Wandering Freely at Ease (Part 2)

(See Part One for the overview of this chapter. In this part, Zhuang Zi introduces the mythical emperors of Yao and Shun, and two important Taoist figures: Lie Yukou and Hui Zi.) 

Lie Yukou1 could travel by riding the wind, because he knew how to make himself light, returning sometimes after fourteen days. Few have had the ability to attract good fortune as well as he. Even though he could avoid traveling about in normal fashion, he still needed to rely on the wind for support. If, however, he had rode upon the natural correctness and chose a driver for articulating the Six Breaths2 to delight himself in infinity, what else would he have needed? 

Therefore, it is said, “The Perfected Person is selfless, Spiritual Beings [who were once mortal] take no interest in merit, and the Sagely Person has no interest in reputation.”3

1. Lie Yukou (列圄寇). This is Zhuang Zi himself. The Book of Lie Zi was more likely written by Zhuang Zi, and was probably his first book. The writing styles of the Lei Zi and Zhuang Zi are almost identical.

2. Six Breaths (六氣 Liu Qi), or Six Energies, are yin, yang, wind, rain, darkness, and light.

3. Perfected Person (眞人, Zhen Ren), Spiritual Being (神人, Shen Ren), and Sagely Person (聖人, Sheng Ren). As stated in the Introduction of Part One of this chapter, these three classifications of an accomplished Taoist first appear in writing in this chapter.

* * *

Yao4 proposed yielding the throne to Xu You,5 saying, “If the torch is not extinguished when the sun or moon is out, will it not have difficulty giving light? And if sprinkling is continued during the rain, will the work not be wasted? With you here the world is enjoying good order, were I to continue presiding I should feel like a figurehead. Let me give the world into your hands.”

[Xu You replied] “Since you have been governing, the world has enjoyed good order. Were I to displace you, it would be only for the title! But a title is reality’s guest, and would I want to be only a guest? The tailor bird nests deep in the forest and uses only one branch, and the mole, when drinking from the river, takes only a bellyful. Go back and rest, master! I have no use for the world. Even if there is no chef in the kitchen, the representative of the ancestors and the cantor do not leave the sacrificial vessels to take his place!”

4. Yao, 堯,  legendary emperor Yao, c. 2200 BCE.

5. Xu You, 許由: Xu was rumored to be a high scholar who sought to abdicate his royal position to Yao, but he fled to Winnow Basket Mountains to farm in order to feed people. But Yao then asked him to become a high official of Jiu Zhou (九州, the nine states of China at that time). Xu then went to the river to wash his ears of the dirt that stained his ears from such an offer.

* * *

Jian Wu6 asked of Lian Shu,7 “I heard Jie Yu8 speak and the language he used was so all-embracing and abstruse that it frightened me as does the infinitude of the Milky Way. He deals in magnitudes that have nothing to do with human beings.”

“What did he say, exactly?”

“‘Far away on the mountain of the Servant Maidens9 dwells a spiritual man with flesh like ice and snow, delicate as secluded virgins. Foregoing grains, he sucks the wind and drinks the dew. Riding clouds and driving flying dragons, he makes excursions beyond the four seas. His inner spirits are so congealed that nothing in creation harms him and all his harvests mature.’ I think this tale is nothing but madness, and I do not believe a word of it.”

[Lian Shu replied] “I understand your reaction, all right. It is true that the blind cannot share our view of beauty and elegance, and the deaf cannot enjoy the sounds of the bells and drums. But is it that deafness and blindness can only be predicated on the physical world? There exists a defect within the domain of knowledge! Those described by Jie Yu9 are comparable to marriageable virgins. If men like this, with such excellence, mingled with creation, our world would be imbued with good order, and nobody would be concerned with making decision after decision regarding it. Nothing harms such men. Floods reaching the sky do not wet them, and drought sufficient to melt metals and rocks and scorch lands and mountains does not burn them. And since the best that can chaff, turn or mold is a Yao or Shun,10 who would b willing any longer to concern himself with the ordinary things of creation?

“I am reminded of the man from Song11 who stocked himself with hats and took them to Yue12 where the people keep their hair short and decorate their bodies. They had no use for hats! And then there was Yao. Having brought order to the people of the world and equilibrium to government everywhere within the oceans, he went to visit the four masters far away on the mountain of the Servant Maidens. Then north of the waters of the River Fen,13 in a State of Abstraction, he lost his control over the world as a result of the visit.”

