March 29, 2006

Two from Chuang Tzu

While the batteries keep recharging, today’s little tales will be from Chuang Tzu (c. 369–c.286 BC), the greatest Taoist writer after the quasi-mythical Lao Tzu.

Owl and Phoenix
Hui Tzu was prime minister of Liang province. He had heard that Chuang Tzu wanted his job and was plotting to usurp him. When Chuan Tzu came to visit Liang, Hui Tzu sent police to arrest him. The police searched unsuccessfully for three days and nights, but in the meantime Chuang Tzu presented himself at the palace voluntarily. He said to Hui Tzu:

“Have you heard about the bird that lives in the south, the phoenix? It never grows old. It drinks only from the clearest springs. It rises out of the South Sea and flies to the North Sea without touching land or water, except to alight on sacred trees from which it takes its only food, the most exquisite rare fruit.

“Once, an owl, chewing a dead, half-decayed rat, saw the phoenix fly overhead. The owl looked up and screeched with alarm, frantically clutching the rat to protect his kill.

“Why are you frantically clutching your ministry and screeching at me with alarm?”

The Fighting Cock
Chi Hsing Tzu trained fighting cocks for the king. Once, when he was training an especially fine bird, the king asked if it was ready for the ring.

“Not yet, Your Majesty,” said Chi Hsing Tzu. “He’s full of fire. He’s ready to pick a fight with every other bird. He’s vain and confident of his own strength.”

After ten days, the king repeated his question, and Chi Hsing Tzu said, “Not yet. He still flares up when he hears another cock crowing.”

After ten more days, he said, “Not yet. He still gets that angry look and ruffles his feathers.”

Ten more days: “Now he’s ready. When another bird crows, his eyes don’t even flicker. He stands immobile like a wooden statue of a bird. He is a mature fighter. Other birds will take one look at him and run.”

Adapted from Thomas Merton, THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU, Shambhala Editions, 2004.

Tomorrow’s religion: Judaism!