Oscar Wilde: Victorian Taoist

I’m always interested in finding Taoist elements in Western literature, and I find a lot of them in Oscar Wilde’s work. In honor of the 110th anniversary of his death, I’ve decided to display a few of them here, along with corresponding Taoist quotes. Enjoy!

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.
“The Way has never known boundaries; speech has no constancy. But because of [the recognition of a] ‘this,’ there came to be boundaries. Let me tell you what the boundaries are. There is left, there is right, there are theories, there are debates, there are divisions, there are discriminations, there are emulations, and there are contentions… As to what is beyond the Six Realms, the sage admits it exists but does not theorize. As to what is within the Six Realms, he theorizes but does not debate… So [I say,] those who divide fail to divide; those who discriminate fail to discriminate. What does this mean, you ask? The sage embraces things. Ordinary men discriminate among them and parade their discriminations before others. So I say, those who discriminate fail to see.” (Chuang Tzu, Section 2).

The well-bred contradict other people.  The wise contradict themselves.
“Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.” (Chuang Tzu, Section 2)
“Straightforward words / Seem paradoxical.” (Tao Te Ching 78.4)

To become the spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.
“To serve your own mind so that sadness or joy do not sway or move it; to understand what you can do nothing about and to be content with it as with fate — this is the perfection of virtue.” (Chuang Tzu, Section 4)
“If you are content with the time [you have to live] and willing to follow along [with death], then grief and joy have no way to enter in.” (Chuang Tzu, Section 3).

Only the shallow know themselves.
“Tzu-ch’i said… ‘Now I have lost myself. Do you understand that? You hear the piping of men, but you haven’t heard the piping of earth. Or if you’ve heard the piping of earth, you haven’t heard the piping of Heaven!’ — Tzu-yu said, ‘May I venture to ask what this means?’ — Tzu-ch’i said, ‘ The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly. Can’t you hear them, long drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears… They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan, and howl… In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?’ — Tzu-yu said, ‘By the piping of earth, then, you mean simply [the sound of] these hollows, and by the piping of man [the sound of] flutes and whistles. But may I ask about the piping of Heaven?’ — Tzu-ch’i said, ‘Blowing on the ten thousand things in a different way, so that each can be itself — all take what they want for themselves, but who does the sounding?'” (Chuang Tzu, Section 2).

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
“Yen Hui went to see Confucius and asked permission to take a trip. — ‘Where are you going?’ [Confucius asked.] — ‘I’m going to Wei.’ — ‘What will you do there?’ — ‘I have heard that the ruler of Wei is very young. He acts in an independent manner, thinks little of how he rules his state, and fails to see his faults. It is nothing to him to lead his people into peril, and his dead are reckoned by swampfuls like so much grass. His people have nowhere to turn. I have heard you say, Master, “Leave the state that is well ordered and go to the state in chaos! At the doctor’s gate are many sick men.” I want to use these words as my standard, in hopes that I can restore his state to health.’ — ‘Ah,’  said Confucius, ‘you will probably go and get yourself executed, that’s all.'” (Chuang Tzu, Section 4).
“What starts out being sincere usually ends up being deceitful.” (Chuang Tzu, ibid.).

Always! That is the dreadful word … it is a meaningless word, too.
“Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man.”  (Tao Te Ching 23.2).

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