DOES HEAVEN TURN? Does the earth sit still? Do sun and moon compete for a place to shine? Who masterminds all this? Who pulls the strings? Who, resting inactive himself, gives the push that makes it go this way? I wonder, is there some mechanism that works it and won't let it stop? I wonder if it just rolls and turns and can't bring itself to a halt? Do the clouds make the rain, or does the rain make the clouds? Who puffs them up, who showers them down like this? Who, resting inactive himself, stirs up all this lascivious joy? 1 The winds rise in the north, blowing now west, now east, whirling up to wander on high. Whose breaths and exhalations are they? Who, resting inactive himself, huffs and puffs them about like this?

The shaman Hsien beckoned 2 and said, "Come ‑ I will tell you. Heaven has the six directions and the five constants.3 When emperors and kings go along with these, there is good order; when they move contrary to these, there is disaster. With the instructions of the Nine Lo,4 order can be made to reign and virtue completed. The ruler will shine mirror‑like over the earth below, and the world will bear him up. He may be called an August One on high." 5

Tang, the prime minister of Shang,6 asked Chuang Tzu about benevolence.

Chuang Tzu said, "Tigers and wolves ‑ they're benevolent."

"How can you say that?"

Chuang Tzu said, "Sire and cubs warm and affectionate with one another ‑ why do you say they're not benevolent?"

"What I am asking to hear about is perfect benevolence."

"Perfect benevolence knows no affection," said Chuang Tzu.

The prime minister said, "I have heard that where affection is lacking, there will be no love, and if there is no love, there will be no filial piety. Can you possibly say that perfect benevolence is unfilial?"

"No, no," said Chuang Tzu. "Perfect benevolence is a lofty thing ‑ words like filial piety would never do to describe it. And what you are talking about is not something that surpasses filial piety, but something that doesn't even come up to it. If a traveler to the south turns to look north again when he reaches the city of Ying, he will no longer see the dark northern mountains. Why? Because they are too far away. Thus it is said, to be filial out of respect is easy; to be filial out of love is hard. To be filial out of love is easy; to forget parents is hard. To forget parents is easy; to make parents forget you is hard. To make parents forget you is easy; to forget the whole world is hard. To forget the whole world is easy; to make the whole world forget you is hard. Virtue discards Yao and Shun and rests in inaction. Its bounty enriches ten thousand ages, and yet no one in the world knows this. Why all these deep sighs, this talk of benevolence and filial piety? Filial piety, brotherliness, benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, trust, honor, integrity ‑ for all of these you must drive yourself and make a slave of Virtue. They are not worth prizing. So it is said, Highest eminence scorns the titles of the kingdom; greatest wealth rejects the riches of the kingdom; loftiest desire ignores fame and reputation. It is the Way alone that never varies."

Ch'eng of North Gate said to the Yellow Emperor, "When Your Majesty performed the Hsien‑ch'ih music in the wilds around Lake Tung‑t'ing, I listened, and at first I was afraid. I listened some more and felt weary, and then I listened to the end and felt confused. Overwhelmed, speechless, I couldn't get hold of myself."

"It's not surprising you felt that way," said the emperor. "I performed it through man, tuned it to Heaven, went forward with ritual principle, and established it in Great Purity. Perfect music must first respond to the needs of man, accord with the reason of Heaven, proceed by the Five Virtues, and blend with spontaneity; only then can it bring order to the four seasons and bestow a final harmony upon the ten thousand things.7 Then the four seasons will rise one after the other, the ten thousand things will take their turn at living. Now flourishing, now decaying, the civil and military strains will keep them in step; now with clear notes, now with dull ones, the yin and the yang will blend all in harmony, the sounds flowing forth like light, like hibernating insects that start to wriggle again, like the crash of thunder with which I awe the world. At the end, no tail; at the beginning, no head; now dead, now alive, now flat on the ground, now up on its feet, its constancy is unending, yet there is nothing that can be counted on. That's why you felt afraid.

