Zhuangzi translation and commentary

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Duke Huan was hunting in a marsh with Guan Zhong driving when they saw a ghost. The Duke grabbed Guan Zhong's hand and said, "Father Zhong, what do you see?"

He replied, "I don't see anything."

The Duke went home, fell chatteringly ill, and couldn't come out for several days. A gentleman from Qi, one Royal Prince Rambling Pronouncement, said, "Sir, you're harming yourself. How could a ghost harm a duke? When startled energies scatter and don't return, you feel inadequate. When they rise but don't fall, they incline you to anger. When they fall but don't rise, they incline you to forgetfulness. When they neither rise not fall but gather in your heart, they make you sick."

Duke Huan said, "So, then, are there ghosts?"

"Yup. There's Stomp in the drain and Bun in the oven. Crashboom lives in the pile of junk behind the door. Doubleboo and Salmoong hop around the northwest corner while Toobright lives under the northeast. In the rivers there's Nothinglike, in the hills there's Horndog, in the mountains there's Wall Russ, in the wilds there's Dilly-dally, in the marches there's Undulating . . ."

Duke said, "What does Undulating look like?!"

Prince said, "Undulating is round as a wheel, tall as an axle. Purple clothes, crimson hat. Real mean. When it hears thunder or traffic, it grabs its head and stands up. Anyone who sees it is likely to become boss."

Duke Huan smiled and laughed, "That's exactly what I saw!" Then he adjusted his jacket and hat, sat up, and before the day was out didn't notice his illness was gone.



When Confucius traveled west to the state of Wey, Yan Hui asked Teacher Gold, "What do you think about my master's trip?"

Teacher Gold says, "It's a shame. Your master's luck will run out."

Yan Hui said, "What?!"

Teacher Gold said, "Before presentation in the sacrifice, the straw dogs are pampered in bamboo boxes and wrapped in embroidered towels. The head priest fasts and sacrifices before holding them. But once they've been presented, passersby just walk all over them and people use them for kindling. Try taking them back, pampering them in their bamboo boxes, wrapping them in their embroidered towels. Lie down under that for a nap and you'll have no good dreams but a series of nightmares!

Now your teacher is taking straw dogs already presented by former kings and gathering disciples to lie down and nap beneath them. So he had a tree chopped down on him in Song, his tracks wiped away in Wey, and was dire straights in Shang and Zhou. How were these for good dreams? He was surrounded between Chen and Cai, with no cooked food for seven days, on the border between life and death. How was that for a nightmare?

For traveling on water there’s nothing like a boat. For traveling on land, there’s nothing like a cart. But though a boat can go on water, if you try pushing it on land, you can push until you die and not go an inch. Aren’t past and present like water and land? Aren’t the states of Zhou and Lu like boats and carts? Those who insist on using the ways of Zhou in Lu might as well be pushing a boat on land. They exhaust themselves without success and bring certain misfortune on their heads. They do not know the directionless revolution that responds to things without tiring.

Haven't you ever seen a well sweep? Draw down on it, then it stoops. Let go and it rises up. It's drawn by people, doesn't draw people, so no one is hurt by its stooping and rising. The various rituals and rules of the three emperors and five lords don't strive for uniformity; they strive for governance. So we can compare the various rituals and rules of the three emperors and five lords to quinces, pears, oranges, and pomelos: they taste different, but all good!

So rituals and rules should change with the times. Now if you take a monkey and dress him in the robes of the Duke of Zhou, he'll chew and tear at them and won't be happy until he's rid of them. Past and present are as different as a monkey and the Duke of Zhou.

When beautiful Xi Shi had a stomach ache and frowned at the villagers, her ugly neighbor saw how good she looked that way, so he went home clasping his stomach and frowning at his neighbors, too, until the wealthy people slammed their windows and doors and wouldn't come out, while the poor people grabbed their children and ran to escape him. He understood the beauty of her frown but not what made it beautiful. It's a shame. Your master's luck will run out."



Bonus tracks.

These are a few other passages I like that Graham didn't include. 



For protection against thieves who crack safes, rifle bags, and bust crates, you need seals, cords, sturdy bolts and locks. This is normally considered smart. Still, when a huge thief comes and lifts up the crate, shoulders the safe, and walks off with the bag, he'll only worry that the seals, cords, bolts and locks aren't sturdy enough. Then doesn't what used to be called smart turn out to collecting loot for the thief? 

Let me put it this way. Aren't people who are commonly considered wise really just collecting loot for big thieves? Aren't "wise people" just big thieves' sentries? 

How do I know this is so? In the old days in Qi, neighboring villages overlooked each other and could hear each other roosters and dogs. They wove nets and tilled the land. Two thousand some acres! Everywhere within its boundaries, the establishment of temples and alters the organization of cities, towns and villagesdidn't it follow the rules of the wise? And then one morning Tian Chengzi killed the Duke of Qi and stole his state. And was it only the state he stole? Along with it he stole the rules of the wise people. So, Tian Chengzi got the reputation of a thief but personally lived in the comfort of a Yao or a Shun. With small states not daring to object and large states not daring to criticize, they held the state of Qi for twelve generations. So didn't he steal not only the state but also the rules of the wise people to guard the person of a robber and thief? 

