AMONG THE ATTENDANTS of Lao Tan was one Keng-sang Ch'u, who had mastered a portion of the Way of Lao Tan, and with it went north to live among the Mountains of Zigzag. His servants with their bright and knowing looks he discharged; his concubines with their tender and solicitous ways he put far away from him. Instead he shared his house with drabs and dowdies, and employed the idle and indolent to wait on him. He had been living there three years when Zigzag began to enjoy bountiful harvests, and the people of Zigzag said to one another, "When Master Keng‑sang first came among us, we were highly suspicious of him. But now, if we figure by the day, there never seems to be enough, but if we figure by the year, there's always some left over! It might just be that he's a sage! Why don't we make him our impersonator of the dead and pray to him, turn over to him our altars of the soil and grain?"

When Master Keng‑sang heard this, he faced south with a look of displeasure.1 His disciples thought this strange, but Master Keng‑sang said, "Why should you wonder that I am displeased? When the breath of spring comes forth, the hundred grasses begin to grow, and later, when autumn visits them, their ten thousand fruits swell and ripen. Yet how could spring and autumn do other than they do? ‑ the Way of Heaven has already set them in motion. I have heard that the Perfect Man dwells corpse‑like in his little four‑walled room, leaving the hundred clans to their uncouth and uncaring ways, not knowing where they are going, where they are headed. But now these petty people of Zigzag in their officious and busy‑body fashion want to bring their sacrificial stands and platters and make me one of their `worthies'! Am I to be held up as a model for men? That is why, remembering the words of Lao Tan, I am so displeased!"

"But there's no need for that!" said his disciples. "In a ditch eight or sixteen feet wide the really big fish doesn't even have room to turn around, yet the minnows and loaches think it ample. On a knoll no more than five or ten paces in height the really big animal doesn't even have room to hide, yet the wily foxes think it ideal. Moreover, to honor the worthy and assign office to the able, according them precedence and conferring benefits on them ‑ this has been the custom from the ancient days of the sages Yao and Shun. How much more so, then, should it be the custom among the common people of Zigzag. Why not go ahead and heed their demands, Master?"

Master Keng‑sang said, "Come nearer, my little ones! A beast large enough to gulp down a carriage, if he sets off alone and leaves the mountains, cannot escape the perils of net and snare; a fish large enough to swallow a boat, if he is tossed up by the waves and left stranded, is bound to fall victim to ants and crickets.2 Therefore birds and beasts don't mind how high they climb to escape danger, fish and turtles don't mind how deep they dive. So the man who would preserve his body and life must think only of how to hide himself away, not minding how remote or secluded the spot may be.

"And as for those two you mentioned ‑Yao and Shun ‑ how are they worthy to be singled out for praise? With their nice distinctions they are like a man who goes around willfully poking holes in people's walls and fences and planting weeds and brambles in them, like a man who picks out which hairs of his head he intends to comb before combing it, who counts the grains of rice before he cooks them. Such bustle and officiousness ‑ how can it be of any use in saving the age? Promote men of worth and the people begin trampling over each other; employ men of knowledge and the people begin filching from each other. Such procedures will do nothing to make the people ingenuous. Instead the people will only grow more diligent in their pursuit of gain, till there are sons who kill their fathers, ministers who kill their lords, men who filch at high noon, who bore holes through walls in broad daylight. I tell you, the source of all great confusion will invariably be found to lie right there with Yao and Shun! And a thousand generations later, it will still be with us. A thousand generations later ‑ mark my word  ‑ there will be men who will eat each other up!"

Nan‑Jung Chu straightened up on his mat with a perplexed look and said, "A man like myself who's already on in years - what sort of studies is he to undertake in order to attain this state you speak of?"

Master Keng‑sang said, "Keep the body whole, cling fast to life! Do not fall prey to the fidget and fuss of thoughts and scheming. If you do this for three years, then you can attain the state I have spoken of."

