Knowledge had rambled northwards to the region of the Dark
Water, where he ascended the height of Imperceptible Slope, when
it happened that he met with Dumb Inaction . Knowledge addressed
him, saying, 'I wish to ask you some questions:--By what process
of thought and anxious consideration do we get to know the Tâo?
Where should we dwell and what should we do to find our rest in
the Tâo? From what point should we start and what path should we
pursue to make the Tâo our own?' He asked these three questions,
but Dumb Inaction gave him no reply. Not only did he not answer,
but he did not know how to answer.
Knowledge, disappointed by the fruitlessness of his questions,
returned to the south of the Bright Water, and ascended the
height of the End of Doubt where he saw Heedless Blurter, to
whom he put the same questions, and who replied, 'Ah! I know,
and will tell you.' But while he was about to speak, he forgot
what he wanted to say.
Knowledge, (again) receiving no answer to his questions,
returned to the palace of the Tî, where he saw Hwang-Tî, and put
the questions to him. Hwang-Tî said, 'To exercise no thought and
no anxious consideration is the first step towards knowing the
Tâo; to dwell nowhere and do nothing is the first step towards
resting in the Tâo; to start from nowhere and pursue no path is
the first step towards making the Tâo your own.'
Knowledge then asked Hwang-Tî, saying, 'I and you know this;
those two did not know it; which of us is right?' The reply was,
'Dumb Inaction is truly right; Heedless Blurter has an
appearance of being so; I and you are not near being so. (As it
is said), "Those who know (the Tâo) do not speak of it; those
who speak of it do not know it;" and "Hence the sage conveys his
instructions without the use of speech." The Tâo cannot be made
ours by constraint; its characteristics will not come to us (at
our call). Benevolence may be practised; Righteousness may be
partially attended to; by Ceremonies men impose on one another.
Hence it is said, "When the Tâo was lost, its Characteristics
appeared. When its Characteristics were lost, Benevolence
appeared. When Benevolence was lost, Righteousness appeared.
When Righteousness was lost, Ceremonies appeared. Ceremonies are
but (the unsubstantial) flowers of the Tâo, and the commencement
of disorder." Hence (also it is further said), "He who practises
the Tâo, daily diminishes his doing. He diminishes it and again
diminishes it, till he arrives at doing nothing. Having arrived
at this non-inaction, there is nothing that he does not do."
Here now there is something, a regularly fashioned utensil;--if
you wanted to make it return to the original condition of its
materials, would it not be difficult to make it do so? Could any
but the Great Man accomplish this easily?
'Life is the follower of death, and death is the predecessor of
life; but who knows the Arranger (of this connexion between
them)? The life is due to the collecting of the breath. When
that is collected, there is life; when it is dispersed, there is
death. Since death and life thus attend on each other, why
should I account (either of) them an evil?
'Therefore all things go through one and the same experience.
(Life) is accounted beautiful because it is spirit-like and
wonderful, and death is accounted ugly because of its foetor and
putridity. But the foetid and putrid is transformed again into
the spirit-like and wonderful, and the spirit-like and wonderful
is transformed again into the foetid and putrid. Hence it is
said, "All under the sky there is one breath of life, and
therefore the sages prized that unity,"'
Knowledge said to Hwang-Tî, 'I asked Dumb Inaction, and he did
not answer me. Not only did he not answer me, but he did not
know how to answer me. I asked Heedless Blurter, and while he
wanted to tell me, he yet did not do so. Not only did he not
tell me, but while he wanted to tell me, he forgot all about my
questions. Now I have asked you, and you knew (all about
them);--why (do you say that) you are not near doing so?' Hwang-Tî
replied, 'Dumb Inaction was truly right, because he did not know
the thing. Heedless Blurter was nearly right, because he forgot
it. I and you are not nearly right, because we know it.'
Heedless Blurter heard of (all this), and considered that Hwang-Tî
knew how to express himself (on the subject).
