by contemplativeinquiry

“A man called Hua-tzu suddenly lost his memory in middle age. If you gave him something in the morning, he would forget about it by evening. If you asked him about something in the evening, he would forget it the next day. In the street he would forget to walk. At home he would forget to sit. Today he would forget what happened yesterday, and tomorrow he would not remember what happened the day before.

“Concerned about his loss of memory, his family first invited a fortune-teller and then a sorcerer to see if they could help Hua-tzu restore his memory. When neither could help, a doctor was called, but the healer shook his head and said there was nothing he could do either.

“Finally, Hua-tzu thought about a philosopher who could probably help him. So desperate was Hua-tzu’s wife in finding him a cure that she sold half their possessions and took her husband to the philosopher to ask for help.

“The family traveled to the philosopher’s home and he begged the wise man to cure Hua-tzu. The philosopher told the family, ‘this kind of illness cannot be cured by omens, magic or herbs. I’ll have to use special methods that are designed to work on his mind’.


“For seven days the philosopher was secluded with Hua-tzu. No one knew what he did or how he did it, but when Hua-tzu’s family arrived to take him home, they found him completely cured.

“After Hua-tzu recovered his memory, he became irritable and angry. He chased out his wife, beat up his sons and threatened the philosopher with a spear. When the police arrested him for disrupting the peace and questioned his motives, Hua-tzu said, ‘when I lost my memory, I was carefree and happy. I slept peacefully and had no worries when I woke up. I didn’t have anything on my mind, and I was a free man. Now that I’ve got my memory back I am miserable. I look back on the fortunes and misfortunes, the gains and losses, the joys and sorrows in my life, and I am overwhelmed. I woke up from a good dream into a nightmare. I will never be able to go back to the happy times when my memory was lost’.”

Eva Wong Lieh-tzu: a Taoist Guide to Practical Living Boston & London: Shambhala, 2001


Eva Wong grew up bilingual in Hong Kong, is a practitioner of the Taoist arts and a well-known translator of Taoist and other Chinese texts. She writes, “before I had even heard of Taoism, the stories of the Lieh-tzu were familiar to me from my childhood readers … although my family was bilingual, I grew up in Chinese culture, and the Lieh-tzu gave me and my schoolmates kernels of wisdom packed in fables and proverbs. Even at age six and seven, we knew about the Old Fool who tried to move the mountains, the man who worried that the sky would fall, and the man who tried to chase down the sun”.