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Shen Tao’s Way Through

July 30, 2014

“Shen Tao, discarding knowledge and the cultivation of self, merely followed the line of least resistance. He made an absolute indifference to outside things his sole way and principle. He said, ‘Wisdom consists in not knowing; he who thinks that by widening his knowledge he is getting nearer to wisdom is merely destroying wisdom.’

His views were so warped and peculiar that it was impossible to make use of him; yet he laughed at the world for honouring men of capacity. He was so lax and uncontrolled that one may say he had no principles at all; yet he railed at the world for making much of the Sages. He let himself be pounded and battered, scraped and broken, be rolled like a ball wherever things carried him. He had no use for ‘Is’ and ‘Is Not,’ but was bent only on getting through somehow. He did not school himself by knowledge or thought, had no understanding of what should come first and what last, but remained in utter indifference. Wherever he was pushed he went, wherever he was dragged he came, unstable as a feather that whirls at every passing breath of the wind, or a polished stone that slides at a mere touch.

Yet he remained whole; nothing went amiss with him. Whether he moved or stood still, nothing went wrong, and never at any time did he give offense. What was the reason of this? I will tell you. Inanimate objects never make trouble for themselves. They do not burden themselves with knowledge, and yet never whether in motion or at rest do they depart from what is reasonable, and for this reason they never go wrong. That is what he meant by saying ‘all that is necessary is to make yourself like an inanimate object; do not try to be better or wiser than other people. A clod of earth cannot lose its way.’

The great men of the day used to laugh at him, saying that Shen Tao’s principles were better suited to the dead than the living, and might astonish, but certainly could not convince.”

— attributed to Chuang Tzu, translated by Arthur Waley in Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China.

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