Friday, February 1, 2013

supposed words

(by chuang tzu)

supposed words constitute nine-tenths of discourse, quotes make up seven tenths and flowing words are brought forth every day, refined by the influence of heaven, by which I mean the subtle admixture of the deep cosmos and the humble everyday reality. 

supposed words which constitute nine-tenths are similar to people who are brought in from outside. for example, no father is used as a point of reference for his son, for the father cannot be as objective as someone not of the family. it is not my fault but the fault of other people (who otherwise wouldn’t listen to me), for otherwise people would only pay attention to what they already know and dismiss anything else. thus they say that whatever agrees with them is right, but whatever they dislike they call wrong.  dead wrong. 

quotes make up seven-tenths and are there to stop arguments, which they do because they are respected as the words of sagacious elders.  however, those who are old but have not grasped the warp and weft, the root and branch of things cannot be quoted as sagacious elders. a person like this hasn’t understood the tao.  nor has he understood the tao of simple humanity.  he is just a sad remnant of so-called "lost time." 

flowing words are spoken every day and they harmonize through the influence of heaven, continuing for ever and so extending my years.  if nothing is said about them, they remain in agreement, and agreement is not affected by words: words are in agreement but agreement is not words. so it is said, on occasion, "say nothing".  words say nothing, so you can talk all your life and say nothing.  in contrast you can live your life without speaking and have said things of immense worth.

there is that which makes things acceptable and that which makes things unacceptable.  there is that which makes things certain and that which makes things uncertain.  how is this?  because it is.  how is this not so?  it is not so, for the most part, simply because it is not so.  how in heaven's name does this occur?  why, because it occurs!  how does this not occur?  well, if I had to venture a guess, I would say that it does not occur primarily because it does not occur. 

everything is defined by what is right and everything is defined by what is possible.  if there is nothing, then it cannot be.  if there is nothing, then it cannot occur.  if there are no flowing words every day, influenced by heaven, then how could all this persist?  some bizarre form of postmodern magic, perhaps?  all forms of life arise from the same foundation and in their diverse forms they succeed each other.  they begin and end like an unbroken circle, and none can say why.  this is the influence of heaven. 

chuang tzu asked hui tzu: "in reaching the age of sixty, that rascally confucius has changed his views sixty times, so what he once held to be right he now holds to be wrong.  so who knows now whether what he once called right he hasn’t fifty-nine times called wrong?"

hui tzu said: "chill out, chuang.  confucius sincerely tries to pursue understanding and tries to act in accord with it.  he's just a another lost human being, no better or worse than the rest of us."

tseng tzu twice held "power" but twice he changed his heart, saying: "at first, when I was caring for my parents, my salary was three fu of rice, but I was happy. the second time around I received three thousand chung of rice, but my parents were gone and I was miserable.  I loved them very much and knew of course that one day they would die, but I was still deeply deeply saddened when it actually occurred, and was unable to appreciate all that rice." 

one of the followers of confucius said: "surely tseng tzu can be described as being free from the folly of entanglement?" 

"but he was already entangled," replied confucius.  "if he had been free, why should he have been so sad?  he would have viewed both his three fu and his three thousand chung as just so many sparrows or mosquitoes flying in front of him."

yen cheng tzu yu said to tzu chi of the eastern suburb: "when I listened to your words, sir, the first year I was just a country bumpkin.  the second year I was happy to learn some new stuff.  the third year I began to journey with you. the fourth year I was just a thing.  the fifth year I began to slowly make progress. the sixth year the ghosts came into me.  the seventh year heaven’s perfection arrived in the outskirts.  the eighth year I could not understand death nor life.  the ninth year I wandered, lost and alone, into the mystery." 

the outline asked the shadow:  "a few minutes ago you were looking down, now you are looking up; a few minutes ago your hair was piled up, now it is hanging down; a few minutes ago you were sitting down, now you are standing up; a few minutes ago you were walking, but now you are lying down, gazing up at the ceiling. why?" 

shadow said: "petty! petty!  why do you ask me about all this?  this is all true to me but I haven’t a clue why I do it.  I am like the shell of a cicada or the shed skin of a snake: something which seems real but is not.  in the sunlight I appear, in darkness I disappear.  however, do you think I arise from these?  for they, sir, are themselves dependent upon others.  when it comes, I come also.  when it goes, I go with it.  if they arise from an inscrutable yin-yang reversal, well then, so do I!  I'm merely stating a few of the basic facts of life as plainly as I can, dear friend."

