Chuang Tzŭ (Giles)/Chapter 22

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Chuang Tzŭ  (1889) 
Zhuang Zi, translated by Herbert A. Giles
Chapter XXII. Knowledge Travels North

Bernard Quaritch, London, pages 276–293


Knowledge travels North.

Argument:—Inaction and Tao—The universe our model—Spontaneity our watchword—Omnipresence and indivisibility of Tao—External activity, internal passivity—Man's knowledge finite—Illustrations.

[This chapter is supplementary to chapter vi.]

WHEN Knowledge travelled north, across the Black Water, and over the Dark-Steep Mountain, he met Do-nothing Say-nothing and asked of him as follows:—

"Kindly tell me by what thoughts, by what cogitations, may Tao be known? By resting in what, by according in what, may Tao be approached? By following what, by pursuing what, may Tao be attained?"

To these three questions. Do-nothing Say-nothing returned no answer. Not that he would not answer, but that he could not. So when Knowledge got no reply, he turned round and went off to the south of the White Water and up the Ku-chüeh Mountain, where he saw All-in-extremes, and to him he put the same questions.

"Ha!" cried All-in-extremes, "I know. I will tell you . . . . . ."

But just as he was about to speak he forgot what he wanted to say. So when Knowledge got no reply, he went back to the palace and asked the Yellow Emperor. The latter said, "By no thoughts, by no cogitations, Tao may be known. By resting in nothing, by according in nothing, Tao may be approached. By following nothing, by pursuing nothing, Tao may be attained."

Then Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, "Now you and I know this, but those two know it not. Who is right?"

"Of those two," replied the Yellow Emperor, "Do-nothing Say-nothing is genuinely right, and All-in-extremes is near. You and I are wholly wrong. Those who understand it do not speak about it, those who speak about it do not understand it.

These words occur in the Tao-Tê-Ching, ch. vi. See also ante, p. 170.

Therefore the Sage teaches a doctrine which does not find expression in words.

See ante, ch. v. Also The Remains of Lao Tzŭ, p. 7.

Tao cannot be made to come. Virtue cannot be reached.

Virtue (), here the exemplification of Tao.

Charity can be evoked. Duty to one's neighbour can be wrongly directed. Ceremonies are mere shams.

"Therefore it has been said, 'If Tao perishes, then will perish. If perishes, then charity will perish. If charity perishes, then duty to one's neighbour will perish. If duty to one's neighbour perishes, then ceremonies will perish. Ceremonies are but a showy ornament of Tao, while oft-times the source of trouble.'

The above is from the Tao-Tê-Ching, ch. xxxviii. It is interesting to note how the Yellow Emperor annihilates time by quoting a work not written until many centuries after his date.

"Therefore it has been said, 'Those who practise Tao suffer daily loss. If that loss proceeds until inaction ensues, then by that very inaction there is nothing which cannot be done.'

Also in the Tao-Tê-Ching, ch. xlviii.

"Now, we are already beings. And if we desire to revert to our original condition, how difficult that is! 'Tis a change to which only the greatest among us are equal.

"Life follows upon death. Death is the beginning of life. Who knows when the end is reached? "The life of man results from convergence of the vital fluid. Its convergence is life; its dispersion, death. If then life and death are but consecutive states, what need have I to complain?

"Therefore all things are One. What we love is animation. What we hate is corruption. But corruption in its turn becomes animation, and animation once more becomes corruption.

"Therefore it has been said, The world is permeated by a single vital fluid, and Sages accordingly venerate One."

"Tota formatio procedens ex nomine uno." Liber Jezirah, p. Bi. (Parisiis: G. Postello, 1552.)

Then Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, "I asked Do-nothing Say-nothing, but he did not answer me. Not that he would not; he could not. So I asked All-in-extremes. He was just going to tell me, but he did not tell me. Not that he would not; but just as he was going to do so, he forgot what he wanted to say. Now I ask you, and you tell me. How then are you wholly wrong?"

"Of those two," replied the Yellow Emperor, "the former was genuinely right, inasmuch as he did not know. The latter was near, inasmuch as he forgot. You and I are wholly wrong, inasmuch as we know.

Tao is attained, not by knowledge, but by absence of knowledge.

When All-in-extremes heard of this, he considered that the Yellow Emperor had spoken well.

"Spoken knowingly" gives the only chance of bringing out what is here a forced play upon words.

The universe is very beautiful, yet it says nothing. The four seasons abide by a fixed law, yet they are not heard. All creation is based upon absolute principles, yet nothing speaks.

And the true Sage, taking his stand upon the beauty of the universe, pierces the principles of created things. Hence the saying that the perfect man does nothing, the true Sage performs nothing, beyond gazing at the universe.

In the hope of attaining, by contemplation, a like spontaneity.

