Section TWENTY - THE MOUNTAIN TREE
CHUANG TZU WAS WALKING in the mountains when he saw a huge tree, its branches and leaves thick and lush. A woodcutter paused by its side but made no move to cut it down. When Chuang Tzu asked the reason, he replied, "There's nothing it could be used for!" Chuang Tzu said, "Because of its worthlessness, this tree is able to live out the years Heaven gave it."
Down from the mountain, the Master stopped for a night at the house of an old friend. The friend, delighted, ordered his son to kill a goose and prepare it. "One of the geese can cackle and the other can't," said the son. "May I ask, please, which I should kill?"
"Kill the one that can't cackle," said the host.
The next day Chuang Tzu's disciples questioned him. "Yesterday there was a tree on the mountain that gets to live out the years Heaven gave it because of its worthlessness. Now there's our host's goose that gets killed because of its worthlessness. What position would you take in such a case, Master?"
Chuang Tzu laughed and said, "I'd probably take a position halfway between worth and worthlessness. But halfway between worth and worthlessness, though it might seem to be a good place, really isn't ‑ you'll never get away from trouble there. It would be very different, though, if you were to climb up on the Way and its Virtue and go drifting and wandering, neither praised nor damned, now a dragon, now a snake, shifting with the times, never willing to hold to one course only. Now up, now down, taking harmony for your measure, drifting and wandering with the ancestor of the ten thousand things, treating things as things but not letting them treat you as a thing ‑ then how could you get into any trouble? This is the rule, the method of Shen Nung and the Yellow Emperor.
"But now, what with the forms of the ten thousand things and the codes of ethics handed down from man to man, matters don't proceed in this fashion. Things join only to part, reach completion only to crumble. If sharp‑edged, they are blunted; if high‑stationed, they are overthrown;1 if ambitious, they are foiled. Wise, they are schemed against; stupid, they are swindled. What is there, then, that can be counted on? Only one thing, alas! ‑ remember this, my students ‑ only the realm of the Way and its Virtue!"
I‑liao from south of the Market called upon the marquis of Lu.2 The marquis had a very worried look on his face. "Why such a worried look?" asked the Master from south of the Market.
The marquis of Lu said, "I study the way of the former kings, I do my best to carry on the achievements of the former rulers, I respect the spirits, honor worthy men, draw close to them, follow their advice, and never for an instant leave their side. And yet I can't seem to avoid disaster. That's why I'm so worried."
The Master from south of the Market said, "Your technique for avoiding disaster is a very superficial one. The sleek‑furred fox and the elegantly spotted leopard dwell in the mountain forest and crouch in the cliffside caves ‑ such is
their quietude. They go abroad by night but lurk at home by day ‑ such is their caution. Though hunger, thirst, and hardship press them, they steal forth only one by one to seek food by the rivers and lakes ‑ such is their forethought .3 And yet they can't seem to escape the disaster of nets and traps. Where is the blame? Their fur is their undoing. And this state of Lu-is it not your coat of fur? So I would ask you to strip away your form, rid yourself of this fur, wash clean your mind, be done with desire, and wander in the peopleless fields.
"In Nan‑yueh there is a city and its name is The Land of Virtue Established. Its people are foolish and naive, few in thoughts of self, scant in desires. They know how to make, but not how to lay away; they give, but look for nothing in return. They do not know what accords with right, they do not know what conforms to ritual. Uncouth, uncaring, they move recklessly ‑ and this way they tread the path of the Great Method. Their birth brings rejoicing, their death a fine funeral. So I would ask you to discard your state, break away from its customs, and, with the Way as your helper, journey there."
The ruler of Lu said, "The road there is long and perilous. Moreover, there are rivers and mountains between and I have no boat or carriage. What can I do?"
The Master from south of the Market said, "Be without imperiousness, be without conventionality ‑ let this be your carriage." 4
But the ruler of Lu said, "The road is dark and long and there are no people there. Who will be my companion on the way? When I have no rations, when I have nothing to eat, how will I be able to reach my destination?"
