Monday morning: Starting the week by reading Burton Watson’s translation of Zhunag Zi writing on “Perfect Happiness”:

PERFECT HAPPINESS

IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?

This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear.

People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.

Men of ardor are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?

What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there?

I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness; perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this!

Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?

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Nina Wang’s inheritance court case brought up an interesting question, “Can we learn Feng Shui by reading books?”

I once ask this question to my Sifu and he replied, “Of course we can, it is like learning how to cook by following the recipes of an experienced chef, but the result is often poor. Why? Because there are a lot of subtleties in cooking, and in Feng Shui for that matter, that can only be transmitted by a teacher mentoring to achieve the same result.”

I think it is a fair enough comment, we need teachers to learn better, but I can also hear some people who would disagree and say, “But with my own trials and errors and with my own logic and intelligence, I can even cook better than the author of the recipes.”

May be these people are right also, and that brings up another question, “Do we need face-to-face teachers any more when we have all the books and the technology (like eLearning) we need?”

Perhaps this story by Zhuangzi can throw more light on the subject, may be reading books is not enough, having a teacher and reading book are still not enough, we need to practice and practice:

Duke Huan was reading a book in the hall. Wheelwright Pian, who had been chiseling a wheel in the courtyard below, set down his tools and climbed the stairs to ask Duke Huan:

“may I ask what words are in the book Your Grace is reading?”

“The classic of a famous sage.” the Duke responded.

“Is he still alive?”

“Oh no, he is long dead.”

“Then you’ve been reading the dregs left over by a dead man, isn’t it?”

Duke Huan said,” How dare a wheelwright to have opinions about the book I read! If you can explain yourself, I’ll let it pass. Otherwise, it’s death!”

Wheelwright Pian said, “In my case I see things in terms of my own work. I chisel at a wheel. If I go too slow, the chisel slides and does not stay put. If I hurry, it jams and doesn’t move properly. When it is just right, I can feel it in my hand and respond to it from my heart. I can explain this to my son, but I cannot pass on the skills to him. That is why at seventy years old, I am still making wheels. The sage who couldn’t pass down his wisdom is already dead; and that’s why I say the book you’re reading is merely the dregs of a dean man.”

painting-of-man-reading-by-candlelight

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