For man's intellect, however keen, face to face with the countless evolutions of things, their death and birth, their squareness and roundness,—can never reach the root. There creation is, and there it has ever been.

But the secret of life is withheld.

The six cardinal points, reaching into infinity, are ever included in Tao. An autumn spikelet, in all its minuteness, must carry Tao within itself. There is nothing on earth which does not rise and fall, but it never perishes altogether.

Nihilo nil posse reverti.

The Yin and the Yang, and the four seasons, keep to their proper order. Apparently destroyed, yet really existing; the material gone, the immaterial left;—such is the law of creation, which passeth all understanding. This is called the root, whence a glimpse may be obtained of God.

From this point, upon which the finger of man can never be laid, his mind may perhaps faintly discern the transcendent workings of that Power by which all creation is swayed;—"uncover those secret recesses where Nature is sitting at the fires in the depths of her laboratory." Swedenborg.

Yeh Ch'üeh enquired of P'i I about Tao.

For the former see ch. ii. Of the latter there is no record.

The latter said, "Keep your body under proper control, your gaze concentrated upon One,—and the peace of God will descend upon you. Keep back your knowledge, and concentrate your thoughts upon One,—and the holy spirit shall abide within you. Virtue shall beautify you, Tao shall establish you, aimless as a new-born calf which recks not how it came into the world."

While P'i I was still speaking, Yeh Ch'üeh had gone off to sleep; at which the former rejoiced greatly, and departed singing,

"Body like dry bone,
Mind like dead ashes;
This is true knowledge.
Not to strive after knowing the whence.
In darkness, in obscurity.
The mindless cannot plan;—
What manner of man is that?"

His mortal trammels had fallen off by his absorption into Tao.

Shun asked Ch'êng,

His tutor.

saying, "Can one get Tao so as to have it for one's own?"

"Your very body," replied Ch'eng, "is not your own. How should Tao be?"

"If my body," said Shun, "is not my own, pray whose is it?"

"It is the delegated image of God," replied Ch'êng. "Your life is not your own. It is the delegated harmony of God.

The affinity of the Yin and Yang causes them, when in due proportions, to combine and produce life.

Your individuality is not your own. It is the delegated adaptability of God.

Providing the endless variety of shapes with an endless variety of complexion.

Your posterity is not your own. It is the delegated exuviæ of God.

As God sends us into the world, so He wishes us to "increase and multiply."

You move, but know not how. You are at rest, but know not why. You taste, but know not the cause. These are the operation of God's laws. How then should you get Tag so as to have it for your own?"

Cf. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost," etc. I, Corinthians vi. 19.

Confucius said to Lao Tzŭ, "To-day you are at leisure. Pray tell me about perfect Tao."

"Purge your heart by fasting and discipline," answered Lao Tzŭ. "Wash your soul as white as snow. Discard your knowledge. Tao is abstruse and difficult of discussion. I will try, however, to speak to you of its outline.

"Light is born of darkness. Classification is born of formlessness. The soul is born of Tao. The body is born of the vital essence.

Existence springs from non-existence.

"Thus all things produce after their kind. Creatures with nine channels of communication are born from the womb. Creatures with eight are born from the egg.

Nature is always self-similar.

Of their coming there is no trace. In their departure there is no goal. No entrance gate, no dwelling house, they pass this way and that, as though at the meeting of cross-roads.

"Those who enter herein become strong of limb, subtle of thought, and clear of sight and hearing. They suffer no mental fatigue, nor meet with physical resistance.

"Heaven cannot but be high. Earth cannot but be broad. The sun and moon cannot but revolve. All creation cannot but flourish. To do so is their Tao.

"But it is not from extensive study that this may be known, nor by dialectic skill that this may be made clear. The true Sage will have none of these. It is in addition without gain, in diminution without loss, that the true Sage finds salvation.

"Unfathomable as the sea, wondrously ending only to begin again, informing all creation without being exhausted, the Tao of the perfect man is spontaneous in its operation. That all creation can be informed by it without exhaustion, is its Tao.

The Tao of Tao.

"In the Middle Kingdom there are men who recognise neither positive nor negative. They abide between heaven and earth. They act their part as mortals, and then return to the Cause.

"From that standpoint,

Of the Cause, sc. God, which is commensurate with infinity.

life is but a concentration of the vital fluid, whose longest and shortest terms of existence vary by an inappreciable space,—hardly enough for the classification of Yao and Chieh.

As good and bad. See ch. iv.

"Tree-fruits and plant-fruits exhibit order in their varieties; and the relationships of man, though more difficult to be dealt with, may still be reduced to order.

These have been classified as follows:—
1. Sovereign and Subject.
2. Husband Wife.
3. Father Son.
4. Elder Brother Younger Brother.
5. Friend Friend.

The true Sage who meets with these, does not violate them. Neither does he continue to hold fast by them.

