Zhuangzi translation and commentary

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When Confucius was going to Chu he stayed in a tavern at Ant Hill. Old men, women, and servants climbed onto neighboring buildings. Zilu said, "What's with the hub-bub?" 

Zhongni said, "These are servants of a wise man who has buried himself in the people and hidden himself in the fields. His fames dwindles but his will persists. Though his mouth speaks, his mind has never yet said a word. He resists his age and his mind can't bear to go along with it, land-drowned. Is it South Market Yiliao?"

Zilu asked permission to go see him. Confucius said, "Enough! He knows I'm stuck on myself. He knows I'm going to Chu and that I can't help but try to get the king of Chu to hire me. So he takes me for a climber. People like that are ashamed even to hear the words of a climber, much less to meet them in person. What makes you think he's still around?"

Zilu went to see him but his house was empty. [1]



Some people are spellbound; some are freeloaders; and others are swaybacked. What I mean by the spellbound are people who have studied one teacher's words and then--spelly-spelly boundy-boundy--talk to themselves, self satisfied, not knowing what it was like before there were things. That's what I mean by "spellbound." 

"Freeloaders" are pig-lice. They find a place where bristles are spread out and think they're in a national park; in a toe- or butt-crotch, between some nipples or on a leg or a thigh, they think they're riding high, in in the sweet spot, unaware that one day the butcher will lower the boom, light the fire, and that they will be roasted along with the pig. 

Emperor Shun is what I mean by "swaybacked". Goat meat doesn't dig ants. Ants dig goat meat, because it's rank. Shun acted rankly and the hundred clans loved it. Everywhere he went became a city, until by the time he reached the desert of Deng he had a hundred thousand families. Emperor Yao heard of Shun's worth and raised him from the barren ground to make him emperor, saying, "May we have the benefit of your coming?" When Emperor Shun was raised from the barren ground, he was already long in the tooth. He was losing his vision and hearing but still didn't get to retire, so I call him "swaybacked." 

So spiritual people dislike drawing a crowd; when the crowd comes, they don't join them; not joining them, they don't benefit them. So, they don't care for anyone in particular or distance themselves from anyone in particular. Embracing the powers and melting into harmony, they follow along with the world and so are called True People. They leave knowledge to the ants, take their bearing from the fish, and leave thought to the goats. 



Mr. Tortoiseshell-face found the center of the socket and so could turn completely, no end or beginning with things, no "how long?" or when. Changing daily with things was the same as not changing. So why quit? Learning from nature won't learn from nature. Buried in things, how can you go about your business?

Wise people never begin to think in terms of nature, never begin to think in terms of people, never begin to think in terms of beginning, never begin to think in terms of things. They move together with the age, no exchanges. Their doings are complete, no overflow. How can you match that?

King Tang took the stable-boy gatekeeper Climb Constant and made him his tutor. Following him as a teacher but not hemming him in, he was able to turn completely. He made him oversee naming names and with plentiful rules was able to see both sides. Confucius made complete planning his tutor. Mr. Countenance Success said, "Chuck the days and there will be no years; with no inside, there's no outside." 



Stories about Zhuangzi



Zhuang Zhou was wandering by the edge of the Diaoling preserve when he saw a strange magpie flying up from the south. Her wings were seven feet across and her eyes were an inch around. She bumped into his forehead and then crashed in a chestnut grove. He said, “What kind of bird is this, with such magnificent wings that don’t get it anywhere and such big eyes that can’t see?”

Hitching up his robes and tiptoeing forward, he gave chase, bow in hand. He saw a cicada forgetting itself in a pretty bit of shade. A praying mantis took advantage of the cover to grab for it, forgetting its own body at the sight of gain. The strange magpie was right behind, eyeing the prize and forgetting its truth. 

Zhuang Zhou shuddered. “Yikes! Things certainly entangle one another, each one dragging in the next!” He threw down his bow and ran back the way he came, with the warden in tow, cursing at him.

Zhuang Zhou went home and didn’t come out for three days. His attendant, Strawgonna, asked, “Sir, why haven’t you left the house recently?”