(trans. by martin palmer)

perfect joy

is there to to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing?   is there some way to make life fully worth living, or is this simply impossible?  if there is such a way, how do you go about finding it?   what should you try to do?  what should you seek to avoid?  what should be the goal in which your activity comes to rest?  what should you accept?  what should you refuse to accept?  what should you love?  what should you hate?  

what the world typically values is money, reputation, long life, achievement.  what it counts as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to.

what it condemns is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being a loser, and an early death.

what it considers misfortune is bodily discomfort and labor, no chance to get your fill of good eats, not having good clothes to wear, having no way to amuse or delight the eye, no pleasant music to listen to.  if people find that they are deprived of these things, they go into a panic or fall into despair.  they are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want.  their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy.

the rich make life intolerable, driving themselves in order to get more and more money which they cannot really use.  in so doing they are alienated from themselves, and exhaust themselves in their own service as though they were the slaves of others.

the ambitious run day and night in pursuit of honors, constantly in anguish about the success of their plans, dreading the miscalculation that may wreck everything.  thus they are alienated from themselves, exhausting their real life in service of the shadow created by their insatiable hope.

the birth of a person is the birth of his or her sorrow.

the longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute.  what bitterness!  he lives for what is always out of reach!  his thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.

what about the self-sacrificing officials and scholars?  they are honored by the world because they are good, upright, hard-working, and respectable fellows.

yet their good character does not preserve them from unhappiness, nor from ruin, ill health, disgrace, loss, and death.

I wonder, in that case, if their "goodness" is really so good after all!  or is it really, perchance, a source of unhappiness?

suppose you admit they are happy.  but is it a happy thing to have a character and a career that lead to one's own eventual destruction?  on the other hand, can you call them "unhappy" if, in sacrificing themselves, they save the lives and fortunes of others?

take the case of the minister who conscientiously and uprightly opposes an unjust decision of his king.  some say, "tell the truth, and if the king will not listen, let him do what he likes.  you have no further obligation."

on the other hand, tzu shu continued to resist the unjust policy of his sovereign.  he was consequently beheaded.  but if he had not stood up for what he believed to be right, his name would not be held in the honor it is today.

so there is the question: shall the course he took be called "good" if, at the same time, it was fatal to him?

I cannot tell if what the world considers "happiness" is happiness or not.  all I know is that when I consider the way most people go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction.  all the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.

for my part, I cannot accept their standards, whether of happiness or unhappiness.  I, chuang tzu, ask myself if their concept of happiness has any meaning whatsoever.

my humble opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it.  my greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course, maybe even pure insanity.

I will hold to the ancient saying that: "perfect joy is to be without joy.  perfect praise is to be without praise."

If you ask "what ought to be done" and "what ought not to be done" on earth in order to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have an answer.  there is no way of determining such things.  I'm sorry.

yet at the same time, if I cease striving for happiness, the "right" and the "wrong" usually become apparent all by themselves.

contentment and well-being at once become possible the moment you cease to act with them in view, and if you practice a subtle form of non-doing (wu wei), you will most likely have both happiness and well-being whether you want them or not.

here is one potential way of looking at it:

heaven does nothing: its non-doing is its serenity.
earth does nothing: its non-doing is its rest.
from the union of these two non-doings
all actions proceed,
all things are made.
how vast, how invisible 
this coming to be!
all things come from nowhere!
how vast, how invisible-
no way to explain it!
all beings in their perfection
are born of non-doing.
hence it is said:
"heaven and earth do nothing
yet there is nothing they do not do."

strange but true, I'm afraid.