He adapts himself to the exigencies of his environment.

Adaptation by arrangement is Tê. Spontaneous adaptation is Tao, by which sovereigns flourish and princes succeed.

"Man passes through this sublunary life as a white horse passes a crack. Here one moment, gone the next. Neither are there any not equally subject to the ingress and egress of mortality. One modification brings life; then another, and it is death. Living creatures cry out; human beings sorrow. The bow-sheath is slipped off; the clothes-bag is dropped; and in the confusion the soul wings its flight, and the body follows, on the great journey home!

"The reality of the formless, the unreality of that which has form,—this is known to all. Those who are on the road to attainment care not for these things, but the people at large discuss them. Attainment implies non-discussion: discussion implies non-attainment. Manifested, Tao has no objective value; hence silence is better than argument. It cannot be translated into speech; better then say nothing at all. This is called the great attainment."

Tung Kuo Tzŭ asked Chuang Tzŭ, saying, "What you call Tao,—where is it?"

"There is nowhere," replied Chuang Tzŭ, "where it is not."

"Tell me one place at any rate where it is," said Tung Kuo Tzŭ.

"It is in the ant," replied Chuang Tzŭ.

"Why go so low down?" asked Tung Kuo Tzŭ.

"It is in a tare," said Chuang Tzŭ.

"Still lower," objected Tung Kuo Tzŭ.

"It is in a potsherd," said Chuang Tzŭ.

"Worse still!" cried Tung Kuo Tzŭ.

"It is in ordure," said Chuang Tzŭ. And Tung Kuo Tzŭ made no reply.

"Sir," continued Chuang Tzŭ, "your question does not touch the essential. When Huo, inspector of markets, asked the managing director about the fatness of pigs, the test was always made in parts least likely to be fat. Do not therefore insist in any particular direction; for there is nothing which escapes. Such is perfect Tao; and such also is ideal speech. Whole, entire, all, are three words which sound differently but mean the same. Their purport is One.

"Try to reach with me the palace of Nowhere, and there, amidst the identity of all things, carry your discussions into the infinite. Try to practise with me inaction, wherein you may rest motionless, without care, and be happy. For thus my mind becomes an abstraction. It wanders not, and yet is not conscious of being at rest. It goes and comes and is not conscious of stoppages. Backwards and forwards without being conscious of any goal. Up and down the realms of Infinity, wherein even the greatest intellect would fail to find an end.

"That which makes things the things they are, is not limited to such things. The limits of things are their own limits in so far as they are things. The limits of the limitless, the limitlessness of the limited,—these are called fulness and emptiness, renovation and decay. Tao causes fulness and emptiness, but it is not either. It causes renovation and decay, but it is not either. It causes beginning and end, but it is not either. It causes accumulation and dispersion, but it is not either."

O Ho Kan was studying with Shên Nung under Lao Lung Chi.

No record of the first and last. Shên Nung was a legendary emperor who invented agriculture. See p. 196.

Shên Nung used to remain shut up, with his head on the table, absorbed in day-dreams. On one occasion, O Ho Kan knocked at the door, and entering said, "Lao Lung is dead!"

Thereupon Shên Nung, leaning on his staff, arose; and flinging down his staff with a bang, smiled and said, "O my Master, thou knewest me to be worthless and self-sufficient, and thou didst leave me and die. Now I, having no scope for my vain talk, I too will die."

When Yen Kang Tiao

"A man of Tao." Comm.

heard this, he said, "Those who exemplify Tao are sought after by all the best men in the empire. Now if one who has not attained to more Tao than the ten-thousandth part of the tip of an autumn spikelet, is still wise enough to withhold vain talk and die,—how much more those who exemplify Tao? To the eye it is formless, and to the ear it is noiseless. Those who discuss it, speak of it as 'the obscure.' But the mere fact of discussing Tao makes it not Tao."

At this the Empyrean asked Without-end, saying, "Do you know Tao?"

"I do not," replied Without-end; whereupon the Empyrean proceeded to ask Inaction.

"I do know Tao," said Inaction.

"Is there any method," asked the Empyrean, "by which you know Tao?"

"There is," replied Inaction.

"What is it?" asked the Empyrean.

"I know," answered Inaction, "that Tao may honour and dishonour, bind and loose. That is the method by which I know Tao."

The Empyrean repeated these words to No-beginning, and asked him which was right, the ignorance of Without-end or the knowledge of Inaction.

"Not to know," replied No-beginning, "is profound. To know is shallow. Not to know is internal. To know is external."

Here the Empyrean broke in with a sigh, "Then ignorance is knowledge, and knowledge ignorance! But pray whose knowledge is the knowledge of not knowing?"

"Tao," said No-beginning, "cannot be heard. Heard, it is not Tao. It cannot be seen. Seen, it is not Tao. It cannot be spoken. Spoken, it is not Tao. That which imparts form to forms is itself formless; therefore Tao cannot have a name."

