Chuang Tzŭ (Giles)/Chapter 2

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Chuang Tzŭ  (1889) 
Zhuang Zi, translated by Herbert A. Giles
Chapter II. The Identity of Contraries

Bernard Quaritch, London, pages 12–32


The Identity of Contraries.

Argument:—Contraries spring from our subjective individuality—Identity of subjective and objective—The centre where all distinctions are merged in One—How to reach this point—Speech an obstacle—The negative state—Light out of darkness—Illustrations.

TZŬ CH'I of Nan-kuo sat leaning on a table. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and became absent, as though soul and body had parted.

Yen Ch'êng Tzŭ Yu, who was standing by him, exclaimed, "What are you thinking about that your body should become thus like dry wood, your mind like dead ashes? Surely the man now leaning on the table is not he who was here just now."

"My friend," replied Tzŭ Ch'i, "your question is apposite. To-day I have buried myself. . . . Do you understand? . . . Ah! perhaps you only know the music of Man, and not that of Earth. Or even if you have heard the music of Earth, you have not heard the music of Heaven."

"Pray explain," said Tzŭ Yu.

"The breath of the universe," continued Tzŭ Ch'i, "is called wind. At times, it is inactive. But when active, every aperture resounds to the blast. Have you never listened to its growing roar?

"Caves and dells of hill and forest, hollows in huge trees of many a span in girth;—these are like nostrils, like mouths, like ears, like beam-sockets, like goblets, like mortars, like ditches, like bogs. And the wind goes rushing through them, sniffing, snoring, singing, soughing, puffing, purling, whistling, whirring, now shrilly treble, now deeply bass, now soft, now loud; until, with a lull, silence reigns supreme. Have you never witnessed among the trees such a disturbance as this?"

"Well, then," enquired Tzŭ Yu, "since the music of earth consists of nothing more than holes, and the music of man of pipes and flutes,—of what consists the music of Heaven?"

"The effect of the wind upon these various apertures," replied Tzŭ Ch'i, "is not uniform. But what is it that gives to each the individuality, to all the potentiality, of sound?

"Great knowledge embraces the whole:

Sees both "the upper and under side of the medal of Jove" at once.

small knowledge, a part only. Great speech is universal:

Speech, according to Chuang Tzŭ's ideal, always covers the whole ground in question, leaving no room for positive and negative to appear in antagonism.

small speech is particular.

"For whether when the mind is locked in sleep or whether when in waking hours the body is released, we are subject to daily mental perturbations,—indecision, want of penetration, concealment, fretting fear, and trembling terror. Now like a javelin the mind flies forth, the arbiter of right and wrong.

Thus recognising contraries.

Now like a solemn covenanter it remains firm, the guardian of rights secured.

Adhering to an opinion formed.

Then, as under autumn and winter's blight, comes gradual decay, a passing away, like the flow of water, never to return. Finally, the block when all is choked up like an old drain,—the failing mind which shall not see light again.

"Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, caution and remorse, come upon us by turns, with ever-changing mood. They come like music from hollowness, like mushrooms from damp. Daily and nightly they alternate within us, but we cannot tell whence they spring. Can we then hope in a moment to lay our finger upon their very Cause?

"But for these emotions I should not be. But for me, they would have no scope. So far we can go; but we do not know what it is that brings them into play. 'Twould seem to be a soul; but the clue to its existence is wanting. That such a Power operates, is credible enough, though we cannot see its form. It has functions without form.

As will be gathered later on, Chuang Tzŭ conceives of the soul as an emanation from God, passing to and from this earth through the portals of Life and Death.

"Take the human body with all its manifold divisions. Which part of it does a man love best? Does he not cherish all equally, or has he a preference? Do not all equally serve him? And do these servitors then govern themselves, or are they subdivided into rulers and subjects? Surely there is some soul which sways them all.

"But whether or not we ascertain what are the functions of this soul, it matters but little to the soul itself. For coming into existence with this mortal coil of mine, with the exhaustion of this mortal coil its mandate will also be exhausted. To be harassed by the wear and tear of life, and to pass rapidly through it without possibility of arresting one's course,—is not this pitiful indeed? To labour without ceasing, and then, without living to enjoy the fruit, worn out, to depart, suddenly, one knows not whither,—is not that a just cause for grief?

"What advantage is there in what men call not dying? The body decomposes, and the mind goes with it. This is our real cause for sorrow. Can the world be so dull as not to see this? Or is it I alone who am dull, and others not so?

