Wisdom of Tao

Chapter 22. of Tsuang Tse – Knowledge wandered north

KNOWLEDGE WANDERED North to the banks of the Black Waters, climbed the Knoll of Hidden Heights, and there by chance came upon Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing. Knowledge said to Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing, „There are some things I’d like to ask you. What sort of pondering, what sort of cogitation does it take to know the Way? What sort of surroundings, what sort of practices does it take to find rest in the Way? What sort of path, what sort of procedure will get me to the Way?“
Three questions he asked, but Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing didn’t answer. It wasn’t that he just didn’t answer – he didn’t know how to answer!
Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the White Waters of the south, climbed the summit of Dubiety Dismissed, and there caught sight of Wild-and-Witless. Knowledge put the same questions to Wild-and-Witless. „Ah – I know!“ said Wild-and-Witless. „And I’m going to tell you.“ But just as he was about to say something, he forgot what it was he was about to say.

Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the imperial palace, where he was received in audience by the Yellow Emperor, and posed his questions. The Yellow Emperor said, „Only when there is no pondering and no cogitation will you get to know the Way. Only when you have no surroundings and follow no practices will you find rest in the Way. Only when there is no path and no procedure can you get to the Way.“
Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, „You and I know, but those other two that I asked didn’t know. Which of us is right, I wonder?“
The Yellow Emperor said, „Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing – he’s the one who is truly right. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it. Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know. Therefore the sage practices the teaching that has no words.1 The Way cannot be brought to light; its virtue cannot be forced to come. But benevolence – you can put that into practice; you can discourse 2 on righteousness, you can dupe one another with rites. So it is said, When the Way was lost, then there was virtue; when virtue was lost, then there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost, then there was righteousness; when righteousness was lost, then there were rites. Rites are the frills of the Way and the forerunners of disorder.3 So it is said, He who practices the Way does less every day, does less and goes on doing less, until he reaches the point where he does nothing, does nothing and yet there is nothing that is not done.“ Now that we’ve already become `things,‘ if we want to return again to the Root, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time of it! The Great Man – he’s the only one who might find it easy.
„Life is the companion of death, death is the beginning of life. Who understands their workings? Man’s life is a coming-together of breath. If it comes together, there is life; if it scatters, there is death. And if life and death are companions to each other, then what is there for us to be anxious about?

„The ten thousand things are really one. We look on some as beautiful because they are rare or unearthly; we look on others as ugly because they are foul and rotten. But the foul and rotten may turn into the rare and unearthly, and the rare and unearthly may turn into the foul and rotten. So it is said, You have only to comprehend the one breath that is the world. The sage never ceases to value oneness.“
Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, „I asked Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing and he didn’t reply to me. It wasn’t that he merely didn’t reply to me – he didn’t know how to reply to me. I asked Wild-and-Witless and he was about to explain to me, though he didn’t explain anything. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t explain to me – but when he was about to explain, he forgot what it was. Now I have asked you and you know the answer. Why then do you say that you are nowhere near being right?“
The Yellow Emperor said, „Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing is the one who is truly right – because he doesn’t know. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so – because he forgets. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it – because we know.“
Wild-and-Witless heard of the incident and concluded that the Yellow Emperor knew what he was talking about.

Heaven and earth have their great beauties but do not speak of them; the four seasons have their clear-marked regularity but do not discuss it; the ten thousand things have their principles of growth but do not expound them. The sage seeks out the beauties of Heaven and earth and masters the principles of the ten thousand things. Thus it is that the Perfect Man does not act, the Great Sage does not move – they have perceived [the Way of ] Heaven and earth, we may say. This Way, whose spiritual brightness is of the greatest purity, joins with others in a hundred transformations. Already things are living or dead, round or square; no one can comprehend their source, yet here are the ten thousand things in all their stir and bustle, just as they have been since ancient times. Things as vast as the Six Realms have never passed beyond the border [of the Way]; things as tiny as an autumn hair must wait for it to achieve bodily form. There is nothing in the world that does not bob and sink, to the end of its days lacking fixity. The yin and yang, the four seasons follow one another in succession, each keeping to its proper place. Dark and hidden, [the Way] seems not to exist and yet it is there; lush and unbounded, it possesses no form but only spirit; the ten thousand things are shepherded by it, though they do not understand it – this is what is called the Source, the Root. This is what may be perceived in Heaven.
Nieh Ch’ueh asked P’i-i about the Way. P’i-i said, „Straighten up your body, unify your vision, and the harmony of Heaven will come to you. Call in your knowledge, unify your bearing, and the spirits will come to dwell with you. Virtue will be your beauty, the Way will be your home, and, stupid as a newborn calf, you will not try to find out the reason why.“

