excerpts from Chuang Tzu

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou
(personal name of Chuang Tzu),
dreamt I was a butterfly,
fluttering hither and thither,
to all intents and purposes a butterfly.

I was conscious only of my happiness
as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou.

Soon I awaked, and there

I was, veritably myself again.

Now I do not know whether
I was then a man dreaming
I was a butterfly, or
whether I am now a butterfly,
dreaming I am a man.


Between a man and a butterfly
there is necessarily a distinction.

The transition is called
the transformation of material things


How do I know that
the dead do not regret
their previous longing for life?

One who dreams of drinking wine
may in the morning weep;
one who dreams weeping may
in the morning go out to hunt.


During our dreams
we do not know
we are dreaming.

We may even dream
of interpreting a dream.

Only on waking do we know
it was a dream.


Only after the great awakening
will we realize that
this is the great dream.

And yet fools think they are awake,
presuming to know that
they are rulers or herdsmen.

How dense!


You and Confucius are both dreaming,
and I who say you are a dream
am also a dream.

Such is my tale.


It will probably be called preposterous,
but after ten thousand generations
there may be a great sage
who will be able to explain it,
a trivial interval equivalent
to the passage from morning to night


Do the heaven’s revolve?

Does the earth stand still?

Do the sun and the moon contend
for their positions?


Who has the time to keep them all moving?
Is there some mechanical device
that keeps them going automatically?

Or do they merely continue to revolve,
inevitably, of their own inertia?


Do the clouds make rain?

Or is it the rain that makes the clouds?

What makes it descend so copiously?

Who is it that has the leisure
to devote himself,
with such abandoned glee,
to making these things happen?


The sage has the sun
and the moon by his side.

He grasps the universe
under his arm.

He blends everything
into a harmonious whole,
casts aside whatever is
confused or obscured,and
regards the humble as honorable.

While the multitude toil,
he seems to be stupid and
non-discriminative.

He blends the disparities of
ten thousand years
into one complete purity.


All things are blended like this
and mutually involve each other.


The universe is the unity of all things.
If one recognizes his identity
with this unity, then
the parts of his body mean
no more to him than so much dirt,
and death and life,
end and beginning,
disturb his tranquillity
no more than the succession
of day and night.

The mind of the perfect man
is like a mirror.
It does not lean
forward or backward
in response to things.
It responds to things but
conceals nothing of its own.


Therefore it is
able to deal with things
without injury to its reality.


I do my utmost to attain emptiness;

I hold firmly to stillness.

The myriad creatures all rise together

And I watch their return.

The teaming creatures

All return to their separated roots.

Returning to one’s is roots
is known as stillness.


This is what is meant by returning
to one’s destiny.


Returning to one’s destiny
is known as the constant.


Knowledge of the constant
is known as discernment.


Woe to him who wilfully innovates

While ignorant of the constant,


But should one act
from knowledge of the constant

One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,

Kingliness to heaven,

Heaven to the way,

The way to perpetuity,

And to the end of one’s days
one will meet with no danger.


The universe gives me my body
so that I may be carried;
my life so I may toil;
my old age
so I may repose, and
my death so I may rest.


To regard life as good is the way
to regard death as good.


A boat may be hidden in a creek
or a mountain in a lake.

These may be said to be safe.

But at midnight a strong man may come
and carry it away on his back.


An ignorant person does not know
that even when the hiding of things,
large or small, is perfectly well done,
still something will escape you.


But if the universe is hidden
in the universe itself, then
there can be no escape from it.

This is the great truth
of things in general.


We posses our body by chance
and we are already pleased with it.

If our physical bodies went through
ten thousand transformations without end,
how incomparable would this joy be!


Therefore the sage roams freely
in the realm in which nothing
can escape and all endures.


Those who regard
dying a premature death,
getting old, and the beginning
and the end of life as equally good
are followed by others.


How much more is that
to which all things belong and
on which the whole process
of transformation depends?


The five colors make man’s eyes blind;

The five notes make his ears deaf;

The five tastes injure his palate;

Riding and hunting

Make his mind
go wild with excitement;

Goods hard to come by

Serve to hinder his progress.


