Section TEN - RIFLING TRUNKS
IF ONE IS TO GUARD and take precautions against thieves who rifle trunks, ransack bags, and break open boxes, then he must bind with cords and ropes and make fast with locks and hasps. This the ordinary world calls wisdom. But if a great thief comes along, he will shoulder the boxes, hoist up the trunks, sling the bags over his back, and dash off, only worrying that the cords and ropes, the locks and hasps are not fastened tightly enough. In that case, the man who earlier was called wise was in fact only piling up goods for the benefit of a great thief.
Let me try explaining what I mean. What the ordinary world calls a wise man is in fact someone who piles things up for the benefit of a great thief, is he not? And what it calls a sage is in fact someone who stands guard for the benefit of a great thief, is he not? How do I know this is so? In times past there was the state of Ch'i, its neighboring towns within sight of each other, the cries of their dogs and chickens within hearing of each other. The area where its nets and seines were spread, where its plows and spades dug the earth, measured over two thousand li square, filling all the space within its four borders.1 And in the way its ancestral temples and its altars of the soil and grain were set up, its towns and villages and hamlets were governed, was there anything that did not accord with the laws of the sages? Yet one morning Viscount T'ien Ch'eng murdered the ruler of Ch'i and stole his state. And was it only the state he stole? Along with it he also stole the laws which the wisdom of the sages had devised. Thus, although Viscount T'ien Ch'eng gained the name of thief and bandit, he was able to rest as peacefully as a Yao or a Shun. The smaller states did not dare condemn him, the larger states did not dare to attack, and for twelve generations his family held possession of the state of Ch'i.2 Is this not a case in which a man, stealing the state of Ch'i, along with it stole the laws of the sages' wisdom and used them to guard the person of a thief and a bandit?
Let me try explaining it. What the ordinary world calls 'a man of perfect wisdom is in fact someone who piles things up for the benefit of a great thief; what the ordinary world calls a perfect sage is in fact someone who stands guard for the benefit of a great thief. How do I know this is so? In times past, Kuan Lung‑feng was cut down, Pi Kan was disemboweled, Ch'ang Hung was torn apart, and Wu Tzu‑hsu was left to rot. All four were worthy men, and yet they could not escape destruction.3
One of Robber Chih's followers once asked Chih, "Does the thief too have a Way?"
Chih replied, "How could he get anywhere if he didn't have a Way? Making shrewd guesses as to how much booty is stashed away in the room is sageliness; being the first one in is bravery; being the last one out is righteousness; knowing whether the job can be pulled off or not is wisdom; dividing up the loot fairly is benevolence. No one in the world ever succeeded in becoming a great thief if he didn't have all five!"
From this we can see that the good man must acquire the Way of the sage before he can distinguish himself, and Robber Chih must acquire the Way of the sage before he can practice his profession. But good men in the world are few and bad men many, so in fact the sage brings little benefit to the world, but much harm. Thus it is said, "When the lips are gone, the teeth are cold; when the wine of Lu is thin, Han‑tan is besieged." 4 And when the sage is born, the great thief appears.
Cudgel and cane the sages and let the thieves and bandits go their way; then the world will at last be well ordered! If the stream dries up, the valley will be empty; if the hills wash away, the deep pools will be filled up. And if the sage is dead and gone, then no more great thieves will arise. The world will then be peaceful and free of fuss.
But until the sage is dead, great thieves will never cease to appear, and if you pile on more sages in hopes of bringing the world to order, you will only be piling up more profit for Robber Chih. Fashion pecks and bushels for people to measure by and they will steal by peck and bushel.5 Fashion scales and balances for people to weigh by and they will steal by scale and balance. Fashion tallies and seals to insure trustworthiness and people will steal with tallies and seals. Fashion benevolence and righteousness to reform people and they will steal with benevolence and righteousness. How do I know this is so? He who steals a belt buckle pays with his life; he who steals a state gets to be a feudal lord‑and we all know that benevolence and righteousness are to be found at the gates of the feudal lords. Is this not a case of stealing benevolence and righteousness and the wisdom of the sages? So men go racing in the footsteps of the great thieves, aiming for the rank of feudal lord, stealing benevolence and righteousness, and taking for themselves all the profits of peck and bushel, scale and balance, tally and seal. Though you try to lure them aside with rewards of official carriages and caps of state, you cannot move them; though you threaten them with the executioner's ax, you cannot deter them. This piling up of profits for Robber Chih to the point where nothing can deter him ‑ this is all the fault of the sage!
