Zhuang Zi

Chapter One: Free and Easy Wandering

copyright (c) 2003 Patrick Edwin Moran

Far in the Darkness of the North
A fish whose name is Kun.
The size of the Kun --
No one can know how many thousand miles.
Transforming to a bird,
Its name becomes Peng.
Peng's back --
None know how many thousand miles.
Aroused to flight,
Its wings like thunderheads hang upon the sky.
Now this bird,
When currents flow across the sea,
Will make for Darkness of the South.
Darkness of the South is but the pond of Heaven.

The Qi Marvels is a record of unusual things. The Marvels says: "Peng's voyage to the Darkness of the South: It strikes the waters for three thousand miles, then beats upon a rising draft and ascends to 90 thousand miles. Go! It requires six months of rest."

Whirlwinds, dust devils, are nought but the puffing of creatures upon each other. The blueness of the sky -- is that its true color? Or is it because it is infinitely remote? When Peng looks down, it's the same way and that is all there is to it.

Now should an accumulation of water not be sufficient, then it would not have the power to support a large boat. Pour out a glass of water upon the courtyard and a mustard seed can be a boat, put the glass in the pool, however, and it sticks to the bottom. The reason? The water is shallow and the boat is large. Now should the wind mass not be substantial, it will have insufficient power to support great wings. So at 90 thousand miles altitude the wind is all put beneath the Peng and thereafter it flaps its wings against that wind and puts its back against the azure sky whereupon none can hinder it; thereafter it wends its way to the south. The cicada and the dove ridiculed it, saying: "I spring up and fly, blunder into a thicket and come to rest, or sometimes I don't reach it before falling to earth, and that's it! What does the Peng think it is doing, going up ninety thousand miles and heading toward the south?!" Those who head off to the greensward return after three meals and their bellies are yet full. Those who go a hundred li must lay up provisions the day before. And those who plan a trip of a thousand li must save up three months of food. Those two critters! What do they know?

Small knowledge does not reach to large knowledge, and small years do not reach to large years. How do I know this is so? The dawn-to-dusk fungus does not know the compass of a single month, the one-season cicada cannot know both spring and fall. They have small years. South of the state of Chu there is the Dark Spiritual Responsiveness, which takes five hundred years to be its spring, and five hundred years to be its fall. In high antiquity there was a great chwun tree that took eight thousand years for its spring and eight thousand years for its autumn. These are great years. Lately, Peng Zu has become well known for longevity, and hordes seeks to match him at it, is that not just pitiful? That is exactly like the thing that Tang asked Ji about: North of the tundra is the dark sea, the pond of heaven. There is a fish therein that is several thousand miles in width and of unknown length. It is called the Kun. There is a bird up there the name of which is Peng. It's back is like Mt. Tai, and its wings are like thunderheads hanging on the edge of heaven. It beats against an updraft and spirals aloft like an ibex horn to ninety thousand miles, splitting the clouds and vapors, bearing azure heaven on its back and only then heading for the south and its destination which is the Southern Darkness. The marsh quail mocks it saying: "Where does that guy think he is going? I jump up into the air and descend again before going more than a few rods. Flitting around in the thicket -- isn't that the height of flying?!....." Here we have the difference between large and small. They make the same mistake who discover that their knowledge is sufficient to one government office, their behavior fit to be the standard of a county or a shire, their virtue agreeable to one sovereign, and they make the same mistake who gain the trust of one feudal state. Now Master Song Rong would augustly laugh at such as those. For although the whole world might laud him he would not be spurred forth, and although the whole world might condemn him he would not be daunted. He was firmly established in the difference between "the inside" and "the outside." He clearly distinguished between honor and disgrace, and that is all there is to it. He sought nothing whatsoever from others in the world. Nevertheless, there was yet that which had not been firmly established in him. Now take the case of Master Lieh. He could travel by driving the wind. Cool! He would return only after fifteen days. He sought for nothing from those most fortunate. In his case, although he avoided the need to walk, there was yet that upon which he depended. Had it been possible for him to be borne along by the uprightness of Heaven and Earth and to drive before him the distinctions between the six lifebreaths in order to journey through the infinite, then upon what could he be said to depend?! Therefore it is said: "The fully realized person has no self. The godlike person has no merit. The sage has no fame."

Yao offered to cede his dominion over the world to [his master] Xu You, saying: "Should the torch not be put out when the sun and moon rise, would it then not be difficult for it to make things any brighter? Should one continue to irrigate when a timely rain is falling, would it not be hard to make things any wetter? When my master assumes the throne the world will become well ordered, and for now I merely act as a stand-in for him. I find myself greatly lacking! Please take over governing the world."

