Leave me here to drag my tail in the mud!

From the works of Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzi – an appropriate lesson in a week where I’ve had no time for study thanks to a job chosen specifically to leave me time to study. The first is Thomas Merton’s, the second Burton Watson’s.

Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
Was fishing in Pu river.
The Prince of Chu
Sent two vice-chancellors
With a formal document:
“We hereby appoint you
Prime Minister.”

Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole.
Still watching Pu river,
He said:
“I am told there is a sacred tortoise,
Offered and canonized
Three thousand years ago,
Venerated by the prince,
Wrapped in silk,
In a precious shrine
On an altar
In the Temple.

“What do you think:
Is it better to give up one’s life
And leave a sacred shell
As an object of cult
In a cloud of incense
Three thousand years,
Or better to live
As a plain turtle
Dragging its tail in the mud?”

“For the turtle,” said the Vice-Chancellor,
“Better to live
And drag its tail in the mud!”

“Go home!” said Chuang Tzu.
“Leave me here
To drag my tail in the mud!”

Once, when Zhuangzi was fishing in the Pu River, the king
of Chu sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I
would like to trouble you with the administration of my
Zhuangzi held on to the fishing pole and, without turning
his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in
Chu that has been dead for three thousand years. The king
keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the
ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead
and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it
rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”
“It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud,”
said the two officials.
Zhuangzi said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

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