Section 28 – Commentary

1. lingzhang [ling-chang]. Chavannes (1907), p. 217, n. 2, suggests that ling ‘neck’, ‘collar,’ should be changed to ling ‘mountain range or barrier.’ I, however, see no need to do this. As zhang means ‘to separate’, ‘to obstruct’ or ‘to guard,’ I think the phrase can be quite adequately translated as ‘the obstructive necks’ (of the mountain torrents and rivers as far as their sources).

2. “These two phrases are found almost verbatim in chap. CXXIII (p. 4a) of Sima Qian which is based on the account of Zhang Qian.” Translated from Chavannes (1907), p. 218, n. 1.

3. “See above…. This text confirms Ban Ye’s assertion which, at the beginning of the chapter, announces that it was based on the official report of Ban Yong….” Translated from Chavannes (1907), p. 218, n. 2.

4. “In the inscription of Jiang Xingben 姜行本, which is from the year 640 CE, one reads the phrase : 調玉燭以馭兆 “The Tang dynasty puts in order the torch of jade to direct the millions of people”. According to the Erya dictionary, the expression “torch of jade” symbolises the harmony of the four seasons.” Translated and adapted from Chavannes (1907), p. 218, n. 3.

5. lingsheng 靈聖 [ling-sheng] = ‘Saintly beings.’ From: ling – ‘spirit’, ‘goodness’, ‘divine’; sheng – ‘a saint’, ‘sage’, ‘arhat’, ‘bodhisattva’.
          Chavannes (1907), p. 218, n. 4 says: “An allusion to the various Buddhas. According to the commentary, it is  referring here only to Shakyamuni. It is necessary therefore to translate the word
[ji] as having the sense of “to establish oneself” and not just to “assemble”.” Translated from Chavannes (1907), p. 218, n. 4. However, I disagree with this commentary here, and believe it is an unnecessary interpretation not warranted by the text.

6. xianyi = 賢懿 [hsien-i] = ‘Great worthies.’ From: xian – A “worthy” – second in virtue to the sage, intelligent, excellent, worthy, and yi – great, ‘wise and virtuous’, ‘pretty’, ‘elegant’, ‘fine’, ‘to praise’.

7. “...such that human reason is suspended” – ze li jue ren qu 則理绝人區. To give a fuller picture of the implications of this phrase I give here are the definitions of each of the words it contains: ze = ‘then,’ ‘whereby;’ li = ‘right,’ ‘principle,’ ‘reason,’ ‘logic,’ ‘truth’ (the Confucian notion of proper behaviour; it refers to both propriety – the right thing to do – and the notion of the proper rites or rituals); jue = ‘to cut off,’ ‘end;’ ren = ‘man,’ ‘human;’ qu =‘to distinguish,’ ‘zone,’ or ‘region.’

8. shenming [shen-ming] = ‘folk deities’ or ‘spirits.’ The term shenming usually refers to the various household and nature gods or spirits, such as the deities of thunder, winds, mountains, etc.

9. kong [k’ung] = Sanskrit śűnya, śűnyata. Literally, ‘emptiness.’ The Buddhist concept of the illusory nature or unreality of all phenomena.

10. Kenneth Ch’en (1964): p. 64, translates this paragraph as follows: “If we examine closely its (Buddhist) teachings about purifying the mind and gaining release from the ties of life, and its emphasis upon casting aside both ‘emptiness’ and ‘being,’ we see that it belongs to the same current as do the Taoist writings.”

11. We have in this commentary by Fan Ye, the fifth century compiler of the Hou Hanshu, a critique of Buddhist philosophical speculations. Indian philosophers, from very early times were wont to theorize about infinities of space, co–existing universes and vast expanses of time rather similar to the theories of modern physicists and astronomers.
          This passage is not only difficult to translate accurately but presupposes a background knowledge of Zou Yan and Zhuang Zhou and their philosophies. Other than specialists in early Chinese history and philosophy, most modern readers will need some assistance to make sense of Fan Ye’s remarks. In particular, it is essential to be familiar with the story attributed to Zhang Zhou which uses the horns of a snail to illustrate a philosophical point in the Zhuangzi.
          Zou Yan (305-240?
BCE) is today mainly remembered for his elaborations on the interactions of yin and yang “...and that the vicissitudes of human history are determined by the successive domination of the so-called Five Phases (wuxing: sometimes translated misleadingly as Five Elements): wood, fire, metal, water, and earth, generated by the inner dynamism of yin and yang.” See: Kramers (1986), p. 750.
          Unfortunately, Zou Yan’s writings have not survived in their entirety but his speculations on the size and nature of our world will probably serve to give some idea of what his ideas on “Heaven” may have been like:

“There are nine large continents (da jiuzhou) in the world, and each is further divided into nine regions. The nine continents are separated from one another by vast oceans, and the nine regions of each continent are also separated from one another by a circling sea. China, known as the Spiritual Continent of the Red Region (chixian shenzhou), constitutes but one of the nine regions of a large continent. In other words, China occupies only one of the eighty-one divisions of the entire world. Moreover, in Zou Yan’s system, it is not even clear whether China is located in the central regions of its own continent.” Yü (1986), pp. 377-378.

Zhuang Zhou (369?-286? BCE) was a Taoist philosopher and was the author of part of the famous Nanhuazhenjing or The Classic of the Transcendent Master of Nanhua, commonly known as the Zhuangzi.
          I thought it might be of interest to include here an account of the story about the tentacles of the snail to which Fan Ye refers. Andrew Meyer, of Brooklyn College in New York, very kindly sent me detailed interpretations of the text and the following passage from: Burton Watson [with his notes placed in square brackets], pp. 283-285. I am also indebted to Whalen Lai for his helpful comments.

