Section NINETEEN - MASTERING LIFE
HE WHO HAS MASTERED the true nature of life does not labor over what life cannot do. He who has mastered the true nature of fate does not labor over what knowledge cannot change. He who wants to nourish his body must first of all turn to things. And yet it is possible to have more than enough things and for the body still to go unnourished. He who has life must first of all see to it that it does not leave the body. And yet it is possible for life never to leave the body and still fail to be preserved. The coming of life cannot be fended off, its departure cannot be stopped. How pitiful the men of the world, who think that simply nourishing the body is enough to preserve life! But if nourishing the body is in the end not enough to preserve life, then why is what the world does worth doing? It may not be worth doing, and yet it cannot be left undone ‑ this is unavoidable.
He who wants to avoid doing anything for his body had best abandon the world. By abandoning the world, he can be without entanglements. Being without entanglements, he can be upright and calm. Being upright and calm, he can be born again with others. Being born again, he can come close [to the Way].
But why is abandoning the affairs of the world worth while, and why is forgetting life worth while? If you abandon the affairs of the world, your body will be without toil. If you forget life, your vitality will be unimpaired. With your body complete and your vitality made whole again, you may become one with Heaven. Heaven and earth are the father and mother of the ten thousand things. They join to become a body; they part to become a beginning. When the body and vitality are without flaw, this is called being able to shift. Vitality added to vitality, you return to become the Helper of Heaven.
Master Lieh Tzu said to the Barrier Keeper Yin, "The Perfect Man can walk under water without choking, can tread on fire without being burned, and can travel above the ten thousand things without being frightened. May I ask how he manages this?"
The Barrier Keeper Yin replied, "This is because he guards the pure breath ‑ it has nothing to do with wisdom, skill, determination, or courage. Sit down and I will tell you about it. All that have faces, forms, voices, colors ‑ these are all mere things. How could one thing and another thing be far removed from each other? And how could any one of them be worth considering as a predecessor? They are forms, colors ‑ nothing more. But things have their creation in what has no form, and their conclusion in what has no change. If a man can get hold of this and exhaust it fully, then how can things stand in his way? He may rest within the bounds that know no excess, hide within the borders that know no source, wander where the ten thousand things have their end and beginning, unify his nature, nourish his breath, unite his virtue, and thereby communicate with that which creates all things. A man like this guards what belongs to Heaven and keeps it whole. His spirit has no flaw, so how can things enter in and get at him?
"When a drunken man falls from a carriage, though the carriage may be going very fast, he won't be killed. He has bones and joints the same as other men, and yet he is not injured as they would be, because his spirit is whole. He didn't know he was riding, and he doesn't know he has fallen out. Life and death, alarm and terror do not enter his breast, and so he can bang against things without fear of injury. If he can keep himself whole like this by means of wine, how much more can he keep himself whole by means of Heaven! The sage hides himself in Heaven ‑ hence there is nothing that can do him harm.
"A man seeking revenge does not go so far as to smash the sword of his enemy; a man, no matter how hot‑tempered, does not rail at the tile that happens to fall on him. To know that all things in the world are equal and the same‑this is the only way to eliminate the chaos of attack and battle and the harshness of punishment and execution!
"Do not try to develop what is natural to man; develop what is natural to Heaven. He who develops Heaven benefits life; he who develops man injures life. Do not reject what is of Heaven, do not neglect what is of man, and the people will be close to the attainment of Truth." 1
When Confucius was on his way to Ch'u, he passed through a forest where he saw a hunchback catching cicadas with a sticky pole as easily as though he were grabbing them with his hand.
Confucius said, "What skill you have! Is there a special way to this?"
