The Calvinist Taoist OR Chicken Little and the Doctrine of Emptiness

My student Joe recently loaned me A.C. Graham's translation of the Liehtzu, a Taoist work I had not previously read. Much of it has to do either with emptiness or, interestingly enough, with the interplay between something Graham translates as "endeavor" (I wish I had the Chinese original) and "destiny" (which I assume is ming).

When speaking of emptiness, he reminds me of a discussion I had last semester with a student about when Buddhism came to China; Scott (a Buddhist) suggested that Buddhism must have arrived before Taoist thought arose, influencing it heavily. At the time, I pooh-poohed his suggestion. After reading the Liehtzu, I am not so sure. The passages concerning emptiness read like something out of a Zen classic (if such could be said to exist). Here's my favorite one - sorry it's so long, but it's really good:

There was a man of Ch'i county who was so worried that heaven and earth might fall down, and his body would have nowhere to lodge, that he forgot to eat and sleep. There was another man who was worried that he should be so worried about it, and therefore went to enlighten him.
'Heaven is nothing but the accumulated air; there is no place where there is not air. You walk and stand all day inside heaven, stretching and bending, breathing in and breathing out; why should you worry about falling down?'
'If heaven really is accumulated air, shouldn't the sun and moon and stars fall down?'
'The sun and moon and stars are air which shines inside the accumulated air. Even if they did fall down, they couldn't hit or harm anyone.'
'What about the earth giving way?'
'The earth is nothing but accumulated soil, filling the void in all four directions; there is no place where there is not soil. You walk and stand all day on the earth, stamping about with abrupt spurts and halts; whyshould you worry about it giving way?'
The man was satisfied and greatly cheered; and so was the man who enlightened him.

As I said, Chicken Little . . . .

Here is one of the many things the Liehtzu has to say about Destiny:

. . . The wisdom of sages cannot defy this,
Demons and goblins cannot cheat this.
Being of themselves as they are
Silently brings them about,
Gives them serenity, gives them peace,
Escorts them as they go and welcomes them as they come.

Finally, a story that made me smile, and that reminds me of the joke about the old Jewish man who prays every day to win the lottery:

There was a man of Sung who was strolling in the street and picked up a half tally someone had lost. He took it home and stored it away, and secretly counted the indentations of the broken edge. He told a neighbor, 'I shall be rich any day now.'

Good read, Joe. Thanks!


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