Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


It requires a little effort to perceive that Shan Mû, the title of this Book, does not belong to it as a whole, but only to the first of its nine paragraphs. That speaks of a large tree which our author once saw on a mountain. The other paragraphs have nothing to do with mountain trees, large or small. As the last Book might be considered to be supplementary to 'the Nourishment of Life,' discussed in Book III, so this is taken as having the same relation to Book IV, which treats of 'Man in the World, associated with other men.' It shows by its various narratives, some of which are full of interest, how by a strict observance of the principles and lessons of the Tâo a man may preserve his life and be happy, may do the right thing and enjoy himself and obtain the approbation of others in the various circumstances in which he may be placed. The themes both of Books I and IV blend together in it. Paragraph 8 has more the character of an apologue than most of Kwang-dze's stories.

Book XX
Part II Section XIII

Shan Mû, or 'The Tree on the Mountain1.'

1. Kwang-dze was walking on a mountain, when he saw a great tree2 with huge branches and luxuriant foliage. A wood-cutter was resting by its side, but he would not touch it, and, when asked the reason, said, that it was of no use for anything, Kwang-dze then said to his disciples, 'This tree, because its wood is good for nothing, will succeed in living out its natural term of years.' Having left the mountain, the Master lodged in the house of an old friend, who was glad to see him, and ordered his waiting-lad to kill a goose and boil it. The lad said, 'One of our geese can cackle, and the other cannot;—which of them shall I kill?' The host said, 'Kill the one that cannot cackle.'

Next day, his disciples asked Kwang-dze, saying, 'Yesterday the tree on the mountain (you said) would live out its years because of the uselessness of its wood, and now our host's goose has died because of its want of power (to cackle);—which of these conditions, Master, would you prefer to be in?' Kwang-dze laughed and said, '(If I said that) I would prefer to be in a position between being fit to be useful and wanting that fitness, that would seem to be the right position, but it would not be so, for it would not put me beyond being involved in trouble; whereas one who takes his seat on the Tâo and its Attributes, and there finds his ease and enjoyment, is not exposed to such a contingency. He is above the reach both of praise and of detraction; now he (mounts aloft) like a dragon, now he (keeps beneath) like a snake; he is transformed with the (changing) character of the time, and is not willing to addict himself to any one thing; now in a high position and now in a low, he is in harmony with all his surroundings; he enjoys himself at case with the Author of all things3; he treats things as things, and is not a thing to them:—where is his liability to be involved in trouble? This was the method of Shän Näng and Hwang-Tî. As to those who occupy themselves with the qualities of things, and with the teaching and practice of the human relations, it is not so with them. Union brings on separation; success, overthrow; sharp corners, the use of the file; honour, critical remarks; active exertion, failure; wisdom, scheming; inferiority, being despised:—where is the possibility of unchangeableness in any of these conditions? Remember this, my disciples. Let your abode be here,-in the Tâo and its Attribute4.'

2. Î-liâo5, an officer of Shih-nan5, having an interview with the marquis of Lû6, found him looking sad, and asked him why he was so. The marquis said, 'I have studied the ways of the former kings, and cultivated the inheritance left me by my predecessors. I reverence the spirits of the departed and honour the men of worth, doing this with personal devotion, and without the slightest intermission. Notwithstanding, I do not avoid meeting with calamity, and this it is which makes me sad.' The officer said, 'The arts by which you try to remove calamity are shallow. Think of the close-furred fox and of the elegantly-spotted leopard. They lodge in the forests on the hills, and lurk in their holes among the rocks;—keeping still. At night they go about, and during day remain in their lairs; so cautious are they. Even if they are suffering from hunger, thirst, and other distresses, they still keep aloof from men, seeking their food about the Kiang and the Ho;—so resolute are they. Still they are not able to escape the danger of the net or the trap; and what fault is it of theirs? It is their skins which occasion them the calamity.

'And is not the state of Kû your lordship's skin? I wish your lordship to rip your skin from your body, to cleanse your heart, to put away your desires, and to enjoy yourself where you will be without the presence of any one. In the southern state of Yüeh, there is a district called "the State of Established Virtue." The people are ignorant and simple; their object is to minimise the thought of self and make their desires few; they labour but do not lay up their gains; they give but do not seek for any return; they do not know what righteousness is required of them in any particular case, nor by what ceremonies their performances should be signalised; acting in a wild and eccentric way as if they were mad, they yet keep to the grand rules of conduct. Their birth is an occasion for joy; their death is followed by the rites of burial. I should wish your lordship to leave your state; to give up your ordinary ways, and to proceed to that country by the directest course.'