"I have a way," said the hunchback. "For the first five or six months I practice balancing two balls on top of each other on the end of the pole and, if they don't fall off, I know I will lose very few cicadas. Then I balance three balls and, if they don't fall off, I know I'll lose only one cicada in ten. Then I balance five balls and, if they don't fall off, I know it will be as easy as grabbing them with my hand. I hold my body like a stiff tree trunk and use my arm like an old dry limb. No matter how huge heaven and earth, or how numerous the ten thousand things, I'm aware of nothing but cicada wings. Not wavering, not tipping, not letting any of the other ten thousand things take the place of those cicada wings ‑ how can I help but succeed?"
Confucius turned to his disciples and said, "He keeps his will undivided and concentrates his spirit ‑ that would serve to describe our hunchback gentleman here, would it not?"
Yen Yuan said to Confucius, "I once crossed the gulf at Goblet Deeps and the ferryman handled the boat with supernatural skill. I asked him, `Can a person learn how to handle a boat?' and he replied, `Certainly. A good swimmer will in no time get the knack of it. And, if a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he'll know how to handle it!' I asked him what he meant by that, but he wouldn't tell me. May I venture to ask you what it means?"
Confucius said, "A good swimmer will in no time get the knack of it ‑ that means he's forgotten the water. If a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he'll know how to handle it ‑ that's because he sees the water as so much dry land, and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart. The ten thousand things2 may all be capsizing and backsliding at the same time right in front of him and it can't get at him and affect what's inside ‑ so where could he go and not be at ease?
"When you're betting for tiles in an archery contest, you shoot with skill. When you're betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim. And when you're betting for real gold, you're a nervous wreck. Your skill is the same in all three cases ‑ but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weigh on your mind. He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside."
T'ien K'ai‑chih went to see Duke Wei of Chou. Duke Wei said, "I hear that Chu Hsien is studying how to live. You are a friend of his ‑ what have you heard from him on the subject?"
T'ien K'ai‑chih said, "I merely wield a broom and tend his gate and garden ‑ how should I have heard anything from the Master?"
Duke Wei said, "Don't be modest, Master T'ien. I am anxious to hear about it."
T'ien K'ai‑chih said, "I have heard the Master say, `He who is good at nourishing life is like a herder of sheep ‑ he watches for stragglers and whips them up.' "
"What does that mean?" asked Duke Wei.
T'ien K'ai‑chih said, "In Lu there was Shan Pao ‑ he lived among the cliffs, drank only water, and didn't go after gain like other people. He went along like that for seventy years and still had the complexion of a little child. Unfortunately, he met a hungry tiger who killed him and ate him up. Then there was Chang Yi ‑ there wasn't one of the great families and fancy mansions that he didn't rush off to visit. He went along like that for forty years, and then he developed an internal fever, fell ill, and died. Shan Pao looked after what was on the inside and the tiger ate up his outside. Chang Yi looked after what was on the outside and the sickness attacked him from the inside. Both these men failed to give a lash to the stragglers."3
Confucius has said, "Don't go in and hide; don't come out and shine; stand stock‑still in the middle." He who can follow these three rules is sure to be called the finest. When people are setting out on a dangerous road, if they hear that one traveler in a party of ten has been murdered, then fathers and sons, elder and younger brothers will warn each other to be careful and will not venture out until they have a large escort of armed men. That's wise of them, isn't it? But when it comes to what people really ought to be worried about ‑ the time when they are lying in bed or sitting around eating and drinking ‑ then they don't have sense enough to take warning. That's a mistake!"
The Invocator of the Ancestors, dressed in his black, square-cut robes, peered into the pigpen and said, "Why should you object to dying? I'm going to fatten you for three months, practice austerities for ten days, fast for three days, spread the white rushes, and lay your shoulders and rump on the carved sacrificial stand ‑ you'll go along with that, won't you? True, if I were planning things from the point of view of a pig, I'd say it would be better to eat chaff and bran and stay right there in the pen. But if I were planning for myself, I'd say that if I could be honored as a high official while I lived, and get to ride in a fine hearse and lie among the feathers and trappings when I died, I'd go along with that. Speaking for the pig, I'd give such a life a flat refusal, but speaking for myself, I'd certainly accept. I wonder why I look at things differently from a pig?"
