Along with Lao-tse and Sun-tse one of the three original Taoists, Chuang-tse* wrote a collection of very humorous and mysterious epigrams that have survived largely intact to this day. I have read many different translations of the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tse and always gain something new and important to further my Path with Heart, however, I so enjoy reading the humorous stories written by Chuang-tse that contain the great Wisdom of Lao-tse too. First, is a brief introduction to this very wise teacher and uniquely humorous Taoist Master written by Lin Yutang. Then, some of my favorite stories and teachings of Chuang-tse. I hope you enjoy the way he uses very colorful and descriptive names for the ficticious characters in his work but also gain the vast wisdom contained within each story.
* As with Lao-tse, there are several different spellings of Chuang-tse such as Zhuangzi here.
Lin Yutang’s Introduction to Chuangtse: Mystic and Humorist
Jesus was followed by St. Paul, Socrates by Plato, Confucius by Mencius, and Lao-tse by Chuang-tse. In all four cases, the first was the real teacher and either wrote no books or wrote very little, and the second began to develop the doctrines and wrote long and profound discourses. Chuang-tse, who died about 275 B.C., was separated from Lao-tse’s death by not quite two hundred years, and was strictly a contemporary of Mencius. Yet the most curious thing is that although both these writers mentioned the other philosophers of the time, neither was mentioned by the other in his works. Chuang-tse is therefore important as the first one who fully developed the Taoistic thesis of the rhythm of life, contained in the epigrams of Lao-tse. Unlike other Chinese philosophers principally occupied with practical questions of government and personal morality, he gives the only metaphysics existing in Chinese literature before the coming of Buddhism. I am sure his mysticism will charm some readers and repel others. Certain traits in it, like weeding out the idea of the Ego and quiet contemplation and “seeing the Solitary” explain how these native Chinese ideas were back of the development of the Ch’an (Japanese Zen) Buddhism. Any branch of human knowledge, even the study of the rocks of the earth and the cosmic rays of heaven, strikes mysticism when is reaches any depth at all, and it seems Chinese Taoism skipped the scientific study of nature to reach the same intuitive conclusion by insight alone. Therefore it is not surprising that Albert Einstein and Chuang-tse agree, as agree they must, on the relativity of all standards. The only difference is that Einstein takes on the more difficult and, to a Chinese, more stupid work of mathematical proof, while Chuang-tse furnishes the philosophic import of this theory of relativity, which must be sooner or later developed by Western philosophers in the next decades.
Root of Heaven roamed on the south side of Mount Vast. When he came to the bank of Clear Stream he met Nameless Man and asked him. “Please tell me how to manage the world.” “Go away you dunce.” Nameless Man said. “Such questions are no fun I was Just about to join the Creator of Things. If I get bored with that, I’ll climb on the bird Merges with the Sky and soar beyond the six directions. I’ll visit Nothing Whatever town and stay in Boundless country. Why do you bring up managing the world to disturb my thoughts? ” Still Root of Heaven repeated his question and Nameless Man responded “Let your rnind wander among the insipid, blend your energies with the featureless, spontaneously accord with things, and you will have no room for selfishness. Then the world will be in order.”How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home? Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king’s bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears. How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not now we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.
When Zhuangzi’s wife died and Hui Shi came to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi squatting with his knees out, drumming on a pan and singing ”You lived with her she raised your children, and you grew old together, Hui Shi said “Not weeping when she died would have been bad enough. Aren’t you going too far by drurnming on a pan and singing ?’ “No,” Zhuangzi said, “when she first died how could I have escaped feeling the loss? Then I looked back to the beginning before she had life Not only before she had life but before she had form. Not only before she had form, but before she had vital energy. In this confused amorphous realm, something changed and vital energy appeared,- when the vital energy was changed, form appeared; with changes in form, life began. Now there is another change bringingdeath This is like the progression of the four seasons of spring and fall, winter and summer. Here she was lying down to sleep in a huge room and I followed her sobbing and wailing. When I realized my actions showed I hadn’t understood destiny, I stopped.”
When Zhuangzi was about to die, his disciples wanted to bury him in a well-appointed tomb. Zhuangzi said, ”I have the sky and the earth for inner and outer coffins the sun and the moon for jade disks the stars for pearls and the ten thousand things for farewell gifts. Isn’t the paraphernalia for my burial adequate without adding anything?” ”We are afraid the crows and kites will eat you master,” a disciple said. “Above ground, I will be eaten by crows and kites; below ground by ants. You are robbing from the one to give to the other. Why play favorites”’
Consider Cripple Shu. His chin is down by his navel His shoulders stick up above his head. The bones at the base of his neck point to the sky. The five pipes of his spine are on top: his two thighs form ribs. Yet by sewing and washing he is able to fill his mouth; by shaking the fortune-telling sticks he earns enough to feed ten. When the authorities draft soldiers, a cripple can walk among them confidently flapping his sleeves; when they are conscripting work gangs, cripples are excused because of their infirmity. When the authorities give relief grain to the ailing a cripple gets three measures along with undles of firewood. Thus one whose form is crippled can nurture his body and live out the years Heaven grants him. Think that he could do if his virtue was crippled too!
Duke Huan was reading a book in the hall. Wheelwright Pian, who had been chiseling a wheel in the courtyard below, set down his tools and climbed the stairs to ask Duke Huan, “may I ask what words are in the book Your Grace is reading?” “The words of sages.” the Duke responded. “Are these sages alive?” “They are already dead” That means you are reading the dregs of long gone men, doesn’t it?” Duke Huan said How does a wheelwright get to have opinions on the books I read? If you can explain yoursel f I’ll let it pass otherwise, it’s death.” W’heelwright Pian said ”In my case I see things in terms of my own work. When I chisel at a wheel, if I go slow the chisel slides and does not stay put; if I hurry, it jams and doesn’t move properly When it is neither too slow nor too fast I can feel it in my hand and respond to it from my heart. My mouth cannot describe it in words but there is something there 1 cannot teach it to my son and my son cannot learn it from me So I have gone on for seventy years, growing old chiseling wheels The men of old died in possession of what could not transmit. So it follows that what you are reading is their dregs.”
Hui Shi said to Zhuangzi, “I have a large tree, of the sort people call a shu tree. Its trunk is too gnarled for measuring lines to be applied to it, its branches are too twisted for use with compasses or T-squares. If you stood it on the road, no carpenter would pay any attention to it Now your talk is similarly vast but useless, people are unanimous in rejecting it.” Zhuangzi replied, “Haven’t you ever seen a wildcat or a weasel? It crouches down to wait for something to pass, ready to pounce east or west, high or low, only to end by falling into a trap and dying in a net But then there is the yak. It is as big as a cloud hanging in the sky. It has an ability to be big, but hardly an ability to catch mice. Now you have a large tree but fret over its uselessness. Why not plant it in Nothing At All town or Vast Nothing wilds? Then you could roam about doing nothing by its side or sleep beneath it. Axes will never shorten its life and nothing w ill ever harm it. If you are of no use at all, who will make trouble for you?”
How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home? Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king’s bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears. How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not now we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.
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