Women Masters in the Chuang-tzu (庄子, Zhuangzi)
The Woman Crookback & the Way of the Sage
The complete Burton Watson translation of the CHUANG-TZU (庄子), pronounced ZHUANG-ZI, is online at several sites. One section in Chapter 6 (The Great and Venerable Teacher), regarding "The Woman Crookback and the Way of the Sage" presents
an old story (possibly a true story), with the depth of a parable, and is cited here.
The CHUANG TZU is the Taoist treatise in which the famous story is told, where the master wakes and asks, "Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?" The Chuang Tzu was compiled in the Tan Dynasty
(202 B.C.E.-220 A.D), and is considered a most
important Taoist classic, second only to the Tao Te Ching. Many of the
stories in this collection focus on the adventures of "Master
Chuang," or "Chuang Tzu," however a number of other
Taoists teachers are mentioned, and one of them is mysteriously
named "the Woman Crookback." The Tao itself is sometimes personified as a wise old woman Mother Nature, the origin of the universe and Mother Earth are of course very old.
Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-906 C.E.) female figurine: "Dancer from the West," MMA, NYC
THE WOMAN CROOKBACK
& THE WAY OF THE SAGE
arranged from translation by Burton Watson:
Columbia University Press, 1964
The Way has its reality and its signs
but is without action or form.
You can hand it down but you cannot receive it,
you can ignore it but you cannot see it.
It is its own source, its own root.
Before heaven and earth existed it was there,
from the ancient times.
It gave spirituality to the spirits and to God,
it gave birth to heaven and to earth.
It exists beyond the highest point,
and yet you cannot call it lofty;
it exists beneath the limit of the six directions,
and yet you cannot call it deep.
It was born before heaven and earth,
and yet you cannot say
it has been there for long,
it is earlier than the earliest time,
and yet you cannot call it old.
Hsi-wei got it
and held up heaven and earth.
Fu-hsi got it
and entered into the mother of breath.
The Big Dipper got it
and from ancient times has never wavered.
The Sun and Moon got it
and from ancient times have never rested.
K'an-p'i got it
and entered K'un-lun.
P'ing-i got it
and wandered in the great river.
Chien Wu got it
and lived in the great mountain.
The Yellow Emperor got it
and ascended to the cloudy heavens.
Chuan Hsu got it
and dwelt in the Dark Palace.
Yu-ch'iang got it
and stood at the limit of the north.
The Queen Mother of the West* got it
and took her seat on Shao-kuang --
nobody knows her beginning,
nobody knows her end.
P'eng-tsu got it
and lived from the age of Shun
to the Five Dictators.
Fu Yueh got it
and became minister to Wu-ting,
who extended his rule over the whole world;
then Fu Yueh climbed up to the Eastern Governor,
straddled the Winnowing Basket and the Tail,
and took his place among the ranks of stars.
Nan-po zu K'uei said to the Woman Crookback,
"You are old in years and yet your complexion
is that of a child. Why is this?"
"I have heard of the Way!"
"Can the Way be learned?"
asked Nan-po Tzu K'uei.
"Goodness, how could that be?
Anyway, you aren't the man to do it.
Now there's Pu-liang Yi --
he has the talent of the Way
but not the Way of a sage,
whereas I have the Way
but not the talent of a sage.
I thought that I would try to teach him
and see if I could really get anywhere near
to making him a sage.
It's easier to explain
the Way of a sage
who has the talent of a sage, you know.
"So I began explaining
and kept at him for three days, and after that
he was able to put the world outside himself.
When he had put the world outside himself,
I kept at him for seven days more,
and after that
he was able
to put things outside himself.
When he had put things outside himself,
I kept at him for nine days more,
and after that he was able
to put life outside himself.
"After he had put life outside himself,
he was able to achieve the brightness of dawn,
he could see his own aloneness,
he could do away with past and present,
he was able to enter
where there is no life and death.
"That which kills life does not die,
that which gives life to life does not live.
This is the kind of thing it is:
there's nothing it doesn't send off,
nothing it doesn't complete.
Its name is Peace-in-Strife.
After the strife, it attains completion."
Nan-po Tzu Kuei asked,
"Where did you happen to hear this?"
"I heard it from the son of Aided-by-Ink,
and Aided-by Ink heard it
from the grandson of Repeated-Recitation,
and the grandson of Repeated-Recitation
and Seeing-Brightly heard it
and Whispered-Agreement heard it
and Waiting-for-Use heard it
and Exclaimed-Wonder heard it
and Dark-Obscurity heard it
and Participation-in-Mystery heard it
*"Queen Mother of the West -- nobody knows her beginning,
nobody knows her end," is the Taoist goddess of Eternal
Life and protector of Taoist women practitioners. The first literary
reference to her (after the Shang oracle bones) is found here
in the Chuang Tzu. Later during the early Middle Ages she became
a prominent Taoist deity.
In regard to her role as protector of Taoist women Suzanne
E. Cahill ("Transcendence & Divine Passion") says:
"As embodiment of ultimate yin, highest goddess, and
ruler of female transcendents, the Queen Mother has a special
relationhship with all women...She cares for women Taoists everywhere
in the universe, both perfected and aspirants..."
In the year 711, Jade Verity (a T'ang princess), along with
her sister Golden Transcendent, took her vows as a Taoist nun.
Li Po's poem carries Jade Verity to the constellation called
the "Celestial Drum," and the Minor Apartment Peak
where there is a special shrine to the Queen Mother:
Song of the Transcendent Person Jade Verity
The transcendent person Jade Verity
Oftentimes goes to the peaks of grand Mount Hua.
At pure dawn she sounds the Celestial Drum;
A whirlwind arising, she soars upward on paired dragons.
She plays with lightning, without resting her hands,
Traverses the clouds, without leaving a trace.
Whenever she enters the Minor Apartment Peak,
The Queen Mother will certainly be there to meet her.
Suzanne E. Cahill, Transcendence & Divine Passion:
The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China; Stanford,
CA: Stanford Universtiy Press, 1993
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