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2.5: The Zhuangzi

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    Zhuangzi (ca. 369-286 B.C.E.)

    Compiled ca. the fourth century C.E.

    The Zhuangzi, also known as Nanhua zhenjing ("The Pure Classic of Nanhua"), is regarded as a primary source for Daoism, along with Daodejing (a.k.a. the Laozi) and the Liezi. Out of thirty-three chapters, the first seven chapters, called the "inner books," are attributed to Zhuangzi, whereas the other chapters, called the "outer books," are credited to the later followers of Zhuangzi. The current arrangement of the book is credited to Guo Xiang in the 4th century C.E.
    In contrast to Confucianism, Zhuangzi believed that a truly virtuous man is free from socio-political bounds and obligations, personal attachments, and tradition. Scholars still find the Zhuangzi, written in reflective, serious, and sometimes playful ways, puzzling, but it certainly engages the ideas of relativity, paradox, and uncertainty. The most famous of the Zhuangzi is the part about Zhuangzi dreaming of being a butterfly which is located at the end of the second chapter. Because the transcription of Chinese sounds into a Roman alphabet can vary, Zhuangzi has been spelled in various ways, such as Chuang Tzu, Chuang-tsze, Chuang Chou, Zhuangzi, Zhuang Tze, Zhuang Zhou, Chuang Tsu, Chouang-Dsi, Chuang Tse, and Chuangtze.

    Written by Kyounghye Kwon


    License: Public Domain

    Chuang Tzu, translated by James Legge


    Nan-Guo Zi-Qi was seated, leaning forward on his stool. He was looking up to heaven and breathed gently, seeming to be in a trance, and to have lost all consciousness of any companion. (His disciple), Yan Cheng Zi-You, who was in attendance and standing before him, said, "What is this? Can the body be made to become thus like a withered tree, and the mind to become like slaked lime? His appearance as he leans forward on the stool today is such as I never saw him have before in the same position." Zi-Qi said, "Yan, you do well to ask such a question, I had just now lost myself; but how should you understand it? You may have heard the notes of Man, but have not heard those of Earth; you may have heard the notes of Earth, but have not heard those of heaven."
    Zi-You said, "I venture to ask from you a description of all these." The reply was, "When the breath of the Great Mass (of nature) comes strongly, it is called Wind. Sometimes it does not come so; but when it does, then from a myriad apertures there issues its excited noise; have you not heard it in a prolonged gale? Take the projecting bluff of a mountain forest
    —in the great trees, a hundred spans round, the apertures and cavities are like the nostrils, or the mouth, or the ears; now square, now round like a cup or a mortar; here like a wet footprint, and there like a large puddle. (The sounds issuing from them are like) those of fretted water, of the arrowy whizz, of the stern command, of the inhaling of the breath, of the shout, of the gruff note, of the deep wail, of the sad and piping note. The first notes are slight, and those that follow deeper, but in harmony with them. Gentle winds produce a small response; violent winds a great one. When the fierce gusts have passed away, all the apertures are empty (and still)—have you not seen this in the bending and quivering of the branches and leaves?"
    Zi-You said, "The notes of Earth then are simply those which come from its myriad apertures; and the notes of Man may just be compared to those which (are brought from the tubes of) bamboo—allow me to ask about the notes of Heaven." Zi-Qi replied, "Blowing the myriad differences, making them stop [proceed] of themselves, sealing their self-selecting—who is it that stirs it all up?"


    Great knowledge is wide and comprehensive; small knowledge is partial and restricted. Great speech is exact and complete; small speech is (merely) so much talk. When we sleep, the soul communicates with (what is external to us); when we awake, the body is set free. Our intercourse with others then leads to various activity, and daily there is the striving of mind with mind. There are hesitancies; deep difficulties; reservations; small apprehensions causing restless distress, and great apprehensions producing endless fears. Where their utterances are like arrows from a bow, we have those who feel it their charge to pronounce what is right and what is wrong; where they are given out like the conditions of a covenant, we have those who maintain their views, determined to overcome. (The weakness of their arguments), like the decay (of things) in autumn and winter, shows the failing (of the minds of some) from day to day; or it is like their water which, once voided, cannot be gathered up again. Then their ideas seem as if fast bound with cords, showing that the mind is become like an old and dry moat, and that it is nigh to death, and cannot be restored to vigour and brightness. Joy and anger, sadness and pleasure, anticipation and regret, fickleness and fixed ness, vehemence and indolence, eagerness and tardiness;—(all these moods), like music from an empty tube, or mushrooms from the warm moisture, day and night succeed to another and come before us, and we do not know whence they sprout. Let us stop! Let us stop! Can we expect to find out suddenly how they are produced?