The Master from south of the Market said, "Make few your needs, lessen your desires, and then you may get along even without rations. You will ford the rivers and drift out upon the sea. Gaze all you may ‑ you cannot see its farther shore; journey on and on ‑ you will never find where it ends. Those who came to see you off will all turn back from the shore and go home, while you move ever farther into the distance.
"He who possesses men will know hardship; he who is possessed by men will know care. Therefore Yao neither possessed men nor allowed himself to be possessed by them. So I ask you to rid yourself of hardship, to cast off your cares, and to wander alone with the Way to the Land of Great Silence.
"If a man, having lashed two hulls together, is crossing a river, and an empty boat happens along and bumps into him, no matter how hot‑tempered the man may be, he will not get angry. But if there should be someone in the other boat, then he will shout out to haul this way or veer that. If his first shout is unheeded, he will shout again, and if that is not heard, he will shout a third time, this time with a torrent of curses following. In the first instance, he wasn't angry; now in the second he is. Earlier he faced emptiness, now he faces occupancy. If a man could succeed in making himself empty, and in that way wander through the world, then who could do him harm?"
Pei‑kung She was collecting taxes for Duke Ling of Wei in order to make a set of bells. He built a platform outside the gate of the outer wall, and in the space of three months the bells were completed, both the upper and lower tiers.5 Prince Ch'ing‑chi, observing this, asked, "What art is it you wield?" 6
Pei‑kung She replied, "In the midst of Unity, how should I venture to `wield' anything? I have heard it said, When carving and polishing are done, then return to plainness. Dull, I am without understanding; placid, I dawdle and drift. Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, and what goes cannot be detained. I follow the rude and violent, trail after the meek and bending, letting each come to its own end. So I can collect taxes from morning to night and meet not the slightest rebuff. How much more would this be true, then, of a man who had hold of the Great Road?"
Confucius was besieged between Ch'en and Ts'ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food. T'ai‑kung Jen went to offer his sympathy. "It looks as if you're going to die," he said.
"It does indeed."
"Do you hate the thought of dying?"
"I certainly do!"
Jen said, "Then let me try telling you about a way to keep from dying. In the eastern sea there is a bird and its name is Listless. It flutters and flounces but seems to be quite helpless. It must be boosted and pulled before it can get into the air, pushed and shoved before it can get back to its nest. It never dares to be the first to advance, never dares to be the last to retreat. At feeding time, it never ventures to take the first bite, but picks only at the leftovers. So, when it flies in file, it never gets pushed aside, nor do other creatures such as men ever do it any harm. In this way it escapes disaster.
"The straight‑trunked tree is the first to be felled; the well of sweet water is the first to run dry. And you, 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! That's why you can't escape!
'I have heard the Man of Great Completion say: `Boasts are a sign of no success; success once won faces overthrow; fame once won faces ruin.' Who can rid himself of success and fame, return and join the common run of men? His Way flows abroad, but he does not rest in brightness; his Virtue' moves, but he does not dwell in fame. Vacant, addled, he seems close to madness. Wiping out his footprints, sloughing off his power, he does not work for success or fame. So he has no cause to blame other men, nor other men to blame him. The Perfect Man wants no repute. Why then do you delight in it so?"
"Excellent!" exclaimed Confucius. Then he said good‑bye to his friends and associates, dismissed his disciples, and retired to the great swamp, wearing furs and coarse cloth and living on acorns and chestnuts. He could walk among the animals without alarming their herds, walk among the birds without alarming their flocks. If even the birds and beasts did not resent him, how much less would men!
Confucius said to Master Sang‑hu, "Twice I have been driven out of Lu. The people chopped down a tree on me in Sung, wiped away my footprints in Wei, made trouble for me in Shang and Chou, and besieged me between Ch'en and Ts'ai ‑so many calamities have I encountered. My kinfolk and associates drift farther and farther away, my friends and followers one after the other take leave. Why is this?"