Duke Huan was hunting in a marsh, with Kuan Chung as his carriage driver, when he saw a ghost. The duke grasped Kuan Chung's hand and said, "Father Chung, what do you see?"4
"I don't see anything," replied Kuan Chung.
When the duke returned home, he fell into a stupor, grew ill, and for several days did not go out.
A gentleman of Ch'i named Huang‑tzu Kao‑ao said, "Your Grace, you are doing this injury to yourself! How could a ghost have the power to injure you! If the vital breath that is stored up in a man becomes dispersed and does not return, then he suffers a deficiency. If it ascends and fails to descend again, it causes him to be chronically irritable. If it descends and does not ascend again, it causes him to be chronically forgetful. And if it neither ascends nor descends, but gathers in the middle of the body in the region of the heart, then he becomes ill."
Duke Huan said, "But do ghosts really exist?"
"Indeed they do. There is the Li on the hearth5 and the Chi in the stove. The heap of clutter and trash just inside the gate is where the Lei‑t'ing lives. In the northeast corner the Pei‑a and Kuei‑lung leap about, and the northwest corner is where the I‑yang lives. In the water is the Kang‑hsiang; on the hills, the Hsin; in the mountains, the K'uei;6 in the meadows, the P’ang‑huang; and in the marshes, the Wei‑t'o."
The duke said, "May I ask what a Wei‑t'o looks like?"
Huang‑tzu said, "The Wei‑t'o is as big as a wheel hub, as tall as a carriage shaft, has a purple robe and a vermilion hat and, as creatures go, is very ugly. When it hears the sound of thunder or a carriage, it grabs its head and stands up. Any one who sees it will soon become a dictator."
Duke Huan's face lit up and he said with a laugh, "That must have been what I saw!" Then he straightened his robe and hat and sat up on the mat with Huang‑tzu, and before the day was over, though he didn't notice it, his illness went away.
Chi Hsing‑tzu was training gamecocks for the king. After ten days the king asked if they were ready.
"Not yet. They're too haughty and rely on their nerve."
Another ten days and the king asked again.
"Not yet. They still respond to noises and movements."
Another ten days and the king asked again.
"Not yet. They still look around fiercely and are full of spirit."
Another ten days and the king asked again.
"They're close enough. Another cock can crow and they show no sign of change. Look at them from a distance and you'd think they were made of wood. Their virtue is complete. Other cocks won't dare face them, but will turn and run."
Confucius was seeing the sights at Lu‑liang, where the water falls from a height of thirty fathoms and races and boils along for forty li, so swift that no fish or other water creature can swim in it. He saw a man dive into the water and, supposing that the man was in some kind of trouble and intended to end his life, he ordered his disciples to line up on the bank and pull the man out. But after the man had gone a couple of hundred paces, he came out of the water and began strolling along the base of the embankment, his hair streaming down, singing a song. Confucius ran after him and said, "At first I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you're a man. May I ask if you have some special way of staying afloat in the water?"
"I have no way. I began with what I was used to, grew up with my nature, and let things come to completion with fate. I go under with the swirls and come out with the eddies, following along the way the water goes and never thinking about myself. That's how I can stay afloat."
Confucius said, "What do you mean by saying that you began with what you were used to, grew up with your nature, and let things come to completion with fate?"
"I was born on the dry land and felt safe on the dry land - that was what I was used to. I grew up with the water and felt safe in the water ‑ that was my nature. I don't know why I do what I do ‑ that's fate."
Woodworker Ch'ing7 carved a piece of wood and made a bell stand, and when it was finished, everyone who saw it marveled, for it seemed to be the work of gods or spirits. When the marquis of Lu saw it, he asked, "What art is it you have?"
