If you do not know how to keep still in this crazy world, you will be drawn into all kinds of unnecessary trouble

From Eva Wong’s translation of Lieh-Tzu. I’m told it’s a rather free translation and that the recent French edition Les Fables de Maître Lie (ISBN 9782910386443) is far better but it remains en route at the moment and I don’t trust my attention span.

The Value of Emptiness

Someone asked Lieh-tzu, “Why do you value emptiness?”

Lieh-tzu said, “Most people like to be praised. They feel good when their accomplishments are acknowledged. However, I feel we would be better off if we were empty of attachments and not imprisoned by recognition, approval, and disapproval. In the long run, we’d have fewer things to worry about. That’s why I value emptiness.”

Lieh-tzu paused and then continued, “Even if you were given credit for doing something, you should realize that it was not entirely your own doing. Events occur because conditions are right, and your action only contributes to one of the many conditions. We are accustomed to thinking that when things happen, they are our ‘accomplishments’; we don’t understand that there is actually nothing to accomplish. Therefore, rather than accept credit that does not belong to anyone, why not quiet down and think about the workings of heaven and earth?

“Seeing the emptiness of things can help us cultivate stillness and peace of mind. If you do not know how to keep still in this crazy world, you will be drawn into all kinds of unnecessary trouble. You will lose your view of the Way, and, when you realize it, it will be too late, for in losing the Way, you will have also lost yourself.”

Chuang-tzu once told a story about two persons who both lost a sheep. One person got very depressed and lost himself in drinking, sex, and gambling to try to forget this misfortune. The other person decided that this would be an excellent chance for him to study the classics and quietly observe the subtleties of nature. Both men experienced the same misfortune, but one man lost himself because he was too attached to the experience of loss, while the other found himself because he was able to let go of gain and loss.

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