Master Sang‑hu said, "Have you never heard about Lin Hui, the man who fled from Chia" He threw away his jade disc worth a thousand measures of gold, strapped his little baby on his back, and hurried off. Someone said to him, `Did you think of it in terms of money? Surely a little baby isn't worth much money! Or were you thinking of the bother? But a little baby is a great deal of bother! Why then throw away a jade disc worth a thousand measures of gold and hurry off with a little baby on your back?'
"Lin Hui replied, `The jade disc and I were joined by profit, but the child and I were brought together by Heaven. Things joined by profit, when pressed by misfortune and danger, will cast each other aside; but things brought together by Heaven, when pressed by misfortune and danger, will cling to one another. To cling to each other and to cast each other aside are far apart indeed!'
"The friendship of a gentleman, they say, is insipid as water; that of a petty man, sweet as rich wine. But the insipidity of the gentleman leads to affection, while the sweetness of the petty man leads to revulsion. Those with no particular reason for joining together will for no particular reason part."
Confucius said, "I will do my best to honor your instructions!" Then, with leisurely steps and a free and easy manner, he returned home. He abandoned his studies, gave away his books, and his disciples no longer came to bow in obeisance before him, but their affection for him was greater than it had ever been before.
Another day Master Sang‑hu likewise said, "When Shun was about to die, he carefully8' instructed Yu in these words: `Mark what I say! In the case of the body, it is best to let it go along with things. In the case of the emotions, it is best to let them follow where they will. By going along with things, you avoid becoming separated from them. By letting the emotions follow as they will, you avoid fatigue. And when there is no separation or fatigue, then you need not seek any outward adornment or depend upon the body. And when you no longer seek outward adornment or depend upon the body, you have in fact ceased to depend upon any material thing.' ".
Chuang Tzu put on his robe of coarse cloth with the patches on it, tied his shoes with hemp to keep them from falling apart, and went to call upon the king of Wei. "My goodness, Sir, you certainly are in distress!" said the king of Wei.
Chuang Tzu said, "I am poor, but I am not in distress! When a man possesses the Way and its Virtue but cannot put them into practice, then he is in distress. When his clothes are shabby and his shoes worn through, then he is poor, but he is not in distress. This is what they call being born at the wrong time. Has Your Majesty never observed the bounding monkeys? If they can reach the tall cedars, the catalpas, or the camphor trees, they will swing and sway from their limbs, frolic and lord it in their midst, and even the famous archers Yi or P'eng Meng could not take accurate aim at them. But when they find themselves among prickly mulberries, brambles, hawthorns, or spiny citrons, they must move with caution, glancing from side to side, quivering and quaking with fear. It is not that their bones and sinews have suddenly become stiff and lost their suppleness. It is simply that the monkeys find themselves in a difficult and disadvantageous position where they cannot exercise their abilities to the full. And now if I should live under a benighted ruler and among traitorous ministers and still hope to escape distress, what hope would there be of doing so? Pi Kan had his heart cut out ‑ there is the proof of the matter!" 9
Confucius was in trouble between Ch'en and Ts'ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food. His left hand propped against a withered tree, his right beating time on a withered limb, he sang the air of the lord of Yen.10 The rapping of the limb provided an accompaniment, but it was without any fixed rhythm; there was melody, but none that fitted the usual tonal categories of kung or chueh. The drumming on the tree, the voice of the singer had a pathos to them that would strike a man's heart.
Yen Hui, standing with hands folded respectfully across his chest, turned his eyes and looked inquiringly at Confucius. Confucius, fearful that Yen Hui's respect for him was too great, that his love for him was too tender, said to him, "Hui! It is easy to be indifferent to the afflictions of Heaven, but hard to be indifferent to the benefits of man. No beginning but has its end, and man and Heaven are one. Who is it, then, who sings this song now?"
Hui said, "May I venture to ask what you mean when you say it is easy to be indifferent to the afflictions of Heaven?"
