Right and wrong in the eyes of ordinary kings and great robbers might be rooted in might first, and only second, laws called right.
Robber Chih seized the wives of others and had strength to fend off any enemy and curse people in the vilest language. People all lived in dread of him. One day Confucius (Kung Fu) went up to his camp and wanted to reform him. Robber Chih flew into a great rage of it. His hair stood on end and bristled. He said,
"Crafly hypocrite, you make up your stories, babbling absurd eulogies of kings. You pour out fallacious theories. By clacking your tongue you seem to invent "right" or "wrong", and leading astray rulers - setting up ideal of "filial piety", and hoping to worm your way into favour with the rich and eminent. You'd better run home. If you don't I'll take your liver."
His voice sounded like the roar of huge tiger with glaring eyes. However, Confucius managed to talk to him, due to utter politeness to his face. He wanted the bandit to stand up as a gentleman of true talent, he said. Robber Chih could then win further fame in step with the already established set-up affairs of things. The bandit declined,
"Those who can be swayed with offers of gain are mere idiots. Who are fond of praising men to their faces are also fond of damning them behind their back.
I have heard that in ancient times the birds and beasts were many. The Yellow Emperor [legendary ancestor of the Chinese] could not attain the primal virtue of older days. He fought instead, till blood flowed. Later it came about that the strong oppressed the weak, the many abused the few. You come cultivating the way of kings, speaking your deceits, leading astray, hoping thereby to lay your hands on wealth with your honeyed words. How can this "way" of yours be worth anything? Even the Yellow Emperor could not preserve his virtue. A close look into emperors and men of worldy gains and esteem shows that all of them for the sake of gain brought confusion to the Truth - forcibly turned against their true form. They deserve the greatest shame!" said Robber Chih. [Co 323-31, extracts]
❋ The clever man is well on guard against all sorts of disintegrating forces. He senses danger before it's too late.
Some children were playing together when one of them fell into a tall water jar and was in danger of being drowned. The other children ran shrieking for help, all except Si Mah Gwang. She seized a stone, threw it at the water jar and broke a hole in it. The water rushed out and the child's life was saved.
People of Southern China used to train elephants and teach them to do many useful things. They worked for farmers and woodcutters, and helped make the roads twice a year; for an elephant could do many times more work than any other animal. So wise were the elephants that people came to believe they could see even into the hearts of men.
A judge named Ko-Kia-Yong had a wise old elephant that was trained to do this wonderful thing, it was said. Three cases which were brought before him, were decided by the elephant. And this is how one such decision was made:
A man came before the judge and said that some robbers had been in his house during the night and had taken his gold and jewels all that he had; and he asked the judge to find and punish the thieves.
In three months, five robbers had been found. When they were brought to the judge, they bowed before him and each one said, "I have never stolen anything."
The man and woman who had been robbed were called. And the woman said, "That man with the long grey hair is the one who robbed us."
The judge asked, "Are you sure it is he, and how do you know?"
She answered, "Yes, I remember. He took the bracelet from my arm and I looked into his face."
"Did the other four rob you also?" asked the judge.
The woman answered, "I do not know."
But the judge said, "The man who you say is a robber, seems not like one to me. His face is kind and gentle. I cannot decide according to your testimony. I know of but one way to find out, and we shall soon know the truth in this matter. My elephant shall be brought in to examine the men. Those who are not guilty need have no fear."
Four of the men looked glad.
They were stripped and stood almost naked before the judge and the law, and the elephant was brought in.
Then the judge said to the elephant, "Examine these men and tell us which is the robber." The elephant touched with his trunk each of the five accused men, from his head to his feet.
And the white-haired man and the three others stood still and laughed at the elephant with happy faces, for they knew in their hearts they were not guilty and they thought the elephant knew. But the fifth man shivered with fear and his face changed to many colours. While the elephant was examining him, the judge said, "Do your duty," and rapped loudly. The elephant knocked him softly with his trunk, and he confessed at once.
Then the judge said to the four guiltless men, "You may go." And to the woman he said, "Be careful whom you accuse." Then he said to the elephant, "Food and water are waiting for you. I hope you may live a long time and help me to judge wisely."
After this many wise men who were not superstitious went to the judge and said:
"An elephant cannot read the heart and mind of man. How could an elephant read the heart of man, a thing which man, himself, cannot do? Please explain."
And Ko-Kio-Yong, the wise judge, laughed and said, "My elephant eats and drinks as other elephants do. It is a belief among our people that he can read the hearts of men. The honest believe it and have no fear if they have done no wrong. Thieves, on the other hand, get fearful and confess rather easily in front of him."
Master Chuang was walking in the mountains when he saw a huge tree, its branches and leaves thick and lush. A woodcutter paused by its side but made no move to cut it down. When Master Chuang asked the reason, he answered, " There's nothing it could be used for!"
Master Chuang said, "Because it is quite worthless to men like us, this tree is able to live out the years Heaven gave it."
Down from the mountain, the Master stopped for a night at the house of an old friend. Delighted at that, the friend ordered his son to kill a goose and prepare it. "One of the geese can cackle and the other cannot," said the son. "So which should I kill, dad?"
"The one that cannot cackle," said his dad, the host.
Next day Master Chuang's disciples questioned him. "The tree you know, got to live to a full, reap age because it seems worthless. The goose gets killed for a similar thing. What position should you take in that case, Master?"
Master Chuang laughed, saying, "I would say about halfway between those poles apart - between worth and worthlessness, in all likelihood. But even if "halfway" might seem a good position, you do not get away from trouble there.
Another thing would be to climb up on the Way (Tao) - that is different! There go drifting and wandering, neither praised nor damned, shifting a bit with the times, taking grand harmony (Tao) for your measure. Then, could you get into any trouble?"
From Watson 1968:209-10. Retold
The ancient Chinese fable master Chuang Tzu [roughly 300 BC] mentions there may lie benefits in making oneself utterly useless, not useful, and yet, in other circumstances, a lot of danger, even death.
There is more to life than lessons had from twisted, useless trees. A human cannot always reach up that high -
Now, it generally pays quite well to go about your business at hand meticulously, carefully, guardedly, and . . . [fill in].