    If there were not (the views of) another, I should not have mine; if there were not I (with my views), his would be uncalled for:—this is nearly a true statement of the case, but we do not know what it is that makes it be so. It might seem as if there would be a true Governor concerned in it, but we do not find any trace (of his presence and acting). That such an One could act so I believe; but we do not see His form. He has affections, but He has no form. Given the body, with its hundred parts, its nine openings, and its six viscera, all complete in their places, which do I love the most? Do you love them all equally? or do you love some more than others? Is it not the case that they all perform the part of your servants and waiting women? All of them being such, are they not incompetent to rule one another? or do they take it in turns to be now ruler and now servants? There must be a true Ruler (among them) whether by searching you can find out His character or not, there is neither advantage nor hurt, so far as the truth of His operation is concerned. When once we have received the bodily form complete, its parts do not fail to perform their functions till the end comes. In conflict with things or in harmony with them, they pursue their course to the end, with the speed of a galloping horse which cannot be stopped—is it not sad? To be constantly toiling all one's lifetime, without seeing the fruit of one's labour, and to be weary and worn out with his labour, without knowing where he is going to—is it not a deplorable case? Men may say, "But it is not death;" yet of what advantage is this? When the body is decomposed, the mind will be the same along with it—must not the case be pronounced very deplorable? Is the life of man indeed enveloped in such darkness? Is it I alone to whom it appears so? And does it not appear to be so to other men?


    If we were to follow the judgments of the predetermined mind, who would be left alone and without a teacher? Not only would it be so with those who know the sequences (of knowledge and feeling) and make their own selection among them, but it would be so as well with the stupid and unthinking. For one who has not this determined mind, to have his affirmations and negations is like the case described in the saying, "He went to Yue to-day, and arrived at it yesterday." It would be making what was not a fact. But even the spirit-like Yu could not have known how to do this, and how should one like me be able to do it? But speech is not like the blowing (of the wind); the speaker has (a meaning in) his words. If, however, what he says, be indeterminate (as from a mind not made up), does he then really speak or not? He thinks that his words are different from the chirpings of fledgelings; but is there any distinction between them or not? But how can the Dao be so obscured, that there should be "a True" and "a False" in it? How can speech be so obscured that there should be "the Right" and "the Wrong" about them? Where shall the Dao go to that it will not be found? Where shall speech be found that it will be inappropriate? Dao becomes obscured through the small comprehension (of the mind), and speech comes to be obscure through the vain-gloriousness (of the speaker). So it is that we have the contentions between the Literati and the Mohists, the one side affirming what the other denies, and vice versa. If we would decide on their several affirmations and denial, no plan is like bringing the (proper) light (of the mind) to bear on them.


    There is no thing that is not "that", and there is no thing that is not "this". If I look at something from "that", I do not see it; only if I look at it from knowing do I know it. Hence it is said, "That view comes from this; and this view is a consequence of that:"—which is the theory that the view and this (the opposite views) produce each the other. Although it be so, there is affirmed now life and now death; now death and now life; now the admissibility of a thing and now its inadmissibility; now its inadmissibility and not its admissibility. (The disputants) now affirm and now deny; now deny and now affirm. Therefore the sagely man does not pursue this method, but views things in the light of (his) Heaven (-ly nature), and hence forms his judgment of what is right. This view is the same as that, and that view is the same as this. But that view involves both a right and a wrong; and this view involves also a right and a wrong— are there indeed the two views, that and this? Or are there not the two views, that and this? They have not found their point of correspondency which is called the pivot of the Dao. As soon as one finds this pivot, he stands in the centre of the ring (of thought), where he can respond without end to the changing views; without end to those affirming, and without end to those denying. Therefore I said, "There is nothing like the proper light (of the mind)."


    By means of a finger (of my own) to illustrate that the finger (of another) is not a finger is not so good a plan as to illustrate that it is not so by means of what is (acknowledged to be) not a finger; and by means of (what I call) a horse to illustrate that (what another calls) a horse is not so, is not so good a plan as to illustrate that it is not a horse, by means of what is (acknowledged to be) not a horse. (All things in) heaven and earth may be (dealt with as) a finger; (each of) their myriads may be (dealt with as) a horse.
    Does a thing seem so to me? (I say that) it is so. Does it seem not so to me? (I say that) it is not so. A path is formed by (constant) treading on the ground. A thing is called by its name through the (constant) application of the name to it. How is it so? It is so because it is so. How is it not so? It is not so, because it is not so. Everything has its inherent character and its proper capability. There is nothing which has not these. Therefore, this being so, if we take a stalk of grain and a (large) pillar, a loathsome (leper) and (a beauty like) Xi Shi, things large and things insecure, things crafty and things strange; they may in the light of the Dao all be reduced to the same category (of opinion about them).
    It was separation that led to completion; from completion ensued dissolution. But all things, without regard to their completion and dissolution, may again be comprehended in their unity—it is only the far reaching in thought who know how to comprehend them in this unity. This being so, let us give up our devotion to our own views, and occupy ourselves with the ordinary views. These ordinary views are grounded on the use of things. (The study of that) use leads to the comprehensive judgment, and that judgment secures the success (of the inquiry). That success gained, we are near (to the object of our search), and there we stop. When we stop, and yet we do not know how it is so, we ahve what is called the Dao. When we toil our spirits and intelligence, obstinately determined (to establish our own view), and do not know the agreement (which underlies it and the views of others), we have what is called "In the morning three." What is meant by that "in the morning three?" A keeper of monkeys, in giving them out their acorns, (once) said, "In the morning I will give you three (measures) and in the evening four." This made them all pleased. His two proposals were substantially the same, but the result of the one was to make the creatures angry, and of the other to make them pleased—an illustration of the point I am insisting on. Therefore the sagely man brings together a dispute in its affirmations and denials, and rests in the equal fashioning of Heaven. Both sides of the question are admissible.

    This page titled 2.5: The Zhuangzi is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Laura Getty & Kyounghye Kwon (University of North Georgia Press) .

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