Zhuangzi translation and commentary

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Table of contents

5:04

魯哀公問於仲尼曰:「衛有惡人焉,曰哀駘它。丈夫與之處者,思而不能去也。婦人見之,請於父母曰『與為人妻,寧為夫子妾』者,十數而未止也。未嘗有聞其唱者也,常和而已矣。無君人之位以濟乎人之死,無聚祿以望人之腹。

又以惡駭下,和而不唱,知不出乎四域,且而雌雄合乎前。是必有異乎人者也。寡人召而觀之,果以惡駭下。與寡人處,不至以月數,而寡人有意乎其為人也;不至乎期年,而寡人信之。國無宰,寡人傳國焉。悶然而後應,氾而若辭。寡人醜乎,卒授之國。無幾何也,去寡人而行,寡人卹焉若有亡也,若無與樂是國也。是何人者也?」

仲尼曰:「丘也,嘗使於楚矣,適見㹠子食於其死母者,少焉眴若,皆棄之而走。不見己焉爾,不得類焉爾。所愛其母者,非愛其形也,愛使其形者也。戰而死者,其人之葬也,不以翣資,刖者之屨,無為愛之,皆無其本矣

[a] 闉跂支無脤說衛靈公,靈公說之,而視全人,其脰肩肩。甕盎大癭說齊桓公,桓公說之,而視全人,其脰肩肩。故有所長,而形有所忘,人不忘其所忘,而忘其所不忘,此謂誠忘 。

天子之諸御,不爪翦,不穿耳;娶妻者止於外,不得復使。形全猶以為爾,而況全之人乎!

今哀駘它未言而信,無功而親,使人授己國,唯恐其不受也,是必才全而不形者也。」

哀公曰:「何謂才全?」

仲尼曰:「死生存亡,窮貧富,賢與不肖,毀譽、饑渴、寒暑,是事之變,之行也;日夜相代乎前,而知不能規乎其始者也。故不以滑和,不可入於靈府。使之和豫而不失於兌,使日夜無郤而與為春,是接而生時於心者也。是之謂才全。」

「何謂不形?」

曰:「平者,水停之盛也。其可以為法也,內保之而外不蕩也。[b] 故曰:風之過河也有損焉,日之過河也有損焉。請只風與日相與守河,而河以為未始其攖也,恃源而往者也。[c]

[d] 鯢旋之潘為淵,止水之潘為淵,流水之潘為淵,濫水之潘為淵,沃水之潘為淵,氿水之潘為淵,雍水之潘為淵,汧水之潘為淵,肥水之潘為淵 。[e] 故水之守土也審,影之守人也審,之守也審。[f] 者,和之修也。不形者,不能也。」

哀公異日以告閔子曰:「始也,吾以南面而君下,執民之紀,而憂其死,吾自以為至矣。今吾聞至人之言,恐吾無其實,輕用吾身而亡其國。吾與孔丘,非君臣也,友而已矣。」


Duke Ai of Lu said to Zhong Ni, “There was an ugly man in Wey named Sad Nag-it. Men hung around with him, thought about him all the time and couldn’t tear themselves away. Women saw him and by the dozen vowed to their parents they’d rather be his concubine than another man’s wife. He was never seen to take the lead, only follow along. He had no lordly status to save people from death, no piles of wealth to fill their bellies.

He was ugly enough to shock the world, followed without leading, and knew nothing beyond his own borders, but cocks and hens coupled in his presence. There had to be something special about him! So We summoned him for an audience, and he really was ugly enough to shock the world. He stayed with Us, and before a month was out We found Ourselves taking a personal interest in the kind of person he was. By the time a year passed, We trusted him. Since the state had no minister, We put him in charge. He looked glum and responded slowly, almost as though he were going to decline. We were embarrassed but eventually got him to take it. Before long, however, he abandoned Us. We were crushed, as though We’d lost a loved one, as though there was no one to enjoy the state with. What kind of man was this?” 

Confucius said, “I was once sent to Chu. On the way I saw piglets feeding at their dead mother. After a while, they all blinked and ran off. They didn’t see themselves in her, didn’t find their kind there. What they loved in their mother was not her body, but what moved her body. For someone dead in battle, it is too late to bring medals to the funeral. An amputee’s old shoes mean nothing to him. Both have lost the root [of what made these things important]. 

Lame-foot Splay-limbed No-lips spoke with Duke Ling of Wei and Duke Ling was so pleased with him that, when he saw whole people, he thought they stood up too straight and looked fleshy. Pitcher-sized Goiter spoke to Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Huan was so pleased that when he saw whole people he thought their necks were skinny. So, as powers are gotten, the body's forgotten. Forgetting what other people don't forget and not forgetting what they do forget is what I call trustworthy forgetting. [*]

Once women have wedded the emperor, they no longer need to do their nails or wear ear-rings. Married men shouldn't leave the city or travel far. When we do this to keep people's bodies whole, how much more should we do for people whose powers are whole! [1]

"Now this Sad Nag was trusted before he spoke and was loved though he accomplished nothing. He got people to give him their own states and worry he wouldn’t take them! He must have fulfilled his potential though his powers didn't take shape.”