(The operations of) Heaven and Earth proceed in the most
admirable way, but they say nothing about them; the four seasons
observe the clearest laws, but they do not discuss them; all
things have their complete and distinctive constitutions, but
they say nothing about them.
The sages trace out the admirable operations of Heaven and
Earth, and reach to and understand the distinctive constitutions
of all things; and thus it is that the Perfect Man (is said to)
do nothing and the Greatest Sage to originate nothing, such
language showing that they look to Heaven and Earth as their
model. Even they, with their spirit-like and most exquisite
intelligence, as well as all the tribes that undergo their
transformations, the dead and the living, the square and the
round, do not understand their root and origin, but nevertheless
they all from the oldest time by it preserve their being.
Vast as is the space included within the six cardinal points, it
all (and all that it contains) lies within (this twofold root of
Heaven and Earth); small as is an autumn hair, it is indebted to
this for the completion of its form. All things beneath the sky,
now rising, now descending, ever continue the same through this.
The Yin and Yang, and the four seasons revolve and move by it,
each in its proper order. Now it seems to be lost in obscurity,
but it continues; now it seems to glide away, and have no form,
but it is still spirit-like. All things are nourished by it,
without their knowing it. This is what is called the Root and
Origin; by it we may obtain a view of what we mean by Heaven.
Nieh Khüeh asked about the Tâo from Phei-î who replied,' If you
keep your body as it should be, and look only at the one thing,
the Harmony of Heaven will come to you. Call in your knowledge,
and make your measures uniform, and the spiritual (belonging to
you) will come and lodge with you; the Attributes (of the Tâo)
will be your beauty, and the Tâo (itself) will be your
dwelling-place. You will have the simple look of a new-born
calf, and will not seek to know the cause (of your being what
you are).' Phei-î had not finished these words when the other
dozed off into a sleep.
Phei-î was greatly pleased, and walked away, singing as he went,
Like stump of rotten tree his frame,
Like lime when slaked his mind became. Real is his wisdom,
Nor cares what's hidden to pursue. O dim and dark his aimless
mind! No one from him can counsel find. What sort of man is he?'
Shun asked (his attendant) Khäng, saying, 'Can I get the Tâo and
hold it as mine?' The reply was, 'Your body is not your own to
hold; how then can you get and hold the Tâo?' Shun resumed, 'If
my body be not mine to possess and hold, who holds it?' Khäng
said, 'It is the bodily form entrusted to you by Heaven and
Earth. Life is not yours to hold. It is the blended harmony (of
the Yin and Yang), entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth. Your
nature, constituted as it is, is not yours to hold. It is
entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth to act in accordance with
it. Your grandsons and sons are not yours to hold. They are the
exuviae entrusted to you by Heaven and Earth. Therefore when we
walk, we should not know where we are going; when we stop and
rest, we should not know what to occupy ourselves with when we
eat, we should not know the taste of our food;--all is done by
the strong Yang influence of Heaven and Earth. How then can you
get (the Tâo), and hold it as your own?'
Confucius asked Lao Tan, saying, 'Being at leisure to-day, I
venture to ask you about the Perfect Tâo.' Lâo Tan replied, 'You
must, as by fasting and vigil, clear and purge your mind, wash
your spirit white as snow, and sternly repress your knowledge.
The subject of the Tâo is deep, and difficult to describe;--I
will give you an outline of its simplest attributes.
'The Luminous was produced from the Obscure; the Multiform from
the Unembodied; the Spiritual from the Tâo; and the bodily from
the seminal essence. After this all things produced one another
from their bodily organisations. Thus it is that those which
have nine apertures are born from the womb, and those with eight
But their coming leaves no trace, and their going no monument;
they enter by no door; they dwell in no apartment:--they are in
a vast arena reaching in all directions. They who search for and
find (the Tâo) in this are strong in their limbs, sincere and
far-reaching in their thinking, acute in their hearing, and
clear in their seeing. They exercise their minds without being
toiled; they respond to everything aright without regard to
place or circumstance. Without this heaven would not be high,
nor earth broad; the sun and moon would not move, and nothing
would flourish:--such is the operation of the Tâo.