Nan‑Jung Chu said, "The eyes are part of the body ‑ I have never thought them anything else ‑ yet the blind man cannot see with his. The ears are part of the body ‑ I have never thought them anything else ‑ yet the deaf man cannot hear with his. The mind is part of the body ‑ I have never thought it anything else ‑ yet the madman cannot comprehend with his. The body too must be part of the body ‑ surely they are intimately connected.3 Yet ‑ is it because something intervenes? ‑ I try to seek my body, but I cannot find it. Now you tell me, `Keep the body whole, cling fast to life! Do not fall prey to the fidget and fuss of thoughts and scheming.' As hard as I try to understand your explanation of the Way, I'm afraid your words penetrate no farther than my ears." 4

"I've said all I can say," exclaimed Master Keng‑sang. "The saying goes, mud daubers have no power to transform caterpillars.5 The little hens of Yueh cannot hatch goose eggs, though the larger hens of Lu can do it well enough. It isn't that one kind of hen isn't just as henlike as the other. One can and the other can't because their talents just naturally differ in size. Now I'm afraid my talents are not sufficient to bring about any transformation in you. Why don't you go south and visit Lao Tzu? "

Nan‑Jung Chu packed up his provisions and journeyed for seven days and seven nights until he came to Lao Tzu's place. Lao Tzu said, "Did you come from Keng‑sang Ch'u's place?"

"Yes Sir," said Nan‑Jung Chu.

"Why did you come with all this crowd of people?" asked Lao Tzu.

Nan‑Jung Chu, astonished, turned to look behind him.

"Don't you know what I mean?" asked Lao Tzu.

Nan‑Jung Chu hung his head in shame and then, looking up with a sigh, said, "Now I've even forgotten the right answer to that, so naturally I can't ask any questions of my own."

"What does that mean?" asked Lao Tzu.

"If I say I don't know, then people call me an utter fool," said Nan‑Jung Chu. "But if I say I do know, then on the contrary I bring worry on myself. If I am not benevolent, I harm others; but if I am benevolent, then on the contrary I make trouble for myself. If I am not righteous, I do injury to others; but if I am righteous, then on the contrary I distress myself. How can I possibly escape from this state of affairs? It is these three dilemmas that are harassing me, and so, through Keng-sang Chu's introduction, I have come to beg an explanation."

Lao Tzu said, "A moment ago, when I looked at the space between your eyebrows and eyelashes, I could tell what kind of person you are. And now what you have said confirms it. You are confused and crestfallen, as though you had lost your father and mother and were setting off with a pole to fish for them in the sea. You are a lost man ‑ hesitant and unsure, you want to return to your true form and inborn nature but you have no way to go about it ‑ a pitiful sight indeed!"

Nan‑jung Chu asked to be allowed to repair to his quarters. There he tried to cultivate his good qualities and rid himself of his bad ones; and after ten days of making himself miserable, he went to see Lao Tzu again. Lao Tzu said, "You have been very diligent in your washing and purifying ‑ as I can see from your scrubbed and shining look. But there is still something smoldering away inside you ‑ it would seem that there are bad things there yet. When outside things trip you up and you can't snare and seize them, then bar the inside gate. When inside things trip you up and you can't bind and seize them, then bar the outside gate. If both outside and inside things trip you up, then even the Way and its virtue themselves can't keep you going ‑ much less one who is a mere follower of the Way in his actions."6

Nan‑Jung Chu said, "When a villager gets sick and his neighbors ask him how he feels, if he is able to describe his illness, it means he can still recognize his illness as an illness ‑ and so he isn't all that ill. But now if I were to ask about the Great Way, it would be like drinking medicine that made me sicker than before. What I would like to ask about is simply the basic rule of life‑preservation, that is all."

Lao Tzu said, "Ah ‑ the basic rule of life‑preservation. Can you embrace the One? Can you keep from losing it? Can you, without tortoise shell or divining stalks, foretell fortune and misfortune? Do you know where to stop, do you know where to leave off? Do you know how to disregard it in others and instead look for it in yourself? Can you be brisk and unflagging? Can you be rude and unwitting? Can you be a little baby? The baby howls all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse ‑ harmony at its height! 7 The baby makes fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped ‑ virtue is all it holds to. The baby stares all day without blinking its eyes ‑ it has no preferences in the world of externals. To move without knowing where you are going, to sit at home without knowing what you are doing, traipsing and trailing about with other things, riding along with them on the same wave ‑ this is the basic rule of life‑preservation, this and nothing more."

Nan‑Jung Chu said, "Then is this all there is to the virtue of the Perfect Man?"

"Oh, no! This is merely what is called the freeing of the icebound, the thawing of the frozen. Can you do it? 8 The Perfect Man joins with others in seeking his food from the earth, his pleasures in Heaven. But he does not become embroiled with them in questions of people and things, profit and loss. He does not join them in their shady doings, he does not join them in their plots, he does not join them in their projects. Brisk and unflagging, he goes; rude and unwitting, he comes. This is what is called the basic rule of life‑preservation."

