Taoist teachings from the book of Lieh Tzŭ/Book 2
The Yellow Emperor
The Yellow Emperor sat for fifteen years on the throne, and rejoiced that the Empire looked up to him as its head. He was careful of his physical well-being, sought pleasures for his ears and eyes, and gratified his senses of smell and taste. Nevertheless, he grew melancholy in spirit, his complexion became sallow, and his sensations became dull and confused. Then, for a further period of fifteen years, he grieved that the Empire was in disorder; he summoned up all his intelligence, exhausted his resources of wisdom and strength in trying to rule the people. But, in spite of all, his face remained haggard and pale, and his sensations dull and confused.
Then the Yellow Emperor sighed heavily and said: 'My fault is want of moderation. The misery I suffer comes from over-attention to my own self, and the troubles of the Empire from over-regulation in everything.' Thereupon, he threw up all his schemes, abandoned his ancestral palace, dismissed his attendants, removed all the hanging bells, cut down the delicacies of his cuisine, and retired to live at leisure in private apartments attached to the Court. There he fasted in heart, and brought his body under control.
For three months he abstained from personal intervention in government. Then he fell asleep in the daytime, and dreamed that he made a journey to the kingdom of Hua-hsŭ, situated I know not how many tens of thousands of miles distant from the Ch'i State. It was beyond the reach of ship or vehicle or any mortal foot. Only the soul could travel so far.
This kingdom was without head or ruler; it simply went on of itself. Its people were without desires or cravings; they simply followed their natural instincts. They felt neither joy in life nor abhorrence of death; thus they came to no untimely ends. They felt neither attachment to self nor indifference to others; thus they were exempt from love and hatred alike. They knew neither aversion from one course nor inclination to another; hence profit and loss existed not among them. All were equally untouched by the emotions of love and sympathy, of jealousy and fear. Water had no power to drown them, nor fire to burn; cuts and blows caused them neither injury nor pain, scratching or tickling could not make them itch. They bestrode the air as though treading on solid earth; they were cradled in space as though resting in a bed. Clouds and mist obstructed not their vision, thunder-peals could not stun their ears, physical beauty disturbed not their hearts, mountains and valleys hindered not their steps. They moved about like gods.
When the Yellow Emperor awoke from his dream, he summoned his three Ministers and told them what he had seen. 'For three months,' he said, 'I have been living a life of leisure, fasting in heart, subduing my body, and casting about in my mind for the true method of nourishing my own life and regulating the lives of others. But I failed to discover the secret. Worn out, I fell asleep and dreamed this dream. Now I know that the Perfect Way is not to be sought through the senses. This Way I know and hold within me, yet I cannot impart it to you.'
For twenty-eight years after this, there was great orderliness in the Empire, nearly equalling that in the kingdom of Hua-hsŭ. And when the Emperor ascended on high, the people bewailed him for two hundred years without intermission.
Lieh Tzŭ had Lao Shang for his teacher, and Po Kao Tzŭ for his friend. When he had fully mastered the system of these two philosophers, he rode home again on the wings of the wind.
Yin Shêng heard of this, and became his disciple. He dwelt with Lieh Tzŭ for many months without visiting his own home. While he was with him, he begged to be initiated into his secret arts. Ten times he asked, and each time received no answer. Becoming impatient Yin Shêng announced his departure, but Lieh Tzŭ still gave no sign. So Yin Shêng went away, but after many months his mind was still unsettled, so he returned and became his follower once more. Lieh Tzŭ said to him: 'Why this incessant going and coming?' Yin Shêng replied: 'Some time ago, I sought instruction from you, Sir, but you would not tell me anything. That made me vexed with you. But now I have got rid of that feeling, and so I have come again.' Lieh Tzŭ said: 'Formerly, I used to think you were a man of penetration, and have you now fallen so low? Sit down, and I will tell you what I learned from my Master. After I had served him, and enjoyed the friendship of Po Kao, for the space of three years, my mind did not venture to reflect on right and my wrong, my lips did not venture to speak of profit and loss. Then, for the first time, my Master bestowed one glance upon me — and that was all.
'At the end of five years a change had taken place; my mind was reflecting on right and wrong, and my lips were speaking of profit and loss. Then, for the first time, my Master relaxed his countenance and smiled.
'At the end of seven years, there was another change. I let my mind reflect on what it would, but it no longer occupied itself with right and wrong. I let my lips utter whatsoever they pleased, but they no longer spoke of profit and loss. Then, at last, my Master led me in to sit on the mat beside him.
