Chuang Tzu

I (version 1). Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P'u river, the king of Ch'u sent two officials to go and announce to him: "I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm."

Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, "I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch'u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?"

"It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud," said the two officials.

Chuang Tzu said, "Go away! I'll drag my tail in the mud!"

From: "Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings," translated by Burton Watson, NY:Columbia Univ. Press, (1964), pg 109.

I (version 2). Prince Wei (B.C. 338-327) of the Ch'u State, hearing of Chuang Tzu's good report, sent messengers to him, bearing gifts, and inviting him to become Prime Minister. At this Chuang Tzu smiled and said to the messengers, "You offer me great wealth and a proud position indeed; but have you never seen a sacrificial ox:-When after being fattened up for several years, it is decked with embroidered trappings and led to the altar, would it not willingly then change places with some uncared for pigling:

.........Begone: Defile me not! I would rather disport myself to my own enjoyment in the mire than be slave to the ruler of a State. I will never take office. Thus I shall remain free to follow my own inclinations."

From "Chuang Tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer," translated by Herbert A Giles, (Professor of Chinese, Cambridge U.) Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, Limited. (1926), pg.viii.

I (version 3). Some prince having invited Chuang Tzu to enter his service, Chuang Tzu said in reply to the envoy, "Sir, have you ever noticed a sacrificial ox? It is bedecked with ribbons and fares sumptuously. But when it comes to be slaughtered for the temple, would it not gladly exchange places with some neglected calf:"

In a similar vein, "When Chuang Tzu was about to die, his disciples expressed a wish to give him a splendid funeral. But Chuang Tzu said, "With Heaven and Earth for my coffin and shell; with the sun, moon, and stars as my burial regalia; and with all creation to escort me to the grave, - are not my funeral paraphernalia ready to hand?"
....
"We fear," argued the disciples, "lest the carrion kite should eat the body of our Master"; to which Chuang Tzu replied, "above ground I shall be food for kites; below I shall be food for mole-crickets and ants. Why rob one to feed the other?"
.....
"If you adopt, as absolute, a standard of evenness which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely even. If you adopt, as absolute, a criterion of right which is so only relatively, your results will not be absolutely right. Those who trust to their senses become slaves to objective existences. Those alone who are guided by their intuitions find the true standard. So far are the senses less reliable than the intuitions. Yet fools trust to their senses to know what is good for mankind, with alas! but external results"

From "Chuang Tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer," translated by Herbert A Giles, (Professor of Chinese, Cambridge U.) Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, Limited. (1926), pg.434-436.


II. Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"

Hui Tzu said, "You're not a fish, how do you know what fish enjoy?"

Chuang Tzu said, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

Hui Tzu said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, certainly you are not a fish-so that proves that you don't know what fish enjoy!"

Chuang Tzu said, "Let's go back to the original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy-so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here by the Hao."

From: "Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings," translated by Burton Watson, NY:Columbia Univ. Press, (1964), pg 109.

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Last updated 24 May 1999

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