"Then I played it with the harmony of yin and yang, lit it with the shining of sun and moon; its notes I was able to make long or short, yielding or strong, modulating about a single unity, but bowing before no rule or constancy. In the valley they filled the valley; in the void they filled the void; plugging up the crevices, holding back the spirit, accepting things on their own terms. Its notes were clear and radiant,8 its fame high and bright. Therefore the ghosts and spirits kept to their darkness and the sun, moon, stars, and constellations marched in their orbits. I made it stop where there is an end to things, made it flow where there is no stopping. You9 try to fathom it but can't understand, try to gaze at it but can't see, try to overtake it but can't catch up. You stand dazed before the four‑directioned emptiness of the Way, or lean on your desk and moan. Your eyes fail before you can see, your strength knuckles under before you can catch up.10 It was nothing I could do anything about. Your body melted into the empty void, and this brought you to an idle freedom. It was this idle freedom that made you feel weary.

"Then I played it with unwearying notes and tuned it to the command of spontaneity. Therefore there seemed to be a chaos where things grow in thickets together, a maturity where nothing takes form, a universal plucking where nothing gets pulled, a clouded obscurity where there is no sound. It moved in no direction at all, rested in mysterious shadow. Some called it death, some called it life, some called it fruit, some called it flower. It flowed and scattered, and bowed before no constant tone. The world, perplexed by it, went to the sage for instruction, for the sage is the comprehender of true form and the completer of fate. When the Heavenly mechanism is not put into action and yet the five vital organs are all complete this may be called the music of Heaven. Wordless, it delights the mind. Therefore the lord of Yen sang its praises thus: `Listen ‑ you do not hear its sound; look ‑ you do not see its form. It fills all Heaven and earth, enwraps all the six directions.' You wanted to hear it but had no way to go about it. That was why you felt confused.11

"Music begins with fear, and because of this fear there is dread, as of a curse. Then I add the weariness, and because of the weariness there is compliance. I end it all with confusion, and because of the confusion there is stupidity. And because of the stupidity there is the Way, the Way that can be lifted up and carried around wherever you go."

When Confucius was away in the west visiting the state of Wei, Yen Yuan said to the Music Master Chin, "What do you think of my master's trip?" 12

Music Master Chin said, "A pity! ‑ your master will most likely end up in trouble."

"How so?" asked Yen Yuan.

Music Master Chin said, "Before the straw dogs are presented at the sacrifice, they are stored in bamboo boxes and covered over with patterned embroidery, while the impersonator of the dead and the priest fast and practice austerities in preparation for fetching them. But after they have once been presented, then all that remains for them is to be trampled on, head and back, by passers‑by; to be swept up by the grasscutters and burned.13 And if anyone should come along and put them back in their bamboo boxes, cover them over with patterned embroidery, and linger or lie down to sleep beneath them, he would dream no proper dreams; on the contrary, he would most certainly be visited again and again by nightmares.

"Now your master has picked up some old straw dogs that had been presented by the former kings, and has called together his disciples to linger and lie down in sleep beneath them. Therefore the people chopped down the tree on him in Sung, wiped away his footprints in Wei, and made trouble for him in Shang and Chou ‑ such were the dreams he had. They besieged him between Ch'en and Ts'ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food, till he hovered on the border between life and death ‑ such were the nightmares he had.14

"Nothing is as good as a boat for crossing water, nothing as good as a cart for crossing land. But though a boat will get you over water, if you try to push it across land, you may push till your dying day and hardly move it any distance at all. And are the past and present not like the water and the land, and the states of Chou and Lu not like a boat and a cart?

To hope to practice the ways of Chou in the state of Lu is like trying to push a boat over land ‑ a great deal of work, no success, and certain danger to the person who tries it. The man who tries to do so has failed to understand the turning that has no direction, that responds to things and is never at a loss.

"Have you never seen a well sweep? Pull it, and down it comes; let go, and up it swings. It allows itself to be pulled around by men; it doesn't try to pull them. So it can go up and down and never get blamed by anybody.

"Thus it is that the rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors are prized not because they were uniform, but because they were capable of bringing about order.15 The rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors may be compared to the haw, the pear, the orange, and the citron. Their flavors are quite different, yet all are pleasing to the mouth. Rituals and regulations are something that change in response to the times. If you take a monkey and dress him in the robes of the Duke of Chou, he will bite and tear at them, not satisfied until he has divested himself of every stitch. And a glance will show that past and present are no more alike than are a monkey and the Duke of Chou!