The saying goes, "The fish should not be taken from the deep pool; the sharp weapons of the state should not be shown to men."6 The sage is the sharp weapon of the world, and therefore he should not be where the world can see him.7
Cut off sageliness, cast away wisdom, and then the great thieves will cease. Break the jades, crush the pearls, and petty thieves will no longer rise up. Burn the tallies, shatter the seals, and the people will be simple and guileless. Hack up the bushels, snap the balances in two, and the people will no longer wrangle. Destroy and wipe out the laws that the sage has made for the world, and at last you will find you can reason with the people.
Discard and confuse the six tones, smash and unstring the pipes and lutes, stop up the ears of the blind musician K'uang, and for the first time the people of the world will be able to hold on to their hearing. Wipe out patterns and designs, scatter the five colors, glue up the eyes of Li Chu, and for the first time the people of the world will be able to hold on to their eyesight. Destroy‑ and cut to pieces the curve and plumb line, throw away the compass and square, shackle the fingers of Artisan Ch'ui,8 and for the first time the people of the world will possess real skill. Thus it is said, "Great skill is like clumsiness."9 Put a stop to the ways of Tseng and Shih, gag the mouths of Yang and Mo, wipe out and reject benevolence and righteousness, and for the first time the Virtue of the world will reach the state of Mysterious Leveling."
When men hold on to their eyesight, the world will no longer be dazzled. When men hold on to their hearing, the world will no longer be wearied. When men hold on to their wisdom, the world will no longer be confused. When men hold on to their Virtue, the world will no longer go awry. Men like Tseng, Shih, Yang, Mo, Musician K'uang, Artisan Ch'ui, or Li Chu all displayed their Virtue on the outside and thereby blinded and misled the world. As methods go, this one is worthless!
Have you alone never heard of that age of Perfect Virtue?
Long ago, in the time of Yung Ch'eng, Ta T'ing, Po Huang, Chung Yang, Li Lu, Li Hsu, Hsien Yuan, Ho Hsu, Tsun Lu, Chu Jung, Fu Hsi, and Shen Nung, the people knotted cords and used them." They relished their food, admired their clothing, enjoyed their customs, and were content with their houses. Though neighboring states were within sight of each other, and could hear the cries of each other's dogs and chickens, the people grew old and died without ever traveling beyond their own borders. At a time such as this, there was nothing but the most perfect order.
But now something has happened to make people crane their necks and stand on tiptoe. "There's a worthy man in such and such a place!" they cry and, bundling up their provisions, they dash off. At home, they abandon their parents; abroad, they shirk the service of their ruler. Their footprints form an unending trail to the borders of the other feudal lords, their carriage tracks weave back and forth a thousand li and more. This is the fault of men in high places who covet knowledge. 12
As long as men in high places covet knowledge and are without the Way, the world will be in great confusion. How do I know this is so? Knowledge enables men to fashion bows, crossbows, nets, stringed arrows, and like contraptions, but when this happens the birds flee in confusion to the sky. Knowledge enables men to fashion fishhooks, lures, seines, dragnets, trawls, and weirs, but when this happens the fish flee in confusion to the depths of the water. Knowledge enables men to fashion pitfalls, snares, cages, traps, and gins, but when this happens the beasts flee in confusion to the swamps. And the flood of rhetoric that enables men to invent wily schemes and poisonous slanders, the glib gabble of "hard" and "white," the foul fustian of "same" and "different" bewilder the understanding of common men.13 So the world is dulled and darkened by great confusion. The blame lies in this coveting of knowledge.
In the world everyone knows enough to pursue what he does not know, but no one knows enough to pursue what he already knows. Everyone knows enough to condemn what he takes to be no good, but no one knows enough to condemn what he has already taken to be good.14 This is how the great confusion comes about, blotting out the brightness of sun and moon above, searing the vigor of hills and streams below, overturning the round of the four seasons in between. There is no insect that creeps and crawls, no creature that flutters and flies that has not lost its inborn nature. So great is the confusion of the world that comes from coveting knowledge!
From the Three Dynasties on down, it has been this and nothing else‑shoving aside the pure and artless people and delighting in busy, bustling flatterers; abandoning the limpidity and calm of inaction and delighting in jumbled and jangling ideas. And this jumble and jangle has for long confused the world.