Monday, September 23, 2013

Bit by Bit - Chapter 21, Part 16

Trey Smith

Chien Wu said to Sun-shu Ao, "Three times you have become premier, yet you didn't seem to glory in it. Three times you were dismissed from the post, but you never looked glum over it. At first I doubted that this was really true, but now I stand before your very nose and see how calm and unconcerned you are. Do you have some unique way of using your mind?"

Sun-shu Ao replied, "How am I any better than other men? I considered that the coming of such an honor could not be fended off, and that its departure could not be prevented. As far as I was concerned, the question of profit or loss did not rest with me, and so I had no reason to put on a glum expression, that was all. How am I any better than other men? Moreover, I'm not really certain whether the glory resides in the premiership or in me. If it resides in the premiership, then it means nothing to me. And if it resides in me, then it means nothing to the premiership. Now I'm about to go for an idle stroll, to go gawking in the four directions. What leisure do I have to worry about who holds an eminent position and who a humble one?"

Confucius, hearing of the incident, said, "He was a True Man of old, the kind that the wise cannot argue with, the beautiful cannot seduce, the violent cannot intimidate; even Fu Hsi or the Yellow Emperor could not have befriended him. Life and death are great affairs, and yet they are no change to him - how much less to him are things like titles and stipends! With such a man, his spirit may soar over Mount T'ai without hindrance, may plunge into the deepest springs without getting wet, may occupy the meanest, most humble position without distress. He fills all Heaven and earth; and the more he gives to others, the more he has for himself."

~ Burton Watson translation ~
We've seen this theme in many of the stories in the Zhuangzi: remaining unaffected by the successes and failures of life. Regardless of who we are, we will experience both. The secret -- if you wish to call it that -- is to not become too full of ourselves when we succeed and not to become too down on ourselves when we fail. If we can navigate the middle road, we can lead more content lives.

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

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