Form precedes name.

No-beginning continued, "He who replies to one asking about Tao, does not know Tao. Although one may hear about Tao, he does not really hear about Tao. There is no such thing as asking about Tao. There is no such thing as answering such questions. To ask a question which cannot be asked is vain. To answer a question which cannot be answered is unreal. And one who thus meets the vain with the unreal is one who has no physical perception of the universe, and no mental perception of the origin of existence,—unfit alike to roam over the K'un-lun peak or to soar into the Supreme Void."

Light asked Nothing, saying, "Do you, Sir, exist, or do you not exist?"

But getting no answer to his question, Light set to work to watch for the appearance of Nothing.

Hidden, vacuous,—all day long he looked but could not see it, listened but could not hear it, grasped at but could not seize it.

See The Remains of Lao Tzŭ, p. 31.

"Bravo!" cried Light. "Who can equal this? I can get to be nothing.


but I cannot get as far as the absence of nothing. Assuming that Nothing has an objective existence, how can it reach this next stage?"

The man who forged swords for the Minister of War was eighty years of age. Yet he never made the slightest slip in his work.

The Minister of War said to him, "Is it your skill, Sir, or have you any method?"

Any Tao?—in its earlier sense of way of doing things.

"It is concentration," replied the man. "When twenty years old, I took to forging swords. I cared for nothing else. If a thing was not a sword, I did not notice it. I availed myself of whatever energy I did not use in other directions in order to secure greater efficiency in the direction required. Still more of that which is never without use;—


So that there was nothing which did not lend its aid.

Jen Ch'iu asked Confucius, saying, "Can we know about the time before the universe existed?"

"We can," replied Confucius. "Time was of old precisely what it is now."

At this rebuff, Jen Ch'iu withdrew. Next day he again visited Confucius and said, "Yesterday when I asked you that question and you answered me, I was quite clear about it. To-day I am confused. How is this?"

"Your clearness of yesterday," answered Confucius, "was because my answer appealed direct to your natural intelligence. Your confusion of to-day results from the intrusion of something other than the natural intelligence.

You have passed from "simple apprehension" to "judgment."

There is no past, no present, no beginning, no end.

To-day will be the yesterday of to-morrow.

To have posterity before one has posterity,—is that possible?"

Jen Ch'iu made no answer, and Confucius continued, "That will do. Do not reply. If life did not give birth to death, and if death did not put an end to life, surely life and death would be no longer correlates, but would each exist independently. What there was before the universe, was Tao. Tao makes things what they are, but is not itself a thing. Nothing can produce Tao; yet everything has Tao within it, and continues to produce it without end.

In its offspring.

And the endless love of the Sage for his fellow-man is based upon the same principle."

Yen Yüan asked Confucius, saying, "Master, I have heard you declare that there may be no eagerness to conform, no effort to adapt. If so, pray how are we to get along?"

Reach that condition which is only attained by adaptation to environment.

"The men of old," replied Confucius, "practised physical, but not moral, modification.

They adapted themselves to the requirements of matter, while their hearts remained the same.

The men of to-day practise moral, not physical modification.

They allow their hearts to be influenced while resisting the exigencies of the external.

Let your modification extend to the external only. Internally, be constant without modification.

"How shall you modify, and how shall you not modify? How reconcile the divergence?—By not admitting division.

I.e. "by being constant without modification," says Lin Hsi Chung.

"There was the garden of Hsi Wei, the park of the Yellow Emperor, the palace of Shun, the halls of T'ang and Wu.

The allusion appears to be to schools of learning, like the Grove of Academus. See chs. vi, xii.

These were perfect men; but had they been taught by Confucianists and Mihists, they would have hammered one another to pieces over scholastic quibbles. How much more then the men of to-day?

"The perfect Sage, in his relations with the external world, injures nothing. Neither does anything injure him. And only he who is thus exempt can be trusted to conform and to adapt.

"Mountain forests and loamy fields swell my heart with joy. But ere the joy be passed, sorrow is upon me again.

Familiarity destroys the charm.

Joy and sorrow come and go, and over them I have no control.

"Alas! the life of man is but as a stoppage at an inn. He knows that which comes within the range of his experience. Otherwise, he knows not. He knows that he can do what he can do, and that he cannot do what he cannot do. But there is always that which he does not know and that which he cannot do; and to struggle that it shall not be so,—is not this a cause for grief?

"The best language is that which is not spoken, the best form of action is that which is without deeds.

Then conformity and adaptation are not required.

Spread out your knowledge and it will be found to be shallow."

It will by no means cover the area of the knowable. "Read this chapter," says one critic, "and the Tripitaka and the Mahâyâna will open out before you as beneath a sharp-edged blade."