2002-07-07: Chuang Tsu, Inner Chapters

Chuang Tsu

Inner Chapters (1974)

tr. Gia-fu Feng (1918-1985), il. Jane English (1942-)

I first read this book several years ago, before I started writing these reports. It consists of seven chapters of Chuang Tsu, generally accepted as the original work of the master. Twenty-six other chapters are likely the work of others. As the introduction states, Chuang Tsu stands in a similar relation to Lao Tsu as Paul to Jesus, or Plato to Socrates. (However, neither Jesus nor Socrates left any writing.) Along with a clear English translation, the book contains the Chinese text in a pleasant-looking calligraphic style, and many photographs.

On re-reading this book, I was surprised to notice some impatience with the material. I think I have read so much of this kind of thing, that I expect it to be fully digested and expressed in plain English, rather than repeated stories of ancient Chinese people or mythological stories. Certainly, if there is such a thing as the modern equivalent of an ancient person of tao, it should be possible to describe this person in an attractive and illuminating way. I wish someone would get on with it.

In the meantime, I flagged a few passages.

From chapter 1, Happy Wandering:

Great knowledge is all-encompassing; small knowledge is limited. Great words are inspiring; small words are chatter. When we are asleep, we are in touch with our souls. When we are awake, our senses open. We get involved with our activities and our minds are distracted. Sometimes we are hesitant, sometimes underhanded, and sometimes secretive. Little fears cause anxiety, and great fears cause panic. Our words fly off like arrows, as though we knew what was right and wrong. We cling to our point of view, as though everything depended on it. And yet our opinions have no permanence: like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away. We are caught in the current and cannot return. We are tied up in knots like an old clogged drain; we are getting closer to death with no way to regain our youth. Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, hope and fear, indecision and strength, humility and willfulness, enthusiasm and insolence, like music rising from an empty reed or mushrooms rising from the warm dark earth, continually appear before us day and night. No one knows whence they come. Don’t worry about it! Let them be! How can we understand it all in one day? If there is no other, there is no I. If there is no I, there is no one to perceive. This is close to the truth, but we do not know why. There must be some primal force, but we cannot discover any proof. I believe it acts, but I cannot see it. I can feel it, but it has no form.

From chapter 6, The Great Master:

This was the true man of old. He stood straight and firm and did not waver. He was of humble mien but was not servile. He was independent but not stubborn, open to everything yet made no boast. He smiled as if pleased, and responded to things naturally. His radiance came from his inner light. He remained centered even in the company of others. He was broadminded as if he agreed with everyone, high-minded as if beyond influence, inward-minded as if he would like to withdraw himself from the world, and absent-minded as if unaware of what he was going to say. He considered criminal law to be the body of government, ceremony its wings, knowledge a requirement of the times, and reason a guide for action. To consider law as the body, one has to be lenient in its execution. To take ceremony as the wings is to give the people something to follow. To take knowledge as a requirement of the times is to do tings that have to be done. To consider reason a guide for action is to be with others on the path upward. He acted effortlessly, yet people thought that he was trying very hard.

From chapter 7, The Sage King:

Do not seek fame. Do not make plans. Do not be absorbed by activities. Do not think that you know. Be aware of all that is and dwell in the infinite. Wander where there is no path. Be all that heaven gave you, but act as though you have received nothing. Be empty, that is all.

The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror. It grasps nothing. It expects nothing. It reflects but does not hold. Therefore, the perfect man can act without effort.


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