Hence the sage is For the belly

Not for the eye.

Therefore he discards the one
and fills the other.


How does the true man of Tao

Walk through walls without obstruction,

Stand in fire without being burnt?


Not because of cunning

Or daring;

Not because he has learned,

But because he has unlearned.


All that is limited by form,
semblance, sound, color,
Is called object.

Among them all, man alone
Is more than an object.


Though, like objects,
he has form and semblance,

He is not limited to form.

He is more.

He can attain to formlessness.


When he is beyond form and semblance,

Beyond “this” and “that,”

Where is the comparison

With another object?

Where is the conflict?

What can stand in his way?


He will rest in his eternal place

Which is no-place.

He will be hidden
In his own unfathomable secret.

His nature sinks to its root

In the One.

His vitality, his power

Hide in the Tao.


When he is all one

There is no flaw in him

By which a wedge can enter.


So a drunken man falling

Out of a wagon,
Is bruised but not destroyed.

His bones are like
the bones of other men,

But his fall is different.

His spirit is entire.

He is not aware
of getting into a wagon
or falling out of one.

Life and death are nothing to him.

He knows no alarm, he meets obstacles

Without thought, without care,

Takes them without knowing
they are there.


If there is such security in wine,

How much more in Tao.

The wise man is hidden in Tao.

Nothing can touch him.


Shade said to Shadow,

“A little while ago,
you were moving;
and now you are
standing still.

A little while ago,
you were sitting down;
and now you are getting up.

Why all this indecision?”

Shadow replied,

“Don’t I have to depend
on others to be what I am?

Don’t others have to depend on
something else to be what they are?

My dependence is like that of the snake
on his skin or of the cicada on his wings.

How can I tell why I do this,
or why I do that?”


Among the ancients,
knowledge was very deep.

It reached back to the time
when nothing existed.

It was so deep, so complete,
that nothing could be added to it.

Then came men who
distinguished between things
but did not give them names.

Later they labeled them but did not
choose between right and wrong.

When right and wrong appeared,

Tao declined.


With the fall of Tao, desire arose.

Is there really rise and fall?


When goodness shines forth,
the outward appearances are forgotten.

Men do not forget what ought to be forgotten,
but forget what ought not be forgotten.

This is forgetfulness indeed!


Therefore, the sage lets everything
pass before his mind.

To him learning is something added,
conventions are like glue,
morality is a bond and skills are for trade.

The sage does not make plans, so
what use has he for learning?

He does not make divisions, so
what use has he for glue?

He lacks nothing, so
what use has he for morality?

He has nothing to sell, so
what use has he for trade?

His not needing these four things
is a gift from heaven.

This gift is his heavenly food.

Since he is fed by heaven,
what use has he for men?

He has the appearance of a man
but not the desires of a man.

He has the appearance of a man,
so he associates with men.

He does not have the desires of a man,
so he is not concerned with right or wrong.


How infinitely small is that
which makes him a man!

How infinitely great is that
which makes him perfect in heaven!


Yen Hui said, “I am making progress.”

Confucius asked, “In what way?”

Yen Hui said, “I have given up
doing good and being right.”

Confucius said, “Very good,
but that is not quite enough.”

Another day, Yen Hui saw Confucius
and said, “I am making progress.”

Confucius asked, “In what way?”
Yen Hui said, “I have given up
ceremony and music.”

Confucius said, “Very good,
but that is not quite enough.”

Another day, Yen Hui saw Confucius again
and said, “I am making progress.”

Confucius asked, “In what way?”

Yen Hui said, “I just sit and forget.”

Confucius was startled and asked,
“What do you mean by sitting and forgetting?”

Yen Hui said, “I am not attached to the body
and I give up any idea of knowing.

By freeing myself from the body and mind,
I become one with the infinite.

This is what I mean by sitting and forgetting.”

Confucius said,
“When there is oneness,
there are no preferences.
When there is change,
there is no constancy.
If you have really attained this,
then let me become your pupil.”


Suppose a boat is crossing a river
and another boat, an empty one,
is about to collide with it.

Even an irritable man
would not lose his temper.