(trans. by thomas merton)

the pivot

tao is obscured when people understand only one of a pair of opposites, or concentrate only on a partial aspect of being.  then clear expression also becomes muddled by mere word-play, affirming this one aspect and denying all the rest.

hence the endless wrangling of the confucians and mohists; each denies what the other affirms, and affirms what the other denies.  their incessant debating wearies the mind of the reader or listener.  what use is this struggle to set up "no" against "yes," and "yes" against "no"?  better to abandon this hopeless effort and cultivate harmony, as impossible as that might seem at times.

there is nothing that cannot be seen from the standpoint of the "not-I."  and there is nothing which cannot be seen from the standpoint of the "I."  part of me just wants to say: take your pick, silly goose!   if I begin by looking at anything from the viewpoint of the "not-I," then I do not really see it, since it is the "not-I" that sees it.  if I begin from where I am and see it as I see it, then it may also become possible for me to see it as another sees it.  hence the theory of reversal that opposites produce each other, depend on each other, and complement each other.

however this may be, life is followed by death; death is followed by life.  the possible becomes impossible; the impossible becomes possible.  right turns into wrong and wrong into right- the flow of life alters circumstances and thus things themselves are altered in their turn.  but disputants continue to affirm and to deny the same things they have always affirmed and denied, ignoring the new aspects of reality presented by the change in conditions.

the wise person therefore, instead of trying to prove this or that point by logical disputation, sees all things in the light of direct intuition.  she is not imprisoned by the limitations of the "I", nor does she go berserk in pursuit of the "not-I."  the viewpoint of direct intuition is usually that of both the "I" and "not-I" simultaneously.  hence she sees that on both sides of every argument there is both right and wrong.  she also sees that in the end they are basically reducible to the same thing, once they are related to the so-called pivot of tao.

when the wise person grasps this pivot, she is in the center of the circle, and there she calmly stands while "yes" and "no" pursue each other around the circumference.

the pivot of tao passes through the center where all affirmations and denials converge.  she who grasps the pivot is at the still-point from which all movements and oppositions can be seen in their right relationship.  hence she sees the limitless possibilities of both "yes" and "no."  abandoning all thought of imposing a limit or taking sides, she rests in direct intuition.  therefore I say again:  "better to abandon disputation and cultivate simple harmony!"

(trans. by thomas merton)

things are not as permanent as we think they are

(by lieh-tzu)

things that happened in the ancient times are now forgotten.  things that occurred ten thousand years ago are more legend than fact.  events that occurred five thousand years ago are more of a dream than a reality.  we may still retain a bit of memory of what happened a thousand years ago, but most of the events are forgotten.  in fact, it is a great accomplishment to remember things that happened a hundred years ago.  even eye-witnesses have a hard time recalling what they saw fifty years ago, and most of us would admit that even the events of yesterday have started to grow a little bit fuzzy.

much has gone on between the ancient times and the present.  sages and tyrants have come and gone.  intelligent people, foolish people, kind people, cruel people, good people, bad people have all made brief appearances in history and then disappeared.  we don't know who they were or why they did what they did- not a clue...

...our time on earth is short.  we do not own our lives.  we come into existence when yin and yang energies interact, and we disappear when they separate.  not really a big deal at all.  thus, should we find ourselves alive in this world, we should let this life run its course.  do not be attached to it, but do not throw it away.  make the best use of your time now.  if this body of flesh and blood is impermanent, how much more are non-tangible things like name, title, reputation?  

(trans. by eva wong)

late at night

(who else among them would have gazed out into the discourse?  a strange and undefined phenomenon.  a strange and undefined nothingness.  wait just a minute there- don't refer to discourse as nothingness!  the cheeping of chicks is quite important in its particular sphere; sorta like all of us talking animatedly at the bar after the documentary screening!)

(one of those situations in which certain people might make more of an attempt to be successful... but then they look in the opposite direction and forswear, for the immediate future at least, all attempts to define what the word "success" even means!)

(yes, it was that strange: simply knowing them; that strange: simply trying to listen as they created their to-do lists from scratch... it was not like me, I assure you, to use the phrase "golly jeepers" but I used it several times nonetheless, without irony, without the slightest sense of how the situation might be resolved.)

(my own dreams... my own hands... my own tunnel to nowhere... my own vision, failing me... other people's wisdom, forsaking me...)