Musings of a Chinese Mystic
THE MYSTERIOUS IMMANENCE OF TAO
THE Penumbra said to the Umbra, "At one moment you move: at another you are at rest. At one moment you sit down: at another you get up. Why this instability of purpose?"
"I depend," replied the Umbra, "upon something which causes me to do as I do; and that something depends in turn upon something else which causes it to do as it does. My dependence is like that of a snake's scales or of a cicada's wings. How can I tell why I do one thing, or why I do not do another?"
Prince Hui's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every chhk of the chopper, was in perfect harmony,--rhythmical like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, simultaneous like the chords of the Ching Shou.
"Well done!" cried the Prince; "yours is skill indeed."
"Sire," replied the cook, "I have always
devoted myself to Tao. It is better than skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me simply whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. When my senses bid me stop, but my mind urges me on, I fall back upon eternal principles. I follow such openings or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not attempt to cut through joints: still less through large bones.
"A good cook changes his chopper once a year,--because he cuts. An ordinary cook, once a month,--because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. [*1] By these means the interstice will be enlarged, and the blade will find plenty of room. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.
"Nevertheless, when I come upon a hard part where the blade meets with a difficulty, I
am all caution. I fix my eye on it. I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper, and stand up, and look around, and pause, until with an air of triumph I wipe my chopper and put it carefully away."
"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learnt how to take care of my life."
In the State of Cheng there was a wonderful magician named Chi Han. He knew all about birth and death, gain and loss, misfortune and happiness, long life and short life--predicting events to a day with supernatural accuracy. The people of Cheng used to flee at his approach; but Lieh Tzu went to see him, and became so infatuated that on his return he said to Hu Tzu, [*1] "I used to look upon your Tao as perfect. Now I know something more perfect still."
"So far," replied Hu Tzu, "I have only taught you the ornamentals, not the essentials, of Tao; and yet you think you know all about it. Without cocks in your poultry-yard, what sort of eggs do the hens lay? [*2] If you go about trying to
force Tao down people's throats, you will be simply exposing yourself. Bring your friend with you, and let me show myself to him."
So next day Lieh Tzu went with Chi Han to see Hu Tzu, and when they came out Chi Han said: "Alas! your teacher is doomed. He cannot live. I hardly give him ten days. I am astonished at him. He is but wet ashes."
Lieh Tzu went in and wept bitterly, and told Hu Tzu; but the latter said: "I showed myself to him just now as the earth shows us its outward form, motionless and still, while production is all the time going on. I merely prevented him from seeing my pent-up energy within. Bring him again."
Next day the interview took place as before; but as they were leaving Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu: "It is lucky for your teacher that he met me. He is better. He will recover. I saw he had recuperative power."
Lieh Tzu went in and told Hu Tzu; whereupon the latter replied: "I showed myself to him just now as heaven shows itself in all its dispassionate grandeur, letting a little energy run out of my heels. He was thus able to detect that I had some. Bring him here again."
Next day a third interview took place, and as they were leaving, Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu: "Your teacher is never one day like another; I can tell nothing from his physiognomy. Get him
to be regular, and I will then examine him again."
This being repeated to Hu Tzu as before, the latter said: "I showed myself to him just now in a state of harmonious equilibrium. Where the whale disports itself,--is the abyss. Where water is at rest,--is the abyss. Where water is in motion,--is the abyss. The abyss has nine names. These are three of them." [*1]
Next day the two went once more to see Hu Tzu; but Chi Han was unable to stand still, and in his confusion turned and fled.
"Pursue him!" cried Hu Tzu; whereupon Lieh Tzu ran after him, but could not overtake him; so he returned and told Hu Tzu that the fugitive had disappeared.
"I showed myself to him just now," said Hu Tzu, "as Tao appeared before time was. I was to him as a great blank, existing of itself. He knew not who I was. His face fell. He became confused. And so he fled."
