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The Liezi is a Daoist text attributed to Lie Yukou, a c. 5th century BCE Hundred Schools of Thought philosopher, but Chinese and Western scholars believe it was compiled around the 4th century CE.


Part One: The Gifts of Heaven[edit]

Passage 3: Heaven and Earth Have Their Strengths and Weaknesses[edit]

  • The teachings of the sages can be summed up as virtue and justice.
  • While sounds are heard, that which made the sounds has not yet begun to resonate.
  • By knowing and doing nothing, you can know all and do all.

Passage 4: Life and Death[edit]

  • Lieh-tzu left his home in Cheng and journeyed to the kingdom of Wei. While walking down a dusty road, he saw the remains of a skull lying by the wayside. Lieh-tzu saw that it was the skull of a human that was over a hundred years old. He picked up the bone, brushed the dirt off it, and looked at it for a while. Finally, he put the skull down, sighed, and said to his student who was standing nearby, “In this world, only you and I understand life and death.” Turning to the skull he said, “Are you unfortunate to be dead and are we fortunate to be alive? Maybe it is you who are fortunate and we who are unfortunate!”
    • A parallel to Zhuangzi section 18.6
  • Many people sweat and toil and feel satisfied that they have accomplished many things. However, in the end we are not all that different from this polished piece of bone. In a hundred years, everyone we know will be just a pile of bones. What is there to gain in life, and what is there to lose in death?

Passage 5: Shadows, Sounds, and Ghosts[edit]

  • Our time in this world is a journey through the cycle we call life. As guests, we linger for a while in this realm before we depart for another. And who can tell how long this traveler will stay in the next realm before embarking on another visit to the realm of the living?

Part Four: Confucius[edit]

Passage 34: True Happiness and Contentment[edit]

  • To be truly happy and contented, you must let go of the idea of what it means to be happy or content. When you understand there is really nothing to be happy or sad about, then you will be truly contented.

Passage 36: Who is a Sage?[edit]

  • "Then who do you think is a sage?", [the minister asked.] Confucius would not be hurried, so he waited until the minister calmed down again and replied, "Maybe far away in the West is a person who doesn’t talk about the art of government and yet his country is orderly and peaceful. He rarely speaks about promises but he is trusted by all. He does not use force, so everything runs smoothly. His heart is open and his actions are spontaneous. His subjects don't even know what to call him. I suspect he is a sage, but that he is truly a sage I would not know.… Does it really matter if someone is recognized as a sage or not? If you are truly honest, sincere, and upright in everything you do, do you need others to acknowledge your virtues to make you virtuous?"
    • Note: in Daoist tradition, Confucius, along with numerous other perceived "sages", are often used to explain the author's own views on a subject, regardless of the actual views of that figure. Historically, Confucians frequently feuded with Daoists, and many sections of works such as the Zhuangzi are devoted to mocking their views.
      • Other prominent philosophers of Liezi's era, including Gongung Long and Yang Zhu, are used for the same purpose in the Liezi.

Passage 38: The Man with the Wooden Face[edit]

  • If you can see intention, then you need not use speech to communicate. The sage does not need to talk to people to understand their intent. Moreover, they do not need to use words to communicate their own intent. This is called saying nothing. The enlightened person can also sense the truth without going through deduction or reasoning. This is called knowing nothing and yet knowing all. Nan-kuo-tzu appears as if he does not see, does not hear, and does not know. However, he sees all, hears all, and knows all. For him, there is no separation between seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, acting and not acting, and knowing and not knowing.

Passage 39: The Art of Traveling and Sightseeing[edit]

  • People who are attracted to the external world are always looking for something new and wonderful that will satisfy their senses. However, only people who look into themselves will find true satisfaction.
  • Travel is such a wonderful experience! Especially when you forget you are traveling. Then you will enjoy whatever you see and do. Those who look into themselves when they travel will not think about what they see. In fact, there is no distinction between the viewer and the seen. You experience everything with the totality of yourself, so that every blade of grass, every mountain, every lake is alive and is a part of you.

Passage 42: There are Some Things You Just Can't Fight[edit]

  • People who are beginning to weaken will push their bodies to the limit. People who are about to lose their minds will become unusually argumentative. This is because they are not willing to admit that all things must end, and they want to make a show of their strength to cover their weakness. On the other hand, enlightened persons accept the natural course of things. They do not force their bodies to display strength or their minds to show cleverness. Knowing that there are some things that they can’t fight, they accept what comes. That is why they can embrace life and accept death.