'At the end of nine years my mind gave free rein to its reflections, my mouth free passage to its speech. Of right and wrong, profit and loss, I had no knowledge, either as touching myself or others. I knew neither that the Master was my instructor, nor that the other man was my friend. Internal and External were blended into Unity. After that, there was no distinction between eye and ear, ear and nose, nose and mouth: all were the same. My mind was frozen, my body in dissolution, my flesh and bones all melted together. I was wholly unconscious of what my body was resting on, or what was under my feet. I was borne this way and that on the wind, like dry chaff or leaves falling from a tree. In fact, I knew not whether the wind was riding on me or I on the wind. Now, you have not spent one whole season in your teacher's house, and yet you have lost patience two or three times already. Why, at this rate, the atmosphere will never support an atom of your body, and even the earth will be unequal to the weight of one of your limbs! How can you expect to walk in the void or to be charioted on the wind?'
Hearing this, Yin Shêng was deeply ashamed. He could hardly trust himself to breathe, and it was long ere he ventured to utter another word.
Mr Fan had a son named Tzŭ Hua, who succeeded in achieving great fame as an exponent of the black art, and the whole kingdom bowed down before him. He was in high favour with the Prince of Chin, taking no office but standing on a par with the three Ministers of State. Any one on whom he turned a partial eye was marked out for distinction; while those of whom he spoke unfavourably were forthwith banished. People thronged his hall in the same way as they went to Court. Tzŭ Hua used to encourage his followers to contend amongst themselves, so that the clever ones were always bullying the slow-witted, and the strong riding rough-shod over the weak. Though this resulted in blows and wounds being dealt before his eyes, he was not in the habit of troubling about it. Day and night, this sort of thing served as an amusement, and practically became a custom in the State.
One day, Ho Shêng and Tzŭ Po, two of Fan's leading disciples, set off on a journey and, after traversing a stretch of wild country, they put up for the night in the hut of an old peasant named Shang Ch'iu Wai. During the night, the two travellers conversed together, speaking of Tzŭ Hua's reputation and influence, his power over life and death, and how he could make the rich man poor and the poor man rich. Now, Shang Ch'iu Wai was living on the border of starvation. He had crept round under the window and overheard this conversation. Accordingly, he borrowed some provisions and, shouldering his basket, set off for Tzŭ Hua's establishment. This man's followers, however, were a worldly set, who wore silken garments and rode in high carriages and stalked about with their noses in the air. Seeing that Shang Ch'iu Wai was a weak old man, with a weather-beaten face and clothes of no particular cut, they one and all despised him. Soon he became a regular target for their insults and ridicule, being hustled about and slapped on the back and what not. Shang Ch'iu K'ai, however, never showed the least annoyance, and at last the disciples, having exhausted their wit on him in this way, grew tired of the fun. So, by way of a jest, they took the old man with them to the top of a cliff, and the word was passed round that whosoever dared to throw himself over would be rewarded with a hundred ounces of silver. There was an eager response, and Shang Ch'iu K'ai, in perfect good faith, was the first to leap over the edge. And lo! he was wafted down to earth like a bird on the wing, not a bone or muscle of his body being hurt. Mr Fan's disciples, regarding this as a lucky chance, were merely surprised, but not yet moved to great wonder. Then they pointed to a bend in the foaming river below, saying: 'There is a precious pearl at the bottom of that river, which can be had for the diving.' Ch'iu K'ai again acted on their suggestion and plunged in. And when he came out, sure enough he held a pearl in his hand.
Then, at last, the whole company began to suspect the truth, and Tzŭ Hua gave orders that an array of costly viands and silken raiment should be prepared; then suddenly a great fire was kindled round the pile. 'If you can walk through the midst of these flames,' he said, 'you are welcome to keep what you can get of these embroidered stuffs, be it much or little, as a reward.' Without moving a muscle of his face, Shang Ch'iu K'ai walked straight into the fire, and came back again with his garments unsoiled and his body unsinged.
Mr Fan and his disciples now realized that he was in possession of Tao, and all began to make their apologies, saying: 'We did not know, Sir, that you had Tao, and were only playing a trick on you. We insulted you, not knowing that you were a divine man. You have exposed our stupidity, our deafness and out blindness. May we venture to ask what the Great Secret is?' 'Secret I have none,' replied Shang Ch'iu K'ai. 'Even in my own mind I have no clue as to the real cause. Nevertheless, there is one point in it all which I must try to explain to you. A short time ago, Sir, two disciples of yours came and put up for the night in my hut. I heard them extolling Mr Fan's powers — how he could dispense life and death at his will, and how he was able to make the rich man poor and the poor man rich. I believed this implicitly, and as the distance was not very great I came hither. Having arrived, I unreservedly accepted as true all the statements made by your disciples, and was only afraid lest the opportunity might never come of putting them triumphantly to the proof I knew not what part of space my body occupied, nor yet where danger lurked. My mind was simply One, and material objects thus offered no resistance. That is all. But now, having discovered that your disciples were deceiving me, my inner man is thrown into a state of doubt and perplexity, while outwardly my senses of sight and hearing re-assert themselves. When I reflect that I have just had a providential escape from being drowned and burned to death, my heart within me freezes with horror, and my limbs tremble with fear. I shall never again have the courage to go near water or fire.'
