Translation by Nina Correa
Nan Guo Zi Qi (Mr. Intense of a Southern neighborhood) sat alone at his table, looking up at the sky and sighing. He seemed despondent, as though he'd lost an important part of himself.
Yan Cheng Zi You (Mr. Image of a Successful Traveler) stood waiting patiently in front of him, then said:
"Who is it that's sitting here? Can a body really be made to resemble dead wood, and a heart be made to resemble dying embers? Now this lone man sitting at his table isn't the same person who was sitting here a while ago."
Zi Qi said:
"Sitting here, I didn't think it was good to question what was happening, but I'll come up with an answer! At this moment I lost myself - do you know what I mean? You may have heard the music made by people, but not heard the music made by the earth. You may have heard the music made by the earth, but not heard the music made by the heavens."
Zi You replied:
"I'd really appreciate it if you'd explain more about that."
Zi Qi said:
"When the Great Clod (the earth) belches vapors, it's called the wind. That's only the beginning. Then it proceeds to rage and make loud noises through all the valleys and holes on earth. Haven't you ever heard the sounds of the wind blowing? In the awesome elegant mountain forests there are huge trees surrounded by crevices and caves which are like noses, like mouths, like ears, like sockets, like goblets, like mortars, like canals, like sewers. Roaring, screeching, shouting, sucking, wailing, howling, whistling, growling, the headwinds sing "Yoooh!", and the tailwinds sing "Yaaah!" The soft winds contribute the undertones, and the strong winds contribute the overtones. The harsh winds blow through all the empty holes and caves. Haven't you ever been an audience to this harmonious melody, to these peculiar sounding instruments?"
Zi You replied:
"The music produced by the earth uses the many crevices and caves. The music produced by people uses various bamboo instruments. I'd appreciate it if you'd explain more about the music of the heavens."
Zi Qi said:
"It blows on each of the thousands of things differently, but makes each of them follow their own patterns. By themselves they all attain what's right for them, so is there anyone who'd really be able to enslave them?"
Great knowledge concentrates on what's close and vivid.
Small knowledge concentrates on what's far away and obscure.
Big talk is bright and flashy.
Small talk is chattering and scattered.
When sleeping there's a connection with the spirit.
When awake other shapes are revealed.
Connecting and meeting together, each day our hearts and minds compete. We may become apathetic, depressed and secretive. Small fears create worry and concern. Big fears create apathy and seclusion. They shoot out like arrows from a crossbow, trying to take control of what they determine to be Right or Wrong. They kill as easily as autumn turns to winter, using words that vanish in the course of a day. They indulge in their own motivated actions, not being able to turn away from them. Their disgust closes in on them, and they use words that have become as stagnant as sewer water. Nearly dead in their hearts, nothing can cause them to return to seeing the bright side of things. All they experience is happiness/anger, sorrow/pleasure, worry/distress, adaptability/restrictions, stress/laziness, openness/pretense.
Enjoyment can arise from what was once empty, just like mushrooms can be produced by the vapors on the soil. Day and night naturally follow each other, and no one knows how that happens. Enough! Enough already! There's dawn, and there's sunset. They each have their place for creating life!
There is no "other" without a "me." There is no "me" without something to grab hold of. That seems easy enough to understand, but if it's not understood there's no reason to do anything else. It might seem like there's some perfect truth, but what's special can't really be observed clearly. It's possible to have personal beliefs, but not to allow them take an actual form - to have feelings about things but not to create dogma around them.
A hundred bones, nine openings and six organs complete our existence. Which of those do we feel closest to? Do you express joy for all of them? Do you cherish one over another? Don't they all act as your servants? Are any of those servants capable enough to control one of the others? Do any of them give themselves over as a servant and accept another as their ruler? Does a truly perfect ruler exist among them? If we try to establish that kind of hierarchy, their working relationship would become useless and decrease to the point where nothing would work in perfect harmony. Once we've received this body, we don't lose the use of it until we've exhausted it.
