The neighbour of Yang Chu once lost a sheep. He began to search for it with all his kinsfolk, and asked assistance also from the servants of Yang Chu, who in astonishment said: “Oh, oh! why do you require such a large number of persons to seek for a single lost sheep?”
The neighbour replied: “There are many crossways to pursue and search out.”
On his return he was asked if he had found his sheep, and replied that he had given up the search. Yang Chu asked him why he had given up the search. The neighbour answered: “Among the crossways there were a great many small diverging tracts. Not knowing which to follow I gave up the search and returned.”
Yang Chu became pensive and wrapped in thought. For a whole day he neither smiled nor spoke.
His disciples, astonished at his attitude, asked him the reason, saying: “A sheep is an animal of little value; furthermore this one did not belong to you, Master. Why does its loss disturb your usual amiable humour and gaiety?”
Yang Chu made no answer.
His disciples were unable to understand the significance of his silence, and Meng-Sun-Yang went out and asked Hsin-tu-tse on the subject.
Another day Hsin-tu-tse accompanied by Meng-Sun-Yang came to Yang Chu and asked him saying:
“Once three brothers travelled through the Provinces of Chi and Lu. They were instructed under the same master and had studied the doctrine of humanity and justice. When they came to their father’s house their father asked them what was the final conclusion they had arrived at in regard to the doctrine of humanity and justice.
“The one answered: ‘The study of humanity and justice teaches me to love and respect my body, and to consider of less importance what makes for fame and glory.’
“The second said: ‘The study of humanity and justice teaches me to sacrifice my body in order to obtain fame and glory.’
“The third said: ‘The study of humanity and justice teaches me to discover a method of conciliating the desire of my body and the desire for fame.’
“These three contradictory theories arise from the teaching of the same master. Which of them is true? which is false?”
Yang Chu said: “There was once a man who lived on the banks of the river. He had a perfect knowledge of river lore, and was an expert swimmer. He was boatman of his state and gained his living managing his boat. His gains were considerable and would provide for the maintenance of a hundred persons. Those who desired instruction under his direction came to him bringing a sack of grain and became his pupils. Quite half among them drowned themselves. In coming to him they had the intention of learning to swim, and not of drowning themselves. In the end the successes and failures were equal (since half learnt to swim and half were drowned). Which among them do you think were right, and which were wrong ? “
Hsin-tu-tse kept silence. But Meng-Sun-Yang took him up saying: “Well, is this not right? It is because your question was put in so vague a fashion that the answer of the Master is so evasive. Meanwhile I am in a greater darkness than before.”
Hsin-tu-tse replied: “Because the large roads divide into innumerable small pathways and tracks the sheep was lost. The aspects of wisdom being multiplied, many students lose themselves. It does not matter if at the beginning all start from the same aspect of wisdom, there are always divergencies at the end. The single thing that re-establishes equality is death and the annihilation of personality at death. It is indeed pitiable that you, an ancient disciple of the Master and a student of the Master’s doctrine, should not comprehend the meaning of his parables.”