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- Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
- How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home? Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king's bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears. How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.
- Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. If so were really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument.
- Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!
- A trap is for fish: when you've got the fish, you can forget the trap. A snare is for rabbits: when you've got the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words are for meaning: when you've got the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find someone who's forgotten words so I can have a word with him?...
- A way is made by walking it. A thing is so by calling it.
- Cherish that which is within you, and shut off that which is without; for too much knowledge is a curse.
- Easy is right. Begin right and you are easy. Continue easy and you are right. The right way to go easy is to forget the right way and forget that the going is easy.
- Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.
- Great truths do not take hold of the hearts of the masses. And now, as all the world is in error, how shall I, though I know the true path, how shall I guide? If I know that I cannot succeed and yet try to force success, this would be but another source of error. Better then to desist and strive no more. But if I do not strive, who will?
- Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious. Great speech is impassioned, small speech cantankerous.
- Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.
- He who pursues fame at the risk of losing his self is not a sage.
- I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same river.
- If a made-up mind counts as a teacher, then who doesn't have a teacher?
- If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.
- Knowledge that stops at what it does not know is perfect.
- Nourish your middle by accepting what cannot be avoided: that's perfection.
- Our lives are limited, while knowledge is not. Pursuing the unlimited with the limited would be tiring. If you already knew that, it would be even more tiring.
- Perfect people have no self, spiritual people have no accomplishment, and sagely people have no name.
- Resolve your mental energy into abstraction, your physical energy into action. Allow yourself to fall in with the natural order of phenomena, without admitting the element of self, and the empire will be governed.
- Rewards and punishments are the lowest form of education.
- The mountain trees bring about their own demises [by being useful], burning oil exhausts itself in fire [when people use it in oil lamp]. The fruits of the cinnamon tree can be eaten, hence the trees are cut down; the varnish tree is useful, hence incisions are made in it. Everyone knows the usefulness of being useful, but no one knows the usefulness of being useless.
- Those who value what is on the outside are clumsy on the inside.
- To stop leaving tracks is easy. Not to walk upon the ground is hard.
- There is order in chaos, and certainty in doubt. The wise are guided by this order and certainty.
- Using a point to show that a point is not a point is not as good as using a nonpoint to show that a point is not a point.
- We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.
- To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
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