The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 31 (cont.): The Old Fisherman

Chuang Tzu

Yü-fû, or 'The Old Fisherman.' (cont.)

Confucius looked sorrowful and sighed. (Again) he bowed twice, and then rose up and said, 'I was twice driven from Lû. I had to flee from Wei; the tree under which I rested was cut down in Sung; I was kept in a state of siege between Khan and Tshâi. I do not know what errors I had committed that I came to be misrepresented on these four occasions (and suffered as I did).' The stranger looked grieved (at these words), changed countenance, and said, 'Very difficult it is, Sir, to make you understand. There was a man who was frightened at his shadow and disliked to see his footsteps, so that he ran to escape from them. But the more frequently he lifted his feet, the more numerous his footprints were; and however fast he ran, his shadow did not leave him. He thought he was going too slow, and ran on with all his speed without stopping, till his strength was exhausted and he died. He did not know that, if he had stayed in a shady place, his shadow would have disappeared, and that if he had remained still, he would have lost his footprints:-- his stupidity was excessive! And you, Sir, exercise your judgment on the questions about benevolence and righteousness; you investigate the points where agreement and difference touch; you look at the changes from movement to rest and from rest to movement; you have mastered the rules of receiving and giving; you have defined the feelings of liking and disliking; you have harmonised the limits of joy and anger:-- and yet you have hardly been able to escape (the troubles of which you speak). If you earnestly cultivated your own person, and carefully guarded your (proper) truth, simply rendering to others what was due to them, then you would have escaped such entanglements. But now, when you do not cultivate your own person, and make the cultivation of others your object, are you not occupying yourself with what is external?'

Confucius with an air of sadness said, 'Allow me to ask what it is that you call my proper Truth.' The stranger replied, 'A man's proper Truth is pure sincerity in its highest degree;-- without this pure sincerity one cannot move others. Hence if one (only) forces himself to wail, however sadly he may do so, it is not (real) sorrow; if he forces himself to be angry, however he may seem to be severe, he excites no awe; if he forces himself to show affection, however he may smile, he awakens no harmonious reciprocation. True grief, without a sound, is yet sorrowful; true anger, without any demonstration, yet awakens awe; true affection, without a smile, yet produces a harmonious reciprocation. Given this truth within, it exercises a spiritual efficacy without, and this is why we count it so valuable. In our relations with others, it appears according to the requirements of each case:-- in the service of parents, as gentle, filial duty; in the service of rulers, as loyalty and integrity; in festive drinking, as pleasant enjoyment; in the performance of the mourning rites, as sadness and sorrow. In loyalty and integrity, good service is the principal thing; in festive drinking, the enjoyment; in the mourning rites, the sorrow; in the service of parents, the giving them pleasure. The beauty of the service rendered (to a ruler) does not require that it always be performed in one way; the service of parents so as to give them pleasure takes no account of how it is done; the festive drinking which ministers enjoyment does not depend on the appliances for it; the observance of the mourning rites with the proper sorrow asks no questions about the rites themselves. Rites are prescribed for the practice of the common people; man's proper Truth is what he has received from Heaven, operating spontaneously, and unchangeable. Therefore the sages take their law from Heaven, and prize their (proper) Truth, without submitting to the restrictions of custom. The stupid do the reverse of this. They are unable to take their law from Heaven, and are influenced by other men; they do not know how to prize the proper Truth (of their nature), but are under the dominion of ordinary things, and change according to the customs (around them):-- always, consequently, incomplete. Alas for you, Sir, that you were early steeped in the hypocrisies of men, and have been so late in hearing about the Great Way!'

(Once more), Confucius bowed twice (to the fisherman), then rose again, and said, 'That I have met you to-day is as if I had the happiness of getting to heaven. If you, Master, are not ashamed, but will let me be as your servant, and continue to teach me, let me venture to ask where your dwelling is. I will then beg to receive your instructions there, and finish my learning of the Great Way.' The stranger replied, 'I have heard the saying, "If it be one with whom you can walk together, go with him to the subtlest mysteries of the Tâo. If it be one with whom you cannot walk together and he do not know the Tâo, take care that you do not associate with him, and you will yourself incur no responsibility." Do your utmost, Sir. I must leave you, I must leave you!' With this he shoved off his boat, and went away among the green reeds.

Yen Yüan (now) returned to the carriage, where Tsze-lû handed to him the strap; but Confucius did not look round, (continuing where he was), till the wavelets were stilled, and he did not hear the sound of the pole, when at last he ventured to (return and) take his seat. Tsze-lû, by his side in the carriage, asked him, saying, 'I have been your servant for a long time, but I have never seen you, Master, treat another with the awe and reverence which you have now shown. I have seen you in the presence of a Lord of ten thousand chariots or a Ruler of a thousand, and they have never received you in a different audience-room, or treated you but with the courtesies due to an equal, while you have still carried yourself with a reserved and haughty air; but to-day this old fisherman has stood erect in front of you with his pole in his hand, while you, bent from your loins in the form of a sounding-stone, would bow twice before you answered him;-- was not your reverence of him excessive? Your disciples will all think it strange in you, Master. Why did the old fisherman receive such homage from you?'

Confucius leant forward on the cross-bar of the carriage, heaved a sigh, and said, 'Difficult indeed is it to change you, 0 Yû! You have been trained in propriety and righteousness for long, and yet your servile and mean heart has not been taken front you. Come nearer, that I may speak fully to you. If you meet one older than yourself, and do not show him respect, you fail in propriety. If you see a man of superior wisdom and goodness, and do not honour him, you want the great characteristic of humanity. If that (fisherman) did not possess it in the highest degree, how could he make others submit to him? And if their submission to him be not sincere, they do not attain to the truth (of their nature), and inflict a lasting injury on their persons. Alas! there is no greater calamity to man than the want of this characteristic; and you, 0 Yû, you alone, would take such want on yourself

'Moreover, the Tâo is the course by which all things should proceed. For things to fail in this is death; to observe it, is life. To oppose it in practice is ruin; to conform it, is success. Therefore wherever the sagely man finds the Tâo, he honours it. And that old fisherman to-day might be said to possess it;-- dared I presume not to show him reverence?'