Chuang-Tzu - Taoist Book (2008).pdf

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Chuang Tzu
The Inner Chapters
1. A Happy Excursion (Yutang Lin)
2. On Leveling all Things (Yutang Lin)
3. The Preservation of Life (Yutang Lin)
4. This Human World (Yutang Lin)
5. Deformities, or Evidence of a Full Character (Yutang Lin)
6. The Great Supreme (Yutang Lin)
7. Dealing with Emporers and Kings (Martin Palmer)
The Outer Chapters
8. Joined Toes (Yutang Lin)
9. Horses Hooves (Yutang Lin)
10. Opening Trunks, or a Protest against Civilization (Yutang Lin)
11. On Tolerance (Yutang Lin)
12. Heaven and Earth (James Legge)
13. The Way of Heaven (James Legge)
14. The Revolution of Heaven (James Legge)
15. Rigid and Arrogant (Martin Palmer)
16. The Deceived and Ignorant Ones (Martin Palmer)
17. Autumn Floods (Yutang Lin)
18. Perfect Happiness (Burton Watson)
19. The Full Understanding of Life (James Legge)
20. The Tree on the Mountain (James Legge)
21. Thien Tsze-Fang (James Legge)
22. Knowledge Rambling in the North (James Legge)
The Miscellaneous Chapters
23. Kang-Sang Khu (James Legge)
24. Hsu Wu-Kwei (James Legge)
25. Travelling to Chu (James Legge)
26. Affected from Outside (Martin Palmer)
27. Imputed Words (Burton Watson)
28. Kings Who Have Wished to Resign the Throne (James Legge)
29. The Robber Kih (James Legge)
30. Speaking of Swords (Sam Hamill & J. P. Seaton)
31. The Old Fisherman (Burton Watson)
32. Lieh Yu Kou (Burton Watson)
33. In the Social World (Chad Hansen)
Chuang-Tzu: The Person
The Taoist author named Chuang-tzu (zhuangzi, "Master Chuang"), whose personal
name is Chuang Chou (zhuang zhou), is estimated to have lived in the fourth century
BCE , between 399 and 255 BCE (as Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, suggests). He was probably
a contemporary of the Confucian scholar Mencius, although their writings do not
mention any mutual acquaintance.
Chuang-tzu was a native of a place called Meng, situated in today's Honan province,
at that time part of the state of Sung. This state did not have much political clout,
but its mark of distinction was that here the descendants of the defeated Shang
dynasty were enfeoffed "in order that they might carry on the sacrifices to their
illustrious ancestors" (B. Watson, 1970: 1-2). Chuang-tzu's connection with the Sung
state would explain the background of his thinking: "skepticism and mystical
detachment" (Watson: 2), so much in contrast with the more optimistic vision of
From his writings, especially the "Seven Inner Chapters," Chuang-tzu appears as a
brilliant thinker, an ironical mind, an iconoclast even, who smiles at the narrow-
minded concepts and customs of society. Although the text attributed to him may be
corrupt in some places, his message of transcendence and freedom comes through
clearly and strongly.
His personality also shines bright through the inclusion of several biographic
anecdotes: They cannot be given strict historical credit, but they "smell" like the
work of his close associates or disciples and probably reflect true life situations. They
put some meat on the meager skeleton of historical evidence.
Several anecdotal stories relate Chuang-tzu's relationship with Hui-tzu, a master who
belonged to the School of Logic. Although they were good friends and excellently
matched opponents in philosophic dispute, Chuang-tzu disliked logic and distrusted
language, too often abused. The anecdotes are delightful "short" stories of dialogues
between Master Chuang and Master Hui, and give us a lively image of Chuang-tzu's
technique of argument. To quote just one example from Chapter 17, titled "Autumn
Floods": The two masters were strolling along the Hao River, when Chuang-tzu
noticed a school of fish down in the water. "See how these minnows swim around as
they please!" he said. "That is what fish really enjoy!" Hui-tzu, skeptical in his logic
responds: "You are not a fish; how do you know what fish enjoy?" Chuang-tzu said,
"You are not me, how do you know I don't know ... " Huit-tzu agreed, but was still
not convinced: "I admit I don't know what you know, but it still proves that you don't
know what fish enjoy!" Chuang-tzu then said: "Let's get back to the original
question: You asked me how [whence] I know what fish enjoy — so you already
implied that I knew it. Well, I know it from standing here along the river."
(paraphrase of Watson: 188-9).
Here we see the deep difference of knowing something logically or through
immediate intuition. Chuang-tzu is an intuitive thinker, who frustrates the logical
mind but keeps delighting those who trust their own basic instincts and intuitions.
Chaung-Tzu: The Text
The transmitted text, edited by "Neo-Taoist" philsopher Kuo-hsiang (d. 312 CE )
consists of three sections: the so-called inner chapters (Chapters 1-7), possibly
written by Chuang-tzu himself; the "outer chapters" (Chapters 8-22); and the
"miscellaneous chapters" (Chapters 23-33). It is probable that Kuo-hsiang cut out
part of the existing text and gave the titles to each chapter, which we still know
today. But many historical and literary questions remained unsolved until modern
scholarship started to tackle the problem. No external evidence exists about the time
of composition, nor about the actual authorship. It has been assumed that the Tao
Te Ching was older than the Chuang-tzu , and one still finds senseless statements in
scholarly works that Chuang-tzu was a student of Lao-tzu. This is ludicrous. The
"inner chapters" were certainly written before the Tao Te Ching , possibly by the
master himself, but in any case by someone close to him, like a direct disciple. The
other chapters have been written at various times. A. Graham has made an intensive
study of the text and has proposed approximate dates for the different "streams" of
thought present in the 33 chapters (Graham, 1981: 27-28):
Chapters 1-7: Chuang-tzu's own writings (4th c. BCE );
Chapters 8-10, half of 11: primitivist stream (about 205 BCE );
Chapters 11 (2nd half), 12-14 & 33: syncretist stream (2nd c. BCE );
Chapters 28-31: "Yangist miscellany", (about 200 BCE ).
