Taoist teachings from the book of Lieh Tzŭ/Book 4
A high official from Shang paid a visit to Confucius 'You are a sage, are you not?' he inquired. 'A sage!' replied Confucius. 'How could I venture to think so? I am only a man with a wide range of learning and information.' The Minister then asked: 'Were the Three Kings sages?' 'The Three Kings,' replied Confucius, 'were great in the exercise of wisdom and courage. I do not know, however, that they were sages.' 'What of the Five Emperors? Were they not sages?' 'The Five Emperors excelled in the exercise of altruism and righteousness. I do not know that they were sages.' 'And the Three Sovereigns: surely they were sages?' 'The Three Sovereigns excelled in the virtues that were suited to their age. But whether they were sages or no I really cannot say.'
'Why, who is there, then,' cried the Minister, much astonished, 'that is really a sage?' The expression of Confucius' countenance changed, and he replied after a pause: 'Among the people of the West a true sage dwells. He governs not, yet there is no disorder. He speaks not, yet he is naturally trusted. He makes no reforms, yet right conduct is spontaneous and universal. So great and incomprehensible is he that the people can find no name to call him by. I suspect that this man is a sage, but whether in truth he is a sage or is not a sage I do not know.'
The Minister from Shang meditated awhile in silence. Then he said to himself: 'Confucius is making a fool of me!'
When the Master Lieh Tzŭ took up his abode in Nan-kuo the number of those who settled down with him was past reckoning, though one were to count them day by day. Lieh Tzŭ, however, continued to live in retirement, and every morning would hold discussions with them, the fame of which spread far and wide.
Nan-kuo Tzŭ was his next-door neighbour, but for twenty years no visit passed between them, and when they met in the street they made as though they had not seen each other.
Lieh Tzŭ's disciples felt convinced that there was enmity between their Master and Nan-kuo Tzŭ; and at last, one who had come from the Ch'u State spoke to Lieh Tzŭ about it, saying: 'How comes it, Sir, that you and Nan-kuo Tzŭ are enemies?' 'Nan-kuo Tzŭ,' replied the Master, 'has the appearance of fullness, but his mind is a blank. His ears do not hear, his eyes do not see, his mouth does not speak, his mind is devoid of knowledge, his body free from agitation. What would be the object of visiting him? However, we will try, and you shall accompany me thither to see.' Accordingly, forty of the disciples went with him to call on Nan-kuo Tzŭ, who turned out to be a repulsive-looking creature with whom they could make no contact. He only gazed blankly at Lieh Tzŭ. Mind and body seemed not to belong together, and his guests could find no means of approach.
Suddenly, Nan-kuo Tzŭ singled out the hindermost row of Lieh Tzŭ's disciples, and began to talk to them quite pleasantly and simply, though in the tone of a superior.
The disciples were astonished at this, and when they got home again, all wore a puzzled expression. Their Master Lieh Tzŭ said to them: 'He who has reached the stage of thought is silent. He who has attained to perfect knowledge is also silent. He who uses silence in lieu of speech really does speak. He who for knowledge substitutes blankness of mind really does know. Without words and speaking not, without knowledge and knowing not, he really speaks and really knows. Saying nothing and knowing nothing, there is in reality nothing that he does not say, nothing that he does not know. This is how the matter stands, and there is nothing further to be said. Why are you thus astonished without cause?'
Lung Shu said to Wên Chih: 'You are the master of cunning arts. I have a disease. Can you cure it, Sir?' 'I am at your service,' replied Wên Chih. 'But please let me know first the symptoms of your disease.' 'I hold it no honour,' said Lung Shu, 'to be praised in my native village, nor do I consider it a disgrace to he decried in my native State. Gain excites in me no joy, and loss no sorrow. I look upon life in the same light as death, upon riches in the same light as poverty, upon my fellow-men as so many swine, and upon myself as I look upon my fellow-men. I dwell in my home as though it were a mere caravanserai, and regard my native district with no more feeling than I would a barbarian State. Afflicted as I am in these various ways, honours and rewards fail to rouse me, pains and penalties to overawe me, good or bad fortune to influence me, joy or grief to move me. Thus I am incapable of serving my sovereign, of associating with my friends and kinsmen, of directing my wife and children, or of controlling my servants and retainers.
What disease is this, and what remedy is there that will cure it?'
Wên Chih replied by asking Lung Shu to stand with his back to the light, while he himself faced the light and looked at him intently. 'Ah!' said he after a while, 'I see that a good square inch of your heart is hollow. You are within an ace of being a true sage. Six of the orifices in your heart are open and clear, and only the seventh is blocked up. This, however, is doubtless due to the fact that you are mistaking for a disease that which is really divine enlightenment. It is a case in which my shallow art is of no avail.'