'Moreover, the most extensive knowledge does not necessarily
know it; reasoning will not make men wise in it;--the sages have
decided against both these methods. However you try to add to
it, it admits of no increase; however you try to take from it,
it admits of no diminution;--this is what the sages maintain
about it. How deep it is, like the sea! How grand it is,
beginning again when it has come to an end! If it carried along
and sustained all things, without being overburdened or weary,
that would be like the way of the superior man, merely an
external operation; when all things go to it, and find their
dependence in it;--this is the true character of the Tâo.
'Here is a man (born) in one of the middle states. He feels
himself independent both of the Yin and Yang, and dwells between
heaven and earth; only for the present a mere man, but he will
return to his original source. Looking at him in his origin,
when his life begins, we have (but) a gelatinous substance in
which the breath is collecting. Whether his life be long or his
death early, how short is the space between them! It is but the
name for a moment of time, insufficient to play the part of a
good Yâo or a bad Kieh in.
'The fruits of trees and creeping plants have their distinctive
characters, and though the relationships of men, according to
which they are classified, are troublesome, the sage, when he
meets with them, does not set himself in opposition to them, and
when he has passed through them, he does not seek to retain
them; he responds to them in their regular harmony according to
his virtue; and even when he accidentally comes across any of
them, he does so according to the Tâo. It was thus that the Tîs
flourished, thus that the kings arose.
'Men's life between heaven and earth is like a white colt's
passing a crevice, and suddenly disappearing. As with a plunge
and an effort they all come forth; easily and quietly they all
enter again. By a transformation they live, and by another
transformation they die. Living things are made sad (by death),
and mankind grieve for it; but it is (only) the removal of the
bow from its sheath, and the emptying the natural satchel of its
contents. There may be some confusion amidst the yielding to the
change; but the intellectual and animal souls are taking their
leave, and the body will follow them:--This is the Great
'That the bodily frame came from incorporeity, and will return
to the same, is what all men in common know, and what those who
are on their way to (know) it need not strive for. This is what
the multitudes of men discuss together. Those whose (knowledge)
is complete do not discuss it;--such discussion shows that their
(knowledge) is not complete. Even the most clear-sighted do not
meet (with the Tâo);--it is better to be silent than to reason
about it. The Tâo cannot be heard with the ears;--it is better
to shut the ears than to try and hear it. This is what is called
the Great Attainment.'
Tung-kwo Dze asked Kwang-dze, saying, 'Where is what you call
the Tâo to be found?' Kwang-dze replied, 'Everywhere.' The other
said, 'Specify an instance of it. That will be more
satisfactory.' 'It is here in this ant.' 'Give a lower
instance.' 'It is in this panic grass.' 'Give me a still lower
instance.' 'It is in this earthenware tile.' 'Surely that is the
lowest instance?' 'It is in that excrement.' To this Tung-kwo
Dze gave no reply.
Kwang-dze said, 'Your questions, my master, do not touch the
fundamental point (of the Tâo). They remind me of the questions
ad-dressed by the superintendents of the market to the inspector
about examining the value of a pig by treading on it, and
testing its weight as the foot descends lower and lower on the
body. You should not specify any particular thing. There is not
a single thing without (the Tâo). So it is with the Perfect Tâo.
And if we call it the Great (Tâo), it is just the same. There
are the three terms,--"Complete," "All-embracing," "the Whole."
These names are different, but the reality (sought in them) is
the same referring to the One thing.
