Chuang Tzŭ (Giles)/Chapter 31
The Old Fisherman.
CONFUCIUS, travelling in the Black Forest, rested awhile at Apricot Altar. His disciples sat down to their books, and he himself played upon the lute and sang.
Half way through the song, an old fisherman stepped out of a boat and advanced towards them. His beard and eyebrows were snowy white. His hair hung loose, and he flapped his long sleeves as he walked over the foreshore. Reaching firm ground, he stood still, and with left hand on his knee and right hand to his ear, listened.
When the song was finished, he beckoned to Tzŭ Kung and Tzŭ Lu, both of whom went to him. Then pointing with his finger, he enquired, saying, "What is that man doing here?"
"He is the Sage of Lu," replied Tzŭ Lu.
"Of what clan?" asked the old man.
"Of the K'ung family," replied Tzŭ Lu.
"And what is his occupation?" said the old man.
"He devotes himself," replied Tzŭ Lu, "to loyalty and truth. He practises charity and duty towards his neighbour. He regulates ceremonies and music. He distinguishes the relationships of man. He is loyal to his prince above, a reformer of the masses below. Thus he will be of great service to the whole empire. Such is his occupation."
"Is he a ruler of a State?" asked the old man.
"He is not," said Tzŭ Kung.
"A minister?" said the old man.
"No," said Tzŭ Kung.
Then the old man laughed and walked away, saying, "Charity is charity, yet I fear he will not escape the wear of mind and tear of body which imperil the original purity of man. How far, alas, has he wandered from the true path!"
- From Tao.
Tzŭ Kung went back and told Confucius, who, laying aside his lute, arose and said, "This man is a Sage!"
Thereupon he followed the old man down the shore, catching him up just as he was drawing in his boat with his staff. Perceiving Confucius, the old man turned round to receive him, at which Confucius stepped back and prostrated himself twice before advancing.
"What do you want, Sir?" asked the fisherman.
"Just now, venerable Sir," replied Confucius, "you left without finishing your remarks. In my stupidity I cannot make out what you mean. Therefore I have come in the humble hope of hearing any words with which you may deign to help me."
"Well," said the old man, "you are certainly anxious to learn."
At this Confucius prostrated himself twice, and when he got up said, "Yes, I have been a student from my youth upwards until now, the sixty-ninth year of my age. Yet I have never heard the true doctrine, which I am now ready to receive without bias."
"Like species follow like," answered the old man. "Like sounds respond to like.
- See p. 283, and the experiment of the two lutes, p. 319.
This is a law of nature. I will now with your leave apply what I know to what you occupy yourself with,—the affairs of men.
"The Son of Heaven, the princes, the ministers, and the people,—if these four fulfil their proper functions, the result is good government. If they quit their proper places, the result is unutterable confusion. When the officials mind their duties and the people their business, neither is injured by the other.
"Barren land, leaky roofs, want of food and clothing, inability to meet taxation, quarrels of wives and concubines, no precedence between young and old,—such are the sorrows of the people.
"Capacity unequal to one's duties, and inability to carry on routine work, absence of clean-handedness, and carelessness among subordinates, lack of distinction and want of preferment,—such are the sorrows of ministers.
"The Court without loyal ministers and the State in rebellion, the artisan unskilful and the tribute unsatisfactory, the periodical levées unattended and the Son of Heaven displeased,—such are the sorrows of the princes.
"The two great principles of nature working inharmoniously, heat and cold coming at irregular seasons so that men and things suffer, the princes rebellious and fighting among themselves so that the people perish, music and ceremonies ill regulated, wealth dissipated, the relationships of man disregarded, the masses sunk in immorality,—such are the sorrows which fall to the share of the Son of Heaven.
"But now you. Sir, occupying neither the more exalted position of ruler nor performing the subordinate functions of minister, nevertheless take upon yourself to regulate music and ceremonies and to distinguish the relationships of man, in order to reform the masses. Are you not travelling out of your own sphere?
"Further, men have eight blemishes, and there are four things which obstruct business. These should be investigated.
"Meddling with matters which do not matter to you, is prying.
"To push one's way in, regardless of neglect, is to be forward.
"To adapt one's thoughts and arrange one's words, is sycophancy.
"To applaud a person, right or wrong, is flattery.
"To love speaking evil of others, is slander.
"To sever friendships and break ties, is mischievousness.
"To praise people falsely with a view to injure them, is malice.
"To give ready assent with a view to worm out the wishes of others, good and bad alike, is to be a hypocrite.
"These eight blemishes cause a man to throw others into confusion and bring injury upon himself. The superior man will not have him for a friend; the enlightened prince will not employ him as his minister.
"To love the conduct of great affairs, and to introduce change into established order with a view to gain reputation,—this is ambition.
"To strive to get all into one's own hands, and to usurp what should be at the disposal of others,—this is greed.
"To know one's faults but not to correct them, to receive admonition but only to plunge deeper,—this is obstinacy.
"To suffer those who are like oneself, but as for those unlike not to credit them with the virtues they really possess —this is bigotry.
