Great and Small

Chuang Tzu Translation and Commentary

This passage is a description of small-minded people. It is an example of what not to be.

Great knowledge is broad and encompassing
Small knowledge is detailed and meticulous
Great talk is powerful and forceful
Small talk is endless and argumentative

In their sleeping hours their spirits are restless
In their waking hours their bodies are agitated
When they deal with others they get entangled
The entire day they plot and scheme

Some speak deliberately
Some set traps with words
Some are secretive
Small fears make them apprehensive
Great fears make them panic

When they speak, their words are like arrows shot out
Seeking others’ weak spots to cause damage
When they keep quiet, it is as if they have sworn an oath
Looking for opportunities to achieve victory

When they fail, it is like Autumn or Winter
We can say that they decline day after day
When they are trapped in this situation
They cannot return to their true nature

When they are obstructed as if bound
We can say that they wither and shrivel
The heart that is nearing death
Cannot regain life and vitality

Joy, anger, sadness, happiness
Worry, regret, change, horror
Impetuous, undisciplined, unruly, pretentious
Like sound coming out of holes,
Or fungus growing out of humidity
Day and night they clash before us
Yet they do not know the root cause

Enough! Enough!
Once they understand this,
Will they then comprehend the principle of life?

Without it, I cannot exist
Without me, there is no one to appreciate it
Therefore I am close to it
But I do not know what governs it

There must be a supreme ruler
But I cannot discern any trace of it
I can believe it exists from its actions
But I cannot see its shape
It has existence, but no physical form

Derek Lin
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