Section ELEVEN - LET IT BE, LEAVE IT ALONE
I HAVE HEARD OF LETTING the world be, of leaving it alone; I have never heard of governing the world. You let it be for fear of corrupting the inborn nature of the world; you leave it alone for fear of distracting the Virtue of the world. If the nature of the world is not corrupted, if the Virtue of the world is not distracted, why should there be any governing of the world?
Long ago, when the sage Yao governed the world, he made the world bright and gleeful; men delighted in their nature, and there was no calmness anywhere. When the tyrant Chieh governed the world, he made the world weary and vexed; men found bitterness in their nature and there was no contentment anywhere. To lack calmness, to lack contentment is to go against Virtue, and there has never been anyone in the world who could go against Virtue and survive for long.
Are men exceedingly joyful? ‑ they will do damage to the yang element. Are men exceedingly angry? ‑ they will do damage to the yin. And when both yang and yin are damaged, the four seasons will not come as they should, heat and cold will fail to achieve their proper harmony, and this in turn will do harm to the bodies of men. It will make men lose a proper sense of joy and anger, to be constantly shifting from place to place, to think up schemes that gain nothing, to set out on roads that reach no glorious conclusion. Then for the first time the world grows restless and aspiring,1 and soon afterward appear the ways of Robber Chih, Tseng, and Shih.
Then, although the whole world joins in rewarding good men, there will never be enough reward; though the whole world joins in punishing evil men, there will never be enough punishment. Huge as the world is, it cannot supply sufficient reward or punishment. From the Three Dynasties on down, there has been nothing but bustle and fuss, all over this matter of rewards and punishments. How could people have any leisure to rest in the true form of their inborn nature and fate!
Do men delight in what they see? ‑ they are corrupted by colors. Do they delight in what they hear? ‑ they are corrupted by sounds. Do they delight in benevolence? ‑ they bring confusion to Virtue. Do they delight in righteousness? ‑ they turn their backs on reason. Do they delight in rites? ‑ they are aiding artificiality. Do they delight in music? ‑ they are aiding dissolution. Do they delight in sageness? ‑ they are assisting artifice. Do they delight in knowledge? ‑ they are assisting the fault‑finders. As long as the world rests in the true form of its inborn nature and fate, it makes no difference whether these eight delights exist or not. But if the world does not rest in the true form of its nature and fate, then these eight delights will begin to grow warped and crooked, jumbled and deranged, and will bring confusion to the world. And if on top of that the world begins to honor them and cherish them, then the delusion of the world will be great indeed! You say these are only a fancy that will pass in time? Yet men prepare themselves with fasts and austerities when they come to describe them, kneel solemnly on their mats when they recommend them, beat drums and sing to set them forth in .dance. What's to be done about it I'm sure I don't know!
If the gentleman finds he has no other choice than to direct and look after the world, then the best course for him is inaction. As long as there is inaction, he may rest in the true form of his nature and fate. If he values his own body more than the management of the world, then he can be entrusted with the world. If he is more careful of his own body than of the management of the world, then the world can be handed over to him.2 If the gentleman can in truth keep from rending apart his five vital organs, from tearing out his eyesight and hearing, then he will command corpse‑like stillness and dragon vision, the silence of deep pools and the voice of thunder. His spirit will move in the train of Heaven, gentle and easy in inaction, and the ten thousand things will be dust on the wind. "What leisure have I now for governing the world?" he will say.
Ts'ui Chu was questioning Lao Tan. "If you do not govern the world, then how can you improve men's minds?"
Lao Tan said, "Be careful ‑ don't meddle with men's minds! Men's minds can be forced down or boosted up, but this downing and upping imprisons and brings death to the mind. Gentle and shy, the mind can bend the hard and strong; it can chisel and cut away, carve and polish. Its heat is that of burning fire, its coldness that of solid ice, its swiftness such that, in the time it takes to lift and lower the head, it has twice swept over the four seas and beyond. At rest, it is deep‑fathomed and still; in movement, it is far‑flung as the heavens, racing and galloping out of reach of all bonds. This indeed is the mind of man!"