"The beautiful Hsi‑shih, troubled with heartburn, frowned at her neighbors. An ugly woman of the neighborhood, seeing that Hsi‑shih was beautiful, went home and likewise pounded her breast and frowned at her neighbors. But at the sight of her the rich men of the neighborhood shut tight their gates and would not venture out, while the poor men grabbed their wives and children by the hand and scampered off. The woman understood that someone frowning could be beautiful, but she did not understand where the beauty of the frown came from. A pity, indeed! Your master is going to end up in trouble!"

Confucius had gone along until he was fifty‑one and had still not heard the Way. Finally he went south to P'ei and called on Lao Tan. "Ah, you have come," said Lao Tan. "I've heard that you are a worthy man of the northern region. Have you found the Way?"

"Not yet," said Confucius.

"Where did you look for it?" asked Lao Tan.

"I looked for it in rules and regulations, but five years went by and still I hadn't found it."

"Where else did you look for it?" asked Lao Tan.

"I looked for it in the yin and yang, but twelve years went by and I still hadn't found it."

"It stands to reason!" said Lao Tan. "If the Way could be presented, there is no man who would not present it to his ruler. If the Way could be offered, there is no man who would not offer it to his parents. If the Way could be reported, there is no man who would not report it to his brothers. If the Way could be bequeathed, there is no man who would not bequeath it to his heirs. But it cannot ‑ and for none other than the following reason. If there is no host on the inside to receive it, it will not stay; if there is no mark on the outside to guide it, it will not go. If what is brought forth from the inside is not received on the outside, then the sage will not bring it forth. If what is taken in from the outside is not received by a host on the inside, the sage will not entrust it."16

"Fame is a public weapon ‑ don't reach for it too often. Benevolence and righteousness are the grass huts of the former kings; you may stop in them for one night but you mustn't tarry there for long. A lengthy stay would invite many reproaches. The Perfect Man of ancient times used benevolence as a path to be borrowed, righteousness as a lodge to take shelter in. He wandered in the free and easy wastes, ate in the plain and simple fields, and strolled in the garden of no bestowal. Free and easy, he rested in inaction; plain and simple, it was not hard for him to live; bestowing nothing, he did not have to hand things out. The men of old called this the wandering of the Truth‑picker.

"He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, never cease to gaze with greedy eyes - they are men punished by Heaven. Resentment and kindness, taking away and giving, reproof and instruction, life and death ‑ these eight things are the weapons of the corrector.17 Only he who complies with the Great Change and allows no blockage will be able to use them. Therefore it is said, The corrector must be correct. If the mind cannot accept this fact, then the doors of Heaven will never open!"

Confucius called on Lao Tan and spoke to him about benevolence and righteousness. Lao Tan said, "Chaff from the winnowing fan can so blind the eye that heaven, earth, and the four directions all seem to shift place. A mosquito or a horsefly stinging your skin can keep you awake a whole night. And when benevolence and righteousness in all their fearfulness come to muddle the mind ,18 the confusion is unimaginable. If you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity, you must move with the freedom of the wind, stand in the perfection of Virtue. Why all this huffing and puffing, as though you were carrying a big drum and searching for a lost child! The snow goose needs no daily bath to stay white; the crow needs no daily inking to stay black. Black and white in their simplicity offer no ground for argument; fame and reputation in their clamorousness19 offer no ground for envy. When the springs dry up and the fish are left stranded on the ground, they spew each other with moisture and wet each other down with spit ‑ but it would be much better if they could forget each other in the rivers and lakes!"

When Confucius returned from his visit with Lao Tan, he did not speak for three days. His disciples said, "Master, you've seen Lao Tan ‑ what estimation would you make of him?"

Confucius said, "At last I may say that I have seen a dragon ‑ a dragon that coils to show his body at its best, that sprawls out to display his patterns at their best, riding on the breath of the clouds, feeding on the yin and yang. My mouth fell open and I couldn't close it; my tongue flew up and I couldn't even stammer. How could I possibly make any estimation of Lao Tan!"

