posted 17 Mar 2013, 13:55 by Jim Sheng
[A Taoist in 4th century B.C., of whom the Chinese nation might well be proud. He is an advanced exponent of the doctrines of Lao Tzü.] 



FOUR men were conversing together, when the following resolution was suggested:  "Whosoever can make Inaction the head, Life the backbone, and Death the tail, of his existence,  that man shall be admitted to friendship with us." The four looked at each other and smiled; and tacitly accepting the conditions, became friends forthwith. 

By-and-by, one of them, named Tzu-yü, fell ill, and another Tzu-ssu, went to see him. "Verily God is great!" said the sick man. "See how he has doubled me up. My back is so hunched that my viscera are at the top of my body. My cheeks are level with my navel. My shoulders are higher than my neck. My hair grows up towards the sky. The whole economy of my organism is deranged. Nevertheless, my mental equilibrium is not disturbed." So saying, he dragged himself painfully to a well, where he could see himself, and continued, "Alas, that God should have doubled me up like this!" 

"Are you afraid?" asked Tzu-ssu. "I am not," replied Tzu-yü. "What have I to fear? Ere long I shall be decomposed. My left shoulder may become a cock, and I shall herald the approach of morn. My right shoulder will become a cross-bow, and I shall be able to get broiled duck. My buttocks will become wheels; and with my soul for a horse, I shall be able to ride in my own chariot. I obtained life because it was my time; I am now parting with it in accordance with the same law. Content with the natural sequence of these states, joy and sorrow touch me not. I am simply, as the ancients expressed it, hanging in the air, unable to cut myself down, bound with the trammels of material existence. But man has ever given way before God: why then, should I be afraid?" 

By-and-by, another of the four, named Tzu-lai, fell ill, and lay gasping for breath, while his family stood weeping around. The fourth friend, Tzu-li, went to see him. "Chut!" cried he to the wife and children; "begone! you balk his decomposition." Then, leaning against the door, he said, "Verily God is great! I wonder what he will make of you now. I wonder whither you will be sent. Do you think he will make you into a rat's liver or into the shoulders of a snake?" 

"A son," answer Tzu-lai, "must go whithersoever his parents bid him. Nature is no other than a man's parents. If she bid me die quickly, and I demur, then I am an unfilial son. She can do me no wrong. She gives me form here on earth; she gives me toil in manhood; she gives me repose in old age; she gives me rest in death. And she who is so kind an arbiter of my life, is necessarily the best arbiter of my death. 

"Suppose that the boiling metal in a smelting-pot were to bubble up and say, 'Make of me an Excalibur;' I think the caster would reject that metal as uncanny. And if a sinner like myself were to say to God, 'Make of me a man, make of me a man;' I think he too would reject me as uncanny. The universe is the melting-pot, and God is the caster. I shall go whithersoever I am sent, to wake unconscious of the past, as a man wakes from a dreamless sleep." 


How do I know that love of life is not a delusion? How do I know that those who fear death are not mere lost lambs which cannot find their way back to the fold? 

A daughter of the Governor of Ai, when first captured by the Chins, saturated her robe with tears; but afterwards, when she went into the prince's palace and lived with him on the fat of the land, she repented having wept. And how do I know that the dead do not now repent their former craving for life? 

One man will dream of the banquet hour, but wake to lamentation and sorrow. Another will dream of lamentation and sorrow, but wake to enjoy himself in the hunting-field. While men are dreaming, they do not perceive that it is a dream. Some will even have a dream in a dream; and only when they awake do they know that it was all a dream. And so, only when the Great Awakening comes upon us, shall we know this life to be a great dream. Fools believe themselves to be awake now. 


Chuang Tzu one day saw an empty skull, bleached, but still preserving its shape. Striking it with his riding-whip, he said, "Wert thou once some ambitious citizen whose inordinate yearnings brought him to this pass?  some statesman who plunged his country in ruin and perished in the fray?  some wretch who left behind him a legacy of shame?  some beggar who died in the pangs of hunger and cold? Or didst thou reach this state by the natural course of old age?" 

When he had finished speaking, he took the skull, and placing it under his head as a pillow, went to sleep. In the night, he dreamt that the skull appeared to him and said, "You speak well, sir; but all you say has reference to the life of mortals, and to mortal troubles. In death there are none of these. Would you like to hear about death?" 

