The Parable of Master Hu

from Guo Qing-Fan, 19th Century.  Translation by: Charles Chace, Miki Shima

In Zheng, there was a magus by the name of Ji Xian who had knowledge of people’s life and death, whether they would be preserved or perish, whether they would experience calamity or good fortune, and whether they would live long or die young, predicting these things to the year, month, ten-day period, or even days as if he were a divinity.

Upon seeing him, the people of Zheng all rushed and ran.

Liezi saw him, and his mind was enchanted. Returning, he reported to Master Hu, proclaiming: “In the beginning, I regarded the Way of you sir, to be the ultimate! But there is another who possesses something even more supreme than you!”

Master Hu said: “Although I have given you its patterns, I have not yet given you its substance, and yet you are confident you have attained the Way?”

“If you have lots of hens and no roosters, then how could you have any eggs?”

“And yet you take this lesser way and proclaim it to the world, certain of its veracity. And for this reason you bid people accept it and assist you. Please try to bring this magus here and show him to me.”

The next day, Liezi brought him to see Master Hu. Upon leaving, Ji Xian said to Liezi: “Ah, your teacher is dying! He has no life left in him! He will not last even ten days! I saw the strangeness in him; I saw damp ashes in him.”

Liezi went in, sobbing tears that soaked his sleeves, and told Master Hu what Ji Xian had said.

Master Hu said: “Just now I showed my earthly pattern, the sprout of life seemed to neither stir nor be still. He probably saw that I had stopped up the power of my dynamic. Try to bring him back again.”

The next day, he again brought Ji Xian to see Master Hu. Ji Xian emerged and said to Liezi: “How auspicious that your teacher has met me. He has healed! He has completely come back to life! I saw that this stoppage was only temporary!”

Lieze went in and reported to Master Hu. Master Hu said: “Just now I showed him the vitality of heaven and soil, where neither name nor substance influences me, and my dynamic issued from my heels. So he probably saw me with health as my dynamic. Try to bring him back again.”

The next day, Liezi again brought Ji Xian to see Master Hu. He emerged and said to Liezi: “Your teacher is unstable. I cannot get any information, so I cannot read him. Try to stabilize him, then I will read him again.”

Liezi went in and reported to Master Hu. Master Hu said: “Just now I showed him the Great Thoroughfare where nothing is victorious. He probably saw me balancing my qi dynamic. The profound depths stirred by leviathans are an abyss, the profound depths where there is a stilling of waters are an abyss, the profound depths from where waters flow are also an abyss. There are nine kinds of abyss. Here then, are three of them.”

The next day, Liezi again brought Ji Xian to see Master Hu. Ji Xian stood but did not stay. He lost his composure and fled. Master Hu said: “Chase him!” Liezi chased him, but he was too late. He returned and reported to Master Hu saying: “He has already gone! I have lost him! I could not catch him!”

Master Hu said: “Just now I showed him that my ancestral influences had not yet begun to emerge, I was empty and entwined with him, so we could not know who was who. Thus were we blown like the wind; thus did we flow like a wave. It was for this reason that he fled.”

Afterword, Liezi himself understood that he has not yet even begun to learn from Master Hu and returned to his studies. He did not go out for three years; cooking for his wife and feeding the pigs with such care, it was as if he were feeding people; he had little to do with the affairs of the world. From the carved and polished, he returned to simplicity. Clod-like, his singularity became established in his form, he sealed himself off from confusion, and he uniformly remained like this to the very end.

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