In ancient times the Yellow Emperor first used benevolence and righteousness to meddle with the minds of men.3 Yao and Shun followed him and worked till there was no more down on their thighs, no more hair on their shins, trying to nourish the bodies of the men of the world. They grieved their five vital organs in the practice of benevolence and righteousness, taxed their blood and breath in the establishment of laws and standards. But still some men would not submit to their rule, and so they had to exile Huan Tou to Mount Ch'ung, drive away the San‑miao tribes to the region of San‑wei, and banish Kung to the Dark City.4 This shows that they could not make the world submit.
By the time the kings of the Three Dynasties appeared, the world was in great consternation indeed. On the lowest level there were men like the tyrant Chieh and Robber Chih, on the highest, men like Tseng and Shih, and the Confucianists and Mo‑ists rose up all around. Then joy and anger eyed each other with suspicion, stupidity and wisdom duped each other, good and bad called one another names, falsehood and truth slandered one another, and the world sank into a decline. There was no more unity to the Great Virtue, and the inborn nature and fate shattered and fell apart. The world coveted knowledge and the hundred clans were thrown into turmoil.5 Then there were axes and saws to shape things, ink and plumb lines to trim them, mallets and gouges to poke holes in them, and the world, muddled and deranged, was in great confusion. The crime lay in this meddling with men's minds. So it was that worthy men crouched in hiding below the great mountains and yawning cliffs, and the lords of ten thousand chariots fretted and trembled above in their ancestral halls.
In the world today, the victims of the death penalty lie heaped together, the bearers of cangues tread on each other's heels, the sufferers of punishment are never out of each other's sight. And now come the Confucianists and Mo‑ists, waving their arms, striding into the very midst of the fettered and manacled men. Ah, that then should go this far, that they should be so brazen, so lacking in any sense of shame! Who can convince me that sagely wisdom is not in fact the wedge that fastens the cangue, that benevolence and righteousness are not in fact the loop and lock of these fetters and manacles? How do I know that Tseng and Shih are not the whistling arrows that signal the approach of Chieh and Chih? Therefore I say, cut off sageness, cast away wisdom, and the world will be in perfect order.
The Yellow Emperor had ruled as Son of Heaven for nineteen years and his commands were heeded throughout the world, when he heard that Master Kuang Ch'eng was living on top of the Mountain of Emptiness and Identity. He therefore went to visit him. "I have heard that you, Sir, have mastered the Perfect Way. May I venture to ask about the essence of the Perfect Way?" he said. "I would like to get hold of the essence of Heaven and earth and use it to aid the five grains and to nourish the common people. I would also like to control the yin and yang in order to insure the growth of all living things. How may this be done?"
Master Kuang Ch'eng said, "What you say you want to learn about pertains to the true substance of things, but what you say you want to control pertains to things in their divided state.6 Ever since you began to govern the world, rain falls before the cloud vapors have even gathered, the plants and trees shed their leaves before they have even turned yellow, and the light of the sun and moon grows more and more sickly. Shallow and vapid, with the mind of a prattling knave ‑ what good would it do to tell you about the Perfect Way!"
The Yellow Emperor withdrew, gave up his throne, built a solitary hut, spread a mat of white rushes, and lived for three months in retirement. Then he went once more to request an interview. Master Kuang Ch'eng was lying with his face to the south. 7 The Yellow Emperor, approaching in humble manner, crept forward on his knees, bowed his head twice and said, "I have heard that you, Sir, have mastered the Perfect Way. I venture to ask about the governing of the body. What should I do in order to live a long life?"
