He who rules men, lives in confusion;
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
Enlightenment is therefore desired
Neither to influence others
Nor be influenced by them.
The way to getting clear of confusion and free of sorrow
Is to live with pure awareness in the land of enlightenment.
If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout to him to steer clear.
And if the shout is not heard he will shout
Again and yet again, and begin cursing —
And all because there is somebody in that boat.
Yet if the boat were empty, he would not be shouting,
And he would not be angry either.
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.
The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character and outshine others,
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon —
And you will not avoid calamity.
A wise man has said:
“He who is content with himself
Has done worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure,
Fame is the beginning of disgrace.”
Who can free himself of achievement and fame
Then descend and be lost amid the masses of men?
He will flow like water—from high to low, unseen,
He will go about like life itself—with no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, he has no reputation.
Since he judges no one,
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man,
His boat is empty.
—Adapted from The Empty Boat by Chuang Tzu