Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 20, Part 3

Trey Smith

The next day Chuang Tzu's disciples questioned him. "Yesterday there was a tree on the mountain that gets to live out the years Heaven gave it because of its worthlessness. Now there's our host's goose that gets killed because of its worthlessness. What position would you take in such a case, Master?"

Chuang Tzu laughed and said, "I'd probably take a position halfway between worth and worthlessness. But halfway between worth and worthlessness, though it might seem to be a good place, really isn't - you'll never get away from trouble there. It would be very different, though, if you were to climb up on the Way and its Virtue and go drifting and wandering, neither praised nor damned, now a dragon, now a snake, shifting with the times, never willing to hold to one course only. Now up, now down, taking harmony for your measure, drifting and wandering with the ancestor of the ten thousand things, treating things as things but not letting them treat you as a thing - then how could you get into any trouble? This is the rule, the method of Shen Nung and the Yellow Emperor.

"But now, what with the forms of the ten thousand things and the codes of ethics handed down from man to man, matters don't proceed in this fashion. Things join only to part, reach completion only to crumble. If sharp-edged, they are blunted; if high-stationed, they are overthrown; if ambitious, they are foiled. Wise, they are schemed against; stupid, they are swindled. What is there, then, that can be counted on? Only one thing, alas! - remember this, my students - only the realm of the Way and its Virtue!"

~ Burton Watson translation ~
Life is fluid and this is why rigid rules don't do it justice. Each moment of life is different. Rigid rules tend to treat life as if it were static, but the interplay of variables is always changing. What may be viewed as right in one instance may be wrong as wrong can be in the next. What may produce harmony right now might produce the worst disharmony tomorrow.

This is not to suggest that each of us should be devoid of principles. It is just that our principles must be weighed against the uniqueness of each situation.

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

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