Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


The fû (###) consisted in the earliest times of two slips of bamboo made with certain marks, so as to fit to each other exactly, and held by the two parties to any agreement or covenant. By the production and comparison of the slips, the parties verified their mutual relation; and the claim of the one and the obligation of the other were sufficiently established. 'Seal' seems the best translation of the character in this title.

By 'virtue' (###) we must understand the characteristics of the Tâo. Where those existed in their full proportions in any individual, there was sure to be the evidence or proof of them in the influence which he exerted in all his intercourse with other men; and the illustration of this is the subject of this Book, in all its five paragraphs. That influence is the 'Seal' set on him, proving him to be a true child of the Tâo.

The heroes, as I may call them, of the first three paragraphs are all men who had lost their feet, having been reduced to that condition as a punishment, just or unjust, of certain offences; and those of the last two are distinguished by their extraordinary ugliness or disgusting deformity. But neither the loss of their feet nor their deformities trouble the serenity of their own minds, or interfere with the effects of their teaching and character upon others; so superior is their virtue to the deficiencies in their outward appearance.

Various brief descriptions of the Tâo are interspersed in the Book. The most remarkable of them are those in par. 1, where it appears as 'that in which there is no element of falsehood,' and as 'the author of all the Changes or Transformations' in the world. The sentences where these occur are thus translated by Mr. Balfour:—'He seeks to know Him in whom is nothing false. He would not be affected by the instability of creation; even if his life were involved in the general destruction, he would yet hold firmly to his faith (in God).' And he observes in a note, that the first short sentence 'is explained by the commentators as referring to Kän Zâi (###), the term used by the Tâoist school for God.' But we met with that name and synonyms of it in Book II, par. 2, as appellations of the Tâo, coupled with the denial of its personality. Kän Zâi, 'the True Governor or Lord,' may be used as a designation for god or God, but the Tâoist school denies the existence of a Personal Being, to whom we are accustomed to apply that name.

Hui-dze, the sophist and friend of Kwang-dze, is introduced in the conclusion as disputing with him the propriety of his representing the Master of the Tâo as being still 'a man;' and is beaten down by him with a repetition of his assertions, and a reference to some of Hui-dze's well-known peculiarities. What would Kwang-dze have said, if his opponent had affirmed that his instances were all imaginary, and that no man had ever appeared who could appeal to his possession of such a 'seal' to his virtues and influence as he described?

Lû Fang-wäng compares with the tenor of this Book what we find in Mencius, VII, i, 21, about the nature of the superior man. The analogy between them, however, is very faint and incomplete.

Book V
Part I Section V

Teh Khung Fu, or 'The Seal of Virtue Complete1.'

1. In Lu2 there was a Wang Thai3 who had lost both his feet4; while his disciples who followed and went about with him were as numerous as those of Kung-ni. Khang Ki5 asked Kung-ni about him, saying, 'Though Wang Thai is a cripple, the disciples who follow him about divide Lu equally with you, Master. When he stands, he does not teach them; when he sits, he does not discourse to them. But they go to him empty, and come back full. Is there indeed such a thing as instruction without words6? and while the body is imperfect, may the mind be complete? What sort of man is he?'

Kung-ni replied, 'This master is a sage. I have only been too late in going to him. I will make him my teacher; and how much more should those do so who are not equal to me! Why should only the state of Lu follow him? I will lead on all under heaven with me to do so.' Khang Ki rejoined, 'He is a man who has lost his feet, and yet he is known as the venerable Wang7;—he must be very different from ordinary men. What is the peculiar way in which he employs his mind?' The reply was, 'Death and life are great considerations, but they could work no change in him. Though heaven and earth were to be overturned and fall, they would occasion him no loss. His judgment is fixed regarding that in which there is no element of falsehood8; and, while other things change, he changes not. The transformations of things are to him the developments prescribed for them, and he keeps fast hold of the author of them8.'

