Creation and Destruction

Chuang Tzu Translation and Commentary

When you break something up, you create things.
When you create something, you destroy things.
Material things have no creation or destruction.
Ultimately these concepts connect as one.

How can these diametrically opposite concepts be connected? They seem as far apart from one another as any two things can be!

Only the enlightened know that they connect as one,
So instead of debating this with your preconceptions,
Approach it in an ordinary way.

Those with this ordinary approach, simply apply the idea.
Those who apply it, connect with it.
Those who connect with it, attain it.
This easily attained understanding is not far off.

Let us take this advice and come up with some examples to help us come to grips with the seeming paradox. What must happen in order for us to create furnitures, for instance? Why, we have to cut down (break apart) trees to get timber! What does a scuptor have to do in order to craft a beautiful statue? Ah, he or she must apply chisel to rock and hammer away, of course!

Creation and destruction are, indeed, two sides of the same coin. Stunning.

It all flows naturally.
To attain this state and not even know it,
Is what we would call Tao.
To exhaust your mind trying to unify them,
And not realize that they are the same,
Is what we we would call “three in the morning.”

What is this “three in the morning”?

A man who fed monkeys with chestnuts said to them:
“Three portions in the morning, four in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys got angry.

The man then said:
“Alright, four in the morning and three in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys were pleased.

The food and the quantity had not changed,
And yet resulted in anger and happiness,
All because of the different arrangement.

If we cannot see that destruction and creation are a connected whole, then we are no better than the monkeys in this story, easily fooled into thinking two things are fundamentally different merely because they are presented differently!

Therefore the sages incorporate the two concepts,
Don’t even try to debate truth and falsehood,
And maintain the principle of natural balance.
This is what we would call the dual approach.

Derek Lin
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