Musings of a Chinese Mystic
YEN HUI [*1] went to take leave of Confucius.
"Whither are you bound?" asked the master.
"I am going to the State of Wei," was the reply.
"And what do you propose to do there?" continued Confucius.
"I hear," answered Yen Hui, "that the Prince of Wei is of mature age, but of an unmanageable disposition. He behaves as if the State were of no account, and will not see his own faults. Consequently, the people perish; and their corpses lie about like so much undergrowth in a marsh. They are at extremities. And I have heard you, sir, say that if a State is well governed it may be neglected; but that if it is badly governed, then we should visit it. The science of medicine embraces many various diseases. I would test my knowledge in this sense, that perchance I may do some good to that State."
"Alas!" cried Confucius, "you will only succeed in bringing evil upon yourself. For Tao
must not be distributed. If it is, it will lose its unity. If it loses its unity, it will be uncertain; and so cause mental disturbance,--from which there is no escape.
"The Sages of old first got Tao for themselves, and then got it for others. Before you possess this yourself, what leisure have you to attend to the doings of wicked men? Besides, do you know what Virtue results in, and where Wisdom ends? Virtue results in a desire for fame; wisdom ends in contentions. In the struggle for fame men crush one another, while their wisdom but provokes rivalry. Both are baleful instruments, and may not be incautiously used. . . . But of course you have a scheme. Tell it to me."
"Gravity of demeanour," replied Yen Hui, "and dispassionateness; energy and singleness of purpose,--will this do?"
"Alas!" said Confucius, "that will not do. If you make a show of being perfect and obtrude yourself, the Prince's mood will be doubtful. Ordinarily, he is not opposed, and so he has come to take actual pleasure in trampling upon the feelings of others. And if he has thus failed in the practice of routine virtues, do you expect that he will take readily to higher ones? You may insist, but without result. Outwardly you will be right, but inwardly wrong. How then will you make him mend his ways? . . Your
firmness will secure you from harm; but that is all. You will not influence him to such an extent that he shall seem to follow the dictates of his own heart."
"Then," said Yen Hui, "I am without resource, and venture to ask for a method."
Confucius said: "Fast! . . . Let me explain. You have here a method, but it is difficult to practise. Those which are easy are not from God."
"Well," replied Yen Hui, "my family is poor, and for many months we have tasted neither wine nor flesh. Is not that fasting?"
"The fasting of religious observance it is," answered Confucius, "but not the fasting of the heart."
"And may I ask," said Yen Hui, "in what consists the fasting of the heart?"
"Cultivate unity," replied Confucius. "You hear not with the ears, but with the mind; not with the mind, but with your soul. But let hearing stop with the ears. Let the working of the mind stop with itself. Then the soul will be a negative existence, passively responsive to externals. In such a negative existence, only Tao can abide. And that negative state is the fasting of the heart."
"Then," said Yen Hui, "the reason I could not get the use of this method is my own individuality. If I could get the use of it, my
individuality would have gone. Is this what you mean by the negative state?"
"Exactly so," replied the Master. "Let me tell you. If you can enter this man's domain without offending his amour propre, cheerful if he hears you, passive if he does not; without science, without drugs, simply living there in a state of complete indifference,--you will be near success. . . . Look at that window. Through it an empty room becomes bright with scenery; but the landscape stops outside. . . . In this sense, you may use your ears and eyes to communicate within, but shut out all wisdom from the mind. . . . This is the method for regenerating all creation."
Duke Ai of the Lu State said to Confucius: "In the Wei State there is a leper named Ai T'ai T'o. The men who live with him like him and make no effort to get rid of him. Of the women who have seen him, many have said to their parents, Rather than be another man's wife, I would be his concubine.
"He never preaches at people, but puts himself into sympathy with them, He wields no power by which he may protect men's bodies. He has at his disposal no appointments by which to gratify their hearts. He is loathsome to a degree. He sympathises, but does not instruct.
[paragraph continues] His knowledge is limited to his own state. Yet males and females alike all congregate around him.
"So thinking that he must be different from ordinary men, I sent for him, and saw that he was indeed loathsome to a degree. Yet we had not been many months together ere my attention was fixed upon his conduct. A year had not elapsed ere I trusted him thoroughly; and as my State wanted a Prime Minister, I offered the post to him. He accepted it sullenly, as if he would much rather have declined. Perhaps he did not think me good enough for him! At any rate, he took it; but in a very short time he left me and went away. I grieved for him as for a lost friend, and as though there were none left with whom I could rejoice. What manner of man is this?"
"When I was on a mission to the Ch'u State," replied Confucius, "I saw a litter of young pigs sucking their dead mother. After a while they looked at her, and then they all left the body and went off. For their mother did not look at them any more, nor did she any more seem to be of their kind. What they loved was their mother; not the body which contained her, but that which made the body what it was. . . .
"Now Ai T'ai T'o says nothing, and is trusted. He does nothing, and is sought after. He causes a man to offer him the government of his own
[paragraph continues] State, and the only fear is lest he should decline. Truly his talents are perfect, and his virtue without outward form!"
"What do you mean by his talents being perfect?" asked the Duke.
"Life and Death," replied Confucius, "existence and non-existence, success and nonsuccess, poverty and wealth, virtue and vice, good and evil report, hunger and thirst, warmth and cold,--these all revolve upon the changing wheel of Destiny. Day and night they follow one upon the other, and no man can say where each one begins. Therefore they cannot be allowed to disturb the harmony of the organism, nor enter into the soul's domain. Swim however with the tide, so as not to offend others. Do this day by day without break, and live in peace with mankind. Thus you will be ready for all contingencies, and may be said to have your talents perfect."
"And virtue without outward form; what is that?"
"In a water-level," said Confucius, "the water is in a most perfect state of repose. Let that be your model. The water remains quietly within, and does not overflow. It is from the cultivation of such harmony that virtue results. And if virtue takes no outward form, man will not be able to keep aloof from it."
"Tell me," said Lao Tzu, "in what consist charity and duty to one's neighbour?"
"They consist," answered Confucius, "in a capacity for rejoicing in all things; in universal love, without the element of self. These are the characteristics of charity and duty to one's neighbour."
"What stuff!" cried Lao "Does not universal love contradict itself? Is not your elimination of self a positive manifestation of self? Sir, if you would cause the empire not to lose its source of nourishment,--there is the universe, its regularity is unceasing; there are the sun and moon, their brightness is unceasing; there are the stars, their groupings never change; there are birds and beasts, they flock together without varying; there are trees and shrubs, they grow upwards without exception. Be like these; follow Tao; and you will be perfect. Why then these vain struggles after charity and duty to one's neighbour, as though beating a drum in search of a fugitive? Alas! sir, you have brought much confusion into the mind of man."
Suppose a boat is crossing a river, and another empty boat is about to collide with it. Even an irritable man would not lose his temper. But supposing there was some one in the second
boat. Then the occupant of the first would shout to him to keep clear. And if the other did not hear the first time, nor even when called to three times, bad language would inevitably follow. In the first case there was no anger, in the second there was; because in the first case the boat was empty, and in the second it was occupied. And so it is with man. If he could only roam empty through life, who would be able to injure him?
^69:1 The Master's favourite disciple.