Tzu‑kung said, "Then is it true that the Perfect Man can command corpse‑like stillness and dragon vision, the voice of thunder and the silence of deep pools; that he breaks forth into movement like Heaven and earth? If only I too could get to see him!"

In the end he went with an introduction from Confucius and called on Lao Tan. Lao Tan was about to sit down in the hall and stretch out his legs. In a small voice he said, "I've lived to see a great many years come and go. What advice is it you have for me?"

Tzu‑kung said, "The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world in ways that were not the same, though they were alike in the praise and acclaim they won. I am told, Sir, that you alone do not regard them as sages. May I ask why?"

Lao Tan said, "Young man, come a little closer! Why do you say that they ruled in ways that were not the same?"

"Yao ceded the throne to Shun, and Shun ceded it to Yu. Yu wore himself out over it, and T'ang even resorted to war. King Wen obeyed Chou and did not dare to rebel; but his son King Wu turned against Chou and refused to remain loyal. Therefore I say that they were not the same."

Lao Tan said, "Young man, come a little closer and I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world. In ancient times the Yellow Emperor ruled the world by making the hearts of the people one. Therefore, if there were those among the people who did not wail at the death of their parents, the people saw nothing wrong in this. Yao ruled the world by making the hearts of the people affectionate. Therefore, if there were those among the people who decided to mourn for longer or shorter periods according to the degree of kinship of the deceased, the people saw nothing wrong in this. Shun ruled the world by making the hearts of the people rivalrous. Therefore the wives of the people became pregnant and gave birth in the tenth month as in the past, but their children were not five months old before they were able to talk, and their baby laughter had hardly rung out before they had begun to distinguish one person from another. It was then that premature death first appeared. Yu ruled the world by causing the hearts of the people to change. It was assumed that each man had a heart of his own, that recourse to arms was quite all right. Killing a thief is not a case of murder, they said; every man in the world should look out for his own kind. As a result, there was great consternation in the world, and the Confucians and Mo‑ists all came forward, creating for the first time the rules of ethical behavior. But what would they say of those men who nowadays make wives of their daughters? 20

"I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world! They called it `ruling,' but in fact they were plunging it into the worst confusion. The `wisdom' of the Three August Ones was such as blotted out the brightness of sun and moon above, sapped the vigor of hills and streams below, and overturned the round of the four seasons in between. Their wisdom was more fearsome than the tail of the scorpion; down to the smallest beast, not a living thing was allowed to rest in the true form of its nature and fate. And yet they considered themselves sages! Was it not shameful ‑ their lack of shame!"

Tzu‑kung, stunned and speechless, stood wondering which way to turn.

Confucius said to Lao Tan, "I have been studying the Six Classics ‑ the Odes, the Documents, the Ritual, the Music, the Changes, and the Spring and Autumn, for what I would call a long time, and I know their contents through and through. But I have been around to seventy‑two different rulers with them, expounding the ways of the former kings and making clear the path trod by the dukes of Chou and Shao, and yet not a single ruler has found anything to excite his interest. How difficult it is to persuade others, how difficult to make clear the Way!"

Lao Tzu said, "It's lucky you didn't meet with a ruler who would try to govern the world as you say. The Six Classics are the old worn‑out paths of the former kings ‑ they are not the thing which walked the path. What you are expounding are simply these paths. Paths are made by shoes that walk them, they are by no means the shoes themselves!

"The white fish hawk has only to stare unblinking at its mate for fertilization to occur. With insects, the male cries on the wind above, the female cries on the wind below, and there is fertilization. The creature called the lei is both male and female and so it can fertilize itself. Inborn nature cannot be changed, fate cannot be altered, time cannot be stopped, the Way cannot be obstructed. Get hold of the Way and there's nothing that can't be done; lose it and there's nothing that can be done."

Confucius stayed home for three months and then came to see Lao Tan once again. "I've got it," he said. "The magpie hatches its young, the fish spit out their milt, the slim‑waisted wasp has its stages of transformation, and when baby brother is born, big brother howls.21 For a long time now I have not been taking my place as a man along with the process of change. And if I do not take my own place as a man along with the process of change, how can I hope to change other men?"

Lao Tzu said, "Good, Ch'iu ‑ now you've got it!"