Living things destroy each other and make waste of each other. They wear themselves out by galloping all over the place, and nothing is able to stop them. Isn't that sad! After a whole life of battling and fighting, they still don't achieve the success they were reaching for. They've tired themselves out completely with all their battling, and still don't have a clue how to get out of it. That's definitely something to be sad about! What advantage is it for anyone to speak about Immortality? If their shape is so twisted that their minds can't make sense any more, that's really incredibly sad! Are people originally born with those kinds of ridiculous thoughts? Am I the only one who thinks that's ridiculous, or are there others who agree?
If it was meant for everyone to follow a teacher, would there be a single person who'd be without a teacher for a moment? Does the quest for knowledge mean replacing one's true feelings with the teachings of someone else? Fools tend to group together. If you haven't yet succeeded in connecting with your own heart but have a sense of Right and Wrong, that's as silly as thinking you could set out for Yue today and arrive there yesterday. That would be like trying to make something out of nothing. To make something out of nothing - even the Great Yu wouldn't know how to do that. How could one as simple as me be able to follow those instructions!
Speaking isn't merely blowing wind out of our mouths. One who speaks is actually saying something. But what he's intending to say might seem really vague. So what's the point of speaking? What if there were no words? Speaking is thought to be different from the chirping of baby birds. Can words be used to clarify? Can they be used to confuse?
How has Dao become so hidden that there is True and False?
How has speech become so hidden that there is Right and Wrong?
Where is it that Dao doesn't exist?
Which words are there that shouldn't exist?
Dao is hidden in small accomplishments.
Words are hidden in grandiose speeches.
Then we have the Confucian and Mohist ideas of Right and Wrong. What one thinks is Right, the other thinks is Wrong. What one thinks is Wrong, the other thinks is Right. In order to make Right into Wrong, and Wrong into Right - then you'd really have to be sharp-sighted.
Things are merely a That or a This. If you look at something as a That, it can't be seen clearly. If you have knowledge of yourself, others can be understood.
Therefore, it's been said:
"That stems from This, and This is also on account of That."
That and This make comparisons about life with their own theories.
One may compare life to death,
One may compare death to life;
One may compare what's suitable with what's not suitable;
One may compare what's not suitable with what's suitable;
The reason there is Right is because there is Wrong,
The reason there is Wrong is because there is Right.
Therefore, a wise person doesn't follow that course of reasoning, but reflects on what comes from the heavens, using this reasoning:
This is also That.
That is also This.
That has a set of Rights and a set of Wrongs.
This has a set of Rights and a set of Wrongs.
Does that result in there still being a That and a This? Is the result that there is no longer a That and a This? When That and This find nothing to keep them apart - that's referred to as the pivot of Dao. Only when the pivot is in the middle of an unbroken ring can it respond endlessly. What's Right is part of the endless circle. What's Wrong is part of the endless circle.
That's why it's been said:
"You really have to be sharp-sighted."
To wear out your spirit and intelligence trying to unify everything without knowing they're already in harmony is called "three in the morning." What's meant by "three in the morning"? There was a monkey keeper who gave these instructions for feeding nuts to the monkeys: "Give them three in the morning and four at night." The monkeys were all outraged. So he said: "Okay, give them four in the morning and three at night." The monkeys were all happy. The amount they were fed didn't change, but their reactions showing pleasure or anger got them what they wanted. Therefore, a wise person finds harmony with Right and Wrong and relaxes with the equality of the heavens. This is called being able to adapt.
As for Dao, there never were distinctions. Words have never been consistent, so they definitely have limits. I'd like to say something about those limits. There is Left; there is Right. There are personal ethics; there are societal mandates. There is detachment; there are debates. There are conversations; there is one-upmanship. These are called the eight expressions of the heart. What's outside the realm of this world, a wise person leaves open to doubt. What's inside the realm of this world, a wise person will discuss but won't come to definitive conclusions about any of it. About the ancient records of the first kings (historical events), a wise person will come to their own conclusions, but not get into arguments over it. Therefore, even with detachment there is non-detachment. With disagreements, there are no arguments. One might ask: "How can that be?" A wise person holds on to what he believes, whereas everybody else argues trying to make their point.
That's why it's been said: "Those who argue can't see past their own noses."
