Zhuangzi was walking on a mountain, when he saw a great tree with huge branches and luxuriant foliage. A wood-cutter was resting by its side, but he would not touch it, and, when asked the reason, said, that it was of no use for anything, Zhuangzi then said to his disciples, 'This tree, because its wood is good for nothing, will succeed in living out its natural term of years.' Having left the mountain, the Master lodged in the house of an old friend, who was glad to see him, and ordered his waiting-lad to kill a goose and boil it. The lad said, 'One of our geese can cackle, and the other cannot - which of them shall I kill?' The host said, 'Kill the one that cannot cackle.'
Next day, his disciples asked Zhuangzi, saying, 'Yesterday the tree on the mountain (you said) would live out its years because of the uselessness of its wood, and now our host's goose has died because of its want of power (to cackle) - which of these conditions, Master, would you prefer to be in?' Zhuangzi laughed and said, '(If I said that) I would prefer to be in a position between being fit to be useful and wanting that fitness, that would seem to be the right position, but it would not be so, for it would not put me beyond being involved in trouble; whereas one who takes his seat on the Dao and its Attributes, and there finds his ease and enjoyment, is not exposed to such a contingency. He is above the reach both of praise and of detraction; now he (mounts aloft) like a dragon, now he (keeps beneath) like a snake; he is transformed with the (changing) character of the time, and is not willing to addict himself to any one thing; now in a high position and now in a low, he is in harmony with all his surroundings; he enjoys himself at ease with the Author of all things; he treats things as things, and is not a thing to them: where is his liability to be involved in trouble? This was the method of Shen Nong and Huang-Di. As to those who occupy themselves with the qualities of things, and with the teaching and practice of the human relations, it is not so with them. Union brings on separation; success, overthrow; sharp corners, the use of the file; honour, critical remarks; active exertion, failure; wisdom, scheming; inferiority, being despised: where is the possibility of unchangeableness in any of these conditions? Remember this, my disciples. Let your abode be here - in the Dao and its Attributes.'
Yi-liao, an officer of Shi-nan, having an interview with the marquis of Lu, found him looking sad, and asked him why he was so. The marquis said, 'I have studied the ways of the former kings, and cultivated the inheritance left me by my predecessors. I reverence the spirits of the departed and honour the men of worth, doing this with personal devotion, and without the slightest intermission. Notwithstanding, I do not avoid meeting with calamity, and this it is which makes me sad.'
The officer said, 'The arts by which you try to remove calamity are shallow. Think of the close-furred fox and of the elegantly-spotted leopard. They lodge in the forests on the hills, and lurk in their holes among the rocks - keeping still. At night they go about, and during day remain in their lairs - so cautious are they. Even if they are suffering from hunger, thirst, and other distresses, they still keep aloof from men, seeking their food about the Jiang and the Hu - so resolute are they. Still they are not able to escape the danger of the net or the trap; and what fault is it of theirs? It is their skins which occasion them the calamity. And is not the state of Lu your lordship's skin? I wish your lordship to rip your skin from your body, to cleanse your heart, to put away your desires, and to enjoy yourself where you will be without the presence of any one. In the southern state of Yue, there is a district called "the State of Established Virtue." The people are ignorant and simple; their object is to minimise the thought of self and make their desires few; they labour but do not lay up their gains; they give but do not seek for any return; they do not know what righteousness is required of them in any particular case, nor by what ceremonies their performances should be signalised; acting in a wild and eccentric way as if they were mad, they yet keep to the grand rules of conduct. Their birth is an occasion for joy; their death is followed by the rites of burial. I should wish your lordship to leave your state; to give up your ordinary ways, and to proceed to that country by the directest course.'
The ruler said, 'The way to it is distant and difficult; there are rivers and hills; and as I have neither boat nor carriage, how am I to go?' The officer from Shi-nan rejoined, 'If your lordship abjure your personal state, and give up your wish to remain here, that will serve you for a carriage.'
