At the Gorge of Lu

At the Gorge of Lu, the great waterfall plunges for hundreds of meters,
its spray visible for miles.
In the churning waters below, no living creature can be seen.
One day, Confucius was standing at a distance from the pool’s edge
when he saw an old man being tossed about in the turbulent water.
He called to his disciples and together they ran to rescue the victim.
But by the time they reached the water,
the old man had come out onto the bank
and was walking along, singing to himself.
Confucius hurried up to him.
“You would have to be a ghost to survive that,” he said,
“but you seem to be a man, instead. What secret power do you have?’
“Nothing special,” the old man replied.
“I began to learn while young, and grew up practicing it.
Now I am certain of success.
I go down with the water and come up with water.
I follow it and forget myself. I survive because
I don’t struggle against the water’s superior power.
That’s all.”

“At the Gorge of Lu” is an old Chinese parable, date unknown, but probably over 2,000 years old. Despite the appearance of Confucius in the story, it comes from its rival tradition, Daoism.* A number of Daoist parables make their points at the expense of Confucius.

Here, the old man is practicing the Daoist ideal of non-action, or going with the flow–quite literally in this case. He survives the forces of nature not by fighting them or trying to control them but by taking what they give him. He is certain of success because he does not struggle against nature’s forces but follows them, moving with them. Confucianism, in contrast, advocated a rigidly structured way of life in which every human action followed prescribed rituals and morals. Confucius and his followers cannot understand the Daoist way of life.

* Daoist not Taoist because I use the Hanyu Pinyin system of transliteration from Chinese to English rather than the archaic Wade-Giles system. Hanyu Pinyin was developed by Chinese scholars to better phonetically reproduce Chinese pronunciation.

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