A person blind since birth knew nothing of the sun, so asked a sighted person about it. Someone told them "The form of the sun is like a copper dish." He struck a copper dish and heard the sound; on another day, hearing the sound of a bell, the blind person assumed it was the sun.
Someone else told them "The light of the sun is like a candle." He felt a candle and found out its shape; on another day the blind person touched a small bamboo flute, and took it to be the sun.
The sun is far from being a bell or a flute, yet the blind person did not know the difference, because he had never seen the sun and sought to discover what it was from other people.
Seeing the Way is much more difficult than seeing the sun, and people's lack of understanding is no different from blindness. If one who has attained the Way tells them of it, even though they use marvellous metaphors and excellent pointers, it is no better than copper dishes and candles. To come to a bell from the comparison with a copper dish, or to a flute from the comparison with a candle, comparison after comparison, is there an end to it? Thus those who speak of the Way in the world today, whether they speak of it from what they have seen, or make guesses about it having never seen, they commit the error of seeking the Way from others
So does this mean that the Way can not be sought? Master Su says, "The Way can be arrived at but cannot be sought of others." What is meant by 'arrived at'? Sun Wu says, "Those skilled at war arrive at an understanding of others, but others do not arrive at an understanding of them." Zi Xia says, "The craftsmen of the world toil long in their workshops and thus complete their business, a gentleman studies and thus arrives at his Way." They do no seek the Way from others, but come to it of themselves, is this not what is meant by 'arriving at'?
There are many deep water divers in the south, they spend each day in the water. They can wade by the age of seven, by the age of ten they can float, by fifteen they can dive. So diving is not something one can learn to do casually. One must first attain the Way of water. They spend each day in the water and thus by the age of fifteen attain its Way. We are born without understanding of water and thus even though we may be in our prime, we feel apprehensive just at the sight of a boat. Thus the brave men of the north asked of the divers, and were told what they took to be the skill of diving. They followed these words and tried to dive in the Yellow River, and not one of them but drowned. So all who do not study themselves but seek to be told it by others, are all like the men of the north studying diving.
In the past, qualification as a scholar in the Imperial exams was decided on the ability to write metrical prose and verse, so scholars studied all manner of things and did not aspire to the Way. Today scholars are chosen by their skill in expounding the Classics, and the scholars only know to seek the external meaning of the Way from others, and do not study it for themselves.
Master Wu Yanlü of Bohai is a man with a will to study, and has just been promoted to a post in the Ministry of Rites, so I have written the 'Parable of the Sun' as an admonition for him.
By Su Dongpo
(1037-1101), translation my own. Su Dongpo is considered to be one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang
dynasties in China
. The Sun Wu he quotes is the famous author of the Art of War