Saturday, February 4, 2012

great and small

When we look at things in the light of Tao,
Nothing is best, nothing is worst.
Each thing, seen in its own light,
Stands out in its own way.
It can seem to be "better"
Than what is compared with it
On its own terms.
But seen in terms of the whole,
No one thing stands out as "better."
If you measure differences,
What is greater than something else is "great,"
Therefore there is nothing that is not "great";
What is smaller than something else is "small,"
Therefore there is nothing that is not "small,"
So the whole cosmos is a grain of rice,
And the tip of a hair
Is as big as a mountain -
Such is the relative view.

You can break down walls with battering rams,
But you cannot stop holes with them.
All things have different uses.
Fine horses can travel a hundred miles a day,
But they cannot catch mice
Like terriers or weasels:
All creatures have gifts of their own.
The white horned owl can catch fleas at midnight
And distinguish the tip of a hair,
But in bright day it stares, helpless,
And cannot even see a mountain.
All things have varying capacities.

Consequently: he who wants to have right without wrong,
Order without disorder,
Does not understand the principles
Of heaven and earth.
He does not know how
Things hang together.
Can a man cling only to heaven
And know nothing of earth?
They are correlative: to know one
Is to know the other.
To refuse one
Is to refuse both.
Can a man cling to the positive
Without any negative
In contrast to which it is seen
To be positive?
If he claims to do so 
He is a rogue or a madman.

Thrones pass
From dynasty to dynasty,
Now in this way, now in that.
He who forces his way to power
Against the grain
I called tyrant and usurper.
He who moves with the stream of events
Is called a wise statesman.

Kui, the one-legged dragon,
Is jealous of the centipede.
The centipede is jealous of the snake.
The snake is jealous of the wind.
The wind is jealous of the eye.
The eye is jealous of the mind.
Kui said to the centipede:

"I manage my one leg with difficulty:
How can you manage a hundred?"
The centipede replied:
"I do not manage them.
They land all over the place
Like drops of spit."
The centipede said to the snake:
"With all my feet, I cannot move as fast
As you do with no feet at all.
How is this done?"
The snake replied:
"I have a natural glide
That can't be changed.  What do I need
With feet?"
The snake spoke to the wind:
"I ripple my backbone and move along
In a bodily way.  You, without bones,
Without muscles, without method,
Blow from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean.
How do you get there
With nothing?'
The wind replied:
"True, I rise up in the North Sea
And take myself without obstacle to the Southern Ocean.
But every eye that remarks me,
Every wing that uses me,
Is superior to me, even though 
I can uproot the biggest trees, or overturn
Big buildings.
The true conqueror is he
Who is not conquered
By the multitude of the small.
The mind is this conqueror -
But only the mind
 Of a wise man."

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
photo by Kathleen Connally