Before he had finished speaking, however, Nieh Ch’ueh fell sound asleep. P’i-i, immensely pleased, left and walked away, singing this song:
Body like a withered corpse,
mind like dead ashes,
true in the realness of knowledge,
not one to go searching for reasons,
dim dim, dark dark,
mindless, you cannot consult with him:
what kind of man is this
Shun asked Ch’eng, „Is it possible to gain possession of the Way?”
„You don’t even have possession of your own body – how could you possibly gain possession of the Way!“
„If I don’t have possession of my own body, then who does?“ said Shun.
„It is a form lent you by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of life – it is a .harmony lent by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of your inborn nature and fate they are contingencies lent by Heaven and earth. You do not have possession of your sons and grandsons – they are castoff skins lent by Heaven and earth. So it is best to walk without knowing where you are going, stay home without knowing what you are guarding, eat without knowing what you are tasting. All is the work of the Powerful Yang5 in the world. How then could it be possible to gain possession of anything?“

Confucius said to Lao Tan, „Today you seem to have a moment of leisure – may I venture to ask about the Perfect Way?“
Lao Tan said, „You must fast and practice austerities, cleanse and purge your mind, wash and purify your inner spirit, destroy and do away with your knowledge. The Way is abstruse and difficult to describe. But I will try to give you a rough outline of it.
„The bright and shining is born out of deep darkness; the ordered is born out of formlessness; pure spirit is born out of the Way. The body is born originally from this purity,6 and the ten thousand things give bodily form to one another through the process of birth. Therefore those with nine openings in the body are born from the womb; those with eight openings are born from eggs. [In the case of the Way] there is no trace of its coming, no limit to its going. Gateless, room-less, it is airy and open as the highways of the four directions. He who follows along with it will be strong in his four limbs, keen and penetrating in intellect, sharp-eared, bright-eyed, wielding his mind without wearying it, responding to things without prejudice. Heaven cannot help but be high, earth cannot help but be broad, the sun and moon cannot help but revolve, the ten thousand things cannot help but flourish. Is this not the Way?

„Breadth of learning does not necessarily mean knowledge; eloquence does not necessarily mean wisdom – therefore the sage rids himself of these things. That which can be increased without showing any sign of increase; that which can be diminished without suffering any diminution – that is what the sage holds fast to. Deep, unfathomable, it is like the sea; tall and craggy,7 it ends only, to begin again, transporting and weighing the ten thousand things without ever failing them. The `Way of the gentleman‘ [which you preach] is mere superficiality, is it not? But what the ten thousand things all look to for sustenance, what never fails them – is this not the real Way?

„Here is a man of the Middle Kingdom, neither yin nor yang, living between heaven and earth. For a brief time only, he will be a man, and then he will return to the Ancestor. Look at him from the standpoint of the Source and his life is a mere gathering together of breath. And whether he dies young or lives to a great old age, the two fates will scarcely differ – a matter of a few moments, you might say. How, then, is it worth deciding that Yao is good and Chieh is bad?
„The fruits of trees and vines have their patterns and principles. Human relationships too, difficult as they are, have their relative order and precedence. The sage, encountering them, does not go against them; passing beyond, he does not cling to them. To respond to them in a spirit of harmony – this is virtue; to respond to them in a spirit of fellowship – this is the Way. Thus it is that emperors have raised themselves up and kings have climbed to power.
„Man’s life between heaven and earth is like the passing of a white colt glimpsed through a crack in the wall-whoosh!-and that’s the end. Overflowing, starting forth, there is nothing that does not come out; gliding away, slipping into silence, there is nothing that does not go back in. Having been transformed, things find themselves alive; another transformation and they are dead. Living things grieve over it, mankind mourns. But it is like the untying of the Heaven-lent bow-bag, the unloading of the Heaven-lent satchel – a yielding, a mild mutation, and the soul and spirit are on their way, the body following after, on at last to the Great Return.