The ruler said, 'The way to it is distant and difficult; there are rivers and hills; and as I have neither boat nor carriage, how am I to go?' The officer from Shih-nan rejoined, 'If your lordship abjure your personal state, and give up your wish to remain here, that will serve you for a carriage.' The ruler rejoined, 'The way to it is solitary and distant, and there are no people on it;—whom shall 1 have as my companions? I have no provisions prepared, and how shall I get food?-how shall I be able to get (to the country)?' The officer said, 'Minimise your lordship's expenditure, and make your wants few, and though you have no provisions prepared, you will find you have enough. Wade through the rivers and float along on the sea, where however you look, you see not the shore, and, the farther you go, you do not see where your journey is to end;—those who escorted you to the shore will return, and after that you will feel yourself far away. Thus it is that he who owns men (as their ruler) is involved in troubles, and he who is owned by men (as their ruler) suffers from sadness; and hence Yâo would neither own men, nor be owned by them. I wish to remove your trouble, and take away your sadness, and it is only (to be done by inducing you) to enjoy yourself with the Tâo in the land of Great Vacuity.

'If a man is crossing a river in a boat, and another empty vessel comes into collision with it, even though he be a man of a choleric temper, he will not be angry with it. If there be a person, however, in that boat, he will bawl out to him to haul out of the way. If his shout be not heard, he will repeat it; and if the other do not then hear, he will call out a third time, following up the shout with abusive terms. Formerly he was not angry, but now he is; formerly (he thought) the boat was empty, but now there is a person in it. If a man can empty himself of himself, during his time in the world, who can harm him?'

3. Pei-kung Shê7 was collecting taxes for duke Ling of Wei, to be employed in making (a peal of) bells. (In connexion with the work) he built an altar outside the gate of the suburban wall; and in three months the bells were completed, even to the suspending of the upper and lower (tiers). The king's son Khing-kî8 saw them, and asked what arts he had employed in the making of them. Shê replied, 'Besides my undivided attention to them, 1 did not venture to use any arts. I have heard the saying, "After all the carving and the chiselling, let the object be to return to simplicity." I was as a child who has no knowledge; I was extraordinarily slow and hesitating; they grew like the springing plants of themselves. In escorting those who went and meeting those who came, my object was neither to hinder the corners nor detain the goers. I suffered those who strongly opposed to take their way, and accepted those who did their best to come to terms. I allowed them all to do the utmost they could, and in this way morning and evening I collected the taxes. I did not have the slightest trouble, and how much more will this be the case with those who pursue the Great Way (on a grand scale)!'

4. Confucius was kept (by his enemies) in a state of siege between Khän and Zhâi9, and for seven days had no food cooked with fire to eat. The Thâi-kung Zân10 went to condole with him, and said, 'You had nearly met with your death.' 'Yes,' was the reply. 'Do you dislike death?' 'I do.' Then Zän continued, 'Let me try and describe a way by which (such a) death may be avoided.—In the eastern sea there are birds which go by the name Of Î-îs11; they fly low and slowly as if they were deficient in power. They fly as if they were leading and assisting one another, and they press on one another when they roost. No one ventures to take the lead in going forward, or to be the last in going backwards. In eating no one ventures to take the first mouthful, but prefers the fragments left by others. In this way (the breaks in) their line are not many12, and men outside them cannot harm them, so that they escape injury.

'The straight tree is the first to be cut down; the well of sweet water is the first to be exhausted. Your aim is to embellish your wisdom so as to startle the ignorant, and to cultivate your person to show the unsightliness of others. A light shines around you as if you were carrying with you the sun and moon, and thus it is that you do not escape such calamity. Formerly I heard a highly accomplished man say, "Those who boast have no merit. The merit which is deemed complete will begin to decay. The fame which is deemed complete will begin to wane." Who can rid himself of (the ideas of) merit and fame, and return and put himself on the level of the masses of men? The practice of the Tâo flows abroad, but its master does not care to dwell where it can be seen; his attainments in it hold their course, but he does not wish to appear in its display. Always simple and commonplace, he may seem to be "bereft of reason. He obliterates the traces of his action, gives up position and power, and aims not at merit and fame. Therefore he does not censure men, and men do not censure him. The perfect man does not seek to be heard of; how is it that you delight in doing so Confucius said, 'Excellent;' and thereupon he took leave of his associates, forsook his disciples, retired to the neighbourhood of a great marsh, wore skins and hair cloth, and ate acorns and chestnuts. He went among animals without causing any confusion among their herds, and among birds without troubling their movements. Birds and beasts did not dislike him; how much less would men do so!

