Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 12, Part 21

Trey Smith

Men Wu-kuei and Ch'ih-chang Man-chi were watching the troops of King Wu. Ch'ih-chang Man-chi said, "He is no match for the man of the Yu clan. That's why he runs into all this trouble!"

Men Wu-kuei said, "Was the world already in good order when the man of the Yu clan came along to order it? Or was it in disorder and later he brought it to order?"

Ch'ih-chang Man-chi said, "Everybody wants to see the world well ordered. If it had been so already, what point would there have been in calling in the man of the Yu clan? The man of the Yu clan was medicine to a sore. But to wait until you go bald and then buy a wig, to wait until you get sick and then call for a doctor to prepare the medicine like a true filial son and present it to your loving father, wearing a grim and haggard look - this the true sage would be ashamed to do. In an age of Perfect Virtue the worthy are not honored, the talented are not employed. Rulers are like the high branches of a tree, the people like the deer of the fields. They do what is right but they do not know that this is righteousness. They love one another but they do not know that this is benevolence. They are truehearted but do not know that this is loyalty. They are trustworthy but do not know that this is good faith. They wriggle around like insects, performing services for one another, but do not know that they are being kind. Therefore they move without leaving any trail behind, act without leaving any memory of their deeds."

~ Burton Watson translation ~
This snippet represents one of the hallmarks of philosophical Taoism: the idea that, in our natural state, humankind is inherently moral without knowing a thing about morality. Thus, the idealized individual does what needs to be done in any given situation without any thought of what the "right" thing to do is. For me, this is the essence of wu wei -- effortless action.

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

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