Khang Ki said, 'What do you mean? When we look at things,' said Kung-ni, 'as they differ, we see them to be different, (as for instance) the liver and the gall, or Khu and Yueh; when we look at them, as they agree, we see them all to be a unity. So it is with this (Wang Thai). He takes no knowledge of the things for which his ears and eyes are the appropriate organs, but his mind delights itself in the harmony of (all excellent) qualities. He looks at the unity which belongs to things, and does not perceive where they have suffered loss. He looks on the loss of his feet as only the loss of so much earth.'

Khang Ki said, 'He is entirely occupied with his (proper) self9. By his knowledge he has discovered (the nature of) his mind, and to that he holds as what is unchangeable9; but how is it that men make so much of him?' The reply was, 'Men do not look into running water as a mirror, but into still water;—it is only the still water that can arrest them all, and keep them (in the contemplation of their real selves). Of things which are what they are by the influence of the earth, it is only the pine and cypress which are the best instances;—in winter as in summer brightly green10. Of those which were what they were by the influence of Heaven11, the most correct examples were Yao and Shun; fortunate in (thus) maintaining their own life correct, and so as to correct the lives of others.

'As a verification of the (power of) the original endowment, when it has been preserved, take the result of fearlessness,—how the heroic spirit of a single brave soldier has been thrown into an army of nine hosts12. If a man only seeking for fame and able in this way to secure it can produce such an effect, how much more (may we look for a greater result) from one whose rule is over heaven and earth, and holds all things in his treasury, who simply has his lodging in the six members13 of his body, whom his ears and eyes serve but as conveying emblematic images of things, who comprehends all his knowledge in a unity, and whose mind never dies! If such a man were to choose a day on which he would ascend far on high, men would (seek to) follow him there. But how should he be willing to occupy himself with other men?'

2. Shan-thu Kia14 was (another) man who had lost his feet. Along with dze-khan15 of Kang15 he studied under the master Po-hwan Wu-zan16. Dze-khan said to him (one day), 'If I go out first, do you remain behind; and if you go out first, I will remain behind.' Next day they were again sitting together on the same mat in the hall, when Dze-khan spoke the same words to him, adding,' Now I am about to go out; will you stay behind or not? Moreover, when you see one of official rank (like myself), you do not try to get out of his way;—do you consider yourself equal to one of official rank?' Shan-thu Kia replied, 'In our Master's school is there indeed such recognition required of official rank? You are one, Sir, whose pleasure is in your official rank, and would therefore take precedence of other men. I have heard that when a mirror is bright, the dust does not rest on it; when dust rests on it the mirror is not bright. When one dwells long with a man of ability and virtue, he comes to be without error. There now is our teacher whom you have chosen to make you greater than you are; and when you still talk in this way, are you not in error?' Dze-khan rejoined, 'A (shattered) object as you are, you would still strive to make yourself out as good as Yao! If I may form an estimate of your virtue, might it not be sufficient to lead you to the examination of yourself?' The other said, 'Most criminals, in describing their offences, would make it out that they ought not to have lost (their feet) for them; few would describe them so as to make it appear that they should not have preserved their feet. They are only the virtuous who know that such a calamity was unavoidable, and therefore rest in it as what was appointed for them. When men stand before (an archer like) I17 with his bent bow, if they are in the middle of his field, that is the place where they should be hit; and if they be not hit, that also was appointed. There are many with their feet entire who laugh at me because I have lost my feet, which makes me feel vexed and angry. But when I go to our teacher, I throw off that feeling, and return (to a better mood);—he has washed, without my knowing it, the other from me by (his instructions in) what is good. I have attended him now for nineteen years, and have not known that I am without my feet. Now, you, Sir, and I have for the object of our study the (virtue) which is internal, and not an adjunct of the body, and yet you are continually directing your attention to my external body;—are you not wrong in this?' Dze-khan felt uneasy, altered his manner and looks, and said, 'You need not, Sir, say anything more about it.'