"If we are to be guided by the criteria of our own minds, who shall be without a guide?

The mind should be a tabula rasa, free from all judgments or opinions of its own as to the external world, and ready only to accept things as they are, not as they appear to be.

What need to know of the alternations of passion,

As above described.

when the mind thus affords scope to itself?—verily even the minds of fools! Whereas, for a mind without criteria

As it should be.

to admit the idea of contraries, is like saying, I went to Yüeh to-day, and got there yesterday.

One of Hui Tzŭ's paradoxes. See ch. xxxiii.

Or, like placing nowhere somewhere,—topography which even the Great Yü

The famous engineer of antiquity (B.C. 2205), who drained the empire of a vast body of water and arranged its subdivision into nine provinces.

would fail to understand; how much more I?

"Speech is not mere breath. It is differentiated by meaning. Take away that, and you cannot say whether it is speech or not. Can you even distinguish it from the chirping of young birds?

"But how can Tao be so obscured that we speak of it as true and false? And how can speech be so obscured that it admits the idea of contraries? How can Tao go away and yet not remain?

Being omnipresent.

How can speech exist and yet be impossible?

See p. 13.

"Tao is obscured by our want of grasp. Speech is obscured by the gloss of this world.

I.e. by the one-sided meanings attached to words and phrases.

Hence the affirmatives and negatives of the Confucian and Mihist schools,

Mih Tzŭ was a philosopher of the fourth century B.C., who propounded various theories which were vigorously attacked by the Confucianists under Mencius. We shall hear more of him by-and-by.

each denying what the other affirmed and affirming what the other denied. But he who would reconcile affirmative with negative and negative with affirmative,

The "union of impossibilities," which Emerson credits to Plato alone.

must do so by the light of nature.

I.e. Have no established mental criteria, and thus see all things as ONE.

"There is nothing which is not objective: there is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge. Hence it has been said,

By Hui Tzŭ.

'The objective emanates from the subjective; the subjective is consequent upon the objective. This is the Alternation Theory.' Nevertheless, when one is born, the other dies. When one is possible, the other is impossible. When one is affirmative the other is negative. Which being the case, the true sage rejects all distinctions of this and that. He takes his refuge in God, and places himself in subjective relation with all things.

It was to this end that Tzŭ Ch'i "buried himself."

"And inasmuch as the subjective is also objective, and the objective also subjective, and as the contraries under each are indistinguishably blended, does it not become impossible for us to say whether subjective and objective really exist at all?

What is positive under the one will be negative under the other. Yet as subjective and objective are really one and the same, their positives and negatives must also be one and the same.
It is as though we were to view them through a kind of mental Pseudoscope, by which means each would appear to be the other.

"When subjective and objective are both without their correlates, that is the very axis of Tao. And when that axis passes through the centre at which all Infinities converge, positive and negative alike blend into an infinite One. Hence it has been said that there is nothing like the light of nature.

Probably an allusion to Lao Tzŭ's "Use the light that is within you to revert to your natural clearness of sight." We should then be able to view things in their true light. See Tao-Tê-Ching ch. lii., and The Remains of Lao Tzŭ, p. 34.

"To take a finger in illustration of a finger not being a finger is not so good as to take something which is not a finger. To take a horse in illustration of a horse not being a horse is not so good as to take something which is not a horse.

"So with the universe and all that in it is. These things are but fingers and horses in this sense. The possible is possible: the impossible is impossible. Tao operates, and given results follow. Things receive names and are what they are. They achieve this by their natural affinity for what they are and their natural antagonism to what they are not. For all things have their own particular constitutions and potentialities. Nothing can exist without these.

These last few sentences are repeated in ch. xxvii. ad init.
"We can never know anything but phenomena. Things are what they are, and their consequences will be what they will be."—J. S. Mill.

"Therefore it is that, viewed from the standpoint of Tao, a beam and a pillar are identical.

The horizontal with the vertical.

So are ugliness and beauty, greatness, wickedness, perverseness, and strangeness. Separation is the same as construction: construction is the same as destruction. Nothing is subject either to construction or to destruction, for these conditions are brought together into One.

"Only the truly intelligent understand this principle of the identity of all things. They do not view things as apprehended by themselves, subjectively; but transfer themselves into the position of the things viewed.

Avoiding the fallacious channels of the senses.

