Discussing Identical Things
Mr. Superlative of Southern Village sat at a quiet table, looked up at the sky, and sighed interminably. He was worried about where he would bury his wife. The prestigious Ms. Wanderer wandered over and, hoping to help him, said, "Why are you stuck? Isn't your original nature like a dead tree? Isn't your original mind like dead ashes? Nowadays, these things are hidden. But in former times, they were not a secret." Superlative said, "Stop. You're no good at this either and are always asking questions. Can't you see I'm in mourning today? Women hear the music of men but not the music of Earth. Women can hear the music of Earth but not the music of Heaven!" Ms. Wanderer said, "Dare I ask about its uprightness?" Superlative belched and said, "This big lump of belching air is called wind. Without any effort, it causes ten thousand angry voices to arise. And do you never wonder where this roaring comes from? In the scary mountain forests, there are big trees with hundreds of orifices -- like noses, like mouths, like ears, like rings, like sockets, like bowls, like depressed people, like foul people, excited people, jeering people, people who suck, who shout, who roar, who bite. The ones in front cry out loud. The ones behind mumble like fish. My noisy wind leads to very little harmony. You'd need a tornado to get real harmony. With the help of a severe wind, all these orifices would be canceled out. Can't you see my tune flickering along?" Ms. Wanderer said, "Earth's music of multitudinous orifices I understand. Man's music of the flutes I understand. Dare I ask of Heaven's music?" Superlative said, "Heaven plays ten thousand different instruments. It does this all by itself. Everyone is invited to play along. Who could call such abundance evil?"
Great knowledge is great idleness. Slight knowledge is a waste of time. Big words impress people. Small words are quarrelsome. Sleeping soundly makes the spiritual harmonious. Remaining aware makes its manifestation blossom. And productively coming together with others fills your days with a playful heart. Go slowly, nurturing your work, keeping it close. Small fears make us apprehensive. Big fears make us slow. Express yourself as if launched from a bowstring. Pay attention to your sense of right and wrong. Keep your words as if they were all sworn oaths. This is the means of preserving your hard-won progress. Counter opposition the way autumn turns into winter. Wasting the day on words will spoil what you are doing. What you lose this way cannot be regained. Respond to hatred with silence. Words are less of a defense than a dry moat. If your heart becomes inflexible, you lose your true power of expression. Happiness, sorrow, anger, joy? Looking to the self, looking to others, being rebellious, being conservative? These are all vanities. The enlightened laugh at such emptiness and go steam some mushrooms. Day and night take each other's place and don't even know where they come from. Enough! Enough! We are only here for a moment. And being in our right place is the reason we were born.
Without each other, there is no me. Without me, there is nothing we can accomplish. This is easy to understand and still we don't know how to make our right place. It's as if we already have Heaven and yet strangely cannot be its pupil. Perhaps our faith in it is gone because we cannot see its form. We can feel it but it has no form. If these one hundred bones, nine holes, and six organs complete my existence, how can I achieve closeness with another? How do you explain this? Where is the self in all this? All of us show the promise of being Heaven's servants, male and female. But we servants are not capable of governing each other. We can only gradually grow into being fellow nobility of Heaven. Where is there any true ruler but Heaven? As we come into accordance with our feeling of Heaven, we cannot lose what is good in our being. To the extent we entirely accept its truth, its manifestation cannot be lost or exhausted. And matter becomes like a knife's edge, like a waste. Its effects are quickly exhausted. It can do and be nothing. Isn't that pitiful? We struggle all our lives and never see our lives' success. We are exhausted and don't know how to return to our right place. How relentless! People tell you that you can get through it. What good is that? But the form of life changes as the mind changes, as it becomes correct. Who can say this isn't a huge effort? Growth, for people, is hard, like threshing grain. I have to be threshed all alone. And some people, they don't even bother being threshed at all!