3. In Lu there was a cripple, called Shu-shan the Toeless18, who came on his heels to see Kung-ni. Kung-ni said to him, 'By your want of circumspection in the past, Sir, you have incurred such a calamity;—of what use is your coming to me now?' Toeless said, 'Through my ignorance of my proper business and taking too little care of my body, I came to lose my feet. But now I am come to you, still possessing what is more honourable than my feet, and which therefore I am anxious to preserve entire. There is nothing which Heaven does not cover, and nothing which Earth does not sustain; you, Master, were regarded by me as doing the part of Heaven and Earth;—how could I know that you would receive me in such a way?' Confucius rejoined, 'I am but a poor creature. But why, my master, do you not come inside, where I will try to tell you what I have learned?' When Toeless had gone out, Confucius said, 'Be stimulated to effort, my disciples. This toeless cripple is still anxious to learn to make up for the evil of his former conduct;—how much more should those be so whose conduct has been unchallenged!'

Mr. Toeless, however, told Lao Tan (of the interview), saying, 'Khung Khiu, I apprehend, has not yet attained to be a Perfect man. What has he to do with keeping a crowd of disciples around him? He is seeking to the reputation of being an extraordinary and marvellous man, and does not know that the Perfect man considers this to be as handcuffs and fetters to him.' Lao Tan said, 'Why did you not simply lead him to see the unity of life and death, and that the admissible and inadmissible belong to one category, so freeing him from his fetters? Would this be possible?' Toeless said, 'It is the punishment inflicted on him by Heaven19. How can he be freed from it?'

4. Duke Ai of Lu20 asked Kung-ni, saying, 'There was an ugly man in Wei, called Ai-thai Tho21. His father-in-law, who lived with him, thought so much of him that he could not be away from him. His wife, when she saw him (ugly as he was), represented to her parents, saying, "I had more than ten times rather be his concubine than the wife of any other man22." He was never heard to take the lead in discussion, but always seemed to be of the same opinion with others. He had not the position of a ruler, so as to be able to save men from death. He had no revenues, so as to be able to satisfy men's craving for food. He was ugly enough, moreover, to scare the whole world. He agreed with men instead of trying to lead them to adopt his views; his knowledge did not go beyond his immediate neighbourhood23. And yet his father-in-law and his wife were of one mind about him in his presence (as I have said);—he must have been different from other men. I called him, and saw him. Certainly he was ugly enough to scare the whole world. He had not lived with me, however. for many months, when I was drawn to the man; and before he had been with me a full year, I had confidence in him. The state being without a chief minister, I (was minded) to commit the government to him. He responded to my proposal sorrowfully, and looked undecided as if he would fain have declined it. I was ashamed of myself (as inferior to him), but finally gave the government into his hands. In a little time, however, he left me and went away. I was sorry and felt that I had sustained a loss, and as if there were no other to share the pleasures of the kingdom with me. What sort of man was he?'

Kung-ni said, 'Once when I was sent on a mission to Khu, I saw some pigs sucking at their dead mother. After a little they looked with rapid glances, when they all left her, and ran away. They felt that she did not see them, and that she was no longer like themselves. What they had loved in their mother was not her bodily figure, but what had given animation to her figure. When a man dies in battle, they do not at his interment employ the usual appendages 24: as to supplying shoes to one who has lost his feet, there is no reason why he should care for them;—in neither case is there the the proper reason for their use'. The members of the royal harem do not pare their nails nor pierce their ears25; when a man is newly married, he remains (for a time) absent from his official duties, and unoccupied with them25. That their bodies might be perfect was sufficient to make them thus dealt with;—how much greater results should be expected from men whose mental gifts are perfect! This Ai-thai Tho was believed by men, though he did not speak a word, and was loved by them, though he did no special service for them. He made men appoint him to the government of their states, afraid only that he would not accept the appointment. He must have been a man whose powers26 were perfect, though his realisation of them26 was not manifested in his person.'

Duke Ai said, 'What is meant by saying that his powers were complete?' Kung-ni replied, 'Death and life, preservation and ruin, failure and success, poverty and wealth, superiority and inferiority, blame and praise, hunger and thirst, cold and heat;—these are the changes of circumstances, the operation of our appointed lot. Day and night they succeed to one another before us, but there is no wisdom able to discover to what they owe their origination. They are not sufficient therefore to disturb the harmony (of the nature), and are not allowed to enter into the treasury of intelligence. To cause this harmony and satisfaction ever to be diffused, while the feeling of pleasure is not lost from the mind; to allow no break to arise in this state day or night, so that it is always spring-time27 in his relations with external things; in all his experiences to realise in his mind what is appropriate to each season (of the year)28:—these are the characteristics of him whose powers are perfect.'

