Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (II) by Haruchika Noguchi. To read the beginning https://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/noguchi-tchouang-tseu-1/
Living is a more important matter than thinking. Being alive is not a means, but an end. So life should be carried on naturally only with the aim of maintaining life : a breathing in, a breathing out, a raising of the hand, a movement of the leg – all these should be for the cultivation of life.
Therefore, simply dwelling in health is a very precious thing. Zensei, which is to say, « A fulfilled life », is nothing but the road men follow, and it is the road ,of nature. Fulfilling the life that is given in peace of spirit is not for the sake of spiritual content, but is what should already have been undertaken before all else. We have to live in a vital way human life, which is health. Living always cheerfully and happily—this has always been what is of true value to human beings.
Human beings live because they are born, and because they are living, they eat and they sleep. They are born as a result of a natural demand, and they live as a result of the same demand. To live is natural. And so to die is also natural. Human beings’ accomplishing the life that is given them comes before all else. But this does not mean being attached to life at all. Chuang-tzu disliked any craving for particular things. For him, the arising of any attachment is at once a departure from the way. So he speaks about cultivating life and maintaining the body in order that the present moment that is given, precisely because it is the present moment, may be used fully, and certainly not because the thing given is life.
Chuang-tzu saw as a single whole the contraries of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness, and of the useful and the useless, and for him life and death were also a single whole, what comes into existence passing out of it and what passes out of existence coming into it. « Life arises from death and death arises from life » he wrote.
When Tsu-yu contracted a crippling illness, Tsu-szu visited him and asked, « Do you think your fate is unpleasant? » Tsu-yu’s answer was astounding : « Why should I find it unpleasant? If changes are brought about and my left arm turns into a rooster, I’ll use it to herald the dawn. If my right shoulder is transformed into a bullet, I’ll use it to bring down a pigeon for roasting. If my buttocks become carriage-wheels and my spirit a horse, I’ll ride along on them. Then I would need no other vehicle but myself—that would be wonderful! »
« Time does not cease even for an instant, and if it is destiny for a human being to be born, then it is natural that living form should be lost. If you are content with time’s flow and in accord with the order of things, then there is not especially any joy or sorrow. This is what the ancients called « deliverance from bondage ». You put a noose round your neck and you can’t get it off ; this is because it is tied by the mind that thinks in terms of right and wrong and good and bad. Nothing can overcome heaven. Nothing comes of hating heaven. »
Chuang-tzu’s point about cultivating life is clear in the words that come in the passage where Kung Wen Hsien speaks to the Commander of the Army : « The work of man is still the work of nature. » This is the road he walks. Within his attitude — that whatever happens, it is proper, and that when something happens, you go forward and affirm reality – there is not a trace of the resignation that lies in submitting tu destiny. His affirmation of reality is nothing but the affirmation of reality. The dignity of the man is conveyed only by Lin Chi’s words : « Wherever you are, be master. »
From Chuang-tzu’s point of view, the security of the bird-cage is no better than being obliviously asleep. He feels the vitality of life only so long as existence is unconstrained.
(to be continued)
Picture : Chuang Tzu. Lu Chih (1496–1576)