The ruler rejoined, 'The way to it is solitary and distant, and there are no people on it - whom shall I have as my companions? I have no provisions prepared, and how shall I get food? How shall I be able to get (to the country)?' The officer said, 'Minimise your lordship's expenditure, and make your wants few, and though you have no provisions prepared, you will find you have enough. Wade through the rivers and float along on the sea, where however you look, you see not the shore, and, the farther you go, you do not see where your journey is to end - those who escorted you to the shore will return, and after that you will feel yourself far away. Thus it is that he who owns men (as their ruler) is involved in troubles, and he who is owned by men (as their ruler) suffers from sadness; and hence Yao would neither own men, nor be owned by them. I wish to remove your trouble, and take away your sadness, and it is only (to be done by inducing you) to enjoy yourself with the Dao in the land of Great Vacuity. If a man is crossing a river in a boat, and another empty vessel comes into collision with it, even though he be a man of a choleric temper, he will not be angry with it. If there be a person, however, in that boat, he will bawl out to him to haul out of the way. If his shout be not heard, he will repeat it; and if the other do not then hear, he will call out a third time, following up the shout with abusive terms. Formerly he was not angry, but now he is; formerly (he thought) the boat was empty, but now there is a person in it. If a man can empty himself of himself, during his time in the world, who can harm him?'
Bei-gong She was collecting taxes for duke Ling of Wei, to be employed in making (a peal of) bells. (In connexion with the work) he built an altar outside the gate of the suburban wall; and in three months the bells were completed, even to the suspending of the upper and lower (tiers). The king's son Qing-ji saw them, and asked what arts he had employed in the making of them. She replied, 'Besides my undivided attention to them, I did not venture to use any arts. I have heard the saying, "After all the carving and the chiselling, let the object be to return to simplicity." I was as a child who has no knowledge; I was extraordinarily slow and hesitating; they grew like the springing plants of themselves. In escorting those who went and meeting those who came, my object was neither to hinder the comers nor detain the goers. I suffered those who strongly opposed to take their way, and accepted those who did their best to come to terms. I allowed them all to do the utmost they could, and in this way morning and evening I collected the taxes. I did not have the slightest trouble, and how much more will this be the case with those who pursue the Great Way (on a grand scale)!'
Confucius was kept (by his enemies) in a state of siege between Chen and Cai, and for seven days had no food cooked with fire to eat. The Da-gong Ren went to condole with him, and said, 'You had nearly met with your death.' 'Yes,' was the reply. 'Do you dislike death?' 'I do.'
Then Ren continued, 'Let me try and describe a way by which (such a) death may be avoided. In the eastern sea there are birds which go by the name of yi-dai; they fly low and slowly as if they were deficient in power. They fly as if they were leading and assisting one another, and they press on one another when they roost. No one ventures to take the lead in going forward, or to be the last in going backwards. In eating no one ventures to take the first mouthful, but prefers the fragments left by others. In this way (the breaks in) their line are not many, and men outside them cannot harm them, so that they escape injury. The straight tree is the first to be cut down; the well of sweet water is the first to be exhausted. Your aim is to embellish your wisdom so as to startle the ignorant, and to cultivate your person to show the unsightliness of others. A light shines around you as if you were carrying with you the sun and moon, and thus it is that you do not escape such calamity. Formerly I heard a highly accomplished man say, "Those who boast have no merit. The merit which is deemed complete will begin to decay. The fame which is deemed complete will begin to wane." Who can rid himself of (the ideas of) merit and fame, and return and put himself on the level of the masses of men? The practice of the Dao flows abroad, but its master does not care to dwell where it can be seen; his attainments in it hold their course, but he does not wish to appear in its display. Always simple and commonplace, he may seem to be bereft of reason. He obliterates the traces of his action, gives up position and power, and aims not at merit and fame. Therefore he does not censure men, and men do not censure him. The perfect man does not seek to be heard of; how is it that you delight in doing so?'
Confucius said, 'Excellent;' and thereupon he took leave of his associates, forsook his disciples, retired to the neighbourhood of a great marsh, wore skins and hair cloth, and ate acorns and chestnuts. He went among animals without causing any confusion among their herds, and among birds without troubling their movements. Birds and beasts did not dislike him; how much less would men do so!
