Chuang Tzu (7): Hu Tzu and the Shaman, the Death of Chaos

This excerpt comprises the second half of chapter seven, also known as the last of the ‘Inner Chapters’.

In Cheng there was a shaman of the gods named Chi Hsien. He could tell whether men would live or die, survive or perish, be fortunate or unfortunate, live a long time or die young, and he would predict the year, month, week, and day as though he were a god himself. When the people of Cheng saw him, they dropped everything and ran out of his way. Lieh Tzu went to see him and was completely intoxicated. Returning, he said to Hu Tzu, “I used to think, Master, that your Way was perfect. But now I see there is something even higher!”

Hu Tzu said, “I have already showed you all the outward forms, but I haven’t yet showed you the substance-and do you really think you have mastered this Way of mine? There may be a flock of hens but, if there is no rooster, how can they lay fertile eggs? You take what you know of the Way and wave it in the face of the world, expecting to be believed! This is the reason men can see right through you. Try bringing your shaman along next time and letting him get a look at me.”

The next day Lieh Tzu brought the shaman to see Hu Tzu. When they had left the room, the shaman said, “I’m so sorry – your master is dying! There’s no life left in him – he won’t last the week. I saw something very strange-something like wet ashes!”

Lieh Tzu went back into the room, weeping and drenching the collar of his robe with tears, and reported this to Hu. Tzu.

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him with the Pattern of Earth – still and silent, nothing moving, nothing standing up. He probably saw in me the Workings of Virtue Closed Off. Try bringing him around again.”

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, and when they had left the room, the shaman said to Lieh Tzu, “It certainly was lucky that your master met me! He’s going to get better – he has all the signs of life! I could see the stirring of what had been closed off!”

Lieh Tzu went in and reported this to Hu Tzu.

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Heaven and Earth – no name or substance to it, but still the workings, coming up from the heels. He probably saw in me the Workings of the Good One. Try bringing him again.”

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, and when they had left the room, the shaman said to Lieh Tzu, “Your master is never the same! I have no way to physiognomize him! If he will try to steady himself, then I will come and examine him again.”

Lieh Tzu went in and reported this to Hu Tzu.

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as the Great Vastness Where Nothing Wins Out. He probably saw in me the Workings of the Balanced Breaths. Where the swirling waves gather there is an abyss; where the still waters gather there is an abyss; where the running waters gather there is an abyss. The abyss has nine names and I have shown him three. Try bringing him again.”

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

After this, Lieh Tzu concluded that he had never really begun to learn anything. He went home and for three years did not leave his house. He did all of the cooking for his wife, fed the pigs as though he were feeding people, and showed no preferences in the things he did. He got rid of the carving and polishing and returned to plainness, letting his body stand alone like a clod. In the midst of entanglement he remained sealed, and in this oneness he stayed until the end of his days.

*      *      *      *

Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror – going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.

*      *      *      *

The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu [Brief], the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu [Sudden], and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-tun [Chaos]. Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Chaos, and Chaos treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. “All men,” they said, “have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. But Chaos alone doesn’t have any. Let’s try giving him some!”

Every day they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Chaos died.

 

Chuang Tzu: 75-7 based on Burton Watson trans.