Duke Ai asked, “What do you mean by fulfilling his potential?”

Confucius said, “Death, life, survival, loss, failure, success, poverty, wealth, worth, depravity, slander, praise, hunger, thirst, winter, summer—the alternation of these things is the process of fate. Day and night they alternate before us. Who know where they come from? Don’t let them slip out of harmony or penetrate your spirit store. Indulge them harmoniously. Let them circulate without mixing together. Day and night, without a break, make it springtime with things. As you greet each new circumstance, generate the season in your own mind. This is what I mean by fulfilling your potential.” [2]

“What do you mean by powers taking no shape?”

“Levelness is the height of still water, so it can be used as a model. Hold it from within and it will not be disturbed from without. So they say, when the wind crosses a river, there is a loss. When the sun crosses a river, there is a loss. Just let the wind and sun guard the river together and the river still won't feel the friction, because it relies on springs to go. 

Whirlpools collect in the depths. Still water collects in the depths. Flowing water collects in the depths. Flood waters collect in the depths. Irrigation water collects in the depths. Spring water collects in the depths. Burbling water collects in the depths. Swamp water collects in the depths. Fetid water collects in the depths. Water guards the earth where it collects. Shadows guard form where they collect. Things guard things where they collect. Powers are the cultivation of complete harmony. When powers take no shape, things cannot leave.” [5]

Later, Duke Ai told Min Zi, “At first when I ruled the empire, I held the reins of the people and worried about their welfare. I thought I had perfectly understood it. Now that I’ve heard this explanation of the perfect person, I fear that I lacked the real substance and that I damaged the state by neglecting myself. Confucius and I are not subject and lord; we are friends in powers, is all.” [6]




[*] Commentary: Guo and Cheng both take these guys to be simulacra of sages, images but not quite the real thing. A real sage manages to make you forget not just their appearance buit their virtue, as well.

[1] Confucius' answer here explains both why Sad Nag-it left Duke Ai and why people flocked to Sad Nag-it. People were drawn to Nag-it because they saw themselves in him; they felt of-a-kind, though not with his body but with his spirit. Nag-it fled the Duke because something about the Duke's behavior alienated him; again, not his body but his spirit. The last line would make more sense if it read "how much more should we do for people to keep people's powers whole!" But that's not actually what it says.

[2] The language here is poetic and hard to interpret with confidence, but I think as with, for instance, 1:03 and 2:05, it is just Zhuangzi's way of saying "go with the flow." "Making it springtime with things"and "generating the season in your own mind" recall the fertility imagery of Sad Nag-it causing the poultry to couple and the "woman in her season" in 1:05.

[3] The first part of this paragraph seems to talk about the calmness of water. This is a little surprising: one would expect a reference to seeing one's reflection after the story about the piglets not seeing themselves in their mother. The second half bears study. What does it mean to say "Powers are the cultivation of complete harmony"? And why can things not leave when powers take no form? My guess is that what drew people to Sad Nag-it was invisible, that is to say, not part of his visible self (which was ugly). Further, the last sentence says, people were drawn to the invisible feature because of its invisibility. Sad Nag-it's true identity was not comprised of his physical form; and seeing this in him, people discovered it in themselves, as well.

[6] So many questions! To return to the beginning, why put this dialogue in these character's mouths? What does Duke Ai mean, "I damaged the state by neglecting myself"? Elsewhere in Zhuangzi and the Analects, he appears to be someone who has a sincere though superficial interest in Confucius' ideas. Here he may be realizing his error, which is looking out only for people's superficial needs instead of their spiritual ones.

Why is Duke Ai talking to Min Zi at the end? He is perhaps Min Ziqian, a disciple of Confucius who declined the offer a a position in an administration he considered suspect (Analect 6.9. See also 11.5, 11.13, and 11.14). But why does the discussion switch away from Confucius? And what are we to make of the last line? Is the point of this story to see what we can learn from Sad Nag-it or to praise Duke Ai's and Confucius' friendship? And what does it mean to say they are "power-friends"? It is a strange phrase even in Chinese. And why, in so many of these stories in chapter five do we start out talking about some wise person (Royal Nag in 5:01, Shentu Jia in 5:02, and Sad Nag-it in 5:04) who we never actually hear from (though, to admit it, their calling card is that they don't say anything), only to end with a lecture from second-stringers?


[a] Graham moves the next 68 characters here from later in the chapter (CTP 5.05, HYZY 5/49-52) to bridge what seems to be a gap between the amputee's shoes and the empress's nails (Roth 24).

[b] Graham fills in this paragraph with fragments from later in the text. This first, which develops the theme of the stability of water, comes from CTP 24.14 (HYZY 24/101-5).

[c] Graham clips a sentence here which he reinserts at [e]

[d] Graham fills out this reflection on water with a fragment from chapter 7 (CTP 7.05, HYZY 7/26), which he fills out further from another copy of the story preserved in Liezi 黃帝

[e] This is the sentence clipped from [c] CTP 24.14 )(HYZY 24/102-3).

[f] Here we resume the original text of 5.04.