What Mencius was to Confucius, that Lieh Tzu and Chwang Tzu were to Lao Tzu. Lieh Tzu endeavored to draw together the conflicting elements which were becoming active among the respective followers of the two sages. Therefore he spoke respectfully of Confucius though he employed the phraseology of Lao Tzu; while he advocated the practice of the Tao, he venerated Confucius as a sage and evinced a reverential esteem for the Confucian method of looking up to the Ancients. To Lieh Tzu’s credit stands a very deep metaphysical system; but he is better known as a narrator of parables. “Nearly all the Taoist writers are fond of parables and allegorical tales, but in none of them is this branch of literature brought to such perfection as in Lieh Tzu,” writes Lionel Giles to whom we owe a debt; for, unlike his father, Herbert Giles, to him Lieh Tzu is a living authority and not a myth created by Chwang Tzu. There has been a dispute as to the very existence of Lieh Tzu; but sinologists of today are more inclined to regard Lieh Tzu as an actual eminent teacher than those of a former generation; to the Chinese mind his existence was never a matter of grave doubt. This, however, must be added — great interpolations have occurred and many minor and even trifling students, mostly posers as Taoists, have tried to father their own personal lore on Lieh Tzu.

Very little is known of Lieh Yu-Kou, which was the full name of Lieh Tzu; he lived in the fourth century B.C. Of him Chwang Tzu speaks with respect and awe, thus:

He could ride upon the wind, and travel whithersoever he wished, staying away as long as fifteen days. Among mortals who attain happiness, such a man is rare. Yet although Lieh Tzu was able to dispense with walking, he was still dependent upon something. But had he been charioted upon the eternal fitness of Heaven and Earth, driving before him the elements as his team while roaming through the realms of For-Ever, — upon what, then, would he have had to depend?

Thus it has been said, “The perfect man ignores self; the divine man ignores action; the true Sage ignores reputation.

He was a student-practitioner of Lao Tzu’s philosophy; the name of his actual physical teacher is not known but in stories two individuals stand out as Lieh Tzu’s instructors — Hu Tzu and Po Hun. The ways they helped and taught Lieh Tzu are so significantly Theosophical that we will summarize the incidents.

Lieh Tzu was infatuated with the wonder-tricks of Chi Han who knew all about birth and death, gain and loss, and even prophesying. The people feared him. Returning after a visit Lieh Tzu spake to his instructor, Hu Tzu: “I used to look upon your Tao as perfect but now I have found something better–” –“So far you have learnt from me the ornamentals without the essentials and you think you know all about it. Without cocks in your poultry-yard, what sort of eggs do the hens lay? Try to force Tao down people’s throats and you will expose yourself. Let me show myself to your magician.”

So Lieh Tzu brought Chi Han and the magician prophesied: “I see but wet ashes; he can not live more than ten days.” Lieh Tzu later heard from his teacher, “I showed myself just as the earth shows us its outward form, motionless and still; I merely prevented him from seeing my pent-up energy of Tao. Now go and bring him again.”

And Chi Han came to visit Hu Tzu again. “It is lucky for your teacher,” he reported to Lieh Tzu, “that he met me. He will recover; anyway his recuperative powers aided him.” His preceptor told Lieh Tzu; “I showed myself as Heaven shows itself in all its dispassionate grandeur, letting a little energy run out of my heels. Well, try him again.”

Next day a third interview took place — “Your teacher is never the same and his physiognomy speaks nought. Get him to be regular and I will examine him again.” Hu Tzu on hearing this smilingly said, “I showed myself to him just now in a state of harmony and equipoise. Where the Man-Fish disports itself — is the Abyss. Where Water is at Rest — is the Abyss. Where Water is in Motion — is the Abyss. The Abyss is nine-fold and I have shown but three.”

Once again Chi Han accompanied Lieh Tzu to the presence of Hu Tzu. But the magician looked confused, terrified and fled. “Pursue him!” ordered Hu Tzu, and Lieh Tzu ran after him, failed to overtake him and returned. “I showed myself to him just now as Tao was before It became. I was to him as a great blank existing of itself.”

Upon this Lieh Tzu stood convinced that he had not yet learnt the real doctrine and so set to work in earnest, and for three years did not leave his home. He did cooking for his wife; he fed the pigs just as if he were feeding men. He discarded the artificial and reverted to the Natural.