Man can follow Heaven deliberately and be mastered by it. Who is then alone and without a master? How will we know how to act, so that our heart is free to do what it likes? Stupid people seem to be this way. But they achieve nothing and their minds are quarrelsome. Today they go to Yue and they arrive in the past. There is no promise of progress in them. Having no promise of progress, you can have the spirit of Yu the Great and still not be able to understand anything. I am alone. What can I do? What a man says isn't just wasted words, yeah? A speaker has words. But the right place to be speaking is very much in doubt. There are definitely evil words. Heaven never has evil words. Heaven attends even to the voice of every new-hatched bird. They also have their little discussions. Or maybe they don't. The way of evil is painful and truly false. Doesn't the pain of evil words lead to quarrels? The way of evil leads to nothingness. Can evil words lead to anything real? The painful way doesn't amount to much. Will painful words bring glory and splendor? For ages, scholars have written about right and wrong in a way that makes right wrong and wrong right. They want right to be wrong and wrong to be right. There is no understanding this.
Matter is nothing. It is not outside us. Matter is nothing. It is not true. From matter, you cannot see principle. From awareness, consciousness, principle is discerned. The ancients said, "We mutually proceed from truth. Truth is also our basis." What we are to each other, our truth, is a new, living way of speaking, yeah? Although, new and old, living and dead, should and should not, truth and error remain side by side. So the spiritual man does not use reason. He reflects what comes from Heaven and relies upon what truly is. The truth is what we mutually are. What we are is truth. But we are also, every one of us, wrong. Here, where we are, everything is false. We look at ourselves and wonder if we even have any truth. We find ourselves asking, "Is there even any truth at all?" Our truth cannot be something accidental. Truth is called the pivot of the Way. Only from the pivot do you encircle the heart of things. The pivot must be inexhaustible. Truth is boundless. And error also is boundless? The ancients said, "No one can make head or tail of this."
Using a finger as a metaphor to show that a finger is not a finger is not as good as using anything but a finger to show that a finger is not a finger. The same can be said of horses. Heaven and Earth are like a finger. All living things are like a horse. Things are acceptable because they are accepted. Things are unacceptable because someone does not accept them. We walk the Way but not completely because we speak of matter but not correctly. Are we afraid of being correct? We are corrected by walking the right Way. Are we afraid of not being correct? Not being correct comes from walking the wrong way. Admittedly, matter appears correct and acceptable. And that which is not matter seems incorrect and unacceptable. The dead accept a stalk as a pillar and an ugly person as a great beauty. If you give your mind over to being cunning, no wonder this leads you to everything being the same. Such thinking works. But it works destructively. Material things lead to nothing. And destruction brings us back to everything being the same. Only a person who has made progress will know that if everything is the same, nothing is useful and then everything becomes commonplace. For the commonplace, this is useful. For the useful, this will suffice. If this suffices, you are done. For many, this is all they want. Because of this, they are finished. Finished -- but they don't know what is correct. Knowing what is correct is called the Way. To trouble your mind with understanding everything but not to know how it all goes together is called "Three in the Morning." What is "Three in the Morning?" Let's say you want to feed your macaques some chestnuts. If you tell them, "You can have three in the morning and four in the evening," the monkeys all get very angry. So you say, "In that case, four in the morning and three in the evening," and the monkeys all get very happy. People being not quite satisfied with reality, and the uses that anger and happiness make of them, are just like this. So the spiritual man's harmony is not like this. It rests in Heaven. This is called, "Coupled."
The ancients knew this was a state that could be attained. Are we afraid of attainment? Those who think this is not attainable are the materially-minded. Attainment is exhausting and they can't make the extra effort. And then, they are under the influence of matter. Or perhaps they lack conviction. And then, some think they have conviction. But their conviction is false. This falsity is clear. Their deficiency is the Way. You gain the Way by being loving. If you are loving but don't gain the Way, where is the deficiency? If you don't succeed in being loving, where is the deficiency? If you are loving and do not gain the Way, your sense of harmony is too rigid. If you fail at being loving, your sense of harmony is lacking. Cultivate a clear sense of harmony. For Master Free of Care, a staff is superfluous. For my friend, Kind Boy, he has to cling to a phoenix tree. Other people lean on what they can. So we all make progress. I'm writing this down because this is the only way to goodness. To be different from one another is good. We want to understand one another. A false understanding is an inflexibility that will confuse you in the end. Those with false understanding are inflexible and use words to their own twisted ends. A life like this achieves nothing. If I am like this, how can I say I have attained understanding? Though I can attain it, if I am like this and say I can't attain it, I exclude all things, including my own attainment. This exclusion comes from praising one's clever disbelief. The spiritual man's place is not to use clever disbelief and to simply reside in the world as it is. This is what we call understanding.
