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A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.
 

Zhuangzi 莊子: Mountain Tree 山木

Mountain Tree 山木

Section One

(一)莊子行於山中,見大木,枝葉盛茂。

(二)伐木者止其旁而不取也。

(三)問其故,曰:「無所可用。」

(四)莊子曰:「此木以不材得終其天年。」

1) Zhuangzi was walking in the middle of the mountains when he saw a large tree with abundant branches and flourishing foliage.

2) A logger had stopped by its side but had not chosen it [for logging].

3) When asked for the reason he said, “It does not have any usable aspect.”

4) Zhuangzi said: “Due to the fact that it is not timber,[1] this tree is able to live out its natural life [instead of getting cut down].

Section Two

(一)夫子出於山,舍於故人之家。

(二)故人喜,命豎子殺雁而烹之。

(三)豎子請曰:「其一能鳴,其一不能鳴,請奚殺?」

(四)主人曰:「殺不能鳴者。」

1) The master[2] left the mountain to stay at an old friend’s home.

2) The old friend was pleased and ordered a servant boy to kill a goose and cook it [for dinner].

3) The servant boy asked: “Between the one that is able to honk and the one that is unable to honk, please tell me, which one should I kill?”

4) The host said: “Kill the one that is unable to honk.”  

Section Three                       

(一)明日,弟子問於莊子曰:

(二)「昨日山中之木,以不材得終其天年;今主人之雁,以不材死。先生將何處?」

(三)莊子笑曰:「周將處乎材與不材之間。

(四)材與不材之間,似之而非也,故未免乎累。

1) On the next day, a disciple asked Zhuangzi:

2) “Yesterday [you said] about that tree in the mountain that it was able to live out its natural lifespan because of the fact that it is useless as timber. Now our host’s goose died because of its uselessness.[3] Please, Master, whose place would you rather be in?”

3) Zhuangzi laughed and replied: “I, Zhou, would like to be in the place between being timber and not being timber.

4) Now this place in between being timber and not being timber, it seems to be an impossibility. Therefore I have not yet been able to avoid trouble.

Section Four

(一)若夫乘道德而浮游則不然。

(二)無譽無訾,一龍一蛇,與時俱化,而無肯專為;一上一下,以和為量,浮游乎萬物之祖。

(三)物物而不物於物,則胡可得而累邪!此黃帝、神農之法則也。

(四)若夫萬物之情,人倫之傳,則不然。

(五)合則離,成則毀,廉則挫,尊則議,有為則虧,賢則謀,不肖則欺,胡可得而必乎哉?

(六)悲夫!弟子志之,其唯道德之鄉乎!」

1) If, on the other hand, I could ride the Dao and De and float and roam about, this would not be the case.

2) Without praise, without slander, now a dragon now a snake, all transforming in accordance with the time, and not willing to engage in intentional action for a specific purpose. Now above and now below, taking harmony as my measure, floating and roaming about with the ancestor of the ten thousand things.

3) To treat things as things and yet not be treated as a thing by things, then how could I contract trouble! This is the method of Huangdi and Shennong.

4) If, by contrast, you serve the interest of the ten thousand things and become infected by human relationships, it will not be like this.

5) Union is followed by separation, accomplishment by destruction, a square corner by the file, veneration by criticism, possession by loss, virtue by scheming, low self-esteem by bullying, how could you obtain this and yet have certainty?

6) How tragic indeed! Disciples! Set your intention on this: Only make your home in Dao and De.

 

 

[1]cai: The character is a combination of 才 cai (talent, ability, genius, any special skill, clearly a desirable characteristic in “normal” human thinking) and 木 mu (“wood”). Here, it very literally means the particular characteristic of wood that makes it special and usable, hence, “timber.” The play on words with this concept is the core of this story, which simply can’t be expressed in a translation.

[2]I.e., Zhuangzi.

[3]Lit. “because of not being timber.” Note that with regard to the goose, the character 材 is used not in the literal sense but in the metaphorical sense of being a material that has a use, a concrete application.

Sabine WilmsComment