Here is the tale about Lieh Tzu’s second instructor:

Lieh Tzu played the master and tried to teach archery to Po Hun. He gave the exhibition of how he could let the arrows fly with a cup of water placed on his elbow, and standing like a statue. “Bravo! but–” said Po Hun, “that is the shooting of an archer, but not of one who is above passion. Mount with me to the edge of a precipice.” They went and Po Hun approached it backward until his feet one-fifth of their length overhung the chasm. He beckoned Lieh Tzu, but he was prostrate on the ground with fear-sweat all over him. Then he was taught — “The perfect man soars to the blue sky above, or dives down to the yellow springs below, or traverses the eight ends of the great compass, without a change in countenance or unevenness in breathing. You are terrified. Your internal economy is defective. You have no Tao.” And so Lieh Tzu began his practices again.

These two anecdotes show the psychic tendency of Lieh Tzu in his early days. Of this second instructor Po Hun another story is narrated, to draw the moral that a disciple must appear as nothing in the eyes of men.

Lieh Tzu went to Po Hun and said: “I am afraid. Out of ten restaurants at which I ate five would take no payment. It means that the truth within not being duly assimilated a certain brightness is visible externally and to conquer man’s hearts by force of the external is not wise. If a poor restaurant-keeper is tempted to do thus, who knows but a prince would be tempted to reward me with a post. That is what I was afraid of.” “Your Inner Lights are good, but if you don’t look out the world will gather round you.” Shortly afterwards Po Hun went to visit Lieh Tzu and lo! he had a large number of visitors. He stood there awhile, resting on his staff. Then without a word he departed. Hearing of this Lieh Tzu ran after Po Hun and cried: “Master, now that you have come will you not give me medicine?” “It is all over! I told you that the world would gather around you. It is not that you can make people gather around you; you cannot prevent them from doing so. What use of further instruction? Exerting influence thus unduly, you are influenced in turn. You distrust your natural constitution. Those who associate with you do not admonish you. Their small words are poison. You perceive it not; you understand it not. Alas! The clever toil on, and the wise are sad. Those without ability seek for nothing-ness; with full bellies idly they wander about; they are drifting boats, not knowing whither they are bound.”

Perchance it was to cure this early psychic tendency that Lieh Tzu studied metaphysical propositions and universal fundamentals, and later in life taught them. We will give a few culled flowers from the garden of Lieh Tzu, but in doing so would like the reader to remember that there are giant trees and bushes besides, and these flowers are only on some amongst them:


The inspired men of old regarded the Yin and the Yang as the cause of the sum total of Heaven and Earth. But that which has substance is engendered from that which is devoid of substance. Hence we say, there is a great Principle of Change, a great Origin, a great Beginning, a great Primordial Simplicity. In the great Change substance is not yet manifest. In the great Origin lies the beginning of substance. In the great Beginning lies the beginning of material form. In the great Simplicity lies the beginning of essential qualities. When substance, form and essential qualities are still indistinguishably blended together it is called Chaos. Chaos meansthat all things are chaotically intermixed and not yet separated from one another. The purer and lighter elements, tending upwards, made the Heavens; the grosser and heavier elements, tending downwards, made the Earth. Substance, harmoniously proportioned, become Man; and, Heaven and Earth containing thus a spiritual element, all things were evolved and produced.

To the beginning and end of things there is no precise limit. Beginning may be end, and end may be beginning. But beyond infinity there must again exist non-infinity, and within the unlimited again that which is not unlimited. It is this consideration — that infinity must be succeeded by non-infinity, and the unlimited by the not-unlimited — that enables me to apprehend the infinity and unlimited extent of space, but does not allow me to conceive of its being finite and limited.

The lesser is always enclosed by a greater, without ever reaching an end. Heaven and earth, which enclose the myriad objects of creation, are themselves enclosed in some outer shell or sphere. Enclosing heaven and earth and the myriad objects within them, this outer shell is infinite and immeasurable.


On one hand, there is life, and on the other, there is that which produces life; there is form, and there is that which imparts form; there is sound, and there is that which causes sound; there is colour, and there is that which causes colour; there is taste, and there is that which causes taste.

Evolution is never-ending. But who can perceive the secret processes of Heaven and Earth? Thus, things that are diminished here are augmented there; things that are made whole in one place suffer loss in another. Diminution and augmentation, fullness and decay are the constant accompaniments of life and death. They alternate in continuous succession, and we are not conscious of any interval. The whole body of spiritual substance progresses without a pause; the whole body of material substance suffers decay without intermission. But we do not perceive the process of completion, nor do we perceive the process of decay. Man, likewise, from birth to old age becomes something different every day in face and form, in wisdom and in conduct … Though imperceptible while it is going on, it may be verified afterwards if we wait.

On Man, Animal and Spiritual

The spiritual element in man is allotted to him by Heaven, his corporeal frame by Earth. The part that belongs to Heaven is ethereal and dispersive, the part that belongs to Earth is dense and tending to conglomeration.When the spirit parts from the body, each of these elements returns to its proper place. That is why disembodied spirits are called kuei, which means “returning,” that is, returning to their true dwelling place.