"Such are the four things which obstruct business. And only he who can put aside the above eight and abstain from the above four is fit for instruction."
At this Confucius heaved a sigh of distress. Then having twice prostrated himself, he arose and said, "Twice was I driven from Lu. I was tabooed in Wei. My tree was cut down in Sung. I was surrounded by the Ch'êns and the Ts'ais. I know not what my fault is that I should have suffered these four persecutions."
"Dear me!" said the old man in a vexed tone, "How slow of perception you are.
"There was once a man who was so afraid of his shadow and so disliked his own footsteps that he determined to run away from them. But the oftener he raised his feet the more footsteps he made, and though he ran very hard his shadow never left him. From this he inferred that he went too slowly, and ran as hard as he could without resting, the consequence being that his strength broke down and he died. He was not aware that by going into the shade he would have got rid of his shadow, and that by keeping still he would have put an end to his footsteps. Fool that he was!
"Now you occupy yourself with charity and duty to one's neighbour. You examine into the distinction of like and unlike, the changes of motion and rest, the canons of giving and receiving, the emotions of love and hate, and the restraint of joy and anger. Yet you cannot avoid the calamities you speak of.
"Reverently care for your body. Carefully preserve your natural purity. Leave externals to others. Then you will not be involved. But as it is, instead of improving yourself you are trying to improve other people. Surely this is dealing with the external."
"Then may I enquire," said Confucius in a tone of distress, "what is the original purity?"
"Our original purity," replied the fisherman, "is the perfection of truth unalloyed. Without this, we cannot influence others. Hence, those who weep to order, though they mourn, do not grieve. Those who assume anger, though violent, do not inspire awe. Those who affect friendship, though they smile, are not in unison."
"Real mourning grieves in silence. Real anger awes without expression. Real friendship is unison without the aid of smiles. Our emotions are dependent upon the original purity within; and accordingly we hold the latter in esteem.
"If applied to human affairs, then in serving our parents we are filial, in serving our prince we are loyal, in the banquet hour we are merry, in the hour of mourning we are sad.
"The object of loyalty is successful service; of a banquet, mirth; of mourning, grief; of serving parents, gratifying their wishes. If the service is accomplished, it matters not that no trace remain.
- In the way of kudos to the accomplisher.
If parents be gratified, it matters not how. If a banquet results in mirth, the accessories are of no importance. If there be real grief in mourning, it matters not what ceremonies may be employed.
"Ceremonial is the invention of man. Our original purity is given to us from God. It is as it is, and cannot be changed. Wherefore the true Sage models himself upon God, and holds his original purity in esteem. He is independent of human exigencies. Fools, however, reverse this. They cannot model themselves upon God, and have to fall back on man. They do not hold original purity in esteem. Consequently they are ever suffering the vicissitudes of mortality, and never reaching the goal. Alas! you, Sir, were early steeped in deceit, and are late in hearing the great doctrine."
Confucius, having again prostrated himself twice, arose and said,
"It has been a godsend to meet you, Sir, to-day. Pray allow me to follow you as your servant, that I may benefit by your teaching. I venture to ask where you live that I may enter upon my duties and learn the great doctrine."
"I have heard," replied the old man, "that if a man is a fit companion, one may travel with him into the uttermost depths of Tao. But that if he is not a fit companion, and does not know Tao, one must avoid his company, that no harm may befall. Excuse me, I must leave you." Thereupon he pushed off his boat, and disappeared among the reeds.
"Yen Yüan then brought up the chariot, and Tzŭ Lu offered the hand-cord to Confucius. But the latter paid no attention. He waited until the ripples on the water had smoothed down and the sound of the punt-pole had died away, before he ventured to get up.
Tzŭ Lu, who was at the side of the chariot, enquired saying, "Master, I have been in your service now for a long time, yet never did I see you treat any man like this. In the presence of a ruler of ten thousand or a thousand chariots, I have never seen you treated other than with great respect, while you yourself would wear a haughty air. Yet before this old fisherman, leaning on his punt-pole, you cringe and bow and prostrate yourself twice before answering. Is not this too much? The disciples do not know what to make of it. Why this behaviour to an old fisherman?"
"Yu!" cried Confucius, resting on the bar of the chariot; "it is difficult to make anything of you. You have long studied ceremonies and duty to your neighbour, yet you have not succeeded in getting rid of the old evil nature. Come here, and I will tell you.
"To meet an elder without respect is want of ceremony. To see a Sage and not to honour him, is not to be in charity with man. Unless you are in charity with man, you cannot humble yourself before a fellow-creature. And unless you can honestly do this, you can never attain to that state of original purity; but the body will constantly suffer. Alas! there is no greater evil than not to be in charity with man. Yet in such a plight, O Yu, are you.
"Further. Tao is the source of all creation. Men have it, and live. They lose it, and die. Affairs in antagonism thereto, fail; in accordance therewith, succeed. Therefore, wherever Tao abides, there is the reverence of the true Sage. And as this old fisherman may be said to possess Tao, could I venture not to respect him?"