But suppose there was someone
in the second boat.

Then the occupant of the first
would shout to him to keep clear.

And if he did not hear the first time,
nor even when called to three times,
bad language would inevitably follow.

In the first case there was no anger,
in the second there was–
because in the first case
the boat was empty,
in the second
it was occupied.

And so it is with man.
If he could only pass empty through life,
who would be able to injure him?


Starlight asked Non-Being:
“Master, are you? Or are you not?”

Since he received no answer whatever,
Starlight set himself to watch for Non-Being.

He waited to see if Non-Being
would put in an appearance.

He kept his gaze fixed on the deep Void,
hoping to catch a glimpse of Non-Being.

All day long he looked, and he saw nothing.
He listened, but heard nothing.

He reached out to grasp,
and grasped nothing.

Then Starlight exclaimed at last:

“This is IT!”

“This is the furthest yet!

Who can reach it?

I can comprehend
the absence of Being.

But who can comprehend
the absence of Nothing?

If now, on top of all this,

Non-Being IS,

Who can comprehend it?”


When he is all one,
There is no flaw in him

By which a wedge can enter.


My Master said:
That which acts on all
and meddles in none–is heaven

The Kingly Man realizes this,
hides it in his heart,

Grows boundless, wide-minded,
draws all to himself.

And so he lets the gold lie
hidden in the mountain,
leaves the pearl lying in the deep.

Goods and possessions
are no gain in his eyes,

He stays far from wealth and honor.

Long life is no ground for joy,
nor early death for sorrow.

Success is not for him
to be proud of, failure is no shame.

Had he all the world’s power
he would not hold it as his own.

If he conquered everything
he would not take it to himself.

His glory is in knowing that
all things come together in One
And life and death are equal.


Duke Huan was reading
a book in the hall.
Wheelwright Pian,
who had been chiseling
a wheel in the courtyard below,
set down his tools and climbed the stairs
to ask Duke Huan,

“may I ask what words are in the book
Your Grace is reading?”

“The words of sages.”
the Duke responded.

“Are these sages alive?”

“They are already dead”

“That means you are reading the dregs of
long gone men, doesn’t it?”

Duke Huan said
“How does a wheelwright get to have
opinions on the books I read?
If you can explain yourself, 
I’ll let it pass otherwise, it’s death.”

W’heelwright Pian said
”In my case I see things

in terms of my own work.

When I chisel at a wheel,
if I go slow the chisel slides
and does not stay put;
if I hurry, it jams and
doesn’t move properly.

When it is neither
too slow nor too fast
I can feel it in my hand
and respond to it from my heart.

My mouth cannot describe it in words
but there is something there
I cannot teach it to my son
and my son cannot learn it from me.

So I have gone on for seventy years,
growing old chiseling wheels.

The men of old died in possession
of what could not transmit.

So it follows that what you are reading
is their dregs.”


When Chuang Tzu’s wife died and
Hui Shi came to convey his condolences,
he found Chuang Tzu squatting
with his knees out, drumming on a pan
and singing.

”You lived with her
she raised your children,
and you grew old together”,

Hui Shi said,
“Not weeping when she died
would have been bad enough.
Aren’t you going too far
by drumming on a pan and singing ?”

No,” Chuang Tzu said,
“when she first died, how could
I have escaped feeling the loss?

Then I looked back
to the beginning
before she had life.
Not only before she had life
but before she had form.
Not only before she had form,
but before she had vital energy.

In this confused amorphous realm,
something changed and
vital energy appeared,
-when the vital energy was changed,

form appeared; with changes in form,
life began.

Now there is another change
bringing death.
This is like the progression
of the four seasons
of spring and fall,
winter and summer.

Here she was lying down
to sleep in a huge room and
I followed her sobbing and wailing.

When I realized my actions showed
I hadn’t understood destiny,
I stopped.”


When Chuang Tzu was about to die,
his disciples wanted to bury him
in a well-appointed tomb.

Chuang Tzu said,
”I have the sky and the earth
for inner and outer coffins,
the sun and the moon for jade disks
the stars for pearls and
the ten thousand things
for farewell gifts.
Isn’t the paraphernalia
for my burial adequate
without adding anything?”