Xu You replied: "As for you, sir, you govern the world, and the world is indeed already ordered. Should I nevertheless take over for you, would I be doing it for the sake of making a name for myself? But names are the parasites of realities. Should I do something for the sake of a parasite? When the jiaoliao (tailor) bird nests in the dark forest it requires no more than a single branch. When the muskrat drinks from the river it does no more than fill its belly. Go back and relax my lord, I have no use for the world! Even though the cook neglects his kitchen, would the stand-in for the deceased and the chief officiant of the funeral spring over the barrier to do his job for him?"

Jian Wu asked of Lian Shu, saying: "I heard something from Jie Yu, vast and unfitting, it was so far out it never came back! His words shocked me. They were limitless, like the Milky Way! They were greatly spurious! They did not fit the realities of human experience!"

Lian Shu asked: "What did he say?"

Jian Wu replied: "There are godlike people who reside on Mount Miaoguyeh. Their flesh is like ice or snow. They are virginal in their complexions. They do not consume the five grains. They inhale the wind and drink the dew. They are borne about by the clouds and vapors and drive the flying dragons in order to voyage beyond the four seas. When they focus their spirits, they make all creatures safe from illness and give ripeness to the yearly grains. I think he is crazy and do not believe it."

Lian Shu said: "So. There is no way to show the beauty of ornamentation and decoration to the blind. There is no way to give the sound of bells and drums to the deaf. Can it be that there is blindness and deafness only of the body? Now indeed there is blindness of the knowing faculty. The words of that one are beyond you. What a person! What virtue! In the future he will blend together the myriad creatures to form a single unity and so seek order from the midst of chaos in the world. Why would he burden himself by taking up ordinary temporal affairs? That person! No creature can harm him. Should a flood reach even to heaven he would not be drown. Should a great drought parch the earth, melting metals, fusing stones, and scorching earthen hills, he would still not feel the heat. From the linters and tailings left from his creation one could still fabricate a [sage emperor like] Yao or a Shun. Why would such a one as that be willing to concern himself with mere things?!"

A man from Song invested in ceremonial hats as his stock in trade and set out for the state of Yue. The people of Yue crop close their hair and tattoo their bodies and so had no use for his goods. Yao brought order to the people of the world, made smooth the governance of all within the seas, and then went forth to visit the four masters on Mount Miaoguyeh, north of the river Fen. But, sunken in oblivion, he lost his own world therein.

Master Hui told Master Zhuang: "The king of Wei presented me with the seeds of a kind of huge gourd. I planted them. When they were mature the gourds weighed five stone. But if I tried to use them to hold water or sauce, they turned out not to be sturdy enough to permit them to be lifted. If they were sliced in half to form dippers, then they were so flat that they wouldn't hold anything. Isn't that pointlessly large?"

Master Zhuang replied: "My master is indeed maladroit in the use of the great. In the state of Sung there were some people who had a salve that protected against chapping. Generation after generation this family made its livelihood by processing plant fibers. A visitor heard of this medicine and asked to buy the prescription for one hundred pieces of gold. They called the clan together and said: "We have only earned a few pieces of gold in generations of processing fiber for cord. Now in a single morning we can swing a deal for one hundred pieces of gold. Let us sell it!" The visitor obtained it and made it the subject of his consultations with the king of Wu, who was beset by the state of Yue. The king of Wu made the consultant his general. During the winter they fought a naval battle with the state of Yue and gave them a bad defeat. So the king set off a new domain and enfeoffed his consultant. In either case it was a matter of not getting chapped hands. One was ennobled because of it, the other was merely not prevented from continuing to process fibers, so the precise applications were different. Today, my master, you have five-stone gourds. Why don't you consider making wading floats out of them, bind them around your waist, and go floating in the rivers and the lakes? But instead you bemoan their lack of fluid capacity. My master has grown a thicket in his head!"

Master Hui told Master Zhuang: "I have a huge tree, the kind people call a shu tree. Its great trunk is gnarled and twisted and will not line up with a chalk line. Its smaller branches twist and curl and will not line up with compass and square. Plant it by the roadside and carpenters would not even look at it. Your words just now, my master, are vast and useless, just what everybody would cast away."

Master Zhuang replied: "Has my master not seen the weasel? It crouches low to await its prey. East and west it leaps and vaults, yet it cannot avoid things high and low; it gets caught in a spring snare or dies in a net. Now the yak that is as large as a thunderhead hanging on the edge of heaven can truly be called large, however, it cannot catch mice. Today, my master, you have a great tree and you are sore beset because you find it useless. Why do you not plant it in the domain of Not-Having-Anything, in a barren wasteland, and stroll idly by its side, then freely and easily slumber beneath its branches. Its life will not be cut short by hatchet and ax, it is something that no creature will injure. How could anything ever give it a hard time?"