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.