'Suppose we were to try to roam about in the palace of
No-where;--when met there, we might discuss (about the subject)
without ever coming to an end. Or suppose we were to be together
in (the region of) Non-action;--should we say that (the Tâo was)
Simplicity and Stillness? or Indifference and Purity? or Harmony
and Ease? My will would be aimless. If it went nowhere, I should
not know where it had got to; if it went and came again, I
should not know where it had stopped; if it went on going and
coming, I should not know when the process would end. In vague
uncertainty should I be in the vastest waste. Though I entered
it with the greatest knowledge, I should not know how
inexhaustible it was. That which makes things what they are has
not the limit which belongs to things, and when we speak of
things being limited, we mean that they are so in themselves.
(The Tâo) is the limit of the unlimited, and the boundlessness
of the unbounded.
'We speak of fulness and emptiness; of withering and decay. It
produces fulness and emptiness, but is neither fulness nor
emptiness; it produces withering and decay, but is neither
withering nor decay. It produces the root and branches, but is
neither root nor branch; it produces accumulation and
dispersion, but is itself neither accumulated nor dispersed.'
A-ho Kan and Shän Näng studied together under Läo-lung Kî. Shän
Näng was leaning forward on his stool, having shut the door and
gone to sleep in the day time. At midday A-ho Kan pushed open
the door and entered, saying, 'Lâo-lung is dead.' Shän Näng
leant forward on his stool, laid hold of his staff and rose.
Then he laid the staff aside with a clash, laughed and said,
�That Heaven knew how cramped and mean, how arrogant and
assuming I was, and therefore he has cast me off, and is dead.
Now that there is no Master to correct my heedless words, it is
simply for me to die!' Yen Kang, (who had come in) to condole,
heard these words, and said, 'It is to him who embodies the Tâo
that the superior men everywhere cling. Now you who do not
understand so much as the tip of an autumn hair of it, not even
the ten-thousandth part of the Tâo, still know how to keep
hidden your heedless words about it and die;--how much more
might he who embodied the Tâo do so! We look for it, and there
is no form; we hearken for it, and there is no sound. When men
try to discuss it, we call them dark indeed. When they discuss
the Tâo, they misrepresent it.'
Hereupon Grand Purity asked Infinitude, saying, 'Do you know the
Tâo?' 'I do not know it,' was the reply. He then asked
Do-nothing, Who replied, 'I know it.' 'Is your knowledge of it
determined by various points?' 'It is.' 'What are they?'
Do-nothing said, 'I know that the Tâo may be considered noble,
and may be considered mean, that it may be bound and compressed,
and that it may be dispersed and diffused. These are the marks
by which I know it.' Grand Purity took the words of those two,
and asked No-beginning, saying, 'Such were their replies; which
was right? and which was wrong? Infinitude's saying that he did
not know it? or Do-nothing's saying that he knew it?'
No-beginning said, 'The "I do not know it" was profound, and the
"I know it" was shallow. The former had reference to its
internal nature; the latter to its external conditions. Grand
Purity looked up and sighed, saying, 'Is "not to know it" then
to know it? And is "to know it" not to know it? But who knows
that he who does not know it (really) knows it?' No-beginning
replied, 'The Tâo cannot be heard; what can be heard is not It.
The Tâo cannot be seen; what can be seen is not It. The Tâo
cannot be expressed in words; what can be expressed in words is
not It. Do we know the Formless which gives form to form? In the
same way the Tâo does not admit of being named.'
No-beginning (further) said, 'If one ask about the Tâo and
another answer him, neither of them knows it. Even the former
who asks has never learned anything about the Tâo. He asks what
does not admit of being asked, and the latter answers where
answer is impossible. When one asks what does not admit of being
asked, his questioning is in (dire) extremity. When one answers
where answer is impossible, he has no internal knowledge of the
subject. When people without such internal knowledge wait to be
questioned by others in dire extremity, they show that
externally they see nothing of space and time, and internally
know nothing of the Grand Commencement. Therefore they cannot
cross over the Khwän-lun, nor roam in the Grand Void.'
Starlight asked Non-entity, saying, 'Master, do you exist? or do
you not exist?' He got no answer to his question, however, and
looked stedfastly to the appearance of the other, which was that
of a deep void. All day long he looked to it, but could see
nothing; he listened for it, but could hear nothing; he clutched
at it, but got hold of nothing. Starlight then said, 'Perfect!
