Should My Arm Become a Rooster, I Shall Herald the Dawn

Four beings, Masters Sze, Yu, Li, and Lai, were conversing together, saying, “Whoever can make Not-being the head, Life the backbone, and Death the tail, and whoever realizes that death and life and being and non-being are of one body, that man shall be admitted to friendship with us.” The four looked at each other and smiled, and completely understanding one another, became friends accordingly.

By-and-by, Master Yu fell ill, and Master Sze went to see him. “Verily the Creator is great!” said the sick man. “See how He has doubled me up.” His back was so hunched that his viscera were at the top of his body. His cheeks were level with his navel, and his shoulders were higher than his neck. His neck bone pointed up towards the sky. The whole economy of his organism was deranged, but his mind was calm as ever. He dragged himself to a well, and said, “Alas, that God should have doubled me up like this!”

“Do you dislike it?” asked Sze. ” No, why should l?” replied Yu. “If my left arm should become a rooster, I shall herald the dawn with it. If my right arm should become a sling, I should be able to shoot down a bird to broil with it. If my buttocks should become wheels, and my spirit become a horse, I should be able to ride in it — what need would I have of a chariot? I obtained life because it was my time, and I am now parting with it in accordance with Tao. Content with the coming of things in their time and living in accord with Tao, joy and sorrow touch me not. This is, according to the ancients, to be freed from bondage. Those who cannot be freed from bondage are so because they are bound by the trammels of material existence. But man has ever given way before The Ultimate; why, then, should I dislike it?”

By-and-by, Master Lai fell ill, and lay gasping for breath, while his family stood weeping around. Master Li went to see him, and cried to the wife and children: “Go away! You are impeding his dissolution.” Then, leaning against the door, he said, “Verily, The Universe is great! I wonder what It will make of you now, and whither to It will send you. Do you think It will make you into a rat’s liver or into an insect leg?”

“A son,” answered Lai, “must go whithersoever his parents bid him, East, West, North, or South. Yin and Yang are no other than a man’s parents. If Yin and Yang bid me die quickly, and I demur, then the fault is mine, not theirs. The Great (universe) gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. Surely that which is such a kind arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.

“Suppose that the boiling metal in a smelting-pot were to bubble up and say, ‘Make me into the world’s finest sword!,’ then the master swordsmith and metal caster would reject that metal as uncanny. And if simply because I am cast into a human form, I were to say, ‘Only a man! only a man?’ I think the Caster too would reject me as uncanny. If I regard the Universe as the smelting pot, and the Creator as the Master Caster, how should I worry wherever I am sent?”

Then he sank into a peaceful sleep and waked up very much alive.

-Chuang Tzu 65 trans. Lin Yutang + edits