The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 33 (cont.): Thien Hsiâ

Chuang Tzu

Thien Hsiâ. (cont.)

4. Public-spirited, and with nothing of the partizan; easy and compliant, without any selfish partialities; capable of being led, without any positive tendencies; following in the wake of others, without any double mind; not looking round because of anxious thoughts; not scheming in the exercise of their wisdom; not choosing between parties, but going along with all;-- all such courses belonged to the Tâoists of antiquity, and they were appreciated by Phang Mang, Thien Phien, and Shan Tâo. When they heard of such ways, they were delighted with them. They considered that the first thing for them to do was to adjust the controversies about different things. They said, 'Heaven can cover, but it cannot sustain; Earth can contain, but it cannot cover. The Great Tâo embraces all things, but It does not discriminate between them.'

They knew that all things have what they can do and what they cannot do. Hence it is said, 'If you select, you do not reach all; if you teach some things, you must omit the others; but the Tâo neglects none.' Therefore Shan Tâo discarded his knowledge and also all thought of himself, acting only where he had no alternative, and pursued it as his course to be indifferent and pure in his dealings with others. He said that the best knowledge was to have no knowledge, and that if we had a little knowledge it was likely to prove a dangerous thing. Conscious of his unfitness, he undertook no charge, and laughed at those who valued ability and virtue. Remiss and evasive, he did nothing, and disallowed the greatest sages which the world had known. Now with a hammer, now with his hand, smoothing all corners, and breaking all bonds, he accommodated himself to all conditions. He disregarded right and wrong, his only concern being to avoid trouble; he learned nothing from the wise and thoughtful, and took no note of the succession of events, thinking only of carrying himself with a lofty disregard of everything. He went where he was pushed, and followed where he was led, like a whirling wind, like a feather tossed about, like the revolutions of a grindstone.

What was the reason that he appeared thus complete, doing nothing wrong? that, whether in motion or at rest, he committed no error, and could be charged with no transgression? Creatures that have no knowledge are free from the troubles that arise from self-assertion and the entanglements that spring from the use of knowledge. Moving and at rest, they do not depart from their proper course, and all their life long they do not receive any praise. Hence (Shan Tâo) said, 'Let me come to be like a creature without knowledge. Of what use are the (teachings of the) sages and worthies?' But a clod of earth never fails in the course (proper for it), and men of spirit and eminence laughed together at him, and said, 'The way of Shan Tâo does not describe the conduct of living men; that it should be predicable only of the dead is strange indeed!'

It was just the same with Thien Phien. He learned under Phang Mang, but it was as if he were not taught at all. The master of Phang Mang said, 'The Tâoist professors of old came no farther than to say that nothing was absolutely right and nothing absolutely wrong.' His spirit was like the breath of an opposing wind; how can it be described in words? But he was always contrary to (the views of) other men, which he would not bring together to view, and he did not escape shaving the corners and bonds (of which I have spoken). What he called the Tâo was not the true Tâo, and what he called the right was really the wrong.

Phang Mang, Thien Phien, and Shan Tâo did not in fact know the Tâo; but nevertheless they had heard in a general way about it.

5. To take the root (from which things spring) as the essential (part), and the things as its coarse (embodiment); to see deficiency in accumulation; and in the solitude of one's individuality to dwell with the spirit-like and intelligent;-- such a course belonged to the Tâo of antiquity, and it was appreciated by Kwan Yin and Lâo Tan. When they heard of such ways, they were delighted with them. They built their system on the assumption of an eternal non-existence, and made the ruling idea in it that of the Grand Unity. They made weakness and humility their mark of distinction, and considered that by empty vacuity no injury could be sustained, but all things be preserved in their substantiality.

Kwan Yin says, 'To him who does not dwell in himself the forms of things show themselves as they are. His movement is like that of water; his stillness is like that of a mirror; his response is like that of the echo. His tenuity makes him seem to be disappearing altogether; he is still as a clear (lake), harmonious in his association with others, and he counts gain as loss. He does not take precedence of others, but follows them.' Lâo Tan says, 'He knows his masculine power, but maintains his female weakness,-- becoming the channel into which all streams flow. He knows his white purity, but keeps his disgrace,-- becoming the valley of the world. Men all prefer to be first; he alone chooses to be last, saying, "I will receive the offscourings of the world." Men all choose fulness; he alone chooses emptiness. He does not store, and therefore he has a superabundance; he looks solitary, but has a multitude around him. In his conducting of himself he is easy and leisurely and wastes nothing. He does nothing, and laughs at the clever and ingenious. Men all seek for happiness, but he feels complete in his imperfect condition, and says, "Let me only escape blame." He regards what is deepest as his root, and what is most restrictive as his rule; and says, "The strong is broken; the sharp and pointed is blunted." He is always generous and forbearing with others, and does not encroach on any man;-- this may be pronounced the height (of perfection).'

O Kwan Yin, and Lâo Tan, ye were among the greatest men of antiquity; True men indeed!