”We are afraid the crows and kites
will eat you master,” a disciple said.

“Above ground, I will be eaten by
crows and kites;
below ground by ants.
You are robbing from the one
to give to the other.
Why play favorites! ”


Hui Shi said to Chuang Tzu,

“I have a large tree,
of the sort people
call a shu tree.
Its trunk is too gnarled
for measuring lines
to be applied to it,
its branches are too twisted
for use with compasses or T-squares.
If you stood it on the road,
no carpenter would pay
any attention to it.
Now your talk is similarly vast
but useless,
people are unanimous
in rejecting it.”

Chuang Tzu replied,
“Haven’t you ever seen
a wildcat or a weasel?
It crouches down to wait
for something to pass,
ready to pounce east or west,
high or low, only to end by falling
into a trap and dying in a net.

But then there is the yak.
It is as big as a cloud
hanging in the sky.
It has an ability to be big,
but hardly an ability to catch mice.

Now you have a large tree
but fret over its uselessness.
Why not plant it in

‘Nothing At All’ town or
‘Vast Nothing’ wilds?

Then you could roam about
doing nothing by its side
or sleep beneath it.

Axes will never shorten its life
and nothing will ever harm it.

If you are of no use at all,
who will make trouble for you?”


Granting that you and I argue.
If you get the better of me,
and not I of you, are you
necessarily right and I wrong?

Or if I get the better of you
and not you of me,
am I necessarily
right and you wrong?

Or are we both
partly right and partly wrong?

Or are we both
wholly right and wholly wrong?

You and I cannot know this,
and consequently we all live
in darkness.

Whom shall I ask
as arbiter between us?

If I ask someone
who takes your view,
he will side with you.

How can such a one
arbitrate between us?

If I ask someone
who takes my view,
he will side with me.

How can such anyone
arbitrate between us?

If I ask someone
who differs from both of us,
he will be equally unable
to decide between us,
since he differs
from both of us.

And if I ask someone
who agrees with both of us,
he will be equally unable
to decide between us,
since he agrees
with both of us.

Since then you and I
and other men cannot decide,
how can we depend upon another?

The words of arguments are all relative;
if we wish to reach the absolute,
we must harmonize them
by means of the unity of God,
and follow their natural evolution,
so that we may complete
our allotted span of life.

But what is it to harmonize them
by means of the unity of God?
It is this.

The right may
not be really right.

What appears so
may not be really so.

Even if what is right
is really right, wherein
it differs from wrong
cannot be made plain
by argument.

Even if what appears so
is really so, wherein
it differs from what is not so
also cannot be made plain
by argument.

Take no heed of time
nor of right and wrong.

Passing into the realm
of the Infinite,
take your final rest therein.


Yeh Ch’u:eh asked Wang Yi, saying,
“Do you know for certain that
all things are the same?”

“How can I know?” answered Wang Yi.

“Do you know what you do not know?”

“How can I know!” replied Yeh Ch’u:eh.

“But then does nobody know?”

“How can I know?” said Wang Yi.

“Nevertheless,

I will try to tell you.

How can it be known that
what I call knowing
is not really not knowing and
that what I call not knowing
is not really knowing?

Now I would ask you this,

If a man sleeps in a damp place,
he gets lumbago and dies.

But how about an eel?

And living up in a tree
is precarious and
trying to the nerves.

But how about monkeys?

Of the man, the eel, and the monkey,
whose habitat is the right one, absolutely?

Human beings feed on flesh,
deer on grass, centipedes on little snakes,
owls and crows on mice.

Of these four, whose is the right taste,
absolutely?

Monkey mates with
the dog-headed female ape,
the buck with the doe,
eels consort with fishes,
while men admire Mao Ch’iang
and Li Chi, at the sight of whom
fishes plunge deep down in the water,
birds soar high in the air,
and deer hurry away.

Yet who shall say which is
the correct standard of beauty?

In my opinion, the doctrines
of humanity and justice and
the paths of right and wrong
are so confused that
it is impossible to know
their contentions.”

