Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 19, Part 22

Trey Smith

After Master Sun had left, Master Pien went back into the house, sat down for a while, and then looked up to heaven and sighed. One of his disciples asked, "Why does my teacher sigh?"

Master Pien said, "Just now Sun Hsiu came to see me, and I described to him the virtue of the Perfect Man. I'm afraid he was very startled and may end up in a complete muddle."

"Surely not," said the disciple. "Was what Master Sun said right and what my teacher said wrong? If so, then wrong can certainly never make a muddle out of right. Or was what Master Sun said wrong and what my teacher said right? If so, then he must already have been in a muddle when he came here, so what's the harm?"

"You don't understand," said Master Pien. "Once long ago a bird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital. The ruler of Lu was delighted with it, had a T'ai-lao sacrifice prepared for it to feast on, and the Nine Shao music performed for its enjoyment. But the bird immediately began to look unhappy and dazed, and did not dare to eat or drink. This is what is called trying to nourish a bird with what would nourish you. If you want to nourish a bird with what will nourish a bird, you had best let it roost in the deep forest, float on the rivers and lakes, and live on snakes-then it can feel at ease.

"Now Sun Hsiu is a man of ignorance and little learning. For me to describe to him the virtue of the Perfect Man is like taking a mouse for a ride in a carriage or trying to delight a quail with the music of bells and drums. How could he help but be startled?"

~ Burton Watson translation ~
In one way, Master Pien sounds a bit snobbish. However, I think he's trying to get at the idea that a seed planted will only grow in fertile soil. Advice doesn't do a person any good if they are not at the point in which they will accept it. In that case, it's like throwing seeds upon rocks.

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