The Secret of Caring for Life
Equanimity in the Face of Death
 
The following exchange takes place after Confucius (expressing the ideas of Zhuangzi here) rejects his disciple’s plan to go to the state of Wei to offer “moral guidance” to its young ruler, suggesting that his only hope for success the so-called “fasting of the mind”:
 
“You must fast,” said Confucius. “I will tell you what that means. Do you think it is easy to do anything while you have [a mind]? If you do, Bright Heaven will not sanction you.”
       Yan Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?”
       “That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.”
       “May I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”
       “Confucius said, “Make your will one! Don’t  listen with your ears, listen with your mind. No, don’t listen
with your mind, listen with your spirit [qi]. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but spirit is empty and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.”
       Yan Hui said, “Before I heard this, I was certain that I was Hui. But now that I have heard it, there is no more Hui. Can this be called emptiness?”
       “That’s all there is to it,” said Confucius. ... “You have heard of the knowledge that knows, but you have never heard of the knowledge that does not know. Look into that closed room, the empty chamber where brightness is born! Fortune and blessing gather where there is stillness. But if you do not keep still — this is what is called sitting but racing around. Let your ears and eyes communicate with what is inside, and put mind and knowledge on the outside. Then even gods and spirits will come to dwell, not to speak of men!” [
Sources of Chinese Tradition, 106]
 

       Yan Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”
       “I’ve forgotten humaneness and rightness!”
       “That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”
       Another day, the two met again and Yan Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       “What do you mean by that?”
       “I’ve forgotten rites and music!”
       “That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”
       Another day, the two met again and Yan Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       “What do you mean by that?”
       “I can sit and forget everything!”
       Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything?”
       Yan Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”
       Confucius said, “If you’re identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you’ve been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! With your permission, I’d like to become your follower.” [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 110-1]

The “Fasted” Mind
The Secret of Caring for Life

Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Jingshou music.
       “Ah, this is marvelous! said Lord Wenhui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”
       Cook Ding laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And nownow I go at it by spirit (shen) and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.
       A good cook changes his knife once a yearbecause he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room more than enough for the blade to play about in. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
       “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”
       “Excellent!” said Lord Wenhui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ding and learned how to care for life!” [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 104]
 
 
Beyond the “Secret of Caring of Life”
Equanimity in the Face of Death

The Great Awakening
How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death I am not like a man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back?
      
Lady Li was the daughter of the border guard of Ai. When she was first taken captive and brought to the state of Ch’in, she wept until her tears drenched the collar of her robe. But later, when she went to live in the palace of the ruler, shared his couch with him, and ate the delicious meats of his table, she wondered why she had ever wept. How do I know that the dead do not wonder why they ever longed for life?
      
He who dreams of drinking wine may weep when morning comes; he who dreams of weeping may in the morning go off to hunt. While he is dreaming he does not know it is a dream, and in his dream he may even try to interpret a dream. Only when he wakes does he know it was a dream. And someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream.
 
The above line can also be translated as:
And when one has a great awakening one will know that this is all a great dream.
 
Yet the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things, calling this man ruler, that one herdsmanhow dense! Confucius and you are both dreaming! And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming, too. Words like these will be labeled the Supreme Swindle. Yet, after ten thousand generations, a great sage may appear who will know their meaning, and it will still be as though he appeared with astonishing speed.” [Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 42-43; cf. Sources of Chinese Tradition, 102-3]

The Transition from Life to Death
Master Si, Master Yu, Master Li, and Master Lai were all four talking together. Who can look upon nonbeing as his head, on life as his back, and on death as his rump?” they said. “Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, are all a single body? I will be his friend!”
       The four men looked at each other and smiled. There was no disagreement in their hearts and so the four of them became friends.
       All at once Master
Yu fell ill. Master Si went to ask how he was.
Amazing!” said Master Yu. The Creator is making me all crookedy like this! My back sticks up like a hunchback and my vital organs are on top of me. My chin is hidden in my navel, my shoulders are up above my head, and my pigtail points at the sky. It must be some dislocation of the yin and yang!
       Do you resent it?” asked Master Si.
       
Why no, what would I resent? If the process continues, perhaps in time he’ll transform my left arm into a rooster. In that case I’ll keep watch on the night. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my right arm into a crossbow pellet and I’ll shoot down an owl for roasting. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my buttocks into cartwheels. Then, with my spirit for a horse, I’ll climb up and go for a ride. What need will I ever have for a carriage again?
       “I received life because the time had come; I will lose it  because the order of things passes on. Be content with this time and dwell in this order and then neither sorrow nor joy can touch you. In ancient times this was called the ‘freeing of the bound.’ There are those who cannot free themselves, because they are bound by things. But nothing can ever win out against Heaven that’s the way it’s always been. What would I have to resent?”
       Suddenly Master Lai grew ill. Gasping and wheezing, he lay at the point of death. His wife and children gathered round in a circle and began to cry. Master Li, who had come to ask how he was, said
, Shoo! Get back! Don’t disturb the process of change!”
       Then he leaned against the doorway and talked to Master Lai. “How marvelous the Creator is! What is he going to make out of you next? Where is he going to send you? Will he make you into a rat’s liver? Will he make you into a bug’s arm?”
       Master Lai said, “A child, obeying his father and mother, goes wherever he is told, east or west, south or north. And the yin and yang
how much more are they to a man than father or mother! Now that they have brought me to the verge of death, if I should refuse to obey them, how perverse I would be! What fault is it of theirs? The Great Clod burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. So if I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death. When a skilled smith is casting metal, if the metal should leap up and say, ‘I insist upon being made into a Moyeh!’ he would surely regard it as very inauspicious metal indeed. Now, having had the audacity to take on human form once, if I should say, ‘I don’t want to be anything but a man! Nothing but a man!’, the Creator would surely regard me as a most inauspicious sort of person. So now I think of heaven and earth as a great furnace, and the Creator as a skilled smith. Where could he send me that would not be all right? I will go off to sleep peacefully, and then with a start I will wake up.” [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 109-10]