“If you then,” asked Yeh Ch’u:eh,
“do not know what is good and bad,
is the Perfect Man equally
without this knowledge?”

“The Perfect Man,”
answered Wang Yi,
“is a spiritual being.

Were the ocean itself
scorched up,
he would not feel hot.

Were the great rivers
frozen hard,
he would not feel cold.

Were the mountains
to be cjustify by thunder,
and the great deep
to be thrown up by storm,
he would not tremble with fear.

Thus, he would mount upon
the clouds of heaven, and
driving the sun and
the moon before him,
pass beyond the limits
of this mundane existence.

Death and life have
no more victory over him.

How much less should
he concern himself
with the distinctions
of profit and loss?”


Tsech’i of Nankuo sat leaning
on a low table.

Gazing up to heaven,
he sighed and looked
as though he had lost his mind.

Yench’eng Tseyu,
who was standing by him,
exclaimed,


“What are you thinking
about that your body
should become
thus like dead wood,
your mind like burnt-out cinders?

Surely the man now leaning on the table
is not he who was here just now.”


“My friend,” replied Tsech’i,
“your question is apposite.

Today I have lost my Self….

Do you understand? …

Perhaps you only know
the music of man, and
not that of Earth.

Or even if you have heard
the music of Earth,
perhaps you have not heard
the music of Heaven.”

“Pray explain,” said Tseyu.


“The breath of the universe,”
continued Tsech’i, “is called wind.

At times, it is inactive.

But when active,
all crevices resound to its blast.

Have you never listened to
its deafening roar?”


“Caves and dells of hill and forest,
hollows in huge trees
of many a span in girth —
some are like nostrils,
and some like mouths,
and others like ears, beam-
sockets, goblets, mortars,
or like pools and puddles.”


“And the wind goes rushing
through them, like swirling torrents
or singing arrows, bellowing,
sousing, trilling, wailing, roaring,
purling, whistling in front
and echoing behind,
now soft with the cool blow,
now shrill with the whirlwind,
until the tempest is past
and silence reigns supreme.”

“Have you never witnessed
how the trees and objects shake
and quake, and twist and twirl?”

“Well, then,” enquired Tseyu,
“since the music of Earth consists
of hollows and apertures,
and the music of man
of pipes and flutes,
of what consists
the music of Heaven?”

“The effect of the wind upon
these various apertures,”
replied Tsech’i,
“is not uniform,
but the sounds are produced
according to their individual capacities.

Who is it that agitates their breasts?”


“Great wisdom is generous;
petty wisdom is contentious.

Great speech is impassioned,
small speech cantankerous.”


“For whether the soul
is locked in sleep or
whether in waking hours
the body moves,
we are striving and struggling
with the immediate circumstances.

Some are easy-going and leisurely,
some are deep and cunning,
and some are secretive.

Now we are frightened
over petty fears, now disheartened
and dismayed over some great terror.

Now the mind flies forth
like an arrow from a cross-bow,
to be the arbiter of right and wrong.

Now it stays behind
as if sworn to an oath,
to hold on to what it has secured.

Then, as under autumn and
winter’s blight, comes gradual decay,
and submerged in its own occupations,
it keeps on running its course,
never to return.”


“Finally, worn out and imprisoned,
it is choked up like an old drain,
and the failing mind
shall not see light again.”


“Joy and anger,
sorrow and happiness,
worries and regrets,
indecision and fears,
come upon us by turns,
with everchanging moods,
like music from the hollows,
or like mushrooms from damp.

Day and night they alternate within us,
but we cannot tell whence they spring.

Alas! Alas! Could we for a moment
lay our finger upon their very Cause? “


“But for these emotions
I should not be.

Yet but for me,
there would be no one
to feel them.

So far we can go;
but we do not know
by whose order they come into play.
It would seem there was a soul;
but the clue to its existence is wanting.

That it functions is credible enough,
though we cannot see its form.

Perhaps it has inner reality
without outward form.”


“Take the human body
with all its hundred bones,
nine external cavities and
six internal organs, all complete.

Which part of it should I love best?

Do you not cherish all equally,
or have you a preference?

