There's religious, spiritual, philosophical, and mystical writings. Then there's The Book of Chuang Tzu.
It stands apart, because there's nothing else like it. This Taoist classic is humorous, crazy, confusing, paradoxical, entertaining, wise, weird, and so much else besides.
I've read it several times, in various translations. It's one of my favorite books, in large part because there's no way to pin down exactly what's being taught in the collection of, as the back cover says, "the stories, tales, jokes and anecdotes that have gathered around the figure of Chuang Tzu."
Since I'm feeling increasingly useless, the older I get, several parts of the book that praise uselessness have a special appeal to me. Enjoy. The first excerpt relates to a tree that doesn't get cut down because its wood just isn't good for much of anything.
When Master Shih was returning, the tree appeared to him in a dream, saying, "What exactly are you comparing me with? with ornamental fruit trees? Trees such as the hawthorne, pear trees, orange trees, citrus trees, gourds and other such fruit trees? Their fruits are knocked down when they are ripe and the trees suffer.
The big branches are damaged and the small ones are broken off. Because they are useful, they suffer, and they are unable to live out the years Heaven has given them. They have only their usefulness to blame for this destruction wrought by the people.
It is the same with all things. I have spent a long time studying to be useless, though on a number of occasions I was nearly destroyed. However, now I have perfected the art of uselessness, and this is very useful to me. If I had been of use, could I have grown so vast?"
Not only trees benefit from being useless. People, also.
"Crippled Shu, now, is a man with his chin lost in his navel, his shoulders higher than the top of his head and his topknot pointing to Heaven, his five vital organs all crushed into the top of his body and his two thighs pressing into his ribs. By sharpening needles and washing clothes he earns enough to eat. By winnowing rice and cleansing it he was able to feed ten people.
When the officials called up the militia, he walked about freely, with no need to hide; when they are trying to raise a large work gang, because of his deformities, no one bothers him. Yet when the officials were handing out grain to the infirm, he received three great portions and ten bundles of firewood.
If a man like this, deformed in body, can make a living and live out the years Heaven sends him, how much more should a man who is only deformed in terms of his Virtue?"
Then there's the advantage one gains by, in modern vernacular, not giving a shit. Or, by doing the only thing that is possible to do.
A man whose feet have been chopped off casts aside fancy clothes, because his external appearance is incapable of being admired. A criminal condemned to death will scale the highest peaks, because he has no fear of life or death. If someone ignores the advances of friendship, he forgets about others and through forgetting others he is viewed as a man of Heaven.
Such a person can be treated with respect, which will not please him, or be treated with contempt, which will not make him angry. This is because he is part of the Heavenly unity.
Anybody who expressed anger but is not really angry will exhibit non-anger. Anyone who acts yet is not really acting, his actions will be non-action. If he wants to be still, he must be at peace. If he wants to be spiritual, he must calm his heart. When he wants to act, and to be successful, then he is moved by a force beyond him.
That which one does because it is impossible to do other, that is the Tao of the sage.
What I'd always suspected. Wally (Dilbert's colleague Wally) is a Tao master. And comics are the highest form of literature, the shorter the wiser.
And yes, it is coffee -- not fancy percolations, but the standard office-issue machine-dispensed liquid -- that is the drink of the gods.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | June 18, 2018 at 09:23 PM
Think less, understand more.
The tree laden with fruit can only be what it is.
The tree barren of fruit also has its place. It is what it is.
But we become less labeling them.
Because we may not fully understand their value or their potential. You can't see it from the outside. It's on the inside.
The purpose human beings ascribe to trees, and people, is very much a secondary consideration. That is external.
The peace and purpose we find within ourselves matters most. And that happens when we accept our situation.
But we can hardly do that pointing fingers of anger, judgment and reaction at others.
Letting all that go, then we are not acting or reacting. We are just being who we are. We can focus on that, find purpose and happiness in that.
And that is why meditation is so valuable. It is the practice of letting all that judging of others, even ourselves, sort of thinking go, so we can find that happiness and in that, be who we are.
Posted by: Spencer G Tepper | June 19, 2018 at 04:53 AM
Uselessness of suppression of instincts opens new door, new door is love for higher things/people/places will provide a natural method to attain control over senses. That is what Ishwar Puri says when he says Radiant form of master is imagination but that imagination would counter lust/ carnal imagination. I advocate to imagine anything you love that may be place in delhi, your favorite scientist or anything you love. That imagination would replace the carnal imagination and control over carnal pleasures can be attained.
Posted by: vinny | June 19, 2018 at 08:45 AM
From the pdf "The Way of Chuang Tzu" by Thomas Merton
THE BREATH OF NATURE
When great Nature sighs, we hear the winds
Which, noiseless in themselves,
Awaken voices from other beings,
Blowing on them.
From every opening
Loud voices sound. Have you not heard
This rush of tones?
There stands the overhanging wood
On the steep mountain:
Old trees with holes and cracks
Like snouts, maws, and ears,
Like beam-sockets, like goblets,
Grooves in the wood, hollows full of water:
You hear mooing and roaring, whistling,
Shouts of command, grumblings,
Deep drones, sad flutes.
One call awakens another in dialogue.
Gentle winds sing timidly,
Strong ones blast on without restraint.
Then the wind dies down. The openings
Empty out their last sound.
Have you not observed how all then trembles and subsides?
Yu replied: I understand:
The music of earth sings through a thousand holes.
The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.
What makes the music of heaven?
Master Ki said:
Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.
Some power stands behind all this and makes the sounds die down.
What is this power?
Posted by: Jen | June 19, 2018 at 04:07 PM
Just asked someone about this quote I posted who said that because it was written many years ago, it shows the beauty of nature in a pure and innocent way. Although in today's modern world some people would interpret a certain innuendo. It does show a certain naivety on my part. Damn this modern world!
Posted by: Jen | June 19, 2018 at 06:28 PM
It's beautiful Jen!
Posted by: Sita | June 25, 2018 at 09:07 PM
Happy to find your site. We write about some of the same things, and we are both in Oregon! (I'm in Portland.) I just spent a little time browsing around--I look forward to reading more.
Posted by: Galen Pearl | July 08, 2018 at 06:55 PM