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Chapter 28: If You Swim, You Miss

He said, “You should be glad I am alive. That man is not a man, he is a dragon. He is really dangerous. Avoid him!”

We don’t know from Lao Tzu’s side what happened in the cave, but we know what Confucius reported.

He said, “As I entered in he did not even look at me. I went around him, but he did not take any note of me. Even that was enough to give me a trembling - in that dark cave, that man sitting there so silent, as if he is not. Finally I had to break the silence, to break the ice, and I said, ‘I am Confucius.’

“And that old, dangerous fellow said, ‘So what! Remain Confucius.’ And the conversation would not start because - how to talk with this man? I said, ‘I have come here to talk with you.’

“He said, ‘Okay, you can talk. I have never prevented anybody from talking. Talk, but there is nobody here to answer you.’

“Gathering courage,” Confucius said, “I asked, ‘But what about you?’ And he laughed and he said, ‘About me: yes, I used to be, but it is for a long time that I have not been. The house is empty. There is no host here, but if you want you can be a guest.’”

Seeing that there was no way to have a nice, gentlemanly conversation with this man, Confucius said, “I have come from a long distance” - thinking that he would feel a little compassion.

Lao Tzu said, “That shows that you are stupid. You don’t know anything about me; otherwise you would not have come. Now you want some compassion from me. A man who is absent, how can he be compassionate?”

Confucius said, “At least give me some advice - how to relax, to rest.”

Lao Tzu said, “For that you will have to wait. Death will come, and in your grave you will relax and rest, not before that, because if you want to rest before that, then forget that crowd that you have left outside. You remain here and I will go - just a lion’s roar and they will all escape, none will come back to this cave again. You rest and relax.”

So Confucius said, “No, don’t do that. They are my disciples. Some are kings, some are princes; some are great, rich people. I cannot afford it.”

Lao Tzu said, “That’s why I said that in life you cannot afford relaxation; only death can help. Those who understand can relax in life and rest in life. And the miracle is: for them there is no death, because they have already done what death does. Those who are stupid don’t rest, they don’t relax. Then nature has managed a device called death, so they can relax in their graves.

“Don’t be worried. You will have a good marble grave with great inscriptions on it in golden letters: ‘Here lies the great Confucius, the teacher of kings and emperors.’ But if you want to be with me, you have to understand I am going to be a death to you. Without that - unless I kill you, destroy you - there is no way of saving you.”

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