Who can attain to this? I can (conceive the ideas of) existence
and non-existence, but I cannot (conceive the ideas of)
non-existing non-existence, and still there be a non-existing
existence. How is it possible to reach to this?'
The forger of swords for the Minister of War had reached the age
of eighty, and had not lost a hair's-breadth of his ability. The
Minister said to him, 'You are indeed skilful, Sir. Have you any
method that makes you so?' The man said, 'Your servant has
(always) kept to his work. When I was twenty, I was fond of
forging swords. I looked at nothing else. I paid no attention to
anything but swords. By my constant practice of it, I came to be
able to do the work without any thought of what I was doing. By
length of time one acquires ability at any art; and how much
more one who is ever at work on it! What is there which does not
depend on this, and succeed by it?'
Zän Khiû asked Kung-nî, saying, 'Can it be known how it was
before heaven and earth?' The reply was, 'It can. It was the
same of old as now.' Zän Khiû asked no more and withdrew. Next
day, however, he had another interview, and said, 'Yesterday I
asked whether it could be known how it was before heaven and
earth, and you, Master, said, "It can. As it is now, so it was
of old." Yesterday, I seemed to understand you clearly, but
to-day it is dark to me. I venture to ask you for an explanation
of this.' Kung-nî said, 'Yesterday you seemed to understand me
clearly, because your own spiritual nature had anticipated my
reply. Today it seems dark to you, for you are in an unspiritual
mood, and are trying to discover the meaning. (In this matter)
there is no old time and no present; no beginning and no ending.
Could it be that there were grandchildren and children before
there were (other) grandchildren and children?
Zän Khiû had not made any reply, when Kung-nî went on, 'Let us
have done. There can be no answering (on your part). We cannot
with life give life to death; we cannot with death give death to
life. Do death and life wait (for each other)? There is that
which contains them both in its one comprehension. Was that
which was produced before Heaven and Earth a thing? That which
made things and gave to each its character was not itself a
thing. Things came forth and could not be before things, as if
there had (previously) been things;--as if there had been things
(producing one another) without end. The love of the sages for
others, and never coming to an end, is an idea taken from this.'
Yen Yüan asked Kung-nî, saying, 'Master, I have heard you say,
"There should be no demonstration of welcoming; there should be
no movement to meet;"--I venture to ask in what way this
affection of the mind may be shown.' The reply was, 'The
ancients, amid (all) external changes, did not change
internally; now-a-days men change internally, but take no note
of external changes. When one only notes the changes of things,
himself continuing one and the same, he does not change. How
should there be (a difference between) his changing and not
changing? How should he put himself in contact with (and come
under the influence of) those external changes? He is sure,
however, to keep his points of contact with them from being
many. The park of Shih-wei, the garden of Hwang-Tî, the palace
of the Lord of Yü, and the houses of Thang and Wû;--(these all
were places in which this was done). But the superior men (so
called, of later days), such as the masters of the Literati and
of Mohism, were bold to attack each other with their
controversies; and how much more so are the men of the present
day! Sages in dealing with others do not wound them; and they
who do not wound others cannot be wounded by them. Only he whom
others do not injure is able to welcome and meet men.
'Forests and marshes make me joyful and glad; but before the joy
is ended, sadness comes and succeeds to it. When sadness and joy
come, I cannot prevent their approach; when they go, I cannot
retain them. How sad it is that men should only be as
lodging-houses for things, (and the emotions which they excite)!
They know what they meet, but they do not know what they do not
meet; they use what power they have, but they cannot be strong
where they are powerless. Such ignorance and powerlessness is
what men cannot avoid. That they should try to avoid what they
cannot avoid, is not this also sad? Perfect speech is to put
speech away; perfect action is to put action away; to digest all
knowledge that is known is a thing to be despised.'