In the middle age Hua-tzu of Yang-li in sung lost his memory. He would receive a present in the morning and forget it by the evening; give a present in the evening and forget it by the morning. In the street he would forget to walk; at home he would forget to sit down. Today he would not remember yesterday; tomorrow he would not remember today.
His family were troubled about it and invited a diviner to tell his fortune but without success. They invited a shaman to perform an auspicious rite but it made no difference. They invited a doctor to treat him but it did no good.
There was a Confucian of Lu who, acting as his own go-between, claimed that he could cure it. Hua-tzu’s wife and children offered half of their property in return for his skill.
The Confucian told them: “This is clearly not a disease which can be divined by hexagrams and omens, or charmed away by auspicious prayers, or treated by medicines and the needle. I shall try reforming his mind changing his thoughts there is a good chance that he will recover.”
Then the Confucian tried stripping Hua-tzu and he looked for his clothes; tried starving him and he looked for food; tried shutting him up in the dark and he looked for light.
The Confucian was delighted and told the man’s sons: the sickness is curable but my arts have been passed down secretly through the generations and are not disclosed to outsiders – so I shall shut out his attendants and stay alone with him in his room for seven days.” They agreed and no one knew what methods the Confucian used but the sickness of many years was completely dispelled in a single morning.
When Hua-tzu woke up he was very angry. He dismissed his wife, punished his sons, and chased away the Confucian with a spear.
The authorities of Sung arrested him and wanted to know the reason. “Formerly when I forgot,” said Hua-tzu, “I was boundless, I did not notice whether heaven and earth existed or not. Now suddenly I remember, and all the disasters and recoveries, gains and losses, joys and sorrows, loves and hates of twenty, thirty years past rise up in a thousand tangled threads. I fear that all the disasters and recoveries, gains and losses, joys and sorrows, loves and hates still to come will confound my heart just as much. Shall I never again find a moment of forgetfulness?’
This is one of the greatest parables of Lieh Tzu, pregnant with profound significance and insight. It is based on a great experience of the inner world of consciousness. It is paradoxical but it indicates something absolute.
Let us go into it very softly, delicately, carefully. It has much to give to you, it has much to show to you. It can give a great clarity to you on your path. But before we enter into it a few paradigms of Taoism will be helpful.
First, Taoism believes that the memory is the problem. Because of the memory we are not really alive. The memory holds us back in the past, it never allows us to be in the present. It is a dead weight. And it goes on growing every day. Every day the past becomes bigger and bigger and bigger. Every day more and more experiences, more and more memories, become accumulated. And they hold you back.