Confucius asked Zi-sang Hu, saying, 'I was twice driven from Lu; the tree was felled over me in Song; I was obliged to disappear from Wei; I was reduced to extreme distress in Shang and Zhou; and I was kept in a state of siege between Chen and Cai. I have encountered these various calamities; my intimate associates are removed from me more and more; my followers and friends are more and more dispersed - why have all these things befallen me?'
Zi-sang Hu replied, 'Have you not heard of the flight of Lin Hui of Jia - how he abandoned his round jade symbol of rank, worth a thousand pieces of silver, and hurried away with his infant son on his back? If it be asked, "Was it because of the market value of the child?" But that value was small (compared with the value of the jade token). If it be asked again, "Was it because of the troubles (of his office)?" But the child would occasion him much more trouble. Why was it then that, abandoning the jade token, worth a thousand pieces of silver, he hurried away with the child on his back? Lin Hui (himself) said, "The union between me and the token rested on the ground of gain; that between me and the child was of Heaven's appointment." Where the bond of union is its profitableness, when the pressure of poverty, calamity, distress, and injury come, the parties abandon one another; when it is of Heaven's appointment, they hold in the same circumstances to one another. Now between abandoning one another, and holding to one another, the difference is great. Moreover, the intercourse of superior men is tasteless as water, while that of mean men is sweet as new wine. But the tastelessness of the superior men leads on to affection, and the sweetness of the mean men to aversion. The union which originates without any cause will end in separation without any cause.'
Confucius said, 'I have reverently received your instructions.' And hereupon, with a slow step and an assumed air of ease, he returned to his own house. There he made an end of studying and put away his books. His disciples came no more to make their bow to him (and be taught), but their affection for him increased the more.
Another day Sang Hu said further to him, 'When Shun was about to die, he charged Yu, saying, 'Be upon your guard. (The attraction of) the person is not like that of sympathy; the (power of) affection is not like the leading (of example). Where there is sympathy, there will not be separation; where there is (the leading of) example, there will be no toil. Where there is neither separation nor toil, you will not have to seek the decoration of forms to make the person attractive, and where there is no such need of those forms, there will certainly be none for external things.'
Zhuangzi in a patched dress of coarse cloth, and having his shoes tied together with strings, was passing by the king of Wei, who said to him, 'How great, Master, is your distress?' Zhuangzi replied, 'It is poverty, not distress! While a scholar possesses the Dao and its Attributes, he cannot be going about in distress. Tattered clothes and shoes tied on the feet are the sign of poverty, and not of distress. This is what we call not meeting with the right time. Has your majesty not seen the climbing monkey? When he is among the plane trees, rottleras, oaks, and camphor trees, he grasps and twists their branches (into a screen), where he reigns quite at his ease, so that not even Yi or Peng Meng could spy him out. When, however, he finds himself among the prickly mulberry and date trees, and other thorns, he goes cautiously, casts sidelong glances, and takes every trembling movement with apprehension - it is not that his sinews and bones are straitened, and have lost their suppleness, but the situation is unsuitable for him, and he cannot display his agility. And now when I dwell under a benighted ruler, and seditious ministers, how is it possible for me not to be in distress? My case might afford an illustration of the cutting out the heart of Bi-gan!'
When Confucius was reduced to great distress between Chen and Cai, and for seven days he had no cooked food to eat, he laid hold of a decayed tree with his left hand, and with his right hand tapped it with a decayed branch, singing all the while the ode of Biao-shi. He had his instrument, but the notes were not marked on it. There was a noise, but no blended melody. The sound of the wood and the voice of the man came together like the noise of the plough through the ground, yet suitably to the feelings of the disciples around.
Yan Hui, who was standing upright, with his hands crossed on his breast, rolled his eyes round to observe him. Zhongni, fearing that Hui would go to excess in manifesting how he honoured himself, or be plunged in sorrow through his love for him, said to him, 'Hui, not to receive (as evils) the inflictions of Heaven is easy; not to receive (as benefits) the favours of men is difficult. There is no beginning which was not an end. The Human and the Heavenly may be one and the same. Who, for instance, is it that is now singing?'