Other chapters are partially assigned to particular streams, but no exact dates are
Chapters 15-16 (a Chinese source dates them between Chin and Han);
Chapters 17-22: school of Chuang-tzu;
Chapters 23-27 & 32: "rag bag" (heterogeneous and fragmented).
Graham's analysis is mainly based on inner criticism: What we summarily call the
Chuang-tzu does not have a predominant inner consistency. There are obviously
different streams of thought present, so that today we realize that the whole
collection of essays was written over a few centuries, between Chuang-tzu's own
time (perhaps from around 340-320 BCE ) and when his school or related schools
flourished (perhaps until about 150 BCE ). The date 150 BCE is tentative: It is the time
of Han Emperor Wu's rise to power and his adoption of Confucianism as the state
orthodoxy. That would certainly influence the fate of Taoism.
Another consideration that few Chuang-tzu specialists have proposed so far may
indirectly throw light on the composition of some chapters. It is the way in which the
various authors depict Confucius. The 33 chapters of the Chuang-tzu are usually
subdivided into separate episodes, sometimes stories or anecdotes, theoretic
discussions, or dialogues. They are clearly separated, although not numbered. (For
instance, in Chapter 14, there are seven episodes, in Chapter 23, there are 12, etc.)
When focusing on those chapters in which Confucius or an immediate disciple
appears, we get a great surprise: In the whole book, there are 46 such episodes
spread over the three sections ("inner": 9; "outer": 25; misc.: 12). This does not yet
include other chapters in which Confucian principles are criticized without naming
them. What is more astounding as well as puzzling, however, is the way in which the
sage is portrayed: Sometimes he is attacked, ridiculed, or criticized as a bombast or
ignorant bore, sometimes Confucius admired skilled persons (who embody some
Taoist principle); in other places, he is instructed by Lao Tan (Lao-tzu) because he
has not yet quite "got it"; and finally, in over a dozen episodes, he appears as an
enlightened Taoist sage, discussing Taoist principles as brilliantly as if he were Lao
Tan himself.
One wonders about the rationale behind these various presentations. One
speculation is that the different depictions may be connected with different time
periods. At first, Confucius was not a great competitor with Taoism, but as time went
on, the schools accentuated their differences and may have become rivals to gain
official favor; finally, once Confucianism became enshrined as the official learning, it
may have become dangerous to criticize Confucius. It was politically safer to praise
him as a great sage. This interpretation is worthwhile to persue and may or may not
confirm earlier presumptions about dating the Chuang-tzu .
Whatever transpires about authorships and dates, it is beyond doubt that Chuang-
tzu was a brilliant thinker and attracted other bright minds, who continued the
master's teaching. In many of the later chapters (such as Chapters 17 and 22) we
find jewels of literary composition, even if some of those chapters have been
"butchered" by later editors. The final Chapter 33 presents a brilliant overview of the
philosophical schools competing at the time. The expression "sagely within and
kingly without" (Whatson, 1970: 364) is a masterful slogan characterizing the
syncretist author, who perhaps was also the final editor of the book before Kuo
Hsiang totally revised it.
Chaung-Tzu: Themes
To read the Chuang-tzu is an enriching experience, a discovery of literary genius as
well as of a deep spirituality. The book is like a fascinating lanascape painting, both
realistic and abstract, both obvious and full of hidden meanings. The longer one
looks, the more discoveries one makes. It is difficult, therefore, to express the basic
Chuang-tzu themes in just a few pages.
In general, the Chuang-tzu is quite different from the Tao Te Ching . Even if they talk
about similar concepts (the Tao, the sage, nonaction, etc.) they move on different
levels: The Tao Te Ching advocates spiritual practices and a deep understanding of
the Tao in order to become an enlightened sage-ruler. The Chuang-tzu is not
interested in bureaucratic government: Life is too interesting to waste on politics! He
inspires mystical transcendence, joyful freedom, freedom from the boundaries and
restrictions imposed on us, not by nature, but by narrow-minded human societies
(this is the contrast between what is "of heaven" and what is "of man"). These
restrictions imposed on us are like a cage preventing us from flying up into open
space and being fully ourselves. To avoid the traps of society, fly high enough.
The sage of Chuang-tzu is multifaceted. Above all, he scorns the values of a
mediocre society . As the huge mythical bird (Chapter 1), he soars above the clouds
beyond the limited space of little birds. Small understanding cannot fathom great
understanding. To use another analogy, small people are like frogs in a deep well,
reveling in the lowly enjoyments of their mudpool, but incapable of understanding
life in the wide ocean.
Chuang-tzu appears to be a skeptic, he does not overly trust language , certainly not
as something absolute. It has only relative value because, although it is meant to
express what is "true" or to communicate ideas, it is often abused and divides. There
is too much empty language, which means nothing, yet appears to be smart and
eloquent. Language leads to positions that contradict each other; it divides people
instead of bringing them together.
Why is that? It is because