So Robber Zhi's follower asked him, "Do thieves also have a way?" Zhi answered, "How could proceed if they did not have a way? Crazy guesses about which room the treasure's in is wisdom. Being first in is courage, last out is righteousness. Knowing if you can pull it off or not is knowledge. Equal division is kindness. No on in the world can become a great thief without all these five."

From this you can see, good people without a wise way can't stand; thieves without a sagely way can't walk; the world's good people are few but the bad people many, so the wise people do the world little good and much harm.

When sages flourish, thieves rise up. Flog the sages and free the thieves, then the world will finally be ordered. When the river runs dry the valley is empty; flatten the hills and the holes will be filled. Once the sage is dead, great thieves won't rise up, and the world will be at peace for no reason. But until the sage is dead, there will be no end of thieves. And if you double the sages to order the world, then you'll just double the thieves. 

Standardize quarts and gallons and they'll steal with quarts and gallons. Establish weights and measures and they'll steal with weights and measure. Protect yourself with a passwords and they'll steal with passwords. Elevate people with benevolence and righteousness and they'll steal with benevolence and righteousness.

How do I know this is so? Steal a belt buckle and you'll be executed. Steal a country and you'll be a feudal lord. The feudal lords' halls are full of the benevolent and righteous. Isn't this that they've stolen benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and knowledge? So they chase the great thieves, raise up the feudal lords, steal benevolence and righteousness, and profit off standards and regulations. Encouraging them with recognition and rewards can't move them. Threatening  them with shame and punishments can't stop them. This piling up of profits for the thieves to ensure they can't be stopped, that's the sin of the wise.

Those wise people are the sharp weapons of the state, not the way to enlighten the world. Break from wisdom and abandon knowledge and great thievery will stop; toss out the jade and destroy the pearls, and small thieves won't rise up. Burn the tallies and break the seals, and the people will be simple and rustic. Trash the measures and destroy the weights and people will stop fighting. Hackwhack the rules of the wise and people will finally be able to reason with each other.

Pull out apart the six tones, incinerate the instruments, plug blind Maestro Kuang's ears, and people in the world will finally regain their hearing. Eliminate books and articles, scatter the five flavors, glue Li Zhu's eyes shut, and people in the world will regain their vision. Destroy the plum lines and compasses, get rid of the yardsticks and T-squares, shatter Carpenter Chui's fingers, and people in the world will finally regain their handiwork. 

So it is said, "Great skill seems clumsy." Curtail the behavior of Zeng and Shi, gag the mouths of Yang and Mo, seize and dispose of benevolence and righteousness, and the world's powers will finally mysteriously converge. Once those people regain their sight, the world won't be dazzled; once they regain their hearing, the world won't tire; once they regain their knowledge, they won't doubt; once they regain their power, the world will no longer be biased. Zeng, Shi, Yang, Mo, Maestro Kuang, Carpenter Chui, and Li Zhu all alienate people's powers dazzlingly confused the world so their rules were useless. [1]



Cloud Commander wandered east, past the whirlwind's branches, and bumped into Lucy Goose. Lucy Goose was just going around butt-slapping and sparrow-hopping. When Cloud Commander see her, he stopped, non-plussed, stood motionless and said, "Old woman, what kind of person are you? Old woman, what are you doing?"

Without ceasing butt-slapping and sparrow-hopping, Lucy Goose said, "Playing."

Cloud Commander said, "We would like to ask you a question."

Lucy Goose looked up at Cloud Commander and said, "Ugh!"

Cloud Commander said, "Heaven's energies are out of harmony. Earth's energies are knotted up. The six energies are out of tune. The four seasons are out of sync. Now I want to harmonize the essences of the six energies to rear the flock of life. How do I do it?"

Lucy Goose butt-slapped and sparrow-hopped and shook her head, "I don't know. I don't know."

Cloud Commander didn't get an answer.

Three years later, wandering east, after passing the Song wilds, he bumped into Lucy Goose. Cloud Commander was very happy. He hurried forward and approached, saying, "Did Nature forget Us? Did Nature forget Us?"

He kowtowed twice and asked to hear from Lucy Goose. 

Lucy Goose said, "Floating drifters don't know what they are looking for. The freaking crazy don't know where they are going. Players hustle bustle to view without deception. What do We know?"

Cloud Commander said, "We also think of Ourselves as freaking crazy. But the people follow where We go. We can't get away from them. It is because the people follow Us that I would like to hear your thoughts."

Lucy Goose said, "If you confuse the strands of nature and resist the essences of things, the dark sky will be incomplete. The animal herds will scatter and the all the birds will cry at night. Grass and trees will die and even insects will feel the pain. Ai! It's the fault of 'governing' people!"