Master Kuang Ch'eng sat up with a start. "Excellent, this question of yours! Come, I will tell you about the Perfect Way. The essence of the Perfect Way is deep and darkly shrouded; the extreme of the Perfect Way ‑ is mysterious and hushed in silence. Let there be no seeing, no hearing; enfold the spirit in quietude and the body will right itself. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up your essence, and then you can live a long life. When the eye does not see, the ear does not hear, and the mind does not know, then your spirit will protect the body, and the body will enjoy long life. Be cautious of what is within you; block off what is outside you, for much knowledge will do you harm. Then I
will lead you up above the Great Brilliance, to the source of the Perfect Yang; I will guide you through the Dark and Mvsterious Gate, to the source of the Perfect Yin. Heaven and earth have their controllers, the yin and yang their storehouses. You have only to take care and guard your own body; these other things will of themselves grow sturdy. As for myself, I guard this unity, abide in this harmony, and therefore I have kept myself alive for twelve hundred years, and never has my body suffered any decay."
The Yellow Emperor bowed twice and said, "Master Kuang Ch'eng, you have been as a Heaven to me!"
Master Kuang Ch'eng said, "Come, I will explain to you. This Thing I have been talking about is inexhaustible, and yet men all suppose that it has an end. This Thing I have been talking about is unfathomable, and yet men all suppose that it has a limit. He who attains my Way will be a Bright One on high,8 and a king in the world below. But he who fails to attain my Way, though he may see the light above him, will remain below as dust. All the hundred creatures that flourish are born out of dust and return to dust. So I will take leave of you, to enter the gate of the inexhaustible and wander in the limitless fields, to form a triad with the light of the sun and moon, to partake in the constancy of Heaven and earth. What stands before me I mingle with, what is far from me I leave in darkness.9 All other men may die; I alone will survive!"
Cloud Chief was traveling east and had passed the branches of the Fu‑yao when he suddenly came upon Big Concealment.10 Big Concealment at the moment was amusing himself by slapping his thighs and hopping around like a sparrow. When Cloud Chief saw this, he stopped in bewilderment, stood dead still in his tracks, and said, "Old gentleman, who are you? What is this you're doing?"
Big Concealment, without interrupting his thigh‑slapping and sparrow‑hopping, replied to Cloud Chief, "Amusing myself."
"I would like to ask a question," said Cloud Chief.
"Oh dear!" said Big Concealment, for the first time raising his head and looking at Cloud Chief.
"The breath of heaven is out of harmony, the breath of earth tangles and snarls," said Cloud Chief. "The six breaths do not blend properly," the four seasons do not stay in order. Now I would like to harmonize the essences of the six breaths in order to bring nourishment to all living creatures. How should I go about it?"
Big Concealment, still thigh‑slapping and sparrow‑hopping, shook his head. "I have no idea! I have no idea!"
So Cloud Chief got no answer. Three years later he was again traveling east and, as he passed the fields of Sung, happened upon Big Concealment once more. Cloud Chief, overjoyed, dashed forward and presented himself, saying, "Heavenly Master, have you forgotten me? Have you forgotten me?" Then he bowed his head twice and begged for some instruction from Big Concealment.
Big Concealment said, "Aimless wandering does not know what it seeks; demented drifting does not know where it goes. A wanderer, idle, unbound, I view the sights of Undeception. What more do I know?"
Cloud Chief said, "I too consider myself a demented drifter, but the people follow me wherever I go and I have no choice but to think of them. It is for their sake now that I beg one word of instruction!"
Big Concealment said, "If you confuse the constant strands of Heaven and violate the true form of things, then Dark Heaven will reach no fulfillment. Instead, the beasts will scatter from their herds, the birds will cry all night, disaster will come to the grass and trees, misfortune will reach even to the insects. Ah, this is the fault of men who `govern'!"
"Then what should I do?" said Cloud Chief.
"Ah," said Big Concealment, "you are too far gone! Up, up, stir yourself and be off!"
Cloud Chief said, "Heavenly Master, it has been hard indeed for me to meet with you ‑ I beg one word of instruction!"
