Chuang Tzu (369 BC-286 BC)

Chuang Tzu

Writings on Time

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Jen Ch'iu asked Confucius, saying, 'Can we know about the time before the universe existed?'

'We can', replied Confucius. 'Time was of old precisely what it is now.'

At this rebuff, Jen Ch'iu withdrew. Next day he again visited Confucius and said, 'Yesterday when I asked you that question and you answered me, I was quite clear about it. Today I am confused. How is this?"

'Your clearness of yesterday', answered Confucius, 'was because my answer appealed direct to your natural intelligence. Your confusion of today results from the intrusion of something other than the natural intelligence. There is no past, no present, no beginning, no end. To have posterity before one has posterity,— is that possible?'

Jen Ch'iu made no answer, and Confucius continued, 'That will do. Do not reply. If life did not give birth to death, and if death did not put an end to life, surely life and death would be no longer correlates, but would each exist independently. What there was before the universe, was Tao. Tao makes things what they are, but is not itself a thing. Nothing can produce Tao; yet everything has Tao within it, and continues to produce it without end. And the endless love of the Sage for his fellow-man is based upon the same principle.'

Chuang Tzu, Chapter XXII: Knowledge Travels North, pp. 218-219


Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting-point. Existence without limitation is Space. Continuity without a starting-point is Time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of God.

The Portal of God is Non-Existence. All things sprang from Non-Existence. Existence could not make existence existence. It must have proceeded from Non-Existence. And Non-Existence and Nothing are One. Herein is the abiding-place of the Sage.

The knowledge of the ancients reached the highest point,— the time before anything existed. This is the highest point. It is exhaustive. There is no adding to it.

The second best was that of those who started from existence. Life was to them a misfortune. Death was a return home. There was already separation.

The next in the scale said that at the beginning there was nothing. Then life came, to be quickly followed by death. They made Nothing the head, Life the trunk, and Death the tail of existence, claiming as friends whoever knew that existence and non-existence, and life and death were all ONE.

Chuang Tzu, Chapter XXIII: Kêng Sang Ch'u, pp. 227-228

Chuang Tzu (369 BC-286 BC)
Chuang Tzu: Taoist Philosopher and Chinese Mystic,
Translated by Herbert A. Giles (2nd Edition, 1926)
George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1961.

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