Three in the morning and four in the afternoon

This volume explores the ideas and teachings of the fourth century BCE Chinese mystic and philosopher Chuang-tzu through selections from the Chuang-tzu.

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Introduction

According to people who know, Lao-tzu said:

When you talk about the Dao
People respond in different ways.
When the astute hear about it
They immediately attune to it.
When the mediocre hear about it
They rationalize about it.
When the thick-headed hear about it
They laugh and turn away.
If it were not something to laugh about
It would not be the Dao.

1. Bird of Freedom

In the barren north there’s a dark sea called the lake of heaven. In it there lives a small fish who thinks big. This fish metamorphoses into an odd bird called the Peng. The Peng has a back as high as a mountain. He beats his wings, and creating a whirlwind he leaps into the air, soaring up ninety thousand miles through the clouds and the mist. He then turns and heads south.
The quail laughs derisively and says, “I never go further than twelve yards. That’s what flying is all about. So where the hell does he think he’s going?” 

Commentary

In his or her heart every child dreams of flying.
The soul longs for freedom. It wants to leap into the sky and sail free leaving the humdrum world far behind.
It is said that one day a man approached Chuang-tzu and asked him, “Is there a Way or isn’t there a Way?”
Chuang-tzu replied, “There both is a Way and there isn’t a Way. Have you ever watched a bird take flight? He leaps up, extends his wings and flaps them around making a real commotion until he finds the air stream. And then he glides free through space.”

22. No Let Up

As soon as a person gets given a body, there’s just no let up. He starts to tangle with things. He starts all this business of pushing and pulling things around. He goes off galloping out of control like a horse with his tail on fire. Nothing can stop him. Someone puts some idea in his head and then he labours away grunting and sweating to accomplish something that he’s been told he must accomplish. He exhausts himself without rest. He says, “Look I’m doing fine! I’ll get there. I’m not quite dead yet!” But to what avail is it all? Am I the only one who feels bewildered by all this?

Commentary

Some people consider life to be a battlefield. But if you want to eat ice-cream don’t follow the soldiers to the battlefield.
In the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi neijing suwen), the Yellow Emperor says:

In the past people followed the natural way of living. They understood the principle of balance and of harmonizing yin and yang. They avoided overtaxing their bodies and minds and they refrained from excess. These days people have changed how they live. They engage in destructive activities and drain their vital essence. They don’t how to conserve their vitality. They seek emotional excitements and transient pleasures and disregard the natural order and rhythm of the cosmos. They fail to harmonize the way they live. Is it any wonder that by the age of fifty they are worn out and ready for death?

50. Perspective

When we compare things, if we regard a thing as big because it has a certain bigness about it, then in the end there is nothing that is not big. Likewise, if we regard a thing as small because it has a certain smallness about it, then in the end there is nothing that is not small. If we can see that the earth is but a grain of sand and that the tip of a hair is like a mountain then we have understood this matter of perspective.

Commentary

If you look at an elephant from a yard away he looks big. But if you look at the same elephant from a mile away he looks small.
The world is how you paint it. It’s how you see things. All perspectives are perspectives. All perspectives depend on where you’re standing. Lao-tzu says in the Dao de jing:

When people see some things as beautiful
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good
Other things become bad.

90. Ease

The wise person finds ease where there is ease and doesn’t try to find ease where there is no ease to be found. The fool looks for ease where there is no ease to be found and doesn’t find ease where there is ease to be found.

Commentary

One person digs for water where there’s water whereas the other digs where there isn’t any.
An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body. Energy cannot flow through a rigid structure. Equally it cannot flow through something that is too loose. In Chinese the word for relaxation is song. Song also means soft. When the heart-mind is soft and aware, the body is relaxed too. When there is relaxation of body and mind, energy flows.  When energy flows without blockage body, mind and cosmos are in tune.

The adept Sun Simiao explains:

When the breath is deep and relaxed, the various sicknesses won’t arise. When breathing is shallow and tense, illness follows. Those who wish to preserve their health should first learn how to adjust their breathing. Breathing from the ocean of energy cures most sicknesses.

When the mind is at ease and the emotions are balanced then there is harmony. The expression of harmony is intrinsic joy and happiness. The body-mind is relaxed and energetically open.