“King Ying of Wei made a treaty with Marquis T’ien Mou of Ch’i, but Marquis T’ien Mou violated it [note 9: There is some doubt about the names and identity of these noblemen].
            King Ying, enraged, was about to send a man to assassinate him. Kung-sun Yen, the minister of war, heard of this and was filled with shame. “You are the ruler of a state of ten thousand chariots,” he said to the king, “and yet you would send a commoner to carry out your revenge! I beg to be given command of two hundred thousand armored troops so that I may attack him for you, make prisoners of his people, and lead away his horses and cattle. I will make him burn with anger so fierce that it will break out on his back [note 10: Men who develop ulcers on their back as a result of intense anger and frustration are mentioned in other early Chinese texts]. Then I will storm his capital, and when T’ien Chi [note 11: The commander of the Ch’i army] tries to run away, I will strike him in the back and break his spine!”
            Chi Tzu, hearing this, was filled with shame and said, “If one sets out to build an eighty-foot wall, and then, when it is already seven-tenths finished [note 19: Following Yu Yueh, I read ch’i in place of shih], deliberately pulls it down, the convict laborers who built it will look upon it as a bitter waste. Now for seven years we have not had to call out the troops, and this peace has been the foundation of your sovereignty. Kung-sun Yen is a troublemaker – his advice must not be heeded!”
            Hui Tzu, hearing this, was filled with disgust and said, “He who is so quick to say ‘Attack Ch’i!’ is a troublemaker, and he who is so quick to say ‘Don’t attack Ch’i!’ is a troublemaker! And he who says that those who are for and against the attack are both troublemakers is a troublemaker, too!”
            “Then what should I do?” said the ruler. “Just try to find the Way, that’s all.”
            Hui Tzu, hearing this introduced Tai Chin-jen to the ruler. Tai Chin-jen said, “There is a creature called the snail – does Your Majesty know it?” “Yes.”
            “On top of its left horn is a kingdom called Buffet, and on top of its right horn is a kingdom called Maul [note 13: I borrow the translations of the names with gratitude from Waley (Three Ways of Thought, p. 64)]. At times they quarrel over territory and go to war, strewing the field with corpses by the ten thousand, the victor pursuing the vanquished for half a month before returning home.”
            “Pooh!” said the ruler. “What kind of empty talk is this?” “But Your Majesty will perhaps allow me to show you the truth in it. Do you believe that there is a limit to the four directions, to up and down?” “They have no limits,” said the ruler.
   “And do you know that when the mind has wandered in these limitless reaches and returns to the lands we know and travel, they seem so small it is not certain whether they even exist or not?” “Yes,” said the ruler.
            “And among these lands we know and travel is the state of Wei, and within the state of Wei is the city of Liang, and within the city of Liang is Your Majesty. Is there any difference between you and the ruler of Maul?” “No difference,” said the king.
            After the visitor left, the king sat stupefied, as though lost to the world. The interview over, Hui Tzu appeared before him. “That visitor of ours is a Great Man,” said the king. “The sages themselves are unworthy of comparison with him!”
            Hui Tzu said, “Blow on a flute and you get a nice shrill note; but blow on the ring of your sword hilt and all you get is a feeble wheeze. People are inclined to praise the sages Yao and Shun, but if you started expounding on Yao and Shun in the presence of Tai Chin-jen, it would sound like one little wheeze!”

12. Da Dao 大道 [Ta Tao] – the ‘Great Way.’ I have deliberately not attempted to translate the word dao in the text here as the usual substitution of the English word ‘Way’ is quite inadequate. The following passage from Chad Hansen’s short article, “An Analysis of Dao” will give some idea of the complexities involved. More background information can by found in the unfortunately unpublished notes of Fr. Yves Raguin – see Raguin (1979), especially pp. 10-19.

“Combining neutral reference to performance dao with the collective or mass property of dao yields the familiar metaphysical dao – “all that is the case.” Each discourse dao implicitly points to and prescribes a particular future history to its audience. Since dao’s are social, they amount to urging a particular social course of history. Further, since the things humans do change and alter the natural world, a dao implicitly entails prescribing a particular global history – a future historical path the world ought to follow. The sum of all performance dao(s) is the history of the world.
            There are many such prescribed (hence possible) future world-historical paths – one for Confucianism, one for Mohism, one for Legalism, one for Christianity, one for Islam, one for Buddhism, one for liberal Western values, and so on. Each of them in effect prescribes a course history ought to take. However, in the past, despite the plethora of possible prescribed histories, things actually happened in exactly one way. Similarly, despite all the prescriptions of the moralists, there is exactly one way that things will go in the future. Let us call this linking of the single past and future the actual performance dao. Used in this way, the actual performance dao is the course of world history from the beginning to the end of time.
            This interesting use of dao is most clearly marked in a little known thinker named Shen Dao. He called it the “Great dao” and concluded that, since everything we do is part of that Great dao, we do not need to know anything to follow it. We simply float along like a leaf. This argument is pivotal in the development of Daoism but just how is controversial. Most Confucian interpretations assume that Laozi and Zhuangzi simply accepted Shen Dao’s passive view and that Daoism amounts to a kind of fatalistic worship of the Great Dao. However, the Zhuangzi chapter, in which we learn of Shen Dao’s doctrine appears to be quite critical of him. It calls his a dao that fails to dao and a dao for the dead rather than the living.” Hansen (undated), p. 4.