Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Wanderings - The Surly Sage, Part 1

During this time, as might be expected, Tzu-yu became somewhat restless. But not wanting to abandon the companionship of his friend Chen Jen entirely, he gave himself to wandering about the local environs, speaking with and learning from the people of the land. And as he frequently heard mention of the Surly Sage of the mountain, he decided that he would climb up and meet this enigma so much a part of the local imagination.

Thus, directed by villagers who lived at the foot of the mountain, he found a worn trail that bore him on up. And when nearly at the summit, he suddenly was rained on by a shower of dirt. And in the midst of this onslaught he heard a voice yelling loudly, “Get off my mountain and leave me in peace!”

But enduring the shower, Tzu-yu stood firm, and yelled in his turn: “Not until I have had an audience will I descend from this mount!”

Tiring of his dirt flinging the surly sage finally left off, but yelled again, “There will be no audiences, so be thee off!”

But Tzu-yu answered in his turn saying, “Sir, as I have been wandering about this vast valley below and being thought a sage, much mention is made to me of you. And so I have come to ask after the manner of your wisdom and to thereby learn from you.”

“Then learn abuse,” responded he, “for I have nothing else to teach you!”

“But surely, Sir,” replied Tzu-yu, “your abuse has an origin and it is this I would learn. For your manner is unique among sages, if it is a sage that you be. And if a man seeks honey, then he must be prepared to be stung. For is it not for the sweetness of their honey that bees have a sting? But if you are but an adder and a mad one at that, then I would understand the origin of that.”

“You liken me to an adder!? Then watch out for my bite! But I see that you are not as the rabble from below, so I will give you an answer and after that you will go!

Did you not consider the wide path upon which you even now stand? Did you think it was worn by the feet of ambitious farmers seeking a view from the heights? No, Sir, it was worn by those come to bother me! They came for divination, as if the Tao were our grandfather and cared to speak through me. They came to worship and honor and thereby fill me with shame. They came to learn wisdom as if it could be had for a song. Never leaving me in peace, they robbed me of peace.

Thus I have affected this great surliness to effect my release, though I gladly admit that it comes ready to hand. For the Way is not identifiable like beans in a pot, nor is the sage only what others would have him to be. So know that though I exaggerate my surliness, I am surly just the same, and make no apology to you or any in this land. For the garden snake is docile but the adder quick to strike, yet neither the one nor the other is more truly a snake.

And consider this, too, that the sages are many who affect great gentleness and serenity, but I ask you to what end? Is it not to seem sagacious and to impress other men? While my affected surliness has a much nobler end—to secure my rescue from a clamorous lot.

And what surliness is mine, I claim as my own, for he is a fool who thinks the expression of Tao must follow the expectations of men!”

“You gladden my heart,” responded Tzu-yu, “for it is clearly the case that you are a sage and a rare one at that. And if you be willing, I would converse even more to find our common ground and see new horizons where our paths have diverged.”

“So long has it been since I have met one such as you that I have forgotten it is possible to so converse. And truly it seems my surliness was today misapplied as were my manners that leave you on the path all covered in dirt! You will find a creek just there, and when you have bathed, you will find me in my hut, just over there.”

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.


  1. I'm enjoying these installments and find they are appearing about the right pace for me to read and enjoy each one and be left waiting for more.

  2. It just goes to show that a good editor LISTENS to the readers and makes adjustments accordingly. :)


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