5. Confucius asked Dze-sang Hû13, saying, 'I was twice driven from Lû; the tree was felled over me in Sung; I was obliged to disappear from Wei; I was reduced to extreme distress in Shang and Kâu14; and I was kept in a state of siege between Khän and Zhâi. I have encountered these various calamities; my intimate associates are removed from me more and more; my followers and friends are more and more dispersed;—why have all these things befallen me?' Dze-sang Hû replied, 'Have you not heard of the flight of Lin Hui of Kiâ15;—how he abandoned his round jade symbol of rank, worth a thousand pieces of silver, and hurried away with his infant son on his back? If it be asked, "Was it because of the market value of the child?" But that value was small (compared with the value of the jade token). If it be asked again, "Was it because of the troubles (of his office)?" But the child would occasion him much more trouble. Why was it then that, abandoning the jade token, worth a thousand pieces of silver, he hurried away with the child on his back? Lin Hui (himself) said, "The union between me and the token rested on the ground of gain; that between me and the child was of Heaven's appointment." Where the bond of union is its profitableness, when the pressure of poverty, calamity, distress, and injury come, the parties abandon one another; when it is of Heaven's appointment, they hold in the same circumstances to one another. Now between abandoning one another, and holding to one another, the difference is great. Moreover, the intercourse of superior men is tasteless as water, while that of mean men is sweet as new wine. But the tastelessness of the superior men leads on to affection, and the sweetness of the mean men to aversion. The union which originates without any cause will end in separation without any cause.'

Confucius said, 'I have reverently received your instructions.' And hereupon, with a slow step and an assumed air of ease, he returned to his own house. There he made an end of studying and put away his books. His disciples came no more to make their bow to him (and be taught), but their affection for him increased the more.

Another day Sang Hû said further to him, 'When Shun was about to die, he charged16 Yü, saying, 'Be upon your guard. (The attraction of) the person is not like that of sympathy; the (power of) affection is not like the leading (of example). Where there is sympathy, there will not be separation; where there is (the leading of) example, there will be no toil. Where there is neither separation nor toil, you will not have to seek the decoration of forms to make the person attractive, and where there is no such need of those forms, there will certainly be none for external things.'

6. Kwang-dze in a patched dress of coarse cloth, and having his shoes tied together with strings, was passing by the king of Wei, who said to him, 'How great, Master, is your distress?' Kwang-dze replied, 'It is poverty, not distress! While a scholar possesses the Tâo and its Attributes, he cannot be going about in distress. Tattered clothes and shoes tied on the feet are the sign of poverty, and not of distress. This is what we call not meeting with the right time. Has your majesty not seen the climbing monkey? When he is among the plane trees, rottleras, oaks, and camphor trees, he grasps and twists their branches (into a screen), where he reigns quite at his ease, so that not even Î17 or Phäng Mäng17 could spy him out. When, however, he finds himself among the prickly mulberry and date trees, and other thorns, he goes cautiously, casts sidelong glances, and takes every trembling movement with apprehension;—it is not that his sinews and bones are straitened, and have lost their suppleness, but the situation is unsuitable for him, and he cannot display his agility. And now when I dwell under a benighted ruler, and seditious ministers, how is it possible for me not to be in distress? My case might afford an illustration of the cutting out the heart of Pî-kan18!'