Ch'ing replied, "I am only a craftsman ‑ how would I have any art? There is one thing, however. When I am going to make a bell stand, I never let it wear out my energy. I always fast in order to still my mind. When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thought of congratulations or rewards, of titles or stipends. When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thought of praise or blame, of skill or clumsiness. And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a form and body. By that time, the ruler and his court no longer exist for me. My skill is concentrated and all outside distractions fade away. After that, I go into the mountain forest and examine the Heavenly nature of the trees. If I find one of superlative form, and I can see a bell stand there, I put my hand to the job of carving; if not, I let it go. This way I am simply matching up `Heaven' with `Heaven.' 8 That's probably the reason that people wonder if the results were not made by spirits."
Tung‑yeh Chi was displaying his carriage driving before Duke Chuang. He drove back and forth as straight as a measuring line and wheeled to left and right as neat as a compassdrawn curve. Duke Chuang concluded that even Tsao Fu9 could do no better, and ordered him to make a hundred circuits and then return to the palace. Yen Ho happened along at the moment and went in to see the duke. "Tung‑yeh Chi's horses are going to break down," he said. The duke was silent and gave no answer. In a little while Tung‑yeh Chi returned, his horses having in fact broken down. The duke asked Yen Ho, "How did you know that was going to happen?" Yen Ho said, "The strength of the horses was all gone and still he was asking them to go on ‑ that's why I said they would break down."
Artisan Ch'ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn't let his mind get in the way. Therefore his Spirit Tower10 remained unified and unobstructed.
You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.
A certain Sun Hsiu appeared at the gate of Master Pien Ch'ing‑tzu to pay him a call. "When I was living in the village," he said, "no one ever said I lacked good conduct. When I faced difficulty, no one ever said I lacked courage. Yet when I worked the fields, it never seemed to be a good year for crops, and when I served the ruler, it never seemed to be a good time for advancement. So I am an outcast from the villages, an exile from the towns. What crime have I committed against Heaven? Why should I meet this fate?"
Master Pien said, "Have you never heard how the Perfect Man conducts himself? He forgets his liver and gall and thinks no more about his eyes and ears. Vague and aimless, he wanders beyond the dirt and dust; free and easy, tending to nothing is his job. This is what is called `doing but not looking for any thanks, bringing up but not bossing.’11 Now you show off your wisdom in order to astound the ignorant, work at your good conduct in order to distinguish yourself from the disreputable, going around bright and shining as though you were carrying the sun and moon in your hand! You've managed to keep your body in one piece, you have all the ordinary nine openings, you haven't been struck down midway by blindness or deafness, lameness or deformity ‑ compared to a lot of people, you're a lucky man. How do you have any time to go around complaining against Heaven? Be on your way!"
After Master Sun had left, Master Pien went back into the house, sat down for a while, and then looked up to heaven and sighed. One of his disciples asked, "Why does my teacher sigh?"
Master Pien said, "Just now Sun Hsiu came to see me, and I described to him the virtue of the Perfect Man. I'm afraid he was very startled and may end up in a complete muddle."
"Surely not," said the disciple. "Was what Master Sun said right and what my teacher said wrong? If so, then wrong can certainly never make a muddle out of right. Or was what Master Sun said wrong and what my teacher said right? If so, then he must already have been in a muddle when he came here, so what's the harm?"
"You don't understand," said Master Pien. "Once long ago a bird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital. The ruler of Lu was delighted with it, had a T'ai‑lao sacrifice prepared for it to feast on, and the Nine Shao music performed for its enjoyment. But the bird immediately began to look unhappy and dazed, and did not dare to eat or drink. This is what is called trying to nourish a bird with what would nourish you. If you want to nourish a bird with what will nourish a bird, you had best let it roost in the deep forest, float on the rivers and lakes, and live on snakes‑then it can feel at ease. 12
"Now Sun Hsiu is a man of ignorance and little learning. For me to describe to him the virtue of the Perfect Man is like taking a mouse for a ride in a carriage or trying to delight a quail with the music of bells and drums. How could he help but be startled?"