Magnificent Dao makes no determinations.
Magnificent arguments use no words.
Magnificent compassion is not benevolent.
Magnificent honesty doesn't mediate.
Magnificent courage doesn't cause distress.
Dao that is obvious is not Dao.
Words used in arguments are futile.
Consistent compassion is unsuccessful.
Sincere honesty isn't believed.
Courage which causes distress attains nothing.
Of these five, how many could be correctly followed? Therefore, one who knows when to stop at what they don't know has arrived. Knowing how to argue without words and how to follow Dao without guideposts - it would seem like having the ability to really know something. That would be called self-sufficiency. Poured into, yet not filled up. Flushed out, yet not emptied. Not knowing the place from which anything arises - this would be called preserving a bright light in the darkness.
Nie Que (Cracked and Missing Teeth) asked of Wang Ni (Master of Bewilderment):
"Do you know of anything that everyone would agree is Right?"
"How would I know that!"
"Do you know what you don't know?"
"How would I know that!
"If that's true, then doesn't anyone know anything?"
"How would I know that! Nevertheless, I'll try to say something about it. How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know? Now let me ask you some questions. If a person slept in a damp place, they'd get rheumatism in their backs and walk bent over. Would it be the same for an eel? If a person lived in a tree, they'd tremble with fear and shake uncontrollably. Would it be the same for a monkey? Of those three, which knows the right place to make a home? People eat herbivorous animals. Elks and deer eat grass and hay. Centipedes taste sweet to snakes. Hawks and crows have a taste for mice. Of those four, which knows what tastes best? Male monkeys find female monkeys attractive. Stags mate with does. Eels and fish mate in the water. Mao Qiang and Li Ji were considered beautiful by most people, but when fish saw them they'd plunge deep into the water, and if birds saw them they'd soar high up into the sky, and if deer saw them they'd gallop quickly away. Of those four, which knows the most about feminine attractiveness? From my point of view, the principles of benevolence and righteousness, and the ways of Right and Wrong are enmeshed in confusion and chaos. How would I be able to tell them apart!"
Ni Que said:
"If you don't know what's beneficial or harmful, then a fully achieved person wouldn't know what's beneficial or harmful either!"
Wang Ni replied:
"A fully achieved person is like a spirit! The great marshes could be set on fire, but she wouldn't feel hot. The rivers in China could all freeze over, but she wouldn't feel cold. Thunder could suddenly echo through the mountains, wind could cause a tsunami in the ocean, but she wouldn't be startled. A person like that could ride through the sky on the floating clouds, straddle the sun and moon, and travel beyond the four seas. Neither death nor life can cause changes within her, and there's little reason for her to even consider benefit or harm."
"Suppose we have an argument with each other. If you beat me instead of me beating you, are you necessarily Right and I'm Wrong? If I beat you instead of you beating me, am I necessarily Right and you're Wrong? Must one of us be Right, and the other Wrong? Could both of us be Right, and both of us be Wrong? Since neither of us can come to an agreement on that, then other people would be impervious to our muddled ignorance. Should we ask someone else to decide who's Right? What if we ask someone who agrees with you? Since he already agrees with you, how can he make the decision! What if we ask someone who agrees with me? Since he already agrees with me, how can he make the decision! What if we ask someone who disagrees with both of us? Since he already disagrees with both of us, how can he make the decision! What if we ask someone who agrees with both of us? Since he already agrees with both of us, how can he make the decision! Since that's so, then you and I and others wouldn't be able to come to any agreement. Do we depend on other people's opinions?
"Each changing tone of sound might be waiting for another sound to reverberate with, or it might not seem to be waiting for anything, but they're harmonized within the scope of the heavens. In that way they spread out gracefully then fade away after running their course. What's meant by being 'harmonized within the scope of the heavens?' One could say: Right may not be Right; So may not be So. If Right was no different from Non-Right, then there'd be no reason for arguments about what was Right and what was Non-Right. If So was no different from Non-So, then there'd be no reason for arguments about what was So and what was Non-So. Forget the passage of time; forget righteousness. Vibrate with boundlessness. In that way totally dwell in boundlessness."