And viewing them thus they are able to comprehend them, nay, to master them;—and he who can master them is near. So it is that to place oneself in subjective relation with externals, without consciousness of their objectivity,—this is Tao. But to wear out one's intellect in an obstinate adherence to the individuality of things, not recognising the fact that all things are One,—this is called Three in the Morning."

"What is Three in the Morning?" asked Tzŭ Yu.

"A keeper of monkeys," replied Tzŭ Ch'i, "said with regard to their rations of chestnuts that each monkey was to have three in the morning and four at night. But at this the monkeys were very angry, so the keeper said they might have four in the morning and three at night, with which arrangement they were all well pleased. The actual number of the chestnuts remained the same, but there was an adaptation to the likes and dislikes of those concerned. Such is the principle of putting oneself into subjective relation with externals.

"Wherefore the true Sage, while regarding contraries as identical, adapts himself to the laws of Heaven. This is called following two courses at once.

He is thus prevented from trying to walk through walls, etc., as later Taoists have professed themselves able to do, of course with a view to gull the public and enrich themselves. "God," says Locke, "when he makes the prophet, does not unmake the man." So Carlyle in his essay on Novalis:—"To a Transcendentalist, matter has an existence but only as a Phenomenon . . . . . It is a mere relation, or rather the result of a relation between our living souls and the great First Cause."

"The knowledge of the men of old had a limit. It extended back to a period when matter did not exist. That was the extreme point to which their knowledge reached.

"The second period was that of matter, but of matter unconditioned.

By time or space. "Being, in itself," says Herbert Spencer, "out of relation, is itself unthinkable." Principles of Psychology, iii. p. 258.

"The third epoch saw matter conditioned, but contraries were still unknown. When these appeared, Tao began to decline. And with the decline of Tao, individual bias arose.

"Have then these states of falling and rising real existences? Surely they are but as the falling and rising of Chao Wên's music,—the consequences of his playing.

Chao Wên played the guitar. Shih K'uang wielded the bâton.

To keep time.

Hui Tzŭ argued. Herein these three men excelled, and in the practice of such arts they passed their lives.

"Hui Tzŭ's particular views being very different from those of the world in general, he was correspondingly anxious to enlighten people. But he did not enlighten them as he should have done,

By the cultivation and passive manifestation of his own inward light.

and consequently ended in the obscurity of the 'hard and white.'

Hui Tzŭ regarded such abstractions as hardness and whiteness as separate existences, of which the mind could only be conscious separately, one at a time.

Subsequently, his son searched his works for some clue, but never succeeded in establishing the principle. And indeed if such were possible to be established, then even I am established; but if not, then neither I nor anything in the universe is established!

"Therefore what the true Sage aims at is the light which comes out of darkness. He does not view things as apprehended by himself, subjectively, but transfers himself into the position of the things viewed. This is called using the light.

"There remains, however, Speech. Is that to be enrolled under either category of contraries, or not? Whether it is so enrolled or not, it will in any case belong to one or the other, and thus be as though it had an objective existence. At any rate, I should like to hear some speech which belongs to neither category.

Contraries being disposed of, there remains the vehicle Speech, i.e. the actual terms in which it is stated that contraries have ceased to be.

"If there was a beginning, then there was a time before that beginning. And a time before the time which was before the time of that beginning.

"If there is existence, there must have been non-existence. And if there was a time when nothing existed, then there must have been a time before that—when even nothing did not exist. Suddenly, when nothing came into existence, could one really say whether it belonged to the category of existence or of non-existence? Even the very words I have just now uttered,—I cannot say whether they have really been uttered or not.

I.e. The words in the text, denying the existence of contraries.

"There is nothing under the canopy of heaven greater than the tip of an autumn spikelet. A vast mountain is a small thing. Neither is there any age greater than that of a child cut off in infancy. P'êng Tsu himself died young. The universe and I came into being together; and I, and everything therein, are One.

"If then all things are One, what room is there for Speech? On the other hand, since I can utter these words, how can Speech not exist?

"If it does exist, we have One and Speech=two; and two and one=three. From which point onwards even the best mathematicians will fail to reach:


how much more then will ordinary people fail?

"Hence, if from nothing you can proceed to something, and subsequently reach three, it follows that it would be still more easy if you were to start from something. To avoid such progression, you must put yourself into subjective relation with the external.

"Before conditions existed, Tao was. Before definitions existed. Speech was. Subjectively, we are conscious of certain delimitations which are,—

Right and Left
Relationship and Obligation
Division and Discrimination
Emulation and Contention

These are called the Eight Predicables.