7. When Confucius was reduced to great distress between Khän and Khâi, and for seven days he had no cooked food to eat, he laid hold of a decayed tree with his left hand, and with his right hand tapped it with a decayed branch, singing all the while the ode of Piâo-shih19 . He had his instrument, but the notes were not marked on it. There was a noise, but no blended melody. The sound of the wood and the voice of the man came together like the noise of the plough through the ground, yet suitably to the feelings of the disciples around. Yen Hui, who was standing upright, with his hands crossed on his breast, rolled his eyes round to observe him. Kung-nî, fearing that Hui would go to excess in manifesting how he honoured himself, or be plunged in sorrow through his love for him, said to him, 'Hui, not to receive (as evils) the inflictions of Heaven is easy; not to receive (as benefits) the favours of men is difficult. There is no beginning which was not an end. The Human and the Heavenly may be one and the same. Who, for instance, is it that is now singing20?' Hui said, 'I venture to ask how not to receive (as evils) the inflictions of Heaven is easy.' Kung-nî said, 'Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, and having one's progress entirely blocked up;—these are the doings of Heaven and Earth, necessary incidents in the revolutions of things. They are occurrences of which we say that we will pass on (composedly) along with them. The minister of another does not dare to refuse his commands; and if he who is discharging the duty of a minister feels it necessary to act thus, how much more should we wait with case on the commands of Heaven21!'

'What do you mean by saying that not to receive (as benefits) the favours of men is difficult?' Kung-nî said, 'As soon as one is employed in office, he gets forward in all directions; rank and emolument come to him together, and without end. But these advantages do not come from one's self;—it is my appointed lot to have such external good. The superior man is not a robber; the man of worth is no filcher;—if I prefer such things, what am I22? Hence it is said, "There is no bird wiser than the swallow." Where its eye lights on a place that is not suitable for it, it does not give it a second glance. Though it may drop the food from its mouth, it abandons it, and hurries off. It is afraid of men, and yet it stealthily takes up its dwelling by his; finding its protection in the altars of the Land and Grain23.

'What do you mean by saying that there is no beginning which was not an end?' Kung-nî said, 'The change—rise and dissolution—of all things (continually) goes on, but we do not know who it is that maintains and continues the process. How do we know when any one begins? How do we know when he will end? We have simply to wait for it, and nothing more24.'

'And what do you mean by saying that the Human and the Heavenly are one and the same?' Kung-nî said, 'Given man, and you have Heaven; given Heaven, and you still have Heaven (and nothing more). That man can not have Heaven is owing to the limitation of his nature25. The sagely man quietly passes away with his body, and there is an end of it.'

8. As Kwang Kâu was rambling in the park of Tiâo-ling26 he saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven cubits in width, and its eyes were large, an inch in circuit. It touched the forehead of Kâu as it passed him, and lighted in a grove of chestnut trees. 'What bird is this?' said he, 'with such great wings not to go on! and with such large eyes not to see me!' He lifted up his skirts, and hurried with his cross-bow, waiting for (an opportunity to shoot) it. (Meanwhile) he saw a cicada, which had just alighted in a beautiful shady spot, and forgot its (care for its) body. (just then), a preying mantis raised its feelers, and pounced on the cicada, in its eagerness for its prey, (also) forgetting (its care for) its body; while the strange bird took advantage of its opportunity to secure them both, in view of that gain forgetting its true (instinct of preservation)27. Kwang Kâu with an emotion of pity, said, 'Ah! so it is that things bring evil on one another, each of these creatures invited its own calamity.' (With this) he put away his cross-bow, and was hurrying away back, when the forester pursued him with terms of reproach.

When he returned and went into his house, he did not appear in his courtyard28 for three months28. (When he came out), Lan Zü29 (his disciple) asked him, saying, 'Master, why have you for this some time avoided the courtyard so much?' Kwang-dze replied, 'I was guarding my person, and forgot myself; I was looking at turbid water, till I mistook the clear pool. And moreover I have heard the Master say30, "Going where certain customs prevail, you should follow those customs." I was walking about in the park of Tiâo-ling, and forgot myself. A strange bird brushed past my forehead, and went flying about in the grove of chestnuts, where it forgot the true (art of preserving itself). The forester of the chestnut grove thought that I was a fitting object for his reproach. These are the reasons why I have avoided the courtyard.'