'And what do you mean by the realisation of these powers not being manifested in the person?' (pursued further the duke). The reply was, 'There is nothing so level as the surface of a pool of still water. It may serve as an example of what I mean. All within its circuit is preserved (in peace), and there comes to it no agitation from without. The virtuous efficacy is the perfect cultivation of the harmony (of the nature). Though the realisation of this be not manifested in the person, things cannot separate themselves (from its influence).'

Some days afterwards duke Ai told this conversation to Min Tzu29, saying, 'Formerly it seemed to me the work of the sovereign to stand in court with his face to the south, to rule the kingdom, and to pay good heed to the accounts of the people concerned, lest any should come to a (miserable) death;—this I considered to be the sum (of his duty). Now that I have heard that description of the Perfect man, I fear that my idea is not the real one, and that, by employing myself too lightly, I may cause the ruin of my state. I and Khung Khiu are not on the footing of ruler and subject, but on that of a virtuous friendship.'

5. A person who had no lips, whose legs were bent so that he could only walk on his toes, and who was (otherwise) deformed30, addressed his counsels to duke Ling of Wei, who was so pleased with him, that he looked on a perfectly formed man as having a lean and small neck in comparison with him. Another who had a large goitre like an earthenware jar30 addressed his counsels to duke Hwan of Khi31, who was so pleased with him that he looked on a perfectly formed man as having a neck lean and small in comparison with him32. So it is that when one's virtue is extraordinary, (any deficiency in) his bodily form may be forgotten. When men do not forget what is (easily) forgotten, and forget what is not (easily) forgotten, we have a case of real oblivion. Therefore the sagely man has that in which his mind finds its enjoyment, and (looks on) wisdom as (but) the shoots from an old stump; agreements with others are to him but so much glue; kindnesses are (but the arts of) intercourse; and great skill is (but as) merchants' wares. The sagely man lays no plans;—of what use would wisdom be to him? He has no cutting and hacking to do;—of what use would glue be to him? He has lost nothing; of what use would arts of intercourse be to him? He has no goods to dispose of;—what need has he to play the merchant? (The want of) these four things are the nourishment of (his) Heavenly (nature); that nourishment is its Heavenly food. Since he receives this food from Heaven, what need has he for anything of man's (devising)? He has the bodily form of man, but not the passions and desires of (other) men. He has the form of man, and therefore he is a man. Being without the passions and desires of men, their approvings and disapprovings are not to be found in him. How insignificant and small is (the body) by which he belongs to humanity! How grand and great is he in the unique perfection of his Heavenly (nature)!

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, 'Can a man indeed be without desires and passions?' The reply was, 'He can.' 'But on what grounds do you call him a man, who is thus without passions and desires?' Chuang Tzu said, 'The Tao33 gives him his personal appearance (and powers); Heaven34 gives him his bodily form; how should we not call him a man?' Hui Tzu rejoined, 'Since you call him a man, how can he be without passions and desires?' The reply was, 'You are misunderstanding what I mean by passions and desires. What I mean when I say that he is without these is, that this man does not by his likings and dislikings do any inward harm to his body;—he always pursues his course without effort, and does not (try to) increase his (store of) life.' Hui Tzu rejoined, 'If there were not that increasing of (the amount) of life, how would he get his body35?' Chuang Tzu said, 'The Tao gives him his personal appearance (and powers); Heaven gives him his bodily form; and he does not by his likings and dislikings do any internal harm to his body. But now you, Sir, deal with your spirit as if it were something external to you, and subject your vital powers to toil. You sing (your ditties), leaning against a tree; you go to sleep, grasping the stump of a rotten dryandra tree. Heaven selected for you the bodily form (of a man), and you babble about what is strong and what is white36.'


back 1 See pp. 133, 134.

back 2 The native state of Confucius, part of the present Shan-tung.

back 3 A Taoist of complete virtue; but probably there was not really such a person. Our author fabricates him according to his fashion.