Zhuang Zhou said, “I was guarding my body but forgot my self. I looked at muddy water and mistook it for clear depths. I’ve heard my teacher say, ‘Out in the world, follow its rules.’ Now I was wandering by Diaoling and forgot myself. A strange magpie bumped my forehead, wandered into the chestnut grove, and forgot its truth. And the grove warden took me for a poacher! That’s why I haven’t been out.” [1]



King Wei of Chu heard of Zhuang Zhou's worth and sent a messenger laden with gifts to meet him and invite to be a minister. Zhuang Zhou laughed and said, "Thousands in gold is a hefty profit and royal minister is an honored position, but haven't you seen the oxen sacrificed on the outskirts? They feed it for years, then drape it in embroidered silk to lead it into the great hall. By that point, it couldn't return to being a lonely calf again even if it wanted to. Get out of here, you! Don't stain me. I'd rather frolic in the filth pleasing myself than be bridled by some ruler. I'll avoid office in order to please my own mind."



Zhuang Zhou's household was broke, so he went to borrow some grain from the Marquis River Inspector. Marquis River Inspector said, "Sure. I am going to be getting my tribute gold soon and will loan you three hundred pieces. Will that do?"

Zhuang Zhou angrily changed color and said, "When I was coming yesterday, there was a shout from the road. I peeked into a wheel rut and saw a carp. I said, 'Come on, fish! What are you doing, sir?' 

It replied, "I used to be a minister of waves in the eastern ocean. Could m'lord spare a spoonful of water to save me?'

I said, 'Sure. I'm heading south to see the kings of Wu and Yue. I'll channel the water of the west river to meet you. Will that do?' 

The carp angrily changed color and said, 'I'm out of my usual element and have nowhere to turn. I need a ladleful of water survive. If this is all you can tell me, then you might as well look for me in the morning in the dried fish stand.'" [1]



A man named Business Class from Song was sent by the king of Song to Qin. He had several carriages when he left, but king there was pleased with him and gave him a hundred more. On his return to Song, he saw Zhuangzi and said, "Living on an abandoned alley in a poor village, trapped in your hand-made shoes, dried out, sick, and mutilated—I couldn't pull that off. But immediately impressing a great king and coming with a hundred carriages—that's more my style."

Zhuangzi said, "When the king of Qin is sick and calls the doctors, the ones who lance his boils and pop his zits got a carriage, but the ones who licked his hemorrhoids got five. The lower they go, the more they get. You must have treated his 'rhoids to get so many carriages. Go!" [1]



Someone met with the king of Song, who gifted him ten chariots, which he used to lord over ZhuangziZhuangzi said, "On the banks of the Yellow River lived a poor family that had to weave weeds to make a living. The son dove down to the depths and found a pearl worth a thousand dollars. 

The father said to him, 'Get a stone and smash it! A thousand dollar pearl can only come from under the chin of an ebony dragon nine layers down. For you to get this pearl, you must have caught him napping. Good luck getting off easy if that dragon wakes up!'

The king of Song is deeper than nine layers down and his ferocity is not just that of an ebony dragon.  You must have caught him napping to get these carriages,. If that king wakes up, you'll be mince-meat!" [1]



Zhuangzi, wearing a patched hemp shirt and shoes wrapped with string, went to see the king of Wei, who said, "What's the problem, my good sir?"

Zhuangzi said, "I'm poor. It's not a problem. A worthy person having the way and powers and not being able to use them: that's a problem. A worn-out shirt and holes in the shoes are poverty, not a problem. It's what called an issue of timing. 

Hasn't your majesty seen those leaping baboons? They reach the tallest of trees, swinging and slinging from limb to limb, kings of all they survey. Even the great Archer Yi and his son, Lost-in-the-weeds, couldn't get a bead on them. But when they land in the middle of thorns, brambles and cactuses, they walk carefully, looking around, quaking and quivering. It's not that their bones and muscles are any less springy and fluid, but the location is not apt and doesn't let them do what they can do. These days, someone living among benighted superiors and chaotic ministers couldn't avoid problems even if they wanted to, as Bi Gan's heart troubles go to prove!" [1]