Passage 45: The Strange Arguments of Gongsung Long[edit]

  • A person with a mind cannot know; If you can point to it, then you cannot reach it; You can never finish dividing something; A shadow cannot move; A single hair can hold up a thousand stones; A white horse is not a horse; An orphaned calf has never had a mother.
    • This is a reference to the historical Gongsung Long, of the School of Logicians, who distinguished between categories and members of those categories by famously proclaiming "A White Horse is not a Horse".

Part Six: Effort and Destiny[edit]

Passage 64: The Friendship of Guan Zheng and Bao Shuya[edit]

  • A wise ruler does not let personal grudges cloud his judgment of people’s abilities. Moreover, a good ruler always thinks about the welfare of his country first and his personal needs second.
  • Bao Shuya was neither jealous nor resentful of Guan Zheng’s success. They remained the best of friends, for Bao Shuya respected Guan Zheng’s abilities and knew that if the lord of Chi was a wise ruler, he would entrust the highest responsibilities to Guan Zheng.
  • Guan Zheng did not let his success affect his friendship with Bao Shuya, Often he would say, “If not for Bao Shuya, I would not be where I am today. When we were children, I always took a larger share of everything we found. He didn’t argue with me and never considered me greedy because he knew I came from a poor family that never had enough of anything. When we made plans together for our little enterprises, Bao Shuya accepted my advice, but when things did not turn out, he never blamed me for stupidity, for he knew that success and failure often depend more on luck than effort… Therefore, although my parents gave me life and nourished me, it is Pao Shu-ya who really understands me.
  • True friendship is not simply looking out for your friends and ignoring their faults.
  • True friendship does not depend on favors or positive evaluation.
  • Bao Shuya did not recommend Guan Zheng to the king because he wanted to do his friend a favor. It was because he understood Guan Zheng’s genius in managing the affairs of a state and did not let his own personal ambitions prevent his friend from taking office. If Guan Zheng had not been capable, Bao Shuya would not have recommended him, and Guan Zheng in turn would not have begrudged his friend for not supporting him.

Passage 66: The Three Doctors[edit]

  • If heaven does not know, how can mortals know? If heaven does not bless you, crying won’t help. If we all weep together, Will it lengthen life and chase away death? Even doctors and shamans arc not miracle workers.
  • Your illness is not caused by heaven, man, or evil spirits. Each person is endowed with life at birth and this course of life is not something that can be controlled or directed. Given the way things have turned out, even the best medication cannot help you.

Passage 67: Yang Zhu Talks about Destiny[edit]

  • Look at the muddy world, look at the crowds of people who push themselves to achieve, and you will realize they are neither happy nor contented.
  • If you don’t want to push yourself, if you don’t accept the social norms of success and achievement, who can stop you?
  • From sunrise to sunset people rush around madly. Does this guarantee they will be more well-off than you are if you don’t do the same thing? What will happen to you is not determined by effort, nor even by any innate abilities.
  • When we see things happen contrary to our expectations, we are frustrated or disappointed. In our minds, two people with the same intelligence and appearance should have similar achievements in careers and social status. And if we do not succeed where others with the same abilities did, it feels good to find an excuse to get depressed and think that we are treated unfairly. However, if we can break free from this mode of thought and acknowledge that there are some things we simply cannot control, then there will be less disappointment, frustration, anger, and dissatisfaction in our lives.

Passage 69: Success and Failure[edit]

  • Those who succeed will often not know beforehand that they will succeed. Those who fail will often not know beforehand that they will fail. Therefore, why waste time and effort to anticipate success or failure when it will only cause anxiety and apprehension?
  • Many things happen without our active intervention. When the momentum of events is too strong, the best thing we can do is get out of the way and not be swept up by it. Thus, knowing the role of destiny in success and failure, the wise ones know when to act and when to stop.
  • Life and death are natural events. Riches and poverty are the product of the times. We only worry about whether our lives will be long or short, or whether we will be rich or poor, when we do not understand that events come and go of themselves and our worrying cannot change them.
  • Intelligent people will often want to calculate the likelihood of success and failure before they take action. However, their chances of succeeding are often not very different from those of people who do not think about the odds… Things will turn out the way they would regardless of our predictions. Therefore, why try to predict and then be anxious about the accuracy of our predictions?

