The Tortoise Would Rather Be Alive And Wagging Its Tail In The Mud

Chuang Tzŭ was fishing in the P’u when the prince of Ch’u sent two high officials to ask him to take charge of the administration of the Ch’u State.

Chuang Tzŭ went on fishing and, without turning his head, said “I have heard that in Ch’u there is a sacred tortoise which has been dead now some three thousand years, and that the prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed in a chest on the altar of his ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its remains venerated, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?”

“It would rather be alive,” replied the two officials, “and wagging its tail in the mud.”

“Begone!” cried Chuang Tzŭ. “I too will wag my tail in the mud.”

Musings of a Chinese Mystic, by Lionel Giles, [1909]

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