Hui said, 'I venture to ask how not to receive (as evils) the inflictions of Heaven is easy.' Zhongni said, 'Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, and having one's progress entirely blocked up - these are the doings of Heaven and Earth, necessary incidents in the revolutions of things. They are occurrences of which we say that we will pass on (composedly) along with them. The minister of another does not dare to refuse his commands; and if he who is discharging the duty of a minister feels it necessary to act thus, how much more should we wait with ease on the commands of Heaven!'
'What do you mean by saying that not to receive (as benefits) the favours of men is difficult?' Zhongni said, 'As soon as one is employed in office, he gets forward in all directions; rank and emolument come to him together, and without end. But these advantages do not come from one's self - it is my appointed lot to have such external good. The superior man is not a robber; the man of worth is no filcher - if I prefer such things, what am I? Hence it is said, "There is no bird wiser than the swallow." Where its eye lights on a place that is not suitable for it, it does not give it a second glance. Though it may drop the food from its mouth, it abandons it, and hurries off. It is afraid of men, and yet it stealthily takes up its dwelling by his; finding its protection in the altars of the Land and Grain.'
'What do you mean by saying that there is no beginning which was not an end?' Zhongni said, 'The change-- rise and dissolution-- of all things (continually) goes on, but we do not know who it is that maintains and continues the process. How do we know when any one begins? How do we know when he will end? We have simply to wait for it, and nothing more.'
'And what do you mean by saying that the Human and the Heavenly are one and the same?' Zhongni said, 'Given man, and you have Heaven; given Heaven, and you still have Heaven (and nothing more). That man can not have Heaven is owing to the limitation of his nature. The sagely man quietly passes away with his body, and there is an end of it.'
As Zhuang Zhou was rambling in the park of Diao-ling he saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven cubits in width, and its eyes were large, an inch in circuit. It touched the forehead of Zhou as it passed him, and lighted in a grove of chestnut trees. 'What bird is this?' said he, 'with such great wings not to go on! and with such large eyes not to see me!' He lifted up his skirts, and hurried with his cross-bow, waiting for (an opportunity to shoot) it. (Meanwhile) he saw a cicada, which had just alighted in a beautiful shady spot, and forgot its (care for its) body. (Just then), a preying mantis raised its feelers, and pounced on the cicada, in its eagerness for its prey, (also) forgetting (its care for) its body; while the strange bird took advantage of its opportunity to secure them both, in view of that gain forgetting its true (instinct of preservation). Zhuang Zhou with an emotion of pity, said, 'Ah! so it is that things bring evil on one another, each of these creatures invited its own calamity.' (With this) he put away his cross-bow, and was hurrying away back, when the forester pursued him with terms of reproach.
When he returned and went into his house, he did not appear in his courtyard for three months. (When he came out), Lin Qie (his disciple) asked him, saying, 'Master, why have you for this some time avoided the courtyard so much?' Zhuangzi replied, 'I was guarding my person, and forgot myself; I was looking at turbid water, till I mistook the clear pool. And moreover I have heard the Master say, "Going where certain customs prevail, you should follow those customs." I was walking about in the park of Diao-ling, and forgot myself. A strange bird brushed past my forehead, and went flying about in the grove of chestnuts, where it forgot the true (art of preserving itself). The forester of the chestnut grove thought that I was a fitting object for his reproach. These are the reasons why I have avoided the courtyard.'
Yang-zi, having gone to Song, passed the night in a lodging-house, the master of which had two concubines - one beautiful, the other ugly. The ugly one was honoured, however, and the beautiful one contemned. Yang-zi asked the reason, and a little boy of the house replied, 'The beauty knows her beauty, and we do not recognise it. The ugly one knows her ugliness, and we do not recognise it.' Yang-zi said, 'Remember it, my disciples. Act virtuously, and put away the practice of priding yourselves on your virtue. If you do this, where can you go to that you will not be loved?'
Source: Chinese Text Project http://ctext.org/zhuangzi, English translation: 'The Writings of Chuang Tzu', James Legge, 1891