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Personal Anecdotes

"Musings of a Chinese Mystic", by Lionel Giles, [1906],

p. 109

Personal Anecdotes

Chuang Tz was fishing in the Pu when the prince of Chu sent two high officials to ask him to take charge of the administration of the Chu State.

Chuang Tz went on fishing and, without turning his head, said "I have heard that in Chu there is a sacred tortoise which has been dead now some three thousand years, and that the prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed in a chest on the altar of his ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its remains venerated, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?"

"It would rather be alive," replied the two officials, "and wagging its tail in the mud."

"Begone!" cried Chuang Tz. "I too will wag my tail in the mud."


Hui Tz was prime minister in the Liang State. Chuang Tz went thither to visit him.

Some one remarked: "Chuang Tz has come. He wants to be minister in your place,"

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Thereupon Hui Tz was afraid, and searched all over the State for three days and three nights to find him.

Then Chuang Tz went to see Hui Tz and said: "In the south there is a bird. It is a kind of Do you know it? It started from the south sea to fly to the north sea. Except on the "wu-tung" tree, it would not alight. It would eat nothing but the fruit of the bamboo, drink nothing but the purest spring water. An owl which had got the rotten carcass of a rat, looked up as the phoenix flew by, and screeched. Are you not screeching at me over your kingdom of Liang?"


Chuang Tz and Hui Tz had strolled on to the bridge over the Hao, when the former observed: "See how the minnows are darting about! That is the pleasure of fishes."

"You not being a fish yourself," said Hui Tz, "how can you possibly know in what consists the pleasure of fishes?"

"And you not being I," retorted Chuang Tz, "how can you know that I do not know?"

"If I, not being you, cannot know what you know," urged Hui Tz, "it follows that you, not being a fish, cannot know in what consists the pleasure of fishes."

"Let us go back," said Chuang Tz, "to your

p. 111

original question. You asked me how I knew in what consists the pleasure of fishes. Your very question shows that you knew I knew. 1 I knew it from my own feelings on this bridge."


When Chuang Tz's wife died, Hui Tz went to condole. He found the widower sitting on the ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right angle, and beating time on a bowl.

"To live with your wife," exclaimed Hui Tz, "and see your eldest son grow up to be a man, and then not to shed a tear over her corpse,--this would be bad enough. But to drum on a bowl, and sing; surely this is going too far."

"Not at all," replied Chuang Tz. "When she died, I could not help being affected by her death. Soon, however, I remembered that she had already existed in a previous state before birth, without form, or even substance; that while in that unconditioned condition, substance was added to spirit; that this substance then assumed form; and that the next stage was birth. And now, by virtue of a further change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn and winter. And while she is thus lying asleep in Eternity, for me to go about weeping and wailing

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would be to proclaim myself ignorant of these natural laws. Therefore I refrain."


When Chuang Tz was about to die, his disciples expressed a wish to give him a splendid funeral. But Chuang Tz said: "With Heaven and Earth for my coffin and shell; with the sun, moon, and stars, as my burial regalia; and with all creation to escort me to the grave,--are not my funeral paraphernalia ready to hand?"

"We fear," argued the disciples, "lest the carrion kite should eat the body of our Master;" to which Chuang Tz replied: "Above ground I shall be food for kites; below I shall be food for mole-crickets and ants. Why rob one to feed the other?"

"Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury".


For you asked me "how" I knew.

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