The early Taoists were men who, having gone into seclusion, attempted to work out a system of thought that would give meaning to their action. Among them, Yang Chu seems to have been the earliest prominent exponent. Yang Chu’s one fundamental ideas was “the despising of things and valuing of life”.
Even an empire, once lost, may some day be regained, but once dead, one can never live again. He who in his conduct values his body more than he does the world, may be given the world. He who in his conduct loves himself more than he does the world, may be entrusted with the world.
Cinnamon is edible, therefore the cinnamon tree is cut down. Ch’i oil is useful; therefore the ch’i tree is gashed. A man having a reputation of ability and usefulness will suffer a fate just like that of the cinnamon and ch’i trees. To be useless is the way to preserve one’s life. The man who is skillful in preserving life must not do much evil, but neither must he do much good. He must live midway between good and evil. He tries to be useless, which in the end proves of greatest usefulness to him.