From that time forth, when Mr Fan's disciples happened to meet a beggar or a poor horse-doctor on the road, so far from jeering at him, they would actually dismount and offer him a humble salute.
Tsai Wo heard this story, and told it to Confucius. 'Is this so strange to you? was the reply. 'The man of perfect faith can extend his influence to inanimate things and disembodied spirits; he can move heaven and earth, and fly to the six cardinal points without encountering any hindrance. His powers are not confined to walking in perilous places and passing through water and fire. If Shang Ch'iu K'ai, who put his faith in falsehoods, found no obstacle in external matter, how much more certainly will that be so when both parties are equally sincere! Young man, bear this in mind.'
The Keeper of Animals under King Hsŭan, of the Chou dynasty, had an assistant named Liang Yang, who was skilled in the management of wild birds and beasts. When he fed them in their park-enclosure, all the animals showed themselves tame and tractable, although they comprised tigers, wolves, eagles and ospreys. Male and female freely propagated their kind, and their numbers multiplied. The different species lived promiscuously together, yet they never clawed nor bit one another.
The King was afraid lest this man's secret should die with him, and commanded him to impart it to the Keeper. So Liang Yang appeared before the Keeper and said: 'I am only a humble servant, and have really nothing to impart. I fear his Majesty thinks I am hiding something from you. With regard to my method of feeding tigers, all I have to say is this: when yielded to, they are pleased; when opposed, they are angry. Such is the natural disposition of all living creatures. But neither their pleasure nor their anger is manifested without a cause. Both are really excited by opposition.
'In feeding tigers, then, I avoid giving them either live animals or whole carcases, lest in the former case the act of killing, in the latter the act of tearing them to pieces, should excite them to fury. Again, I time their periods of hunger and repletion, and I gain a full understanding of the causes of their anger. Tigers are of a different species from man, but, like him, they respond to those who coax them with food, and consequently the act of killing their victims tends to provoke them. This being so, I should not think of opposing them and thus provoking their anger; neither do I humour them and thus cause them to feel pleased. For this feeling of pleasure will in time be succeeded by anger, just as anger must invariably be succeeded by pleasure. Neither of these states hits the proper mean. Hence it is my aim to be neither antagonistic nor compliant, so that the animals regard me as one of themselves. Thus it happens that they walk about the park without regretting the tall forests and the broad marshes, and rest in the enclosure without yearning for the lonely mountains and the dark valleys. Such are the principles which have led to the results you see.'
There was once a man, a sailor by profession, who was very fond of sea-gulls. Every morning he went into the sea and swam about in their midst, at which times a hundred gulls and more would constantly flock about him.
One day his father said to him: 'I am told that sea-gulls swim about with you in the water. I wish you would catch one or two for me to make pets of.' On the following day, the sailor went down to the sea as usual, but lo! the gulls only wheeled about in the air and would not alight.
Chao Hsiang Tzŭ led out a company of a hundred thousand men to hunt in the Central Mountains. Lighting the dry undergrowth, they set fire to the whole forest, and the glow of the flames was visible for a hundred miles around. Suddenly a man appeared, emerging from a rocky cliff, and was seen to hover in the air amidst the flames and the smoke. Everybody took him for a disembodied spirit. When the fire had passed, he walked quietly out, and showed no trace of having been through the ordeal. Hsiang Tzŭ marvelled thereat, and detained him for the purpose of careful examination. In bodily form he was undoubtedly a man, possessing the seven channels of sense, besides which his breathing and his voice also proclaimed him a man. So the prince inquired what secret power it was that enabled him to dwell in rock and to walk through fire. 'What do you mean by rock?' replied the man; 'what do you mean by fire?' Hsiang Tzŭ said: 'What you just now came out of is rock; what you just now walked through is fire.' 'I know nothing of them,' replied the man.