Do these organs serve
as servants of someone else?

Since servants cannot
govern themselves,
do they serve as master
and servants by turn?

Surely there is some soul
which controls them all.”


“But whether or not
we ascertain what is the
true nature of this soul,
it matters but little
to the soul itself.

For once coming into
this material shape,
it runs its course
until it is exhausted.

To be harassed by the wear
and tear of life,
and to be driven along
without possibility
of arresting one’s course,
— is not this pitiful indeed?

To labor without ceasing
all life, and then, without living
to enjoy the fruit, worn out with labor,
to depart, one knows not whither,
— is not this a just cause for grief?”


“Men say there is no death
— to what avail?

The body decomposes,
and the mind goes with it.
Is this not a great cause for sorrow?

Can the world be so dull
as not to see this?

Or is it I alone
who am dull, and others not so?”


“Now if we are to be guided
by our prejudices,
who shall be without a guide?

What need to make comparisons
of right and wrong with others?

And if one is to follow
one’s own judgments
according to
his prejudices,
even the fools have them!

But to form judgments
of right and wrong
without first having
a mind at all
is like saying,
“I justify for Yu:eh today,
and got there yesterday.”

Or, it is like assuming something
which does not exist to exist.

The (illusions of) assuming something
which does not exist to exist
could not be fathomed
even by the divine Yu;
how much less could we?”


“For speech is not mere
blowing of breath.

It is intended to say some thing,
only what it is intended to say
cannot yet be determined.

Is there speech indeed, or is there not?

Can we, or can we not, distinguish it
from the chirping of young birds?

How can Tao be obscured so that
there should be a distinction
of true and false?”


“How can speech be so obscured that
there should be a distinction
of right and wrong?

Where can you go and
find Tao not to exist?

Where can you go and
find that words
cannot be proved?”


“Tao is obscured by our
inadequate understanding,
and words are obscured
by flowery expressions.

Hence the affirmations and denials
of the Confucian and Motsean schools,
each denying what the other affirms
and affirming what the other denies.

Each denying what the other affirms
and affirming what the other denies
brings us only into confusion.”


“There is nothing which is not this;
there is nothing which is not that.

What cannot be seen by what
can be known by myself.

Hence I say,
this emanates from that;
that also derives from this.

This is the theory of
the interdependence of
this and that .”


“Nevertheless, life arises from death,
and vice versa.

Possibility arises from impossibility,
and vice versa.

Affirmation is based upon denial,
and vice versa.”


“Which being the case,
the true sage rejects all distinctions
and takes his refuge in Heaven.

For one may base it on this,
yet this is also that and that is also this.

This also has its ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,
and that also has its ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’

Does then the distinction
between this and that
really exist or not?

When this (subjective)
and that (objective) are both
without their correlates,
that is the very ‘Axis of Tao.’

And when that Axis passes
through the center at which
all Infinities converge,
affirmations and denials alike
blend into the infinite One.”


“Hence it is said that
there is nothing like using the Light.

To take a finger in illustration
of a finger not being a finger
is not so good as
to take something
which is not a finger
to illustrate that
a finger is not a finger.

To take a horse in illustration of
a horse not being a horse
is not so good as
to take something
which is not a horse
to illustrate that
a horse is not a horse.

So with the universe
which is but a finger, but a horse.

The possible is possible:
the impossible is impossible.”


“Tao operates, and
the given results follow;
things receive names and
are said to be what they are.

Why are they so?

They are said to be so!

Why are they not so?

They are said to be not so!

Things are so by themselves
and have possibilities by themselves.

There is nothing which is not so and
there is nothing which may not become so.”


“Therefore take, for instance,
a twig and a pillar,
or the ugly person
and the great beauty,
and all the strange
and monstrous transformations.

These are all levelled together by Tao.

Division is the same as creation;
creation is the same as destruction.

There is no such thing
as creation or destruction,
for these conditions are again
levelled together into One.”


“Only the truly intelligent understand
this principle of the levelling
of all things into One.

They discard the distinctions
and take refuge in the
common and ordinary things.

The common and ordinary things
serve certain functions and therefore
retain the wholeness of nature.

