IS THERE SUCH A THING AS PERFECT HAPPINESS

IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?

This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear.

People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.

Men of ardor are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?

What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there?

I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness, perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this!

Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?

Chuang Tzu’s wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condolences, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. “You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old,” said Hui Tzu. “It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing – this is going too far, isn’t it?”

Chuang Tzu said, “You’re wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn’t grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there’s been another change and she’s dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.

“Now she’s going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don’t understand anything about fate. So I stopped.”

― Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi 莊子)
(XVIII, Burton)

*****

天下有至樂无有哉?有可以活身者无有哉?今奚為奚據?奚避奚處?奚就奚去?奚樂奚惡?
夫天下之所尊者,富貴壽善也;所樂者,身安厚味美服好色音聲也;所下者,貧賤夭惡也;所苦者,身不得安逸,口不得厚味,形不得美服,目不得好色,耳不得音聲。若不得者,則大憂以懼,其為形也亦愚哉!
夫富者,苦身疾作,多積財而不得盡用,其為形也亦外矣。夫貴者,夜以繼日,思慮善否,其為形也亦疏矣。人之生也,與憂俱生,壽者惽惽,久憂不死,何苦也!其為形也亦遠矣。烈士為天下見善矣,未足以活身。吾未知善之誠善邪?誠不善邪?若以為善矣,不足活身;以為不善矣,足以活人。故曰:「忠諫不聽,蹲循勿爭。」故夫子胥爭之以殘其形,不爭,名亦不成。誠有善无有哉?
今俗之所為與其所樂,吾又未知樂之果樂邪,果不樂邪?吾觀夫俗之所樂,舉羣趣者,誙誙然如將不得已,而皆曰樂者,吾未之樂也,亦未之不樂也。果有樂无有哉?吾以无為誠樂矣,又俗之所大苦也。故曰:「至樂无樂,至譽无譽。」
天下是非果未可定也。雖然,无為可以定是非。至樂活身,唯无為幾存。請嘗試言之。天无為以之清,地无為以之寧。故兩无為相合,萬物皆化生。芒乎芴乎,而无從出乎!芴乎芒乎,而无有象乎!萬物職職,皆從无為殖。故曰,天地无為也而无不為也,人也孰能得无為哉!

莊子妻死,惠子弔之,莊子則方箕踞鼓盆而歌。
惠子曰:「與人居,長子老身,死不哭亦足矣,又鼓盆而歌,不亦甚乎!」
莊子曰:「不然。是其始死也,我獨何能无概然!察其始而本无生,非徒无生也,而本无形,非徙无形也而本无氣。雜乎芒芴之間,變而有氣,氣變而有形,形變而有生。今又變而之死。是相與為春秋冬夏四時行也。人且偃然寢於巨室,而我噭噭然隨而哭之,自以為不通乎命,故止也。」

(莊子: 至樂)

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