"Then is this the highest stage?"

"Not yet! Just a moment ago I said to you, `Can you be a baby?' The baby acts without knowing what it is doing, moves without knowing where it is going. Its body is like the limb of a withered tree, its mind like dead ashes. Since it is so, no bad fortune will ever touch it, and no good fortune will come to it either. And if it is free from good and bad fortune, then what human suffering can it undergo?"

He whose inner being rests in the Great Serenity will send forth a Heavenly light. But though he sends forth a Heavenly light, men will see him as a man and things will see him as a thing. When a man has trained himself to this degree, then for the first time he achieves constancy. Because he possesses constancy, men will come to lodge with him and Heaven will be his helper. Those whom men come to lodge with may be called the people of Heaven; those whom Heaven aids may be called the sons of Heaven.

Learning means learning what cannot be learned; practicing means practicing what cannot be practiced; discriminating means discriminating what cannot be discriminated. Understanding that rests in what it cannot understand is the finest.9 If you do not attain this goal, then Heaven the Equalizer will destroy you.

Utilize the bounty of things and let them nourish your body; withdraw into thoughtlessness and in this way give life to your mind; be reverent of what is within and extend this same reverence to others. If you do these things and yet are visited by ten thousand evils, then all are Heaven‑sent and not the work of man. They should not be enough to destroy your composure; they must not be allowed to enter the Spirit Tower.10 The Spirit Tower has its guardian, but unless it understands who its guardian is, it cannot be guarded.

If you do not perceive the sincerity within yourself and yet try to move forth, each movement will miss the mark. If outside concerns enter and are not expelled, each movement will only add failure to failure. He who does what is not good in clear and open view will be seized and punished by men. He who does what is not good in the shadow of darkness will be seized and punished by ghosts. Only he who clearly understands both men and ghosts will be able to walk alone."

He who concentrates upon the internal does deeds that bring no fame. He who concentrates upon the external sets his mind upon the hoarding of goods. 12 He who does deeds that bring no fame is forever the possessor of light. He who sets his mind upon the hoarding of goods is a mere merchant. To other men's eyes he seems to be straining on tiptoe in his greed, yet he thinks himself a splendid fellow. If a man goes along with things to the end, then things will come to him. But if he sets up barriers against things, then he cannot find room enough even for himself, much less for others. He who can find no room for others lacks fellow feeling, and to him who lacks fellow feeling, all men are strangers. There is no weapon more deadly than the will ‑ even Mo‑yeh is inferior to it.13 There are no enemies greater than the yin and yang ‑ because nowhere between heaven and earth can you escape from them. It is not that the yin and yang deliberately do you evil ‑ it is your own mind that makes them act so.14

The Way permeates all things. Their dividedness is their completeness, their completeness is their impairment.15 What is hateful about this state of dividedness is that men take their dividedness and seek to supplement it; and what is hateful about attempts to supplement it is that they are a mere supplementation of what men already have. So they go forth and forget to return ‑ they act as though they had seen a ghost. They go forth and claim to have gotten something ‑ what they have gotten is the thing called death. They are wiped out and choked off ‑ already a kind of ghost themselves. Only when that which has form learns to imitate the formless will it find serenity.

It comes out from no source, it goes back in through no aperture. It has reality yet no place where it resides; it has duration yet no beginning or end. Something emerges, though through no aperture ‑ this refers to the fact that it has reality. It has reality yet there is no place where it resides ‑ this refers to the dimension of space. It has duration but no beginning or end ‑ this refers to the dimension of time. There is life, there is death, there is a coming out, there is a going back in ‑ yet in the coming out and going back its form is never seen.16  This is called the Heavenly Gate. The Heavenly Gate is nonbeing. The ten thousand things come forth from nonbeing. Being cannot create being out of being; inevitably it must come forth from nonbeing. Nonbeing is absolute nonbeing, and it is here that the sage hides himself.

The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed ‑ so far, to the end, where nothing can be added. Those at the next stage thought that things exist.17 They looked upon life as a loss, upon death as a return ‑ thus they had already entered the state of dividedness. Those at the next stage said, "In the beginning there was nonbeing. Later there was life, and when there was life suddenly there was death. We look upon nonbeing as the head, on life as the body, on death as the rump. Who knows that being and nonbeing, life and death are a single way? 18 I will be his friend!"