Upon this Lieh Tzu stood convinced that he had not yet acquired any real knowledge, and at once set to work in earnest, passing three years without leaving the house. He helped his wife to cook the family dinner, and fed his pigs just like human beings. He discarded the artificial and reverted to the natural. He became merely
a shape. Amidst confusion he was unconfounded. And so he continued to the end.
Books are what the world values as representing Tao. But books are only words, and the valuable part of words is the thought therein contained. That thought has a certain bias which cannot be conveyed in words, yet the world values words as being the essence of books. But though the world values them, they are not of value; as that sense in which the world values them is not the sense in which they are valuable. . . .
Duke Huan was one day reading in his hall, when a wheelwright who was working below flung down his hammer and chisel, and mounting the steps said: "What words may your Highness be studying?"
"I am studying the words of the Sages," replied the Duke.
"Are the Sages alive?" asked the wheelwright.
"No," answered the Duke; "they are dead."
"Then the words your Highness is studying," rejoined the wheelwright, "are only the dregs of the ancients."
"What do you mean, sirrah!" cried the Duke, "by interfering with what I read? Explain yourself, or you shall die."
"Let me take an illustration," said the wheelwright, "from my own trade. In making a
wheel, if you work too slowly, you can't make it firm; if you work too fast, the spokes won't fit in. You must go neither too slowly nor too fast. There must be co-ordination of mind and hand. Words cannot explain what it is, but there is some mysterious art herein. I cannot teach it to my son; nor can he learn it from me. Consequently, though seventy years of age, I am still making wheels in my old age. If the ancients, together with what they could not impart, are dead and gone, then what your Highness is studying must be the dregs."
A drunken man who falls out of a cart, though he may suffer, does not die. His bones are the same as other people's; but he meets his accident in a different way. His spirit is in a condition of security. He is not conscious of riding in the cart; neither is he conscious of falling out of it. Ideas of life, death, fear, etc., cannot penetrate his breast; and so he does not suffer from contact with objective existences. And if such security is to be got from wine, how much more is it to be got from God? It is in God that the Sage seeks his refuge, and so he is free from harm.
Lieh Yu K'ou instructed Po Hun Wu Jen in archery. Drawing the bow to its full, he placed a cup of water on his elbow and began to let
fly. Hardly was one arrow out of sight ere another was on the string, the archer standing all the time like a statue.
"But this is shooting under ordinary conditions," cried Po Hun Wu Jen; "it is not shooting under extraordinary conditions. Now I will ascend a high mountain with you, and stand on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet in height, and see how you can shoot then."
Thereupon Wu Jen went with Lieh Tzu up a high mountain, and stood on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet in height, approaching it backwards until one-fifth of his feet overhung the chasm, when he beckoned to Lieh Tzu to come on. But the latter had fallen prostrate on the ground, with the sweat pouring down to his heels.
"The perfect man," said Wu Jen, "soars up to the blue sky, or dives down to the yellow springs, [*1] or flies to some extreme point of the compass, without change of countenance. But you are terrified, and your eyes are dazed. Your internal economy is defective."
. . . . .
A disciple said to Lu Chu: "Master, I have attained to your Tao. I can do without fire in winter. I can make ice in summer."
"You merely avail yourself of latent heat and
latent cold," replied Lu Chu. "That is not what I call Tao. I will demonstrate to you what my Tao is."
Thereupon he tuned two lutes, and placed one in the hall and the other in the adjoining room. And when he struck the kung note on one, the kung note on the other sounded; when he struck the chio note on one, the chio note on the other sounded. This because they were both tuned to the same pitch.
But if he changed the interval of one string, so that it no longer kept its place in the octave, and then struck it, the result was that all the twenty-five strings jangled together. There was sound as before, but the influence of the key-note was gone.
^52:1 An allusion to the saying of Lao Tzu: "That which has no substance enters where there is no crevice."
^53:1 His tutor.
^53:2 The hens here stand for the letter of the doctrine; the cocks, for its spirit; and the eggs, for a real knowledge of it.
^55:1 I.e., three phases of Tao.
^58:1 The infernal regions.