The incident came to the ears of Marquis Wên of the Wei State, who spoke to Tzŭ Hsia about it, saying: 'What an extraordinary man this must be!' 'From what I have heard the Master say,' replied Tzŭ Hsia, 'the man who achieves harmony with Tao enters into close unison with external objects, and none of them has the power to harm or hinder him. Passing through solid metal or stone, walking in the midst of fire or on the surface of water — all these things become possible to him.' 'Why, my friend,' asked the Marquis, 'cannot you do all this? 'I have not yet succeeded,' said Tzŭ Hsia, 'in cleansing my heart of impurities and discarding Wisdom. I can only find leisure to discuss the matter in tentative fashion.' 'And why,' pursued the Marquis, 'does not the Master himself perform these feats?' 'The Master,' replied Tzŭ' Hsia, 'is is able to do these things, but he is also able to refrain from doing them.' Which answer hugely delighted the Marquis.
There may be similarity in understanding without similarity in outward form. There may also be similarity in form without similarity in understanding. The Sage embraces similarity of understanding and pays no regard to similarity of form. The world in general is attracted by similarity of form, but remains indifferent to similarity of understanding. Those creatures that resemble them in shape they love and consort with; those that differ from them in shape they fear and keep at a distance. The creature that has a skeleton seven feet long, hands differently shaped from the feet, hair on its head, and an even set of teeth in its jaws, and walks erect, is called a man. But it does not follow that a man may not have the mind of a brute. Even though this be the case, other men will still recognize him as one of their own species in virtue of his outward form. Creatures which have wings on the back or horns on the head, serrated teeth or extensile talons, which fly overhead or run on all fours, are called birds and beasts. But it does not follow that a bird or a beast may not have the mind of a man. Yet, even if this be so, it is nevertheless assigned to another species because of the difference in form.
P'ao Hsi, Nŭ Kua, Shên Nung and Hsia Hou had serpents' bodies, human faces, ox-heads and tigers' snouts. Thus, their forms were not human, yet their virtue was of the saintliest. Chieh of the Hsia dynasty, Chou of the Yin, Huan of the Lu State, and Mu of the Ch'u State, were in all external respects, as facial appearance and possession of the seven channels of sense, like unto other men; yet they had the minds of savage brutes. Howbeit, in seeking perfect understanding, men attend to the outward form alone, which will not bring them near to it.
When the Yellow Emperor fought with Yen Ti on the field of P'an-ch'ŭan, his vanguard was composed of bears, wolves, panthers, lynxes and tigers, while his ensign-bearers were eagles, ospreys, falcons and kites. This was forcible impressment of animals into the service of man. The Emperor Yao entrusted K'uei with the regulation of music.
When the latter tapped the musical stone in varying cadence, all the animals danced to the sound of the music. When the Shao in its nine variations was heard on the flute, the phœnix itself flew down to assist. This was the attraction of animals by the power of music. In what, then, do the minds of birds and beasts differ from the minds of men? Their shapes and the sounds they utter are different from ours, and they know no way of communicating with us. But the wisdom and penetration of the Sage are unlimited: that is why he is able to lead then, to do his bidding. The intelligence of animals is innate, even as that of man. Their common desire is for self-preservation, but they do not borrow their knowledge from men. There is pairing between the male and the female, and mutual attachment between the mother and her young. They shun the open plain and keep to the mountainous parts; they flee the cold and make for warmth; when they settle, they gather in flocks; when they travel, they preserve a fixed order. The young ones are stationed in the middle, the stronger ones place themselves on the outside. They show one another the way to the drinking-places, and call to their fellows when there is food. In the earliest ages, they dwelt and moved about in company with man. It was not until the age of emperors and kings that they began to be afraid and broke away into scattered bands. And now, in this final period, they habitually hide and keep out of man's way so as to avoid injury at his hands. At the present day, the Chieh-shih in the far east can in many cases interpret the language of the six domestic animals, although they have probably but an imperfect understanding of it.
In remote antiquity, there were men of divine enlightenment who were perfectly acquainted with the feelings and habits of all living things, and thoroughly understood the languages of the various species. They brought them together, trained them, and admitted them to their society, exactly like human beings. . . . These sages declared that, in mind and understanding, there was no wide gulf between any of the living species endowed with blood and breath. And therefore, knowing that this was so, they omitted nothing from their course of training and instruction.
