Book Excerpts, Chinese Texts

Chuang Tzu: How To Find What You Already Know?

With great power also comes great responsibility, but not always great wisdom. Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu, whose writings form one of the pillars of Taosim, took a dim view of much of human activity and the accumulation of power and knowledge, recommending instead the cultivation of a kind of wisdom in tune with the Tao, or the Way. From the chapter ‘Broken Suitcases’ from The Book of Chuang Tzu, he talks about the mistakes we make in collecting the kind of knowledge that is short-sighted and transient. 


If those in authority search for knowledge, but without the Tao, everything under Heaven will be in terrible confusion. How do I know about all this? A great deal of knowledge is needed to make bows, crossbows, nets, arrows and so forth, but the result is that the birds fly higher in distress. A great deal of knowledge is needed to make fishing lines, traps, baits and hooks, but the result is that the fish disperse in distress in the water. A great deal of knowledge is needed to make traps, snares and nets, but the result is that the animals are disturbed and seek refuge in marshy lands. In the same way, the versatility needed to produce rhetoric, to plot and scheme, spread rumors and debate pointlessly, to dust off arguments and seek apparent agreement, is also considerable, but the result is that the people are confused. So everything under Heaven is in a state of distress, all because of the pursuit of knowledge. Everything in the world knows how to seek for knowledge that they do not have, but do not know how to find what they already know. Everything in the world knows how to condemn what they dislike, but do not know how to condemn what they have which is wrong. This is what causes such immense confusion. It is as if the brightness of the sun and moon had been eclipsed above, while down below the hills and streams have lost their power, as though the natural flow of the four seasons had been broken. There is no humble insect, not even any plant, that has not lost its innate nature. This is the consequence for the world of seeking after knowledge. From the Three Dynasties down to the present day it has been like this. The good and honest people are ignored, while spineless flatterers are advanced. The quiet and calm of actionless action is cast aside and pleasure is taken in argument. It is this nonsense which has caused such confusion for everything under Heaven. 


Chuang Tzu (369BC – 286BC)
From: The Book of Chuang Tzu