„The formless moves to the realm of form; the formed moves back to the realm of formlessness. This all men alike understand. But it is not something to be reached by striving. The common run of men all alike debate how to reach it. But those who have reached it do not debate, and those who debate have not reached it. Those who peer with bright eyes will never catch sight of it. Eloquence is not as good as silence. The Way cannot be heard; to listen for it is not as good as plugging up your ears. This is called the Great Acquisition.“
Master Tung-kuo8 asked Chuang Tzu, „This thing called the Way – where does it exist?“
Chuang Tzu said, „There’s no place it doesn’t exist.“
„Come,“ said Master Tung-kuo, „you must be more specific!“
„It is in the ant.“
„As low a thing as that?“
„It is in the panic grass.“
„But that’s lower still!“
„It is in the tiles and shards.“
„How can it be so low?“
„It is in the piss and shit!“
Master Tung-kuo made no reply.

Chuang Tzu said, „Sir, your questions simply don’t get at the substance of the matter. When Inspector Huo asked the superintendent of the market how to test the fatness of a pig by pressing it with the foot, he was told that the lower down on the pig you press, the nearer you come to the truth. But you must not expect to find the Way in any particular place – there is no thing that escapes its presence! Such is the Perfect Way, and so too are the truly great words. `Complete,‘ `universal,‘ `all-inclusive‘ – these three are different words with the same meaning. All point to a single reality.
„Why don’t you try wandering with me to the Palace of Not-Even-Anything – identity and concord will be the basis of our discussions and they will never come to an end, never reach exhaustion. Why not join with me in inaction, in tranquil quietude, in hushed purity, in harmony and leisure? Already my will is vacant and blank. I go nowhere and don’t know how far I’ve gotten. I go and come and don’t know where to stop. I’ve already been there and back, and I don’t know when the journey is done. I ramble and relax in unbordered vastness; Great Knowledge enters in, and I don’t know where it will ever end.

„That which treats things as things is not limited by things. Things have their limits – the so-called limits of things. The unlimited moves to the realm of limits; the limited moves to the unlimited realm. We speak of the filling and emptying, the withering and decay of things. [The Way] makes them full and empty without itself filling or emptying; it makes them wither and decay without itself withering or decaying. It establishes root and branch but knows no root and branch itself; it determines when to store up or scatter but knows no storing or scattering itself.“
Ah Ho-kan and Shen Nung were studying together under Old Lung Chi.9 Shen Nung sat leaning on his armrest, the door shut, taking his daily nap, when at midday Ah Ho-kan threw open the door, entered and announced, „Old Lung is dead!“
Shen Nung, still leaning on the armrest, reached for his staff and jumped to his feet. Then he dropped the staff with a clatter and began to laugh, saying, “ My Heaven-sent Master – he knew how cramped and mean, how arrogant and willful I am, and so he abandoned me and died. My Master went off and died without ever giving me any wild words to open up my mind!“

Yen Kang-tiao, hearing of the incident, said, „He who embodies the Way has all the gentlemen of the world flocking to him. As far as the Way goes, Old Lung hadn’t gotten hold of a piece as big as the tip of an autumn hair, hadn’t found his way into one ten-thousandth of it – but even he knew enough to keep his wild words stored away and to die with them unspoken. How much more so, then, in the case of a man who embodies the Way! Look for it but it has no form, listen but it has no voice. Those who discourse upon it with other men speak of it as dark and mysterious. The Way that is discoursed upon is not the Way at all! “
At this point, Grand Puritv asked No-End, „Do you understand the Way?“
„I don’t understand it,“ said No-End.
Then he asked No-Action, and No-Action said, „I understand the Way.“
„You say you understand the Way – is there some trick to it.
„There is.“
„What’s the trick?“
No-Action said, „I understand that the Way can exalt things and can humble them; that it can bind them together and can cause them to disperse.10 This is the trick by which I understand the Way.‘

Grand Purity, having received these various answers, went and questioned No-Beginning, saying, „If this is how it is, then between No-End’s declaration that he doesn’t understand, and No-Action’s declaration that he does, which is right and which is wrong?“
No-Beginning said, „Not to understand is profound; to understand is shallow. Not to understand is to be on the inside; to understand is to be on the outside.“
Thereupon Grand Purity gazed up11 and sighed, saying, „Not to understand is to understand? To understand is not to understand? Who understands the understanding that does not understand?“
No-Beginning said, „The Way cannot be heard; heard, it is not the Way. The Way cannot be seen; seen, it is not the Way. The Way cannot be described; described, it is not the Way. That which gives form to the formed is itself formless – can you understand that? There is no name that fits the Way.“

