depth of the earth.'

The ancients who had got the Tâo were happy when reduced to extremity, and happy when having free course. Their happiness was independent of both these conditions. The Tâo, and its characteristics!-- let them have these and distress and success come to them as cold and heat, as wind and rain in the natural order of things. Thus it was that Hsü Yû. found pleasure on the north of the river Ying, and that the earl of Kung enjoyed himself on the top of mount (Kung).

9. Shun proposed to resign the throne to his friend, the Northerner Wû-kâi, who said, 'A strange man you are, 0 sovereign! You (first) lived among the channeled fields, and then your place was in the palace of Yâo. And not only so:-- you now further wish to extend to me the stain of your disgraceful doings. I am ashamed to see you.' And on this he threw himself into the abyss of Khing-lang.

When Thang was about to attack Kieh, he took counsel with Pien Sui, who said, 'It is no business of mine.' Thang then said, 'To whom should I apply?' And the other said, 'I do not know.' Thang then took counsel with Wû Kwang, who gave the same answer as Pien Sui; and when asked to whom he should apply, said in the same way, 'I do not know.' 'Suppose,' Thang then said, 'I apply to Î Yin, what do you say about him?' The reply was, 'He has a wonderful power in doing what is disgraceful, and I know nothing more about him!'

Thang thereupon took counsel with Î Yin, attacked Kieh, and overcame him, after which he proposed to resign the throne to Pien Sui, who declined it, saying, 'When you were about to attack Kieh, and sought counsel from me, you must have supposed me to be prepared to be a robber. Now that you have conquered Kieh, and propose to resign the throne to me, you must consider me to be greedy. I have been born in an age of disorder, and a man without principle twice comes, and tries to extend to me the stain of his disgraceful proceedings!-- I cannot bear to hear the repetition of his proposals.' With this he threw himself into the Kâu water and died.

Thang further made proffer of the throne to Wû Kwang, saying, 'The wise man has planned it; the martial man has carried it through; and the benevolent man should occupy it:-- this was the method of antiquity. Why should you, Sir, not take the position?' Wû Kwang refused the proffer, saying, 'To depose the sovereign is contrary to right; to kill the people is contrary to benevolence. When another has encountered the risks, if I should accept the gain of his adventure, I should violate my disinterestedness. I have heard it said, "If it be not right for him to do so, one should not accept the emolument; in an age of unprincipled (government), one should not put foot on the soil (of the) country:"-- how much less should I accept this position of honour! I cannot bear to see you any longer.' And with this he took a stone on his back, and drowned himself in the Lü water.

10. Formerly, at the rise of the Kâu dynasty, there were two brothers who lived in Kû-kû, and were named Po-î and Shû-khî. They spoke together and said, 'We have heard that in the west there is one who seems to rule according to the Right Way; let us go and see.' (Accordingly) they came to the south of (mount) Khî; and when king Wû heard of them, he sent (his brother) Shû Tan to see them, and make a covenant with them, engaging that their wealth should be second (only to that of the king), and that their offices should be of the first rank, and instructing him to bury the covenant with the blood of the victim after they had smeared the corners of their mouths with it. The brothers looked at each other and laughed, saying, 'Ah! How strange! This is not what we call the Right Way. Formerly, when Shan Nang had the kingdom, he offered his sacrifices at the proper seasons and with the utmost reverence, but without praying for any blessing. Towards men he was leal-hearted and sincere, doing his utmost in governing them, but without seeking anything for himself. When it was his pleasure to use administrative measures, he did so; and a sterner rule when he thought that would be better. He did not by the ruin of others establish his own power; he did not exalt himself by bringing others low; he did not, when the time was opportune, seek his own profit. But now Kâu, seeing the disorder of Yin, has suddenly taken the government into its hands; with the high it has taken counsel, and with those below employed bribes; it relies on its troops to maintain the terror of its might; it makes covenants over victims to prove its good faith; it vaunts its proceedings to please the masses; it kills and attacks for the sake of gain:-- this is simply overthrowing disorder and changing it for tyranny. We have heard that the officers of old, in an age of good government, did not shrink from their duties, and in an age of disorder did not recklessly seek to remain in office. Now the kingdom is in a state of darkness; the virtue of Kâu is decayed. Than to join with it and lay our persons in the dust, it is better for us to abandon it, and maintain the purity of our conduct.'

The two princes then went north to the hill of Shâu-yang, where they died of starvation. If men such as they, in the matter of riches and honours, can manage to avoid them, (let them do so); but they must not depend on their lofty virtue to pursue any perverse course, only gratifying their own tendencies, and not doing service in their time:-- this was the style of these two princes.