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Lao-tzu Motto

Nan-yung Khu is Granted
Instruction by Lao-tzu

Nan-yung Khu hereupon took with him some rations, and after seven days and seven nights arrived at the abode of Lao-tzu, who said to him, "Are you come from Khû's?" "I am," was the reply. "And why, Sir, have you come with such a multitude of attendants?" Nan-yung was frightened, and turned his head round to look behind him. Lao-tzu said, "Do you not understand my meaning?" The other held his head down and was ashamed, and then he lifted it up, and sighed, saying, "I forgot at the moment what I should reply to your question, and in consequence I have lost what I wished to ask you." "What do you mean?"

"If I have not wisdom, men say that I am stupid, while if I have it, it occasions distress to myself. If I have not benevolence, then (I am charged) with doing hurt to others, while if I have it, I distress myself. If I have not righteousness, I (am charged with) injuring others, while if I have it, I distress myself. How can I escape from these dilemmas? These are the three perplexities that trouble me; and I wish at the suggestion of Khû to ask you about them."

Lao-tzu replied, "A little time ago, when I saw you and looked right into your eyes, I understood you, and now your words confirm the judgment which I formed. You look frightened and amazed. You have lost your parents, and are trying with a pole to find them at the (bottom of) the sea. You have gone astray; you are at your wit's end. You wish to recover your proper nature, and you know not what step to take first to find it. You are to be pitied!"

Nan-yung Khû asked to be allowed to enter (the establishment), and have an apartment assigned to him. (There) he sought to realise the qualities which he loved, and put away those which he hated. For ten days he afflicted himself, and then waited again on Lao-tzu, who said to him, "You must purify yourself thoroughly! But from your symptoms of distress, and signs of impurity about you, I see there still seem to cling to you things that you dislike. When the fettering influences from without become numerous, and you try to seize them (you will find it a difficult task); the better plan is to bar your inner man against their entrance. And when the similar influences within get intertwined, it is a difficult task to grasp (and hold them in check); the better plan is to bar the outer door against their exit. Even a master of the Tao and its characteristics will not be able to control these two influences together, and how much less can one who is only a student of the Tao do so!"

Nan-yung Khû said, "A certain villager got an illness, and when his neighbours asked about it, he was able to describe the malady, though it was one from which he had not suffered before. When I ask you about the Grand Tao, it seems to me like drinking medicine which (only serves to) increase my illness. I should like to hear from you about the regular method of guarding the life; - that will be sufficient for me."

The Regular Method
of Guarding Ones Life

Lao-tzu replied, "(You ask me about) the regular method of guarding the life; - can you hold the One thing fast in your embrace? Can you keep from losing it? Can you know the lucky and the unlucky without having recourse to the tortoise-shell or the divining stalks? Can you rest (where you ought to rest)? Can you stop (when you have got enough)? Can you give over thinking of other men, and seek what you want in yourself (alone)? Can you flee (from the allurements of desire)? Can you maintain an entire simplicity? Can you become a little child? The child will cry all the day, without his throat becoming hoarse; - so perfect is the harmony (of his physical constitution). It will keep his fingers closed all the day without relaxing their grasp; - such is the concentration of his powers. It will keep his eyes fixed all day, without their moving; - so is him unaffected by what is external to him. He walks he knows not whither; he rests where he is placed, he knows not why; he is calmly indifferent to things, and follows their current. This is the regular method of guarding the life.

*From "The Writings of Chuang-tzu", Book XXIII, Part III, Section I. Translation by James Legge. Selection by WPE.

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