Pu-tsê, in the Cheng State, was rich in wise men, and Tung-li in men of administrative talent. Among the vassals of Pu-tsê was a certain Po Fêng Tzŭ, who happened to travel through Tung-li and had a meeting with Têng Hsi.
The latter cast a glance at his followers, and asked them, with a smile: 'Would you like to see me have some sport with this stranger?' They understood what he would be at, and assented. Têng Hsi then turned to Po Fêng Tzŭ. 'Are you acquainted with the true theory of Sustentation?' he inquired. 'To receive sustenance from others, through inability to support oneself, places one in the category of dogs and swine. It is man's prerogative to give sustenance to other creatures, and to use them for his own purposes. That you and your fellows are provided with abundant food and comfortable clothing is due to us administrators. Young and old, you herd together, and are penned up like cattle destined for the shambles: in what respect are you to be distinguished from dogs and swine?'
Po Fêng Tzŭ made no reply, but one of his company, disregarding the rules of precedence, stepped forward and said: 'Has your Excellency never heard of the variety of craftsmen in Ch'i and Lu? Some are skilled potters and carpenters, others are clever workers in metal and leather; there are good musicians, trained scribes and accountants, military experts and men learned in the ritual of ancestor-worship. All kinds of talent are there fully represented. But without proper organization, these craftsmen cannot be usefully employed. But those who organize them lack knowledge, those who employ them lack technical ability, and therefore they make use of those who have both knowledge and ability. So it is really we who may be said to employ the Government administrators. What is it, then, that you are boasting about?'
Têng Hsi could think of nothing to say in reply. He glanced round at his disciples and retreated.
- The Three Kings, in this particular passage, are probably T'ang, surnamed 'The Completer' or 'The Successful', who founded the Shang dynasty, 1766 B.C., and the two founders of the Chou dynasty, Wên and Wu. The word shêng, here translated 'sage', implies a man inspired by Heaven.
- Shao Hao, Chuan Hsü, Yao, Shun, and the Great Yü. The last-named came to the throne in 2205 B.C.
- The Three Sovereigns always denote the legendary rulers Fu Hsi, Shên Nung and the Yellow Emperor.
- 'The wide learning of Confucius, the warlike prowess of T'ang and Wu, the humility and self-abnegation of Yao, and Shun, the rude simplicity of Fu Hsi and Shên Nung, simply represent the ordinary activities of the sage who accommodates himself to the necessities of the world he lives in. They are not the qualities which make them sages. Those qualities are truly such as neither word nor deed can adequately express.'
- The early Jesuit missionaries saw in the above an allusion to Jesus Christ. But (apart from other considerations) it is almost certain that the present work had taken definite shape before the Christian era. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the Sage whom Lieh Tzŭ had in mind was Śãkyamuni Buddha.
- 'There was a mysterious harmony between their doctrines, and therefore they arrived at old age without having had any mutual intercourse.' Nan-kuo Tzu means simply 'the Philosopher of Nan-kuo'.
- By no means a term of disparagement, in the mouth of a Taoist.
- Taoist writers seem to delight in attributing ugliness and deformity to their sages, no doubt as a sort of foil or set-off to their inward grandeur.
- 'The soul had subjugated the body. The mind being void of sense-impressions, the countenance remained motionless. Hence it seemed as if there were no co-operation between the two. How could they respond to external stimuli?'
- 'Fraternizing with the hindmost row, he recognized no distinctions of rank or standing; meeting a sympathetic influence, and responding thereto, he did not allow his mind to be occupied with the external.'
- 'Wên Chih lived in the time of the Six States, and acted as physician to Prince Wei of Ch'i (378-333 B.C.]. Another account says that he was an able physician of the Sung State in the "Spring and Autumn" period, and that he cured Prince Wen of Ch'i by making him angry, whereupon his sickness vanished.'
- 'Men are controlled by external influences in so far as their minds are open to impressions of good and evil, and their bodies are sensitive to injury or the reverse. But one who is able to discern a connecting unity in the most multiform diversity will surely, in his survey of the universe, be unconscious of the differences between positive and negative.'
- 'It was an ancient belief that the sage had seven orifices in his heart' (the seat of the understanding).
- A noted sophist of the sixth century B.C.
- 'Whoso possesses skill and knowledge of any particular kind is incapable of helping his prince in the direction of affairs.'