Chuang Tzu having replied in the affirmative, the skull began :  "In death, there is no sovereign above, and no subject below. The workings of the four seasons are unknown. Our existences are bounded only by eternity. The happiness of a king among men cannot exceed that which we enjoy." 

Chuang Tzu, however, was not convinced, and said, "Were I to prevail upon God to allow your body to be born again, and your bones and flesh to be renewed, so that you could return to your parents, to your wife, and to the friends of your youth,  would you be willing?" 

At this, the skull opened its eyes wide and knitted its brows and said, "How should I cast aside happiness greater than that of a king, and mingle once again in the toils and troubles of mortality?"  


Life is a state which follows upon Death. Death is a state which precedes Life. Which of us understands the laws that govern their succession? 

The life of man is the resultant of forces. The aggregation of those forces is life: their dispersion, death. If, then, Life and Death are but consecutive states of existence, what cause for sorrow have I? 

And so it is that all things are but phases of unity. What men delight in is the spiritual essence of life. What they loathe is the material corruption of death. But this state of corruption gives place to that state of spirituality, and that state of spirituality gives place in turn to this state of corruption. Therefore, we may say that all in the universe is comprised in unity; and therefore the inspired among us have adopted unity as their criterion. 


When Lao Tzu died, and Ch'in Shih went to mourn, the latter utted three yells and departed. 

A disciple asked him, saying, "Were you not our Master's friend?" "I was," replied Ch'in Shih. "And if so, do you consider that was a fitting expression of grief at his loss?" added the disciple. "I do," said Ch'in Shih. "I had believed him to be the man (par excellence) , but now I know he was not. When I went in to mourn, I found old persons weeping as if for their children, young ones wailing as if for their mothers. And for him to have gained the attachment of these people in this way, he too must have uttered words which should not have been spoken, and dropped tears which should not have been shed, thus violating eternal principles, increasing the sum of human emotion, and forgetting the source from which his own life was received. Such emotions are but the trammels of mortality. The Master came, because it was his time to be born; he went, because it was his time to die. For those who accept the phenomenon of birth and death in this sense, lamentation and sorrow have no place. Death is but the severance of a thread by which a man hangs suspended in life. Fuel can be consumed; but the fire endureth for ever." 


When Chuang Tzu's wife died, Hui Tzu went to condole. He found the widower sitting on the ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right angle, and beating time on a bowl. 

"To live with your wife," exclaimed Hui Tzu, "and see your eldest son grow to be a man, and then not to shed a tear over her corpse,  this would be bad enough. But to drum on a bowl, and sing; surely this is going too far." 

"Not at all," replied Chuang Tzu. "When she died, I could not help being affected by her death. Soon, however, I remembered that she had already existed in a previous state before birth, without form, or even substance; that while in that unconditioned condition, substance was added to spirit; that this substance then assumed form; and that the next stage was birth. And now, by virtue of a further change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. And while she is thus lying asleep in Eternity, for me to go about weeping and wailing would be to proclaim myself ignorant of these natural laws. Therefore I refrain." 


When Chuang Tzu was about to die, his disciples expressed a wish to give him a splendid funeral. But Chuang Tzu said, "With Heaven and Earth for my coffin and shell; with the sun, moon, and stars as my burial regalia; and with all creation to escort me to the grave,  are not my funeral paraphernalia ready to hand?" 

"We fear," argued the disciples, "less the carrion kite should eat the body of our Master;" to which Chuang Tzu replied, "Above ground, I shall be food for kites; below, I shall be food for molecrickets and ants. Why rob one to feed the other? 

"If you adopt, as absolute, a standard of evenness which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely even. If you adopt, as absolute, a criterion of right which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely right. Those who trust to their senses become, as it were, slaves to objective existences. Those alone who are guided by their intuitions find the true standard. So far are the senses less reliable than the intuitions. Yet fools trust to their senses to know what is good for mankind, with alas! but external results. 


The great Yao begged Hsü-yu to become Emperor in his stead, saying, "If, when the sun and moon are shining brightly, you persist in lighting a torch, is not that misapplication of fire? If, when the rainy season is at its height, you still continue to water the ground, is not that waste of labour? Now, sir, do you assume the reins of government, and the empire will be at peace. I am but a dead body, conscious of my own deficiency. I beg you will ascend the throne." 

