Transformation of the Ten Thousand Beings

Before setting off on a journey Yen Hui went to see Master Confucius.

“Where are you going?” asked Confucius.

“I am going to Wei,” answered Yen Hui.

“What will you do there?”

“I have heard that the Prince of Wei is young and vigorous and keeps his own counsel. He is blind to his own faults and is irresponsible in his ruling. Many people have died there. Their bodies lie everywhere, thick like grass in a swampland. His people thus have nowhere to turn. You have taught us Master that we should leave a country that is well governed and go to a country that is not. It is as though there are many people who are suffering and are at the doctor’s door. I wish to use your teachings to help this country heal.”

“Wonderful,” said Confucius, “but you will probably end up losing your head. Don’t you know that the Way is not to get mixed up in something like this? For the Tao to get mixed up with this would be to add confusion to the situation. With confusion comes tension and with tension comes trouble and once you are in trouble, nothing can save you.

“The sage of old cultivated himself before he attempted to help others. If you yourself are not cultivated, what help could you possibly be for others? Do you know how virtue [de] is lost and how mere knowledge arises? True virtue can be destroyed by fame, and mere knowledge is often reached by conflict. Fame is something that can be used to beat down others and knowledge is used to attack others. Both are instruments of evil and the sage has no need of either one.

“Though your own virtue is strong and your sincerity deep, if you do not understand the human spirit you will get nowhere. Even though you do not strive for fame and honor you still do not understand the heart of a man like this tyrant. If you go before him and lecture him about righteousness and benevolence you will only be setting yourself up as being superior to him. This will make him very angry and he will probably accuse you of setting yourself up as being superior to him. He will say that you are attacking him, which will cause him to attack you and he will probably order your execution!

“On the other hand, if this lord is actually a worthy man after all, what good would it possibly be for you to try and change him?

“I say it would be better for you not to go there at all. It may be that this lord would only use your words to show how superior he is over you. Kings and rulers have always lorded it over the common people, using their own words as a method of control over others. If you go there and try to speak with him he will dazzle and overwhelm you with his own words, and you will be struck speechless and seem like a dullard or idiot. Your eyes will cloud over, your color will change, your mouth will try to come up with better arguments but you will end up agreeing with him completely. This is called ‘fighting fire with fire or water with water. ‘

“Before you know it you will have given in completely to his words and views and you have given up all of your own. And in the end you will probably lose your head.

“In ancient times Chieh executed Kuan Lung Feng and Chou executed Prince Pi Kan. Both of these two executed men were virtuous and sought to help the common people of their land. In doing so they ended up opposing their lords and because of their unfortunate love of fame and glory they were executed.

“Also, in ancient times, Yao attacked the kingdoms of Tsung Chih and Tsu Ao and Yu invaded You Hu. Thus these kingdoms were destroyed and their lands laid to waste and their rulers were put to death.

“This was because of these rulers’ great thirst for power and their unceasing life of warfare in order to gain riches and fame.

“These great seekers of fame and riches, have you not heard of them? Even sages cannot deal with such men, how will you do so? If you have a plan for this, please tell me what it is.”

Yen Hui answered, “If I empty my thoughts, am dignified and preserving and single-minded, will this be enough?”

“That will never work,” said Confucius, “this ruler of Wei is full of himself and is used to having his own way with people. He is extremely proud and unstable in his moods and is not used to having people oppose him. He is not concerned with small matters of virtue and integrity, so how will he respond when you present him with higher ones? He will be stubborn and obstinate and will not be interested in changing his ways. Oh, he may put on a show of receiving your advice but inwardly he will not change at all. So how will your approach have any chance of succeeding?”

“Well,” said Yen Hui, “what if I were to be inwardly firm yet outwardly flexible. I will quote from the sages of old. Do you not teach that to be inwardly firm is to be a follower of heaven? In this way I can show this ruler that he, as the Son of Heaven, and I are born of the same heaven. Because of this I will be unattached as to how people receive my words. I will be as one that others will call child-like. This is what I call being a ‘Child of Heaven.’

“By being outwardly compliant I will be seen as one with the common people. In bowing, kneeling, and bending to the lord, I will be seen as behaving like a minister of the people and subservient to the lord.

“Then, by using the words and teachings of the ancient sages, even though my words may be critical and reprimanding, they will not be seen as my words. Thus I need not be afraid of speaking out. Will this plan work?”

“How could this possibly work?” asked Confucius, “It seems to me that you have too many plans and ideas without really thinking any of them through. If you use this approach you may come away with your head but you will not be able to effect any kind of change in the Prince of Wei. You are still relying to much on the rigidity of the mind.”

“Well then,” said Yen Hui, “I have no other ideas. What do you think I should do?”

“I think you need to fast,” answered Confucius. “By using the mind to accomplish things, this will not do. You will not be aligning yourself with heaven if you attempt to do this.”

“But,” said Yen Hui, “my family is very poor. I have not drunk wine or eaten meat in a long time. Does this not count as fasting?”

“That is but ritual fasting,” said Confucius. “What I am talking about is the fasting of the mind.”

“What then is the fasting of the mind?” asked Yen Hui.

“You must center your heart/mind in perfect harmony,” answered Confucius. “Do not listen with your ears but with your heart/mind. Do no listen with your heart/mind but with your vital energy [chi]. Hearing stops with the ears, thoughts and ideas stop with the mind. Your chi or vital energy though, resides in stillness and is open and receptive to all things. True knowledge or Tao, resides in stillness and emptiness and to attain this emptiness one must use the fasting of the mind.”

Yen Hui was moved and went away to practice. When next he saw his master he said, “Before I began this practice I was certain that I was Yen Hui, but now that I have practiced it I am no longer so certain of who I am. Is this what you mean by emptiness?”

“Yes,” said his teacher. “Let me explain further. You may approach the Prince of Wei, but do so humbly without attachment to fame or glory. If he wants to listen to you then speak with him, if not, remain silent. Where there is no opening, no harm can come to you. Dwell in the place of oneness and remain calm and undisturbed. Then you will perhaps achieve success.

“It is easy to cover one’s tracks, but to walk without touching the ground, this is difficult. If you only seek to serve humanity, that is easy. But if you truly desire to serve heaven, this is difficult. You have heard of flying with wings but it is indeed difficult to fly without them. You have heard of the knowing that comes from the result of knowledge, but you do not yet know of the knowing that comes from not knowing.

“Dwell in the empty chamber within, which is full of light. By dwelling in this stillness great blessings will come your way. If you do not rest there, your mind will keep racing madly like a wild horse. But if you keep yourself centered and still, deep within this place, and allow your thinking mind to dwell outside, you will attract helpful spirits, and gods will come to your aid, never mind other men!

“This is what is called ‘the transformation of the ten thousand beings.’ This is what the ancient wise kings Yu and Shun knew; it was the constant practice of Fu Shi and Chi Chu and is all the more essential for ordinary men.”

THE INNER CHAPTERS / Chuang Tzu