About the Cover
The cover art is from Chang Daqian (1899-1933). This 1953 painting, with influence of Tang and Song Dynasty artists, shows a scholar sitting calmly and enjoying nature while he plays a zither under a grove of trees adorned with the morning mist. Although being at peace does not necessarily mean being alone or staying far from civilization, it does mean that one's mind can enter a place of rest much like this scene displays. A letter by the Tang Dynasty poet-painter Wang Wei (699-759 A.D.) written from a mountain retreat to his friend back in the city, helps convey the Taoist ideal of a peaceful spirit. In bold is a section of his letter that could well be illustrated by the cover picture:
In this month of December, the weather has been very mild, and the old mountain is worth a visit. I knew you were immersed in your studies, and did not want to bother you. I may tell you what you missed: I often went into the mountains and stopped at Kanpei Temple where after a meal with the monk, I started off. I crossed the Pa [river] and saw the outer city wall sleep under the moonlight. At night, I went up the Huatsekang [hill]. The golden ripples of the Wang chased and floated with the moon, and on the distant mountainsides, some lights flickered beyond the forests. The sounds of dogs barking from some alley and of farmers pounding rice were punctuated with notes from the temple bells. By that time, the servants accompanying me had fallen asleep and I sat alone, thinking of the days when we wandered together on the mountain paths or sat on the bank of a clear stream and wrote verse. Now I will wait till spring is here, when the green things will have returned and blue hills lie in the distance, minnows chase in the shallow waters and herons flap their wings. You will find pheasants flying in the morning among the wheat fields and dew on the green banks. This will be not so far away. Are you coming? I would not write of these things and invite you to come unless I knew you would appreciate them. But, there is a deep, resuscitating joy in it.
When we discuss the "peace" of the spirit, we may fail to realize that the spirit remains lively. Here is a description to correct that misconception from Yuan Chunglang (ca. 1600 A.D.):
I find that zest is a rare gift in life. Zest is like hues on the mountains, taste in water, brilliance in flowers, and charm in women. It is appreciated only by those who have understanding and is difficult to explain in words. True enough, it is common nowadays to find people who affect a taste in certain diversions….These are superficial, and have nothing to do with real zest and understanding of the flavor in living. This zest for living is more born than cultivated. Children have most of it. They have probably never heard of the word "zest," but they show it everywhere. They find it hard to look solemn, they wink, they grimace, they mumble to themselves, they jump and skip, and hop, and romp. That is why childhood is the happiest period of a man's life, and why Mencius spoke of "recovering the heart of a child" and Laotse referred to it as a model of man's original nature. The peasants who live near the mountains and forests do not make a cult of these things; in their life of freedom and absence of social conventions, they enjoy the beauties of nature all as a part of their living. The more degenerate men become, the harder they find it to enjoy life. Some are fascinated by merely sensual enjoyments and call it "fun," and find their pleasure in meals and wines, and sex, and riotous living, and defiance of social customs, saying they are thus liberating themselves. Often, as one progresses in life, his official rank becomes higher and his social status grows bigger; his body and mind are fettered with a thousand cares and sober duties. Then knowledge, learning, and life experience stop up even his pores and seep down to his hardened joints. The more he knows, the more befuddled he becomes, and the more removed he is from understanding this zest in living.