KNOWLEDGE WANDERED NORTH by Chuang Tzu 莊子
Knowledge Wandered North to the banks of the Black Waters, climbed the Knoll of Hidden Heights, and there by chance came upon Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing. Knowledge said to Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing, “There are some things I’d like to ask you. What sort of pondering, what sort of cogitation does it take to know the Way? What sort of surroundings, what sort of practices does it take to find rest in the Way? What sort of path, what sort of procedure will get me to the Way?”
Three questions he asked, but Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing didn’t answer. It wasn’t that he just didn’t answer – he didn’t know how to answer!
Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the White Waters of the south, climbed the summit of Dubiety Dismissed, and there caught sight of Wild-and-Witless. Knowledge put the same questions to Wild-and-Witless. “Ah – I know!” said Wild-and-Witless. “And I’m going to tell you.” But just as he was about to say something, he forgot what it was he was about to say.
Knowledge, failing to get any answer, returned to the imperial palace, where he was received in audience by the Yellow Emperor, and posed his questions. The Yellow Emperor said, “Only when there is no pondering and no cogitation will you get to know the Way. Only when you have no surroundings and follow no practices will you find rest in the Way. Only when there is no path and no procedure can you get to the Way.”
Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, “You and I know, but those other two that I asked didn’t know. Which of us is right, I wonder?”
The Yellow Emperor said, “Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing – he’s the one who is truly right. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it. Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know. Therefore the sage practices the teaching that has no words.1 The Way cannot be brought to light; its virtue cannot be forced to come. But benevolence – you can put that into practice; you can discourse 2 on righteousness, you can dupe one another with rites. So it is said, When the Way was lost, then there was virtue; when virtue was lost, then there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost, then there was righteousness; when righteousness was lost, then there were rites. Rites are the frills of the Way and the forerunners of disorder.3 So it is said, He who practices the Way does less every day, does less and goes on doing less, until he reaches the point where he does nothing, does nothing and yet there is nothing that is not done.” Now that we’ve already become `things,’ if we want to return again to the Root, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time of it! The Great Man – he’s the only one who might find it easy.
“Life is the companion of death, death is the beginning of life. Who understands their workings? Man’s life is a coming-together of breath. If it comes together, there is life; if it scatters, there is death. And if life and death are companions to each other, then what is there for us to be anxious about?
“The ten thousand things are really one. We look on some as beautiful because they are rare or unearthly; we look on others as ugly because they are foul and rotten. But the foul and rotten may turn into the rare and unearthly, and the rare and unearthly may turn into the foul and rotten. So it is said, You have only to comprehend the one breath that is the world. The sage never ceases to value oneness.”
Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor, “I asked Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing and he didn’t reply to me. It wasn’t that he merely didn’t reply to me – he didn’t know how to reply to me. I asked Wild-and-Witless and he was about to explain to me, though he didn’t explain anything. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t explain to me – but when he was about to explain, he forgot what it was. Now I have asked you and you know the answer. Why then do you say that you are nowhere near being right?”
The Yellow Emperor said, “Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing is the one who is truly right – because he doesn’t know. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so – because he forgets. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it – because we know.”
Wild-and-Witless heard of the incident and concluded that the Yellow Emperor knew what he was talking about.
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