From this wholeness,
one comprehends, and
from comprehension,
one to the Tao.

There it stops.

To stop without knowing
how it stops — this is Tao.”


“But to wear out one’s intellect
in an obstinate adherence
to the individuality of things,
not recognizing the fact that
all things are One, –that is called
“Three in the Morning.”

What is “Three in the Morning?”

A keeper of monkeys said
with regard to their rations of nuts
that each monkey was to have
three in the morning and four at night.

At this the monkeys were very angry.

Then the keeper said
they might have four
in the morning
and three at night,
with which arrangement
they were all well pleased.

The actual number of nuts
remained the same,
but there was a difference
owing to likes and dislikes.

It also derives from this
(principle of subjectivity).

Wherefore the true Sage
brings all the contraries together
and rests in the natural

Balance of Heaven.

This is called
(the principle of following)
two courses (at once).”


“Suppose here is a statement.

We do not know whether it belongs
to one category or another.

But if we put the different categories
in one, then the differences of category
cease to exist.

However, I must explain.

If there was a beginning,
then there was a time
before that beginning, and
a time before the time
which was before
the time of that beginning.

If there is existence,
there must have been non-existence.

And if there was a time
when nothing existed,
then there must have been a time
when even nothing did not exist.

All of a sudden,
nothing came into existence.

Could one then really say
whether it belongs
to the category of existence
or of non-existence?

Even the very words
I have just now uttered, —
I cannot say whether
they say something or not.”


“There is nothing under
the canopy of heaven greater than
the tip of a bird’s down in autumn,
while the T’ai Mountain is small.

Neither is there any longer life than
that of a child cut off in infancy,
while P’eng Tsu himself died young.

The universe and I came
into being together;

I and everything therein are One.”


“If then all things are One,
what room is there for speech?

On the other hand, since
I can say the word ‘One’
how can speech not exist?

If it does exist,
we have One and speech — two;
and two and One — three
from which point onwards
even the best mathematicians
will fail to reach (the ultimate);
how much more then
should ordinary people fail?”


“Hence, if from nothing
you can proceed to something,
and subsequently reach there,
it follows that it would be still easier
if you were to start from something.

Since you cannot proceed, stop here.

Now Tao by its very nature
can never be defined.

Speech by its very nature
cannot express the absolute.

Hence arise the distinctions.

Such distinctions are: ‘right’ and ‘left’,
‘relationship’ and ‘duty’,
‘division’ and ‘discrimination’,
’emulation’ and ‘contention’.

These are called the
‘Eight Predicables’.”


“Beyond the limits
of the external world,
the Sage knows that it exists,
but does not talk about it.

Within the limits
of the external world,
the Sage talks but
does not make comments.

With regard to the wisdom
of the ancients, as embodied
in the canon of Spring and Autumn,
the Sage comments, but does not expound.

And thus, among distinctions made,
there are distinctions that cannot be made;
among things expounded,
there are things
that cannot be expounded.”


“How can that be? it is asked.

The true Sage keeps
his knowledge within him,
while men in general set forth
theirs in argument,
in order to convince each other.

And therefore it is said that one
who argues does so because
he cannot see certain points.”


“Now perfect Tao
cannot be given a name.

A perfect argument
does not employ words.

Perfect kindness
does not concern itself
with (individual acts of) kindness.

Perfect integrity
is not critical of others.

Perfect courage
does not push itself forward.

For the Tao which is manifest
is not Tao.

Speech which argues
falls short of its aim.

Kindness which has fixed objects
loses its scope.

Integrity which is obvious
is not believed in.

Courage which pushes itself forward
never accomplishes anything.

These five are, as it were,
round (mellow) with a strong bias
towards squareness (sharpness).

Therefore that knowledge
which stops at what it does not know,
is the highest knowledge.”


“Who knows the argument
which can be argued without words,
and the Tao which does not
declare itself as Tao?
He who knows this
may be said to enter
the realm of the spirit.”


“To be poured into
without becoming full,
and pour out
without becoming empty,
without knowing how
this is brought about,
–this is the art of

‘Concealing the Light’.”