Here, today, people talk about understanding. But they don't understand it. They are satisfied with appearances. They are comfortable with not understanding. Similar and not similar; judging by appearances and acting similar; imitating each other and being together only to be separate -- if such people try to experience what they actually say, they find they are mere beginners. Some are beginners and some have not yet begun. There are those who begin, those who have not yet begun, and those who work hard at not beginning. There are those who express understanding, those whose understanding is not yet expressed, those who have not begun to have an understanding, and those who work hard at not even beginning to have an understanding. Before long, the expression of understanding appears. But you don't know what fruit it will bear or even if it will bear fruit at all. Now I've come to the end of what can be said. And I don't yet know if the place I am showing you can even be reached by talking. Maybe not talking would be better.
Under Heaven, there is nothing bigger than the tip of one fine hair of an animal's winter coat. And nothing is smaller than a mountain. No one is older than a child whose life is cut short. And no one is younger than Pengzu with his 800 years. Heaven and Earth and I were born simultaneously. All living things and I are as one. We are already one and this unity should be clear. As for calling this "unity," it is better to be silent. One word leads to two, two to three. Of old, we know not to do something simply because we can do it. How much more so when the doing is material and not spiritual? The ancients knew better than to even go as far as three words. Better to express your understanding directly. How can expression be better than words? This is because direct expression is complete.
A person upon the Way may not be titled. His words may not often be to the point or even have boundaries. What are words with boundaries? "Left" and "right," "order" and "righteousness," "discrimination" and "debate," "competition" and "strife." And these are called the "eight virtues?" The spiritual man, as he exists beyond everything under the sun, avoids explanations. Under the sun, he may explain without comment. Throughout the year, passing through the world, with the aspirations of the great sage rulers of the past, the spiritual man makes suggestions but does not debate. The ancients discriminated, yeah? The spiritual man manifests his understanding but does not discriminate. The ancients argued. The spiritual man does not argue. Why? The spiritual man is mindful. Everyone else argues in order to reveal themselves to each other. Old saying, "Those who argue do not come together." The person upon the Way is not praised, true debates are wordless, true compassion is not benevolent, true purity is not emptiness, true courage is not aggressive. The way which can be seen is not the true Way. A discussion of words is not sufficient. Being always benevolent does not succeed. Quiet emptiness is not the truth. The courage of aggression fails. Those who look for their answers in matter turn in circles and go in all directions. The ancients knew how to stop at the right place but did not know how to arrive. Who knows how to argue without words? Or of any way but the true Way? If you can achieve awareness, the land of plenty is right here. How is one aware without lack? How does one pour forth without exhaustion? How do you know the source of your right place? Not knowing is called "covering your light." In ancient times, Yao asked Shun, "I want to send an expedition against the three kingdoms to the south. But my mind is uneasy. Why do you think this is?" Shun answered, "Those people live out among the tumbleweeds and the mugwort. If you are uneasy about them, ask yourself, "Why?" The ancients could go out together for ten days and see all there was to see. And even beyond that, they could travel in peace."
Nibbling at Scarcity asked King Ni, "Do you know where everything belongs?" Ni answered, "I hate knowing." Nibbling replied, "Isn't not knowing even your own place very bad?" Ni said, "I hate knowing." Nibbling said, "But isn't being ignorant of things evil?" Ni replied, "I hate knowing. Even if you try to use words, why is knowing that so-called knowing that I must not know evil? Why is knowing that my so-called inability to know what I don't know evil? And here I am trying to ask you this -- People who sleep where it's wet think they will get sick and die. But fish are okay with it, isn't that so? People up in a tall tree think they have to be anxious and fearful. But monkeys are okay with it, isn't that so? Of these three, who knows their right place? People eat livestock. Deer eat grass. Snakes think centipedes are sweet. Owls eat mice. Of these four, who knows their right taste? Apes like to copulate. Deer like to socialize. Fish like to travel. Men like to find beauty in young female officials and concubines. But fish see these beauties and dive, birds fly away up into the sky, and deer run off. Of these four, who know their right appearance? As for me, observing benevolence, balancing judgments, scribbling about right and wrong, what a complete and total mess. I hate even discussing it." Nibbling said, "So you don't differentiate between good and bad? But surely the fully-realized man differentiates between good and bad." Ni said, "The fully-realized man is already spiritual. In the burning wilderness, he won't be burnt. Beneath the freezing starry sky, he won't be cold. Thunder can break the mountains down and mighty winds can cleave the oceans and he won't be afraid. If you achieve this, you can rise above the mists, manage life and livelihood, and pass beyond the bounds of the material world. Death and birth do not change your true being. Even less so for differentiating good and bad."
