"The Active Life" by Chuang Tzu


If an expert does not have some problem to vex him, he is unhappy.
If a philosopher's teaching is never attacked, he pines away.
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite, they are miserable.
All such people are prisoners in a world of objects.

Whoever wants followers seeks political power.
Whoever wants reputation holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave man looks for an emergency in which he can show his courage.

The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing his sword.
Men past their prime prefer a dignified retirement, in which they can seem profound.
Experienced lawyers seek difficult cases to extend the application of laws.
Poets, writers and musicians like festivals in which they can parade their talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for chances to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be if there were no more weeds?
What would become of business without a market of fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labour if there were no superfluous objects to be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends! Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity and change.
The whirring of the machine!

Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act: they cannot help themselves.
They are inexorably moved, like the machine of which they are a part.
Prisoners in the world of objects, they have no choice, but to submit to the demands of the matter.
They are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the market, events, public opinion.
Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind!

The active life!
What a pity!

(Chuang Tzu - translated by Thomas Merton)
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