Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 19, Part 16

Trey Smith

Confucius was seeing the sights at Lu-liang, where the water falls from a height of thirty fathoms and races and boils along for forty li, so swift that no fish or other water creature can swim in it. He saw a man dive into the water and, supposing that the man was in some kind of trouble and intended to end his life, he ordered his disciples to line up on the bank and pull the man out. But after the man had gone a couple of hundred paces, he came out of the water and began strolling along the base of the embankment, his hair streaming down, singing a song. Confucius ran after him and said, "At first I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you're a man. May I ask if you have some special way of staying afloat in the water?"

"I have no way. I began with what I was used to, grew up with my nature, and let things come to completion with fate. I go under with the swirls and come out with the eddies, following along the way the water goes and never thinking about myself. That's how I can stay afloat."

Confucius said, "What do you mean by saying that you began with what you were used to, grew up with your nature, and let things come to completion with fate?"

"I was born on the dry land and felt safe on the dry land - that was what I was used to. I grew up with the water and felt safe in the water - that was my nature. I don't know why I do what I do - that's fate."

~ Burton Watson translation ~
Living near the Pacific Ocean, I not infrequently hear about individuals who have drowned. What tends to happen is that someone is wading in the water and a rogue wave comes in and knocks the person off their feet. When this happens, panic sets in. They flail around trying to swim against the waves and, in no time at all, they exhaust themselves and go under.

According to warning signs around public access points, the secret for surviving these sorts of ordeals is to swim parallel to the beach. It is by not fighting the waves that the wave action gradually will move you inland. This advice sounds truly Taoist! Go with the flow, not against it.

To view the Index page for this series, go here.

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