There may be similarity in understanding without similarity in outward form. There may also be similarity in form without similarity in understanding. The Sage embraces similarity of understanding and pays no regard to similarity of form. The world in general is attracted by similarity of form, but remains indifferent to similarity of understanding. Those creatures that resemble them in shape they love and consort with; those that differ from them in shape they fear and keep at a distance. The creature that has a long skeleton, hands differently shaped from the feet, hair on its head, and an even set of teeth in its jaws, and walks erect, is called a man. But it does not follow that a man may not have the mind of a brute. Even though this be the case, other men will still recognize him as one of their own species in virtue of his outward form.

Between his birth and his latter end, man passes through four chief stages of development: — infancy, adolescence, old age and death. In infancy, the vital force is concentrated, the will is simple, and the general harmony of the system is perfect. External objects produce no injurious impression, and to the moral nature nothing can be added. In adolescence, the animal passions are wildly exuberant, the heart is filled with rising desires and preoccupations. The man is open to attack by the objects of sense, and thus his moral nature becomes enfeebled. In old age, his desires and preoccupations have lost their keenness, and the bodily frame seeks for repose. External objects no longer hold the first place in his regard. In this state, though not attaining to the perfection of infancy, he is already different from what he was in adolescence.

On Dreams

A dream is the meeting of minds; an event in our waking consciousness is the coming together of sensible substances. Hence our feelings by day and our dreams by night are the meetings of mind with mind and of substance with substance. It follows that if we can concentrate the mind in abstraction, our feelings and our dreams will vanish of themselves. With those who rely on their waking perceptions you cannot argue. Those who put faith in dreams do not understand the alternating processes of evolution. “The pure men of old passed their waking existence in self-oblivion, and slept without dreams.” How can this be dismissed as an empty phrase?

On Animals

The intelligence of animals is innate, even as that of man. Their common desire is for propagation of life, but their instincts are not derived from any human source. There is pairing between the male and the female, and mutual attachment between the mother and her young. They shun the open plain and keep to the mountainous parts; they flee the cold and make for warmth; when they settle, they gather in flocks; when they travel, they preserve a fixed order. The young ones are stationed in the middle, the stronger ones place themselves on the outside. They show one another the way to the drinking-places, and call to their fellows when there is food. In the earliest ages, they dwelt and moved about in company with man. It was not until the age of emperors and kings that they began to be afraid and broke away into scattered bands.

On Karma

Li (spirit of exertion) and Ming (spirit of destiny) work conjointly. The husbandman takes his measures according to the season, the trader occupies himself with gain, the craftsman strives to master his art, the official pursues power. Here we have the operation of human forces.

But the husbandman has seasons of rain and seasons of drought, the trader meets with gains and losses, the craftsman experiences both failure and success, the official finds opportunities or the reverse. Here we see theworking of Destiny.

When the body is bent its shadow is crooked; when upright the shadow is straight. Likewise, contraction and extension are not inherent in the Subject, but take place in obedience to causes. Holding this theory of consequents is to be at home in the antecedent. Therefore if speech is sweet, the echo will be sweet. Hence the saying, “Heed your words, and they will meet with harmonious response; heed your actions, and they will find agreeable accord.” Therefore the Sage observes the issue in order to know the origin, scrutinizes the past to know the future. The standard of conduct lies with one’s own self. You will find no instance of preservation or destruction, fullness or decay, which has not obeyed the supreme Law of Causality. Those who excel in beauty become vain, those who excel in strength become violent; for Causality ceases where Balance is.

On Spiritual Exercise

The source of life is death; but that which produces life never comes to an end. The origin of form is matter; but that which imparts form has no material existence. The genesis of sound lies in the sense of hearing; but that which causes sound is never audible to the ear. The source of colour is vision; but that which produces colour never manifests itself to the eye. The origin of taste lies in the palate; but that which causes taste is never perceived by that sense. All these phenomena are functions of the principle of Inaction (Wu Wei). To be at will either bright or obscure, soft or hard, short or long, round or square, alive or dead, hot or cold, buoyant or sinking, treble or bass, present or absent, black or white, sweet or bitter, fetid or fragrant: — this it is to be devoid of knowledge, yet all-knowing, destitute of power, yet all-powerful.

The man who did more to popularize Lao Tzu’s doctrine of Tao was Chwang Tzu, who followed Lieh Tzu and in whose writings references to our author are to be found. The study of Taoism can not be complete without some knowledge of Chwang Tzu’s teachings. After him came the corruption and the downfall of pure Taoism, and so to a summary and examination of Chwang Tzu’s books we must turn to bring our study of Tao-Theosophy to a close.