Confucius once heard two of his pupils quarreling. One was of a gentle nature and was called by all the students a peaceful man. The other had a good brain and a kind heart, but was given to great anger. If he wished to do a thing, he did it, and no man could prevent; if any one tried to hinder him, he would show sudden and terrible rage.
One day, after one of these fits of temper, the blood came from his mouth, and, in great fear, he went to Confucius. “What shall I do with my body?” he asked, “I fear I shall not live long. It may be better that I no longer study and work. I am your pupil and you love me as a father. Tell me what to do for my body.”
Confucius answered, “Tsze-Lu, you have a wrong idea about your body. It is not the study, not the work in school, but your great anger that causes the trouble.
“I will help you to see this. You remember when you and Nou-Wui quarreled. He was at peace and happy again in a little time, but you were very long in overcoming your anger. You can not expect to live long if you do that way. Every time one of the pupils says a thing you do not like, you are greatly enraged. There are a thousand in this school. If each offends you only once, you will have a fit of temper a thousand times this year. And you will surely die, if you do not use more self-control. I want to ask you some questions:—
“How many teeth have you?”
“I have thirty-two, teacher.”
“How many tongues?”
“How many teeth have you lost?”
“I lost one when I was nine years old, and four when I was about twenty-six years old.”
“And your tongue—is it still perfect?”
“You know Mun-Gun, who is quite old?”
“Yes, I know him well.”
“How many teeth do you think he had at your age?”
“I do not know.”
“How many has he now?”
“Two, I think. But his tongue is perfect, though he is very old.”
“You see the teeth are lost because they are strong, and determined to have everything they desire. They are hard and hurt the tongue many times, but the tongue never hurts the teeth. Yet, it endures until the end, while the teeth are the first of man to decay. The tongue is peaceful and gentle with the teeth. It never grows angry and fights them, even when they are in the wrong. It always helps them do their work, in preparing man’s food for him, although the teeth never help the tongue, and they always resist everything.
“And so it is with man. The strongest to resist, is the first to decay; and you, Tsze-Lu, will be even so if you learn not the great lesson of self-control.”
This beautifully depicted parable reminds us of one of the most important lessons in life: in order to act effectively, and indeed to live well we must move with, rather than against the current. Holding on, resisting, struggling and striving ultimately tire and wear us out. Non-resistance and surrender does not mean defeat or submission but rather using the momentum of the energy that is present and shaping or channelling it towards your desired ends.
When we are acting against something, we are in conflict with it, but when we become one with it, we then own that energy and can direct it to some extent. Whether it is working with emotions within ourselves or with other people in relationship, the wisest course of action is always to first join with the ‘other’, fully allowing and surrendering to its energy before creatively engaging with it and shaping it. In life don’t seek to be immovable and solid, but flexible and agile.