Not, of course, in the strict logical sense.

For the true Sage, beyond the limits of an external world, they exist, but are not recognised. By the true Sage, within the limits of an external world, they are recognised, but are not assigned. And so, with regard to the wisdom of the ancients, as embodied in the canon of Spring and Autumn,

Confucius' history of his native State. Now one of the canonical books of China.

the true Sage assigns, but does not justify by argument. And thus, classifying he does not classify; arguing, he does not argue."

"How can that be?" asked Tzŭ Yu.

"The true Sage," answered Tzŭ Ch'i, "keeps his knowledge within him, while men in general set forth theirs in argument, in order to convince each other. And therefore it is said that in argument he does not manifest himself.

Others try to establish their own subjective view. The true Sage remains passive, aiming only at the annihilation of contraries.

"Perfect Tao does not declare itself. Nor does perfect argument express itself in words. Nor does, perfect charity show itself in act. Nor is perfect honesty absolutely incorruptible. Nor is perfect courage absolutely unyielding.

"For the Tao which shines forth is not Tao. Speech which argues falls short of its aim. Charity which has fixed points loses its scope. Honesty which is absolute is wanting in credit. Courage which is absolute misses its object. These five are, as it were, round, with a strong bias towards squareness. Therefore that knowledge which stops at what it does not know, is the highest knowledge.

"Who knows the argument which can be argued without words?—the Tao which does not declare itself as Tao? He who knows this may be said to be of God. To be able to pour in without making full, and pour out without making empty, in ignorance of the power by which such results are accomplished,—this is accounted Light."

Of old, the Emperor Yao said to Shun, "I would smite the Tsungs, and the Kueis, and the Hsu-aos. Ever since I have been on the throne I have had this desire. What do you think?"

"These three States," replied Shun, "are paltry out-of-the-way places. Why can you not shake off this desire? Once upon a time, ten suns came out together, and all things were illuminated thereby. How much more then should virtue excel suns?"

Illustrating the use of "light." Instead of active force, substitute the passive but irresistible influence of virtue complete. The sun caused the traveller to lay aside his cloak when the north wind succeeded only in making him draw it tighter around him.

Yeh Ch'üeh asked Wang I,

A disciple and tutor of remote antiquity. Said to have been two of the four Sages on the Miao-ku-shê mountain mentioned in ch. i.

saying, "Do you know for certain that all things are subjectively the same?"

"How can I know?" answered Wang I. "Do you know what you do not know?"

"How can I know?" replied Yeh Ch'üeh. "But can then nothing be known?"

"How can I know?" said Wang I. "Nevertheless, I will try to tell you. How can it be known that what I call knowing is not really not knowing, and that what I call not knowing is not really knowing? Now I would ask you this. If a man sleeps in a damp place, he gets lumbago and dies. But how about an eel? And living up in a tree is precarious and trying to the nerves;—but how about monkeys? Of the man, the eel, and the monkey, whose habitat is the right one, absolutely? Human beings feed on flesh, deer on grass, centipedes on snakes, owls and crows on mice. Of these four, whose is the right taste, absolutely? Monkey mates with monkey, the buck with the doe; eels consort with fishes, while men admire Mao Ch'iang and Li Chi,

Beauties of the fifth and seventh centuries B.C., respectively. The commentators do not seem to have noted the very obvious anachronism here involved.

at the sight of whom fishes plunge deep down in the water, birds soar high in the air, and deer hurry away.

For shame at their own inferiority.

Yet who shall say which is the correct standard of beauty? In my opinion, the standard of human virtue, and of positive and negative, is so obscured that it is impossible to actually know it as such."

"If you then," asked Yeh Ch’üeh, "do not know what is bad for you, is the Perfect Man equally without this knowledge?"

"The Perfect Man," answered Wang I, "is a spiritual being. Were the ocean itself scorched up, he would not feel hot. Were the Milky Way frozen hard, he would not feel cold. Were the mountains to be riven with thunder, and the great deep to be thrown up by storm, he would not tremble. In such case, he would mount upon the clouds of heaven, and driving the sun and the moon before him, would pass beyond the limits of this external world, where death and life have no more victory over man;—how much less what is bad for him?"