"Ever since you, sire, have directed the administration," replied Hsü-Yu, "the empire has enjoyed tranquillity. Supposing, therefore, that I were to take your place now, should I gain any reputation thereby? Besides, reputation is but the shadow of reality; and should I trouble myself about the shadow? The tit builds its nest in the mighty forest, and occupies but a single twig. The tapir slakes its thirst from the river, but drinks enough only to fill its belly. To you, sire, belongs the reputation: the empire has no need for me. If a cook is unable to dress the sacrifices, the boy who impersonates the corpse may not step over the wines and meats and do it for him." 


Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu had strolled on to the bridge over the Hao, when the former observed, "See how the minnows are darting about! That is the pleasure of fishes," 

"You not being yourself a fish," said Hui Tzu, "how can you possibly know in what the pleasure of fishes consists?" 

"And you not being I," retorted Chuang Tzu, "how can you know that I do not know?" 

"That I, not being you, do not know what you know," replied Hui Tzu, "is identical with my argument that you, not being a fish, cannot know in what the pleasure of fishes consists." 

"Let us go back to your original question," said Chuang Tzu. "You ask me how I know in what consists the pleasure of fishes. Your very question shows that you knew I knew. I knew it from my own feelings on this bridge. 


Chuang Tzu was one day fishing, when the Prince of Ch'u sent two high officials to interview him, saying that his Highness would be glad of Chuang Tzu's assistance in the administration of his government. The latter quietly fished on, and without looking round, replied, "I have heard that in the State of Ch'u there is a sacred tortoise, which has been dead three thousand years, and which the prince keeps packed up in a box on the altar in his ancestral shrine. Now do you think that tortoise would rather be dead and have its remains thus honoured, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?" The two officials answered that no doubt it would rather be alive and wagging its tail in the mud; whereupon Chuang Tzu cried out "Begone ! I too elect to remain wagging my tail in the mud." 


The perfect man is like a spirit. Were the ocean to be scorched up, he would not be hot. Were the Milky Way to be fast frozen, he would not feel cold. Of thunder which rives mountains, of wind which lashes the sea, he is not afraid; and thus, charioted on the clouds of heaven, or riding on the sun and moon, he journeys beyond the limits of mortality. Exempt from the changes of life and death, how much more is he beyond the reach of physical injury. The perfect man can walk under water without difficulty; he can touch fire without being burnt. 


A drunken man who falls out of a cart, though he may suffer, yet will not die. His bones are jointed like those of other people, but he meets the accident under different conditions. His mental equilibrium is undisturbed. Unconscious of riding in the cart, he is equally unconscious of falling out of it. The ordinary ideas of life, death, and fear, find no place in his breast; consequently, when thrown into collision with matter, he is not afraid. And if a man can thus get perfect mental equilibrium out of wine, how much more should he do so out of the resources of his own nature? It is there that the wise man takes refuge; and there no one can injure him. To those who would wreak vengeance upon him, he opposes neither spear nor shield; nor does he heed the brick which some spiteful enemy may hurl at his head. 


Lieh Yü-k'ou instructed Poh-hun Wu-jen in archery. Drawing the bow to its full, he placed a cup of water on his elbow and began to let fly. Hardly was one arrow out of sight ere another was on the string, the archer all the time standing like a statue. Poh-hun Wu-jen cried out, "This is shooting under ordinary conditions; it is not shooting under extraordinary conditions. Now I will ascend a high mountain with you, and stand on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet in depth, and see if you can shoot like this then." Thereupon Wu-jen went with his teacher up a high mountain, and stood on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet high, approaching it backwards until one-fifth of his feet overhung the chasm, when he beckoned Lieh Yü-k'ou to come on. But Yü-k'ou had fallen prostrate on the ground, with the sweat pouring down to his heels. 


The Penumbra said to the Umbra, "At one moment you move: at another you are at rest. At one moment you sit down: at another you get up. Why this instability of purpose?" 

"I depend," replied the Umbra, "upon something which causes me to do as I do; and that something depends upon something else which causes it to do as it does. My dependence is like that of a snake's scales or a cicada's wings (which do not move of their own accord). How can I tell why I do one thing or do not do another?" 


Once upon a time I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies (as a butterfly), and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awaked; and there I lay, myself again. I do not know whether I was then dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that it is a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier; and the transition is called Metempsychosis.