The Four Masters and Their Chat

Masters Prayer, Master Carriage, Master Plough, and Master Return were walking together when they said, “Whoever can make Nothing his head, life his back, and death his butt, whoever knows death, life, being, and nonbeing to be one, I will be a friend to him.” The four looked at each other and laughed. Sharing the same minds, they became fast friends. Not long before Master Carriage fell ill, Master Prayer went to inquire after him.

“It is wonderful,” Master Carriage cried. “The Creator is twisting me like this: A crooked hump on the back, the five energy points of my guts on top, my chin hiding in my navel, my shoulders higher than my head, and my neck bones pointing toward heaven! The energy of yin and yang was out of harmony.” His mind was relaxing and his heart was peaceful, as he wobbled to the well and peered in.

“Oh,” he said, “the Creator has twisted me all up.”

“Don’t you hate it?” Master Prayer asked.

“No,” Master Carriage answered. “How could I? If the Creator changed my left arm into a rooster, then I will use it to crow dawn. If my right arm becomes a slingshot, then I will use it to get a roasted owl. If my buttocks turn into wheels, then, with my spirit for a horse, I will never have to need a carriage. Furthermore, I was born because the time came, and I lose it as it flows away. I am at peace with the seasons, and I dwell in their flow where neither sorrow nor joy can enter. In the old days, they called this ‘cutting free from the noose.’ If you cannot cut yourself free, things will knot you up. Nothing has been victorious against nature. What is there to hate?”

Then Master Return was ill, rasping at the edge of death. His wife and children gathered around him wailing and weeping. Master Plough came to see him, and cried, “Shoo! Get out! Don’t bother him during the transformation.” Then he leaned on the door and said to Master Return, “Is it amazing? Creation! Transformation! What will the Creator do with you and where will it send you? Will it make you a rat liver or a bug elbow?”

Master Return replied, “Wherever it is, children have to follow their parents’ commands. Yin and Yang are no less than parents to a man. The Creator urged me on toward death. If I refuse to obey, am I merely a man who fails to see the dawn? The Creator is not at fault. The Great Earth loads me with the body, burdens me with life, eases me with age, and releases me in death. Thus if my life is good, my death must be good too. If the master smith works today but the metal leaped up and said, ‘I must become the most famous sword,” the smith would take it as bad omen. I have now taken the human form, and if I say, ‘A man! A man!’ the Creator would take it as bad omen too. Now heaven and earth are the furnace, and the Creator is the smith, how can I be unhappy to go?” He fell into a peaceful sleep but suddenly woke up. (Chuang Tzu, Chapter 6)

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