Chü Ch'iao addressed Chang Wu Tzŭ

A disciple and tutor of antiquity.

as follows:—"I heard Confucius say, 'The true sage pays no heed to mundane affairs. He neither seeks gain nor avoids injury. He asks nothing at the hands of man. He adheres, without questioning, to Tao. Without speaking, he can speak; and he can speak and yet say nothing. And so he roams beyond the limits of this dusty world. These,' added Confucius, 'are wild words.'

Han Fei Tzŭ tells us that Lao Tzŭ, whose doctrines Confucius seems to be here deriding, said exactly the opposite of this; viz: "The true Sage is beforehand in his attention to mundane affairs," i.e. "takes time by the forelock." Neither utterance, however, appears in the Tao-Tê-Ching. See The Remains of Lao Tzŭ, p. 44.

Now to me they are the skilful embodiment of Tao. What, Sir, is your opinion?"

"Points upon which the Yellow Emperor doubted," replied Chang Wu Tzŭ, "how should Confucius know?

Lao Tzŭ and the Yellow Emperor have always been mixed up in the heads of Taoist writers, albeit separated by a chasm of some two thousand years. Confucius is here evidently dealing with the actual doctrines of Lao Tzŭ.

You are going too fast. You see your egg, and expect to hear it crow. You look at your cross-bow, and expect to have broiled duck before you. I will say a few words to you at random, and do you listen at random.

"How does the Sage seat himself by the sun and moon, and hold the universe in his grasp? He blends everything into one harmonious whole, rejecting the confusion of this and that. Rank and precedence, which the vulgar prize, the Sage stolidly ignores. The revolutions of ten thousand years leave his Unity unscathed. The universe itself may pass away, but he will flourish still.

"How do I know that love of life is not a delusion after all? How do I know but that he who dreads to die is not as a child who has lost the way and cannot find his home?

"The lady Li Chi was the daughter of Ai Fêng.

A border chieftain.

When the Duke of Chin first got her, she wept until the bosom of her dress was drenched with tears. But when she came to the royal residence, and lived with the Duke, and ate rich food, she repented of having wept. How then do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to life?

"Those who dream of the banquet, wake to lamentation and sorrow. Those who dream of lamentation and sorrow wake to join the hunt. While they dream, they do not know that they dream. Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and only when they awake do they know it was a dream. By and by comes the Great Awakening, and then we find out that this life is really a great dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams,—I am but a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a sage may arise to explain it; but that tomorrow will not be until ten thousand generations have gone by.

"Granting that you and I argue. If you beat me, and not I you, are you necessarily right and I wrong? Or if I beat you and not you me, am I necessarily right and you wrong? Or are we both partly right and partly wrong? Or are we both wholly right and wholly wrong? You and I cannot know this, and consequently the world will be in ignorance of the truth.

"Who shall I employ as arbiter between us? If I employ some one who takes your view, he will side with you. How can such a one arbitrate between us? If I employ some one who takes my view, he will side with me. How can such a one arbitrate between us? And if I employ some one who either differs from, or agrees with, both of us, he will be equally unable to decide between us. Since then you, and I, and man, cannot decide, must we not depend upon Another?

Upon God, in whose infinity all contraries blend indistinguishably into One.

Such dependence is as though it were not dependence. We are embraced in the obliterating unity of God. There is perfect adaptation to whatever may eventuate; and so we complete our allotted span.

"But what is it to be embraced in the obliterating unity of God? It is this. With reference to positive and negative, to that which is so and that which is not so,—if the positive is really positive, it must necessarily be different from its negative: there is no room for argument. And if that which is so really is so, it must necessarily be different from that which is not so: there is no room for argument.

"Take no heed of time, nor of right and wrong. But passing into the realm of the Infinite, take your final rest therein."

Our refuge is in God alone, the Infinite Absolute. Contraries cannot but exist, but they should exist independently of each other without antagonism. Such a condition is found only in the all-embracing unity of God, wherein all distinctions of positive and negative, of right and wrong, of this and of that, are obliterated and merged in One.

Herbert Spencer says, "The antithesis of subject and object, never to be transcended while consciousness lasts, renders impossible all knowledge of the Ultimate Reality in which subject and object are united." Principles of Psychology, i. p. 272.

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 in turn upon something else which causes it to do as it does. My dependence is like that of a snake's scales or of a cicada's wings.

Which do not move of their own accord.

How can I tell why I do one thing, or why I do not do another?"

Showing how two or more may be the phenomena of one.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzŭ, 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. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. The transition is called Metempsychosis.

Showing how one may appear to be either of two.