the secret is the frog should know about the ocean but still be content in the well

(1 comment)
December 2, 2008

So yesterday I got around to putting a couple of hundred bucks in Beau's Virtual Christmas Kettle, for twitter I even made a tinyurl:

You can pick if the money goes to Beau's neck of the woods (and I think the Harbor Light program work he's involved in) or something local to you. I kind of wish they didn't offer the choice, both locales have their points and needs, and I kind of prefer to think of it as one big fund...

So like I've said... this year, donations are at risk of going down, and the need is way up. These days everyone feels that they might be somewhat at risk, but I hope everyone who isn't experiencing work issues tries to be as generous as they can without impacting their Plan Bs and Cs.

Story of the Moment
One day, lumbering up from the ocean, a tortoise passed by a well.
"Hey, come on and sit for a while!" said the frog.
"Do you live in this well?" asked the turtle.
"Sure! And I live like a king here! When I leap into the water, it supports my weight and keeps me afloat. And when I dive beneath the surface I relax and let the mud massage my legs. And in the evening if I don't want to stay in the well I jump up here. I stretch out a chink in the side of the well, where I sleep and dream curious dreams. And in the morning I jump down and play all around the well. I am happy like this every day. I see crabs and tadpoles in the well, too, but I don't think they are as happy as I am. Well, go in and take a look."
"I can't fit, your well is too small."
"But it's so big, how can you say it's small?"
"If you want to talk big, the Eastern Sea is big."
"Bigger than my well?"
"The Eastern Sea is so big, that a thousand miles isn't enough to measure the distance across, and a thousand yards isn't deep enough to describe its depth. You know, there was a time long, long ago when nine years out of ten there were continuous rains and floods, yet the Eastern Sea didn't get any bigger. And another time, seven years out of eight, there was a continuous drought, and yet the Eastern Sea didn't get any smaller. Now THAT is big. Your well is nothing in comparison."
Zhuangzi says: "The frog was limited by his well just like people are limited by knowledge. Knowledge can make us great, but it can also make us small; so we have to go beyond mere knowledge."
--"Zhuangzi Speaks", translated by Brian Bruya, but without the fun illustrations by Tsai Chih Chung. Borrowing the book from EB, lots of classic Taoist naturalist lessons.

I'm not sure what to make of this story though. Maybe the frog is right; maybe he doesn't need that knowledge to live his happy frog life, and the turtle is wrong to show a sense of scale that just doesn't matter. Or maybe it's the frog who is the blissful idiot?

Some other translations make it clear it is the frog who should be abashed, but to my thinking, the frog has a more Taoist outlook. He does what comes naturally to his froggish ways, he seems in harmony with the Tao, and his environment provides for him perfectly. So I like that this translation turns it into a bit of a warning against knowledge for its own sake.

I think that the secret is the frog should know about the ocean but still be content in the well.

Just put a few hundred to my buddy's Salvation Army virtual kettle: . *Rough* season; give if you got it.