No-Beginning continued, „He who, when asked about the Way, gives an answer does not understand the Way; and he who asked about the Way has not really heard the Way explained. The Way is not to be asked about, and even if it is asked about, there can be no answer. To ask about what cannot be asked about is to ask for the sky. To answer what cannot be answered is to try to split hairs. If the hair-splitter waits for the sky-asker,12 then neither will ever perceive the time and space that surround them on the outside, or understand the Great Beginning that is within. Such men can never trek across the K’un-lun, can never wander in the Great Void!“ 13
Bright Dazzlement asked Non-Existence, „Sir, do you exist or do you not exist?“ Unable to obtain any answer, Bright Dazzlement stared intently at the other’s face and form – all was vacuity and blankness. He stared all day but could see nothing, listened but could hear no sound, stretched out his hand but grasped nothing. „Perfect!“ exclaimed Bright Dazzlement. „Who can reach such perfection? I can conceive of the existence of nonexistence, but not of the nonexistence of nonexistence. Yet this man has reached the stage of the nonexistence of nonexistence.14 How could I ever reach such perfection!“

The grand marshal’s buckle maker was eighty years old, yet he had not lost the tiniest part of his old dexterity. The grand marshal said, „What skill you have! Is there a special way to this?“
„I have a way.15 From the time I was twenty I have loved to forge buckles. I never look at other things – if it’s not a buckle, I don’t bother to examine it.“
Using this method of deliberately not using other things, he was able over the years to get some use out of it. And how much greater would a man be if, by the same method, he reached the point where there was nothing that he did not use! All things would come to depend on him.
Jan Ch’iu asked Confucius, „Is it possible to know anything about the time before Heaven and earth existed?“
Confucius said, „It is – the past is the present.“

Jan Ch’iu, failing to receive any further answer, retired. The following day he went to see Confucius again and said, „Yesterday I asked if it were possible to know anything about the time before Heaven and earth existed, and you, Master, replied, `It is – the past is the present.‘ Yesterday that seemed quite clear to me, but today it seems very obscure. May I venture to ask what this means?“
Confucius said, „Yesterday it was clear because your spirit took the lead in receiving my words. Today, if it seems obscure, it is because you are searching for it with something other than spirit, are you not? There is no past and no present, no beginning and no end. Sons and grandsons existed before sons and grandsons existed – may we make such a statement?“

Jan Ch’iu had not replied when Confucius said, „Stop! – don’t answer! Do not use life to give life to death. Do not use death to bring death to life.“ Do life and death depend upon each other? Both have that in them which makes them a single body. There is that which was born before Heaven and earth, but is it a thing? That which treats things as things is not a thing. Things that come forth can never precede all other things, because there were already things existing then; and before that, too, there were already things existing – so on without end. The sage’s love of mankind, which never comes to an end, is modeled on this principle.“

Yen Yuan said to Confucius, „Master, I have heard you say that there should be no going after anything, no welcoming anything. 17 May I venture to ask how one may wander in such realms?“
Confucius said, „The men of old changed on the outside but not on the inside. The men of today change on the inside but not on the outside. He who changes along with things is identical with him who does not change. Where is there change? Where is there no change? Where is there any friction with others? Never will he treat others with arrogance. But Hsi-wei had his park, the Yellow Emperor his garden, Shun his palace, T’ang and Wu their halls.18 And among gentlemen there were those like the Confucians and Mo-ists who became `teachers.‘ As a result, people began using their `rights‘ and `wrongs‘ to push each other around. And how much worse are the men of today!

„The sage lives with things but does no harm to them, and he who does no harm to things cannot in turn be harmed by them. Only he who does no harm is qualified to join with other men in `going after‘ or `welcoming.‘
„The mountains and forests, the hills and fields fill us with overflowing delight and we are joyful. Our joy has not ended when grief comes trailing it. We have no way to bar the arrival of grief and joy, no way to prevent them from departing. Alas, the men of this world are no more than travelers, stopping now at this inn, now at that, all of them run by `things.‘ They know the things they happen to encounter, but not those that they have never encountered. They know how to do the things they can do, but they can’t do the things they don’t know how to do. Not to know, not to be able to do – from these mankind can never escape. And yet there are those who struggle to escape from the inescapable – can you help but pity them? Perfect speech is the abandonment of speech; perfect action is the abandonment of action. To be limited to understanding only what is understood – this is shallow indeed!“

Lina Kasviki

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