Cloud Commander said, "So what should I do?"

LucyGoose said, "You're poison. Bug off home!"

Cloud Commander said, "It is hard for me to meet with you, Nature. I would like to hear from you!" 

Lucy Goose said, "Oh, care for your mind. If you just stay doing nothing, things will change themselves. Crumble the body, purge your intelligence, forget relationships and things, and converge big with hell's swells. Loose the mind, release the spirit, emptily with no soul, and all those ten thousand things will return to their roots, return to their roots without even realizing it. All-all-full-full, their whole lives they don't leave it. But know it and you've left it. If you don't ask their name or spy on their essence, things can be relied on to take care of themselves."

Cloud Commander said, "Our Nature has favored Us with her powers and showed Us silence. I sought it on bended knee and got it today." He kowtowed twice, said goodby, and left. [1]



Devoted children don't flatter their parents and loyal employees don't suck up to their bosses. These are the best kinds of children and employees. Ones who agree with everything their parents say and approve of everything their parents do, everyone agrees are lousy children. Ones who agree with everything their bosses say and approve of everything their bosses do, everyone agrees are lousy employees. But don't they realize this is always true? When people agree with what popular opinion says and approve of what popular opinion approves, no one says they take their lead from flatterers. So does popular opinion really deserve more respect than parents or more authority than bosses? 

If someone says you follow the crowd, you'll look hurt. If they call you a flatterer, you'll look angry. But then if your whole life you follow the crowd, your whole life you flatter, making yourself up and choosing your words to gain followers, then your beginning does sit well with your end or you roots with the tips. You carefully choose your wardrobe, linger over your make-up, adjusting your appearance to charm a the world but you don't call yourself a flatterer! Following the leaders, switching your rights and wrongs, and still not thinking you're one of the crowd. It's the height of stupidity!

Those who know they are stupid are not very stupid. Those who know they are lost are not very lost. The most lost go their whole lives without realizing it. The most stupid go their whole life without waking up to it. If three people are walking and one is lost, they can still get where they're going. If two are lost, they most likely won't make it because the lost have got the upper hand. And now the whole world is lost and, though I shop directions, I can't win. Isn't it sad?

Great music can't gain entry to rustic ears, but at "Louie, Louie" or "Who let the dogs out?" they'll grin to pop a sunflower seed. Lofty words similarly don't stick in the minds of the crowd. The reason perfect words don't stand is because popular talk dominates. Once two dragging feet are lost, there is no way to get where they are going. Now that the world is lost, though I shop directions, how could it ever work?

Knowing it won't work and still trying to force it—that's just being lost again. So it's better just to give up and not push. If I don't push, who will be upset with me? When the freak gives birth in the middle of the night, she reaches frantically for a torch, gasping, worrying only whether the child looks like her.

Followers of popular opinion are glad when people agree with them and mad when they don't. They want people to agree with them and not disagree so they can stand out from the crowd. But how can someone stand out from the crowd by wanting to stand out from the crowd? 

Relying on the crowd to confirm your opinion is not as good as letting the crowd of skills crowd. Those who want to do another persons world for them focus on the benefits of the former kings without seeing their harms. This is rolling the dice with someone else's world, and how can you roll the dice with someone else's world without losing? The odds of its survival aren't one in ten thousand, and the odds of its loss are ten thousand to one! [1]



The walrus envies the millipede. The millipede envies the snake. The snake envies the wind. The wind envies the eye. And the eye envies the mind.

The walrus spoke to the millipede, saying “I go hippety-flopping [1] on one foot, and there’s nothing like it! How can you manage those ten thousand feet of yours?”

The millipede said, “It’s not like that. Haven’t you seen a man spit? He just hawks and—drops big as pearls! fine as mist! mixing and falling! You can’t count them all! I just pull my natural trigger. I don’t know how it works!”

The millipede spoke to the snake, "I use a bunch of feet to walk but can't catch up to you with none. How's that?"

The snake said, "The natural trigger does it. Can I help it? What would I do with feet?"

The snake spoke to the wind, "I just move my spine to walk. It's something else! Now you whoosh-whoosh up to the north sea and whoosh-whoosh down to the south sea like nothing I've ever seen! How?"

The wind said, "True, I whoosh-whoosh up to the north sea down to the south sea. You can hold up a finger against me and walk right through me, but I alone can snap huge trees and fly whole buildings by turning all those small weaknesses into a great strength. Only the wise can create great strength!" [1]



When Zhong Ni was in Chu, the Chu king feasted him. Sunshu Ao held the wine and South Market Yiliao poured it, saying, "Man of old! Speak to us about it now!" 

He said, "I've heard about the unspoken speech but have never tried to speak it. I'll speak about it now. South Market Yiliao played catch and the difficulty between two families was solved. Sunshu Ao took a sweet nap with his fan and the men of Ying laid down their arms. I wish I had a beak a yard long!" [1]