9. Yang-dze, having gone to Sung, passed the night in a lodging-house, the master of which had two concubines;—one beautiful, the other ugly31. The ugly one was honoured, however, and the beautiful one contemned. Yang-dze asked the reason, and a little boy of the house replied, 'The beauty knows her beauty, and we do not recognise it. The ugly one knows her ugliness, and we do not recognise it.' Yang-dze said, 'Remember it, my disciples. Act virtuously, and put away the practice of priding yourselves on your virtue. If you do this, where can you go to that you will not be loved32?'












back 1 See vol. xxxix, p. 151.

back 2 Compare the accounts of great trees in I, par. 6; IV, par. 1; et all.

back 3 The Tâo; called ###, in Bk. XII, par. 5.

back 4 But after all it comes to be the same thing in point of fact with those who ground themselves in the Tâo, and with others.

back 5 The Î-liâo here was a scion of the ruling House of Khû, and is mentioned fortunately in the Supplement to the Zo-khwan, under the very year in which Confucius died (B.C. 479). His residence was in the south of the 'Market Place' of the city where he lived, {footnote p. 29"> which is the meaning of the Shih-nan in the text. The description of his character is that no offer of gain could win him, and no threatening terrify him. We find him here at the court of Lû in friendly conference with the marquis, and trying to persuade him to adopt the ways of Tâoism, which he presents to him under the figure of an allegory, an utopia called 'the State of Established Virtue,' in the south of Yüeh.

back 6 Probably known to us as 'duke Âi'

back 7 Pei-kung, 'Northern Palace,' must have been the name of Shê's residence, and appears here as if it were his surname.

back 8 A son, probably of king King of Kâu (B.C. 544-529).—On the whole paragraph, see par. 10 of the preceding Book.

back 9 Compare Analects XI, ii.

back 10 We might translate Thai-kung by 'the grand-duke.' We know nothing about him. He tries to convert Confucius to Tâoism, just as Î-liâo does the marquis of Lû in par. 2; and for a time at least, as Kwang-dze makes it appear, with more success.

back 11 Were these Î-îs swallows? So some of the critics say.

back 12 A clause of uncertain meaning.

back 13 Supposed to have been a recluse.

back 14 I do not know the particulars of this distress in Shang and Kâu, or have forgotten them. A still more full recital of the sage's misfortunes occurs in Lieh-dze, VII, 8a.

back 15 The text here appears to be somewhat confused. Lin Hui is said to have been a man of the Yin dynasty, and of a state which was called Kiâ, and for the verification of such a state I have searched in vain. The explanation of his conduct put here into his mouth is very good.

back 16 The ### of the text here are allowed on all hands to be spurious, and ### have been substituted for them. What follows, however, from Shun to Yü, is far from being clear, in itself, or in its connexion.

back 17 Î;—see Book. V, par. 2. Phäng Mäng was a contemporary of Î, learned archery from him, and then slew him, that he might himself be the foremost archer in the kingdom;—see Mencius IV, ii, 24.

back 18 'A spurious paragraph, no doubt.' Lin Hsî-kung thus concludes what he has to say on this paragraph; but it is not without its interest and lessons.

back 19 I do not know who this was, nor what his ode or air was. Lû Teh-ming read the character ###, and says that Piâo-shih was one of the old royal Tîs who did nothing. In all my texts it is wrongly printed with three ###.

back 20 This question arose out of the previous statement that man and Heaven might be one,—acting with the same spontaneity.

back 21 Confucius recognises here, as he often does, a power beyond his own, 'his appointed lot,' what we call destiny, to which the Tâo requires submission. This comes very near to our idea of God.

back 22 Human gifts had such an attraction, that they tended to take from man his heavenly spontaneity; and were to be eschewed, or received only with great caution.

back 23 What is said here about the swallow is quite obscure. Hsî-kung says that all the old attempts to explain it are ridiculous, and then propounds an ingenious one of his own; but I will leave the passage with my reader to deal with it as he best can.

back 24 Compare with this how in Book XVIII we find Kwang-dze singing by the dead body of his wife.

back 25 That man is man and not Heaven is simply from the limitation of his nature,—his 'appointed lot.'

back 26 Tâo-ling might be translated 'Eagle Mount.' Where it was I do not know; perhaps the name originated with Kwang-dze, and thus has become semi-historical.

back 27 Kwang-dze might now have shot the bird, but we like him the better for letting it alone.

back 28 So then, masters of schools, like Kwang-dze, received and taught their disciples in the courtyard of their house;—in China as elsewhere. For three 'months,' it is conjectured, we should read three 'days.'

back 29 The disciple Lan Zü appears here, but not, so far as I know, elsewhere.

back 30 Who was this 'Master?'

back 31 The story here is found in Lieh-dze 11, 15 a, b. The Yang-dze is there Yang Kû, against whom Mencius so often directed his arguments.

back 32 See the greater part of this paragraph in Prémare's 'Notitia Linguae Sinicae,' p. 200, with his remarks on the style.