A white tortoise

The ruler Yüan of Sung once dreamt at midnight that a man with dishevelled hair peeped in on him at a side door and said, ‘I was coming from the abyss of commissioned by the Clear Kiang to go to the place of the Earl of the Ho; but the fisherman Yü Zü has caught me.’ When the ruler Yüan awoke, he caused a diviner to divine the meaning of the dream, and was told, ‘This is a marvellous tortoise.’ The ruler asked if among the fishermen there was one called Yü Zü, and being told by his attendants that there was, he gave orders that he should be summoned to court. Accordingly the man next day appeared at court, and the ruler said, ‘What have you caught lately in fishing?’ The reply was, ‘I have caught in my net a white tortoise, sieve-like, and five cubits round.’ ‘Present the prodigy here,’ said the ruler; and, when it came, once and again he wished to kill it, once and again he wished to keep it alive. Doubting in his mind what to do, he had recourse to divination, and obtained the answer, ‘To kill the tortoise for use in divining will be fortunate.’ Accordingly they cut the creature open, and perforated its shell in seventy-two places, and there was not a single divining slip which failed.

Kung-nî said, ‘The spirit-like tortoise could show itself in a dream to the ruler Yüan, and yet it could not avoid the net of Yü Zü. Its wisdom could respond on seventy-two perforations without failing in a single divination, and yet it could not avoid the agony of having its bowels all scooped out. We see from this that wisdom is not without its perils, and spirit-like intelligence does not reach to everything. A man may have the greatest wisdom, but there are a myriad men scheming against him. Fishes do not fear the net, though they fear the pelican. Put away your small wisdom, and your great wisdom will be bright; discard your skilfulness, and you will become naturally skilful. A child when it is born needs no great master, and yet it becomes able to speak, living as it does among those who are able to speak.’

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