Home  »  The World’s Wit and Humor  »  Life, Death, and Immortality

The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Chwang Tze (4th Century B.C.)

Life, Death, and Immortality

From “The Great Supreme”

FOUR men were conversing together, when the following resolution was suggested: “Whosoever can make inaction the head, life the backbone, and death the tail, of his existence, that man shall be admitted to friendship with us.” The four looked at each other and smiled; and, tacitly accepting the conditions, they became friends forthwith.

After a time one of them fell ill, and another went to see him. “Verily, God is great!” said the invalid. “See how he has doubled me up. My back is so hunched that my bowels are at the top of my body; my shoulders are above my neck; my hair is growing up toward the sky. The whole economy of my physical organism is completely out of order. Nevertheless, my mental equilibrium is not disturbed.” So saying, he dragged himself painfully to a well, where he could see himself, and exclaimed, “Alas! that God should have doubled me up like this!”

“Are you afraid?” asked his friend. “I am not,” was the answer; “for what have I to fear? Ere long I shall be decomposed. My left shoulder will become a cock, and I shall herald the approach of morn; my right shoulder will become a crossbow, and I shall be able to get broiled duck; my posterior will become a pair of wheels, and, with my soul for a horse, I shall be able to ride in my own chariot. I am now working out my destiny on earth; I shall then be completing it in the inevitable. Content with the natural sequence of these states, joy and sorrow touch me not. I am simply, as the ancients expressed it, hanging in the air, unable to cut myself down, bound with the trammels of material existence. But the material has always given way before the immaterial; therefore, why should I be afraid?”

Presently the third of the friends fell sick, and lay gasping for breath, while his family stood weeping about him. The fourth went to visit him. “Tush!” he cried to his wife and children, “begone! You interfere with his decomposition.” Then, leaning against the door, he said, “Verily, God is great! I wonder what He will make of you now? Do you think He will turn you into a rat’s liver [the Chinese believe a rat has no liver], or into the shoulders of a snake?”

To which came the reply, “Suppose that the boiling metal in a smelting-pot were to bubble up, and say, ‘Make an Excalibur of me,’ I think the caster would reject that metal as uncanny. And if a sinner like me were to say to God, ‘Make a man of me,’ I think He would reject me as uncanny. The universe is the smelting-pot, and God is the caster. I shall go whithersoever I am sent, to wake unconscious of the past, as a man wakes from a dreamless sleep.”