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The Ailment

The way of a sage.

WHERNTO: heedism  erudite  notions  operate 

image of The Ailment

The following is a well-known tale from the Liezi attributed to Taoist Lie Yukou. It appears in various translations such as A.C. Graham's The Book of Lieh-tzu (p82 pdf) and Eva Wong's Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living. The following is quoted from the Thomas Cleary translation (details provided at the end):

Lung Shu said to the physician Wen Chi, "Your art is subtle. I have an ailment; can you cure it?"

The physician said, "I will do as you say, but first tell me about your symptoms."

Lung Shu said, "I am not honoured when the whole village praises me, nor am I ashamed when the whole country criticises me. Gain does not make me happy, loss does not grieve me. I look upon life as like death, and see wealth as like poverty. I view people as like pigs, and see myself as like others. At home I am as though at an inn, and I look upon my native village as like a foreign country. With these afflictions, rewards cannot encourage me, punishments cannot threaten me. I cannot be changed by flourishing or decline, gain or loss; I cannot be moved by sorrow or happiness. Thus I cannot serve the government, associate with friends, run my household, or control my servants. What sickness is this? Is there a way to cure it?"

The physician had Lung Shu stand with his back to the light while he looked into his chest. After a while he said, "Ah! I see your heart; it is empty! You are nearly a sage. Six of the apertures of your heart are open, one of them is closed. This may be why you think the wisdom of a sage is an ailment. It cannot be stopped by my shallow art."

Source: The Spirit of the Tao - Thomas Cleary (1998) - Shambala IBSN 1-57062-370-8

We think there is much merit in not being affected by things like criticism (praise is merely criticism in disguise), reward or punishment. Also, the wisdom of this budding sage seems to be much preferable to some sages in Hindu mythology who would fly into remarkable rages (ie sage rage) leading to very uncivil behaviors. However, being a sage does not mean one is exempt from action - the only exemption is from attachment to the result of the action.