6. Jian Wu (肩吾) is an unknown person, but the name is also used for a  tapir.

7. Lian Shu (連叔) is an unknown person.

8. Jie Yu (接輿) is called the Madman of Chu in the Confucian Analects. He is also mentioned in Biographies of Emminent Taoists and is called Lu Dong.

9. Servant Maidens Mountain (姑 射山, Gu She Shan). Supposedly this hill was located in the North Sea (Sea of Japan presently).

10. Yao (尧) or Shun (舜): Yao (2356 – 2255 BCE) was one of the Three Mythical Emperors. Yao began his rule around age 20 and died at 119.  Yao passed his throne to Shun the Great (2294–2184 BCE), abdicating his throne in the 73rd year of his reign and lived during Shun’s reign for another 28 years.

11. The State of Song (宋) existed during the Zhou dynasty in China. It was founded right after King Wu of Zhou conquered the Shang dynasty to establish the Zhou dynasty in 1046 BCE. Not to be confused with the later Song dynasty (960–1279 CE).

12. Yue (越), present-day Vietnam.

13. River Fen (汾), a river in Shanxi province.

* * *

Hui Zi14 said to Zhuang Zhou, “The King of Wei15 gave me some seeds for large gourds. I planted them, and they grew big enough to hold five pecks. Had I filled them with liquid, they would have been too heavy to lift. Had I split them to make ladles, they would have overturned and not held anything. If they were not so enormous, I would break them up because of their uselessness.”

[Zhuang Zhou replied] “You are certainly awkward in the use of magnitude. I am reminded of the man in Song16 who had an ointment for preventing chapped hands so that for generations his family had worked at bleaching silk floss. When a stranger heard about it, he offered to buy the recipe for a hundred in gold. The whole family gathered to consider the offer, reasoning thus, ‘For generations we have worked at bleaching silk floss and have managed to garner only a little gold, and now in one morning we can sell our secret for a hundred. Let’s do it!’  So the stranger got it, and with it won his way to the heart of the King of Wu.17

“When Wu had trouble with Yue,18 this stranger was put in command, and, although it was winter, he fought a naval engagement against Yue and routed its forces. Then he was given a fief in the territory taken from Yue. This ointment against chapped hands gained one person a fief while others kept right on bleaching silk floss because different uses were made of one and the same thing. Since you have five-peck gourds, why don’t you give some thought to making a huge raft with them so that you may float on rivers and lakes? If, however, you keep worrying about ladles that overturn and will not hold anything, you will remain a weedy-minded fellow.”

14. Hui Zi (惠子, 370–310 BCE), a Chinese philospher during the Warring States period. Zhuang Zi appears to have been Hui Zi’s friend and found great merit in Hui’s work (which is no longer extant). Zhuang Zi mentions Hui Zi 35 times within his writings.

15. King of Wei ( 魏王, Wei Wang, 378–320 BCE). This is King Wei of Qi (齊威), the king of the northern Chinese state of Qi during the Warring States period when Qi was one of the most powerful states in China. He reigned from 356–320 BCE. He was the first ruler of Qi to style himself “king.”

16. State of Song (宋). See note 11.

17. King of Wu (吳 王, Wu Wang), this person is only known through Zhuang’s writings. 

18. Yue (越). See note 12.

* * *

Hui [said],19 “There is a tree on my property with a large trunk so gnarled that the plumb line cannot be used on it. Its branches are so twisted that the compass and square cannot be used on them. Although it stands by the road, carpenters do not give it a glance. Similarly, your talk is on such a vast scale that it is useless, and the people unanimously reject you.”

[Zhuang replied] “Are you the only man who has not noticed the cat or weasel? Making itself small, it lies in hiding for some thing to saunter by. When it jumps about in all directions, avoiding neither heights nor depths, it falls into the snare and dies. Then there is the Yak, big as the clouds hanging in the sky. It can be used for big tasks, but not for catching rats. Now you have a big tree and are concerned about its uselessness. Why don’t you plant it in the boundless fields in the Land of Nothing-At-All or in a barren meadow? Practice meditation of Perfect-Freedom-Action20 at its side. When idle, make your bed beneath it! Your tree does not reach an untimely end through the ax and nobody harms it, because it is useless. Why worry about it?”

19. Hui Zi (惠子). See above note #14.

20. Perfect-Freedom-Action, is another way of translating into English the title of this chapter, Wandering Freely at Ease (逍 遙 遊, Xiao Yao You).

Translation © 2019 by Stuart Alve Olson.

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