Hui Yang went to visit Prince K'ang of the Sung State. The Prince, however, stamped his foot, rasped his throat, and said angrily: 'The things I like are courage and strength. I am not fond of your good and virtuous people. What can a stranger like you have to teach me? 'I have a secret,' replied Hui Yang, 'whereby my opponent, however brave or strong, can be prevented from harming me either by thrust or by blow. Would not your Highness care to know that secret?' 'Capital!' exclaimed K'ang; 'that is certainly something I should like to hear about.' Hui Yang went on: 'To render ineffectual the stabs and blows of one's opponent is indeed to cover him with shame. But my secret is one which will make your opponent, however brave or strong, afraid to stab or to strike at all! His being afraid, however, does not always imply that he has not the will to do so. Now, my secret method operates so that even the will is absent. Not having the will to harm, however, does not necessarily connote the desire to love and to do good. But my secret is one whereby every man, woman and child in the Empire shall be inspired with the friendly desire to love and do good to one another! This is something that transcends all social distinctions, and is much better than the mere possession of courage and strength. Has your Highness no mind to acquire such a secret as this?' 'Nay,' said the Prince, 'I am anxious to learn it. What is the secret, pray?' 'Nothing else,' replied Hui Yang, 'than the teachings of Confucius and Mo Tzŭ.
Neither of these two men possessed any land, and yet they were princes; they held no official rank, and yet they were leaders. All the inhabitants of the Empire, old and young, used to crane their necks and stand on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of them. For it was their object to bring peace and happiness to all. Now, your Highness is lord of ten thousand chariots. If you are sincere in your purpose, all the people within the four borders of your realm will reap the benefit, and the fame of your virtue will far exceed that of Confucius or of Mo Tzŭ.'
The Prince of Sung found himself at loss for an answer, and Hui Yang quickly withdrew. Then the Prince turned to his courtiers and said: 'A forcible argument! This stranger has carried me away by his eloquence.'
- 'The practice of enlightened virtue will not succeed in establishing good government, but only disorganize the spiritual faculties.'
- Fasting in heart means freeing oneself from earthly desires, after which, says the commentator, the body will naturally be under control. Actual abstention from food or other forms of bodily mortification are not intended. See Musings of a Chinese Mystic, p. 71.
- In sleep, the hun or spiritual part of the soul is supposed by the Chinese, to quit the body.
- 'It is wrong to nourish one's own life, wrong to regulate those of others. No attempt to do this by the light of intelligence can be successful.'
- 'If the Way cannot be sought through the senses, it cannot be communicated through the senses.'
- Cf. Chuang Tzŭ, ch. 1: 'There was Lieh Tzŭ again. He could ride upon the wind, and travel whithersoever he wished, staying away as long as fifteen days.'
- 'To be in reality entertaining the ideas of profit and loss, though without venturing to utter them, is a case of hiding one's resentment and harbouring secret passions; hence a mere glance was vouchsafed.'
- 'Right and wrong, profit and loss, are the fixed principles prevailing in the world of sense. To let the mind reflect on what it will, to let the lips utter what they please, and not grudgingly bottle it up in one's breast, so that the internal and the external may become as one, is still not so good as passing beyond the bounds of self and abstaining from all manifestation. This first step, however, pleased the Master and caused him to give a smile.'
- 'The question is, how to bring the mind into a state of calm, in which there is no thinking or mental activity; how to keep the lips silent, with only natural inhalation and exhalation going on. If you give yourself up to mental perfection, right and wrong will cease to exist; if the lips follow their natural law they know not profit or loss. Their ways agreeing, Master and friend sat side by side with him on the same seat. That was only as it should be.'
- The only way to etherealize the body being to purge the mind of its passions.
- Compare the familiar passage in the Bible (Matt. xvii. 20).
- In Shang Ch'iu K'ai's case, though he himself was sincere, his Master Fan Tzŭ Hua was merely an impostor.
- The difficulty of getting wild animals to breed in captivity is well known to naturalists.
- Anger directly, pleasure indirectly, owing to the natural reaction when the opposition is overcome.
- 'Creatures are not shy of those whom they feel to be in mental and bodily harmony with themselves.'
- 'There was disturbance in his mind, accompanied by a change in his outward demeanour; thus the birds became conscious of the fact that he was a human being. How could their instinct be deceived?'
- That is to say, passing miraculously out of the actual stone itself.
- 'It was this extreme feat of unconsciousness that enabled him to perform the above feats.'
- The Chinese foot at that time being considerably shorter than ours.
- K'uei was a composite being, half beast, half man, of irreproachable virtue. His son, on the other hand, is said to have had 'the heart of a pig'. He was insatiably gluttonous, covetous and quarrelsome.
- A famous philosopher who flourished about 400 B.C. and propounded, chiefly on utilitarian grounds, the doctrine of 'universal love'.
- A conventional way of saying that Sung was a feudal State of the first class.
- They not having enjoyed the advantage of ruling over a large State.