Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (II) by Haruchika Noguchi. To read the beginning http://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/noguchi-tchouang-tseu-1/
« In doing what is considered good, avoid fame ; in doing what is considered wrong, avoid penalties ; make it a principle to keep a middle course, and you will preserve your body, fulfill your life, support your parents and live out your natural span of days. » Read and accepted as they are, these words are the principles of health. I feel in them, close to me, the force of the man’s spirit.
When the king of So heard of Chuang-tzu’s cleverness, he sent, with a great show of courtesy, officials to Chuang-tzu, asking him to become prime minister ; but Chuang-tzu laughed and remarked that ten thousand pieces of gold was a large amount and a prime minister’s position was very superior. But he asked the officials whether they had ever seen a sacrificial bull decked for a festival. Such a bull, he said, is fattened with various nourishing foods for the occasion, decked with beautiful cloth, and driven into the chamber of the gods. However much the bull wants to be merely a bull at this time, it cannot. He told the officials to leave without making a fuss and not to sully his life, and he said that he simply wanted to enjoy himself in his own squalid situation. Words like these are extremely characteristic of Chuang-tzu, and they still raise a smile after two thousand years. In the end right and wrong and praise and blame are one, Chuang-tzu said.
The distinguishing of things involves definition. Definition involves disruption. With things, there is neither definition nor disruption, only one-ness. Only the true sage knows that everything is one. In this way, Chuang-tzu stamped on the world of oppositions and shattered it. That is why he said unworriedly, « In doing what is considered good, avoid fame; in doing what is considered wrong, avoid penalties »
When someone sleeps on the damp ground, strength drains from him and he develops rheumatism. Put an eel on a treetop, and it trembles with fear ; do the same to a monkey, and this doesn’t happen. ‘Within these three, is there any one that doesn’t know the place that is proper for its life?’
The human being eats pork, the deer likes grass, the centipede finds worms delicious, the crow delights in rats. ‘Within these four, is there any one that doesn’t know what it likes to eat ?’ The male monkey takes the female monkey in its arms, the stag copulates with the doe, the eel plays with fish. Mao Chiang and Li Chi were reputed to be the most beautiful women under the heavens, but at the sight of them, fish dived into the depths, birds flew up into the sky, and deer ran away. Which of these does not know the proper object of its affections ? Standing beyond good and evil and merging with the nature of all things : this is the secret of Chuang-tzu’s cultivation of life. Chasing after a healthy life and running to avoid an unhealthy one only makes you hot and bothered. Being proud of your talents and wanting to become first in the world in something is to have forgotten the most important principle of cultivating life.
A great tree is toppled by the wind ; the high status of a minister attracts the envy of the masses, but for the person who has cast off every fetter and enjoys a life of freedom, a minister, though he has a high status and receives a high salary, is no more than a broken sandal. ‘A pheasant that lives in a marsh walks ten paces for one beakful of food and a hundred paces for one sip of water, but it doesn’t want to be kept in a cage.’ Chuang-tzu teaches that there is no need to be over-pernickety about a ‘healthy’ or an ‘unhealthy’ life and to make yourself hot and bothered. He teaches that one breathes quietly and follows disinterestedly and calmly the body’s demands, and that this is the essence of preserving life and living fully.
How can we live up to this ? Do we adopt the attitude of someone who sees a fire on the other side of the river and folds his arms ? Or is there something more to be done, something positive ? Prince Wen Hui’s cook said, ‘I handle things with the spirit, and not with the eye. When the senses cease functioning, the spirit leads.’ This is to close yourself off from appearances and at once to forget them ; essentially it is the same as the Zen priest Lin Chi’s saying, ‘Mind does not differ from mind. ‘ Thus, in all this there is nothing but the unfolding of a pure act, and this, fundamentally, is what is asserted in the master swordsman’s adage : ‘Forget your skills and forget your opponent ; let him cut skin-deep, while you carve his flesh ; only if you abandon yourself to the flood may you reach the shallows.
Can we not say that within the way the art of killing leads to the road of being in true earnest, the road of cultivating life is concealed ? Conquering attachment to things, the adherence to rule and the fear of death, and making the spirit free allows you to use the sword freely in the swordsman’s world without damaging anything, and in the ordinary. world it allows you to enter on the road of cultivating life and to foster the essence of life. I suspect that Wen Hui learned from his cook’s words that it is by following the nature of things that one cultivates life ; the important thing was his recognising that the cook’s knife moved without the intervention of the self and without the knife’s being damaged. One Zen priest was asked, ‘You come and go, come and go. What do you mean by it ? »I wear out shoe-leather to no purpose,’ he replied.
(to be continued)