Confucius said, "Hunger, thirst, cold, heat, barriers and blind alleys that will not let you pass ‑ these are the workings of Heaven and earth, the shifts of ever‑turning things. This is what is called traveling side by side with the others. He who serves as a minister does not dare to abandon his lord. And if he is thus faithful to the way of a true minister, how much more would he be if he were to attend upon Heaven!"
"And what do you mean when you say that it is hard to be indifferent to the benefits of man?"
Confucius replied, "A man sets out on a career, and soon he is advancing in all four directions at once. Titles and stipends come raining down on him without end, but these are merely material profits and have nothing to do with the man himself. As for me, my fate lies elsewhere. A gentleman will not pilfer, a worthy man will not steal. What business would I have, then, trying to acquire such things? So it is said, There is no bird wiser than the swallow. If its eyes do not light upon a suitable spot, it will not give a second look. If it happens to drop the food it had in its beak, it will let it go and fly on its way. It is wary of men, and yet it lives among them, finding its protection along with men in the village altars of the soil and grain."
"And what do you mean by saying, `No beginning but has its end'?"
Confucius said, "There is a being who transforms the ten thousand things, yet we do not know how he works these changes. How do we know what is an end? How do we know what is a beginning? The only thing for us to do is just to wait!"
"And what do you mean by saving, `man and Heaven are one'?"
Confucius said, "Man exists because of Heaven, and Heaven too exists because of Heaven. But man cannot cause Heaven to exist; this is because of [the limitations of] his inborn nature. The sage, calm and placid, embodies change and so comes to his end."
Chuang Chou was wandering in the park at Tiao‑ling when he saw a peculiar kind of magpie that came flying along from the south. It had a wingspread of seven feet and its eyes were a good inch in diameter. It brushed against Chuang Chou's forehead and then settled down in a grove of chestnut trees. "What kind of bird is that!" exclaimed Chuang Chou. "Its wings are enormous but they get it nowhere; its eyes are huge but it can't even see where it's going!" Then he hitched up his robe, strode forward, cocked his crossbow and prepared to take aim. As he did so, he spied a cicada that had found a lovely spot of shade and had forgotten all about [the possibility of danger to] its body. Behind it, a praying mantis, stretching forth its claws, prepared to snatch the cicada, and it too had forgotten about its own form as it eyed its prize. The peculiar magpie was close behind, ready to make off with the praying mantis, forgetting its own true self as it fixed its eyes on the prospect of gain. Chuang Chou, shuddering at the sight, said, "Ah! ‑ things do nothing but make trouble for each other ‑ one creature calling down disaster on another!" He threw down his crossbow, turned about, and hurried from the park, but the park keeper [taking him for a poacher] raced after him with shouts of accusation.
Chuang Chou returned home and for three months looked unhappy." Lin Chu in the course of tending to his master's needs, questioned him, saying, "Master, why is it that you are so unhappy these days?"
Chuang Chou said, "In clinging to outward form I have forgotten my own body. Staring at muddy water, I have been misled into taking it for a clear pool. Moreover, I have heard my Master say, `When you go among the vulgar, follow their rules!' I went wandering at Tiao‑ling and forgot my body. A peculiar magpie brushed against my forehead, wandered off to the chestnut grove, and there forgot its true self. And the keeper of the chestnut grove, to my great shame, took me for a trespasser! That is why I am unhappy."
Yang Tzu, on his way to Sung, stopped for the night at an inn. The innkeeper had two concubines, one beautiful, the other ugly. But the ugly one was treated as a lady of rank, while the beautiful one was treated as a menial. When Yang Tzu asked the reason, a young boy of the inn replied, "The beautiful one is only too aware of her beauty, and so we don't think of her as beautiful. The ugly one is only too aware of her ugliness, and so we don't think of her as ugly."
Yang Tzu said, "Remember that, my students! If you act worthily but rid yourself of the awareness that you are acting worthily, then where can you go that you will not be loved?"