back 4 The character uh (###) does not say that he had lost both his feet, but I suppose that such is the meaning, because of what is said of Toeless below that 'he walked on his heels to see Confucius.' The feet must have been amputated, or mutilated rather (justly or unjustly), as a punishment; but Chuang Tzu wished to say nothing on that point.

back 5 Perhaps a disciple of Confucius;—not elsewhere mentioned as such.

back 6 Seethe Tao Teh King, ch. 2.

back 7 Literally, 'the Senior;' often rendered 'Teacher.'

back 8 'That in which there is no element of falsehood' is the Tao, which also is the 'Author' of all the changes that take place in time and space. See the Introductory Note on the title and subject of the Book.

back 9 Wang Thai saw all things in the Tao, and the Tao in all things. Comp. Book XI, par. 7, et al.

back 10 Notwithstanding his being a cripple. He forgets that circumstance himself, and all others forget it, constrained and won by his embodiment of the Tao. What follows is an illustration of this, exaggerated indeed, but not so extravagantly as in many other passages.

back 11 In the Taoistic meaning of the term.

back 12 The royal army consisted of six hosts; that of a great feudal prince of three. 'Nine hosts' = a very great army.

back 13 The arms, legs, head, and trunk.

back 14 Another cripple introduced by our author to serve his purpose.

back 15 Kung-sun Khiao; a good and able minister of Kang, an earldom forming part of the present Ho-nan. He was a contemporary of Confucius, who wept when he heard of his death in B. C. 522. He was a scion of the ruling house, which again was a branch of the royal family of Kau.

back 16 A Taoist teacher. See XXI, par. 9; XXXII, par. 1.

back 17 A famous archer of antiquity in the twenty-second century B.C., or perhaps earlier.

back 18 'Toeless' is a sort of nickname. Shu-shan or Shu hill was, probably, where he dwelt:—'Toeless of Shu hill.'

back 19 'Heaven' here is a synonym of Tao. Perhaps the meaning is 'unavoidable;' it is so in the Taoistic order of things.

back 20 It was in the sixteenth year of duke Ai that Confucius died. Ai was marquis of Lu from B.C. 494 to 468.

back 21 The account of Ai-thai Tho is of course Chuang Tzu's own fabrication. Ai-thai is understood to be descriptive of his ugliness, and Tho to be his name.

back 22 Perhaps this was spoken by his wife before their marriage.

back 23 One sees dimly the applicability of this illustration to the case in hand. What made Ai-thai Tho so much esteemed was his mental power, quite independent of his ugly person.

back 24 See the Li Ki VIII, i, 7; but the applicability of these two illustrations is not so clear.

back 25 These two have force as in 'reasoning from the less to t e greater.' With the latter of the two compare the mosaical provision in Deuteronomy xxiv. 5.

back 26 'Powers' are the capacities of the nature,—the gift of the Tao. 'Virtue' is the realisation or carrying out of those capacities.

back 27 Specially the season of complacent enjoyment.

back 28 So, in Lin Hsi-kung; but the meaning has to be forced out of the text.

back 29 The disciple Min Sun or Min Dze-Khien.

back 30 These two men are undoubtedly inventions of Chuang Tzu. They are brought before us, not by surnames and names, but by their several deformities.

back 31 The first of the five presiding chiefs; marquis of Khi from B.C. 685 to 643.

back 32 Lin Hsi-kung wonders whether the story of the man who was so taken with the charms of a one-eyed courtesan, that he thought other women all had an eye too many, was taken from this!

back 33 Lu Shu-kih maintains here that 'the Tao' and 'Heaven' have the same meaning; nor does he make any distinction between mao (###), 'the personal appearance,' and hsing (###), 'the figure' or 'bodily form.'

back 34 Compare in the Tao Teh King expressions in li, 2, and lv, 5.

back 35 Apparently a gross meaning attached by Hui Tzu to Chuang Tzu's words.

back 36 Chuang Tzu beats down his opponent, and contemptuously refers to some of his well-known peculiarities;—as in II, par. 5, XXXIII, par. 7, and elsewhere.