These three groups, while differing in their viewpoint, belong to the same royal clan; though, as in the case of the Chao and Ching families,. whose names indicate their line of succession, and that of the Ch'i! family, whose name derives from its fief, they are not identical.19

                Out of the murk, things come to life. With cunning you declare, "We must analyze this!" You try putting your analysis in words, though it is not something to be put into words. You cannot, however, attain understanding. At the winter sacrifice, you can point to the tripe or the hoof of the sacrificial ox, which can be considered separate things, and yet in a sense cannot be considered separate. A man who goes to look at a house will walk all around the chambers and ancestral shrines, but he will also go to inspect the privies. And so for this reason you launch into your analysis.20

Let me try describing this analysis of yours. It takes life as its basis and knowledge as its teacher, and from there proceeds to assign "right" and "wrong." So in the end we have "names" and "realities," and accordingly each man considers himself to be their arbiter. In his efforts to make other men appreciate his devotion to duty, for example, he will go so far as to accept death as his reward for devotion. To such men, he who is useful is considered wise, he who is of no use is considered stupid. He who is successful wins renown; he who runs into trouble is heaped with shame. Analyzers ‑ that is what the men of today are! 21 They are like the cicada and the little dove, who agreed because they were two of a kind .22

If you step on a stranger's foot in the market place, you apologize at length for your carelessness. If you step on your older brother's foot, you give him an affectionate pat, and if you step on your parent's foot, you know you are already forgiven. So it is said, Perfect ritual makes no distinction of persons; perfect righteousness takes no account of things; perfect knowledge does not scheme; perfect benevolence knows no affection; perfect trust dispenses with gold.23

Wipe out the delusions of the will, undo the snares of the heart, rid yourself of the entanglements to virtue; open up the roadblocks in the Way. Eminence and wealth, recognition and authority, fame and profit ‑ these six are the delusions of the will. Appearances and carriage, complexion and features, temperament and attitude ‑ these six are the snares of the heart. Loathing and desire, joy and anger, grief and happiness ‑ these six are the entanglements of virtue. Rejecting and accepting, taking and giving, knowledge and ability ‑ these six are the roadblocks of the Way. When these four sixes no longer seethe within the breast, then you will achieve uprightness; being upright, you will be still; being still, you will be enlightened; being enlightened, you will be empty; and being empty, you will do nothing, and yet there will be nothing that is not done.

The Way is virtue's idol. Life is virtue's light. The inborn nature is the substance of life. The inborn nature in motion is called action. Action which has become artificial is called loss. Understanding reaches out, understanding plots. But the understanding of that which is not to be understood is a childlike stare. Action which is done because one cannot do otherwise is called virtue. Action in which there is nothing other than self is called good order. In definition the two seem to be opposites but in reality they agree.

Archer Yi was skilled at hitting the smallest target but clumsy in not preventing people from praising him for it. The sage is skilled in what pertains to Heaven but clumsy in what pertains to man. To be skilled in Heavenly affairs and good at human ones as well ‑ only the Complete Man can encompass that. Only bugs can be bugs because only bugs can abide by Heaven. The Complete Man hates Heaven, and hates the Heavenly in man. How much more, then, does he hate the "I" who distinguishes between Heaven and man. 24

If a single sparrow came within Archer Yi's range, he was sure to bring it down ‑ impressive shooting. But he might have made the whole world into a cage, and then the sparrows would have had no place to flee to. That was the way it was when T'ang caged Yi Yin by making him a cook and Duke Mu caged Po‑li Hsi for the price of five ram skins.25 But if you hope to get a man, you must cage him with what he likes or you will never succeed.

The man who has had his feet cut off in punishment discards his fancy clothes ‑ because praise and blame no longer touch him. The chained convict climbs the highest peak without fear ‑ because he has abandoned all thought of life and death. These two are submissive 26 and unashamed because they have forgotten other men, and by forgetting other men they have become men of Heaven. Therefore you may treat such men with respect and they will not be pleased; you may treat them with contumely and they will not be angry. Only because they are one with the Heavenly Harmony can then be like this.

If he who bursts out in anger is not really angry, then his anger is an outburst of nonanger. If he who launches into action is not really acting, then his action is a launching into inaction. He who wishes to be still must calm his energies; he who wishes to be spiritual must compose his mind; he who in his actions wishes to hit the mark must go along with what he cannot help doing. Those things that you cannot help doing ‑ they represent the Way of the sage.