Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish: The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin

“Expectation is the grandfather of disappointment. The world can never own a man who wants nothing.”

One hundred years after Confucius, came Wu Hsin. His name literally means ‘no-mind.’ And there is almost no trace of this person available, except The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin, which is probably how he would have liked it.

That’s because he’s likely fictional.

His messages however are timeless and can be found in the excellent Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish (The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin).

His writings are filled with paradoxes, which cause the mind to slow down and, at times, to even stop. Reading Wu Hsin, one must ponder. However, it is not an active pondering, but a passive one, much in the same way as one puts something in the oven and lets it bake for a while.

I’m a big fan of concentrated wisdom. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is one of my favorites. I’ve also found a lot of value in La Rochefoucauld and Nassim Taleb. So what then can we learn from Hsin? Here are a few of my highlights.

Our attachment to beliefs …

The attachment to beliefs is
The greatest shackle.
To be free is
To know that
One does not know.

Sleep …

It is understood that
Sleep is the desire for
A period of rest
For the body.
It is less understood that
Sleep is the desire for
A period of rest
Away from the body.

True peace cannot be disturbed…

What is called peace by many is
Merely the absence of disturbance.
True peace cannot be disturbed;
It resides beyond the reach of disturbance.

As if addressing our soundbite culture …

When one is enthralled with
The beauty on the surface of the ocean,
The immensity of its depths can
Never be discerned.

You can’t think your way to freedom.

Controlling the mind doesn’t
Take one to freedom.
Controlling the mind
Adds another link To one’s shackles.

Pain is physical, whereas suffering is mental.

Whereas pain is
A physical experience
Suffering is a mental one.
It is the sense that
Things should be
Other than they are.
Its antidote is Acceptance.

We can be in a crowd and still be alone.

Solitude is not
A condition of the body.
Instead, it is
A condition of the mind.
Solitude may be found
In the busy market or
May be elusive in the forest.

Feeling lost is the first step

For many,
The first step on
A spiritual journey is to
Become lost.
The final step is
Losing one’s self.

As if to explain why consumption does not make us any happier …

Chasing after the things
One yearns for is
Inferior to
Chasing after
The source of the yearning.

The search for happiness …

To search for happiness
Implies its absence.
This implication is a fundamental flaw.
Happiness is ever present.
It may become obscured,
Such obscuration being temporary.

How magicians fool us …

The preoccupation with
The foreground, the sights,
The smells,
The sounds,
Takes the attention away from
The background.
Yet, it is in this very background that
The Mystery resides.

The natural doesn’t need laws

What is natural
Follows no laws nor
Requires any.
Can there be a rule for
The beating of the heart or
The blackness of the raven?
There is a natural rhythm to
The workings of the world.
Some are discernable
While others cannot be discerned.
It is the dance
Between the two that
Creates action.

We cannot hide from ourself.

There is no forest,
There is no cave,
There is no mountaintop
Where one can hide From oneself.

Live in the moment …

The greatest enjoyment is experienced
When there is no concern for its duration.

Speaking of mindfulness, before it had a name, he writes:

The sum of a past is I was.
The sum of a future is
I will be.
The continuous crossing back and forth
Between the two
Obscures the present moment,
The I am, Being Itself.

On freedom …

A free man’s life is
A life that is free of
Free of dependency.
With nothing to drag along
One goes where one will.

Anyone who has ever lived through a corporate reorganization …

Do not mistake
A mere rearranging of the furniture
For true change.

Being content is about dropping attachment and desire.

The man of contentment
Seeks nothing that
He doesn’t have and
Understands that
Whatever he has
Isn’t his to own.

In fact he later writes: “Chasing after more and more is futile. It is only less and less that lastingly satisfies.”

Building on this he incisively looks at our expectations

Expectation is the grandfather of
The world can never
Own a man Who wants nothing.

Hsin writes on our desire to seek confirmation of what we already know.

You are not satisfied
With the answers
Given by others.
So you come to Wu Hsin.
But what you really seek
Are not answers
But confirmation
Of what you think
You already know.
If you were to admit
That you know nothing,
Then I will most gladly answer.

The greatest crime …

The greatest crime is
The overlooking of
Who you really are In favor of
The story of
Who you think you are.
This preoccupation with
Your personal drama is
The cloud that masks The sun.

On how to change the world …

To conquer the large,
Begin with the small.
To change your world,
Begin by changing yourself.
What needs to be changed?
Only the point of view.

Hsin, like me, sees failure as an opportunity.

Nothing succeeds like failure.
Failure is a natural
Call for attention,
Like pain.
To pay attention is to
Step out of your trance.

Sometimes you have to crack some eggs

To free the chick,
The shell must be broken.
To free what is inside
One must shatter
What is outside.

How we live …

What is known is familiar
Yet unsatisfying.
What is unknown is feared
Yet desired Life thrives in risks and
Dies in stasis.

On the delta between our expectations and reality …

The world changes profoundly
When demands on it cease.
The real world and one’s imagined world
Share little.

What’s better than the acquisition of knowledge? Invert. Getting rid of ignorance. This passage also reminds me of the Arab Scholar Ali Bin Abi-Taleb, who said: “keeping one’s distance from an ignorant person is equivalent to keeping company with a wise man.”

Ridding oneself of ignorance is
Worth more than the acquisition of knowledge.
With memory gone
The past is gone
Relinquishing hopes and fears
The future is gone.
The present is upon you.
In every moment.
You are free.

Not only is Hsin full of knowledge, he’s often beautiful in his writing. Consider this …

The Infinite has no preferences.
It kisses both the darkness and
The light equally.

Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish is a worthy read.