"Well, then ‑ mind‑nourishment!" said Big Concealment. 12 "You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root ‑ return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos ‑ to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally and of themselves."
Cloud Chief said, "The Heavenly Master has favored me with this Virtue, instructed me in this Silence. All my life I have been looking for it, and now at last I have it!" He bowed his head twice, stood up, took his leave, and went away.
The common run of men all welcome those who are like themselves and scorn those who differ from themselves. The reason they favor those who are like themselves and do not favor those who are different is that their minds are set on distinguishing themselves from the crowd. But if their minds are set on distinguishing themselves from the crowd, how is this ever going to distinguish them from the crowd? It is better to follow the crowd and be content, for, no matter how much you may know, it can never match the many talents of the crowd combined.
Here is a man who wants to take over the management of another man's state." He thinks thereby to seize all the profits enjoyed by the kings of the Three Dynasties, but fails to take note of their worries. This is to gamble with another man's state, and how long can you expect to gamble with his state and not lose it? Less than one man in ten thousand will succeed in holding on to the state; the odds in favor of losing it are more than ten thousand to one. It is sad indeed that the possessors of states do not realize this!
Now the possessor of a state possesses a great thing. Because he possesses a great thing, he cannot be regarded as a mere thing himself. 14 He is a thing, and yet he is not a mere thing; therefore he can treat other things as mere things. He who clearly‑ understands that, in treating other things as mere things, he himself is no longer a mere thing‑how could he be content only to govern the hundred clans of the world and do nothing more? He will move in and out of the Six Realms, wander over the Nine Continents, going alone, coming alone. He may be called a Sole Possessor, and a man who is a Sole Possessor may be said to have reached the peak of eminence.
The Great Man in his teaching is like the shadow that follows a form, the echo that follows a sound. Only when questioned does he answer, and then he pours out all his thoughts, making himself the companion of the world. He dwells in the echoless, moves in the directionless, takes by the hand you who are rushing and bustling back and forth,15 and proceeds to wander in the beginningless. He passes in and out of the boundless, and is ageless as the sun. His face and form16 blend with the Great Unity, the Great Unity which is selfless. Being selfless, how then can he look upon possession as possession? He who fixed his eyes on possession ‑ he was the "gentleman" of ancient times. He who fixes his eyes on nothingness ‑ he is the true friend of Heaven and earth.
What is lowly and yet must be used ‑ things.17 What is humble and yet must be relied on ‑ the people. What is irksome18 and yet must be attended to ‑ affairs. What is sketchy and yet must be proclaimed ‑ laws. What seems to apply only to distant relationships and yet must be observed ‑ righteousness. What seems to apply only to intimate relationships and yet must be broadened ‑ benevolence. What is confining and yet must be repeatedly practiced ‑ ritual. What is already apt and yet must be heightened ‑ Virtue. What is One and yet must be adapted ‑ the Way. What is spiritual and yet must be put into action ‑ Heaven.
Therefore the sage contemplates Heaven but does not assist it. He finds completion in Virtue but piles on nothing more. He goes forth in the Way but does not scheme. He accords with benevolence but does not set great store by it. He draws close to righteousness but does not labor over it. He responds to the demands of ritual and does not shun them. He disposes of affairs and makes no excuses. He brings all to order with laws and allows no confusion. He depends upon the people and does not make light of them. He relies upon things and does not throw them aside. Among things, there are none that are worth using, and yet they must be used.
He who does not clearly understand Heaven will not be pure in Virtue. He who has not mastered the Way will find himself without any acceptable path of approach. He who does not clearly understand the Way is pitiable indeed!
What is this thing called the Way? There is the Way of Heaven, and the way of man. To rest in inaction, and command respect ‑ this is the Way of Heaven. To engage in action and become entangled in it ‑ this is the way of man. The ruler is the Way of Heaven; his subjects are the way of man. The Way of Heaven and the way of man are far apart. This is something to consider carefully!