Startled Magpie asked the big parasol tree, "I heard the Master of Everything say that the spiritual man does not engage in strife, does not concern himself with profit, does not try to avoid calamity, does not seek to climb the Way. Of the nameless, he speaks. Of what can be named, he does not speak. And he travels beyond this world of dust and dirt. The Master believes that words are rash and I think he walks the excellent Way. How does this all seem to you?" The big parasol tree replied, "He's just dazzling you by repeating what the Yellow Emperor already said. And the words of the dead are not worth knowing. More to the point, you get up early to make plans. You see an egg and expect a chicken. You see a crossbow pellet and expect roasted fowl. I have come to understand that you talk nonsense because you listen to what is absurd. Why do you do this? Beneath the sun and moon, embracing the universe, your beak shut tight, you put yourself into a slippery confusion, as if you were a slave to your own mutual admiration. Everyone struggles. The spiritual man appears naively stupid. His life goes on and on. And he is perfectly pure. When, for him, the material world comes to an end, he realizes the mutual profundity of all it contains. I fear you won't understand when I delight in a birth that is not confused by evil and when I loath a death in which there is no loss. An explanation may even turn you back to evil. In the old days, in a little country, there was the beautiful, young woman, Li. Then the Jin army carried her off and she cried her eyes out. She was brought to the king, shared his bed, ate at his table and regretted her tears. I fear you won't understand that those who master death do not regret their entering into the search for life. Those who dream of drinking at a feast wake and weep. Those who dream of weeping wake and go about their business. In their dreams, dreamers are unaware of their dreaming. But in the midst of dreaming, you are also aware of how it feels and afterwards you know that feeling was a dream. Even if these are deep feelings, afterwards you know that this was but a deep dream, yeah? Only stupid people believe in these feelings and that they have privately become wise. Do you do this? Do most people? Undoubtedly. Even in the grave, you all dream. But my saying that you dream is also a dream, yeah? Trying to talk about this leads to paradox. You could search through all the ages and maybe find one great sage who could explain this. Small chance of that. We have discussed this life of dreams before. Your arguments are better than mine but does that justify the result? Am I bad for failing to convince you? If I out-argue you, does that justify the result? And is not convincing you evil? Does one of us have to be right and the other wrong? Can either of us be completely right or completely wrong? You and I cannot really understand each other. On the other hand, people suffer from this life of dreams in confusion and in ignorance. Is this something I can correct for them? People can be brought to your point of view because they already agree with you. They will hate to be corrected. And if they come to my point of view, it's because their notions already agree with what I say. These will also hate to be corrected. And if they disagree with both of us? They will hate to be corrected. And if they agree with both of us? More of the same. This being the case, none of us can really understand each other. So is it bad that we need each other? Understanding originates in Heaven and Heaven's grace, its kindness, spreads out far and wide and so it will ever be. So does agreeing with each other originate in Heaven?" Then he said, "True, false, correct, incorrect -- given that truth is true, truth is different from falsehood and this is beyond dispute. Given that correctness is correct, correctness is different from incorrectness and this too is beyond dispute. Forget the present. Forget about meaning. Put every bit of this dream out of your mind. Finally reside in the midst of all Being."
Twice Deceived asked Brightness, "What once was practiced is now forbidden. What was once settled is now up in the air. How can we exist together without righteousness?" Brightness answered, "I only have to wait and those in the right will be wrong. I just sit here waiting and the correct become incorrect. I wait and crawling snakes become evil cicadas on the wing. So is recognizing evil correct or incorrect?"
Once upon a time, Farm Boy dreamed he was a butterfly. It was so vivid that he thought he really was a butterfly and this was all he desired. Suddenly, he awoke. And he was unmistakably Farm Boy again. So was he Farm boy who had dreamed he was a butterfly? Or was he a butterfly dreaming he was Farm Boy? There must be something shared between this Farm Boy and this butterfly. This shared something is what we call "mistaking the unreal for the real."