Passage 70: The King Who Wanted to Live Forever[edit]

  • Seeing a fool urged on by other fools, I cannot but laugh at this collective folly!
  • When we are rich and famous and powerful, we do not want to die. On the other hand, if we are miserable and suffering, we want to die and leave it all. But can joy or misery last forever?
  • Life and death will come of their own. Why be greedy about life and afraid of death?

Passage 71: Death is not a Loss[edit]

  • Before my son came, I had no son. I was certainly not heartbroken back then. Now I have no son. Why should I be heartbroken now?

Part Seven: Yang Zhu[edit]

Passage 72: A Name is Nothing and Titles are Empty[edit]

  • When you die, you’ll leave everything. What’s the use of planning for things that happen afterward?
  • Honesty and riches do not often go hand in hand. So the honest man who is socially recognized as a virtuous person is often poor.
  • Take a look at the hermits Bo Yi and Shu Chi. They refused to serve an enemy lord and starved to death in the mountains. These two became heroes and were regarded as men of integrity and virtue. However, they lost their lives and their lands, and their descendants became destitute.
  • Sometimes, having a name carries with it anxieties and burdens of responsibility. Thus, people who have power and social status are often not free to do what they want. Because everyone is watching them, they have to behave in a way that is expected of their reputation. One error and they will lose their hard-earned reputation. They are not exactly the happiest people.
  • Someone with neither social status nor a reputation to uphold may be a freer and happier person. Why then work so hard to gain social recognition when it will only diminish your freedom and happiness?

Passage 73: Life—Temporarily Staying in the World; Death—Temporarily Leaving[edit]

  • It doesn’t matter whether you will be remembered in generations ahead, because you will not be there to see it.
  • Some people think they can find satisfaction in good food, fine clothes, lively music, and sexual pleasure. However, when they have all these things, they are not satisfied… Thus, society has set up a system of rewards that go beyond material goods. These include titles, social recognition, status, and political power, all wrapped up in a package called self-fulfillment.… People spend their short lives tiring body and mind to chase after these goals… Everything they do is dictated by whether it can get them social gains. In the end, they’ve spent their lives following other people’s demands and never lived a life of their own.
  • In our short time here, we should listen to our own voices and follow our own hearts. Why not be free and live your own life? Why follow other people’s rules and live to please others?
  • When something enjoyable comes your way, you should enjoy it fully. Don’t be imprisoned by name or title, for social conventions can lead you away from the natural order of things.

Passage 74: In Life There May be Differences, In Death Everything is the Same[edit]

  • Some people are born into rich families; others are born poor. Some are born intelligent; others are born stupid. Some are born into nobility; others are born as common citizens. While they live, they are different. But when they die, everyone is just a pile of bones and rotting flesh.
  • When alive, the virtuous may be respected, but in death they are a pile of dry bones. Similarly, the wicked may be abhorred in life, but in death they are also a pile of bones.
  • Given the shortness and transitory nature of life, we should make the best use of it. Enjoy it while you can. Why worry about whether you will leave a good name when all that will be left of you is a pile of dry bone.

Passage 78: Unrestrained Pleasure and Hard Work[edit]

  • Zu Chan's brothers said: 'We know that wine and sex damage health. But we also know that life is short, and we want to enjoy whatever we can now. You, on the other hand, suppress what you want to do in order to maintain your rank and power. You belabor your body and mind day and night. Does that not damage your health, age you, and make you weak and wasted?
  • In order to maintain your reputation, you have damaged your heart by suppressing your natural inclinations.
  • We, on the other hand, may be wild and unruly, but we are true to ourselves. We have never put up a front to gain respect. We have never been involved in dirty politics or harmed other people with treachery and intrigue. Can you say this about yourself?

Passage 79: Everyone Must Die Sometime[edit]

  • Someone asked Yang Zhu, "What do you think of people who pray for immortality?" Yang Zhu replied, "Everyone must die sometime. Praying won’t help."
  • Joy and sorrow, gain and loss, war and peace, good government and bad repeat themselves throughout history. Why live a hundred years to see the same things come and go?
  • When you live, you should accept life and let it run its course. When you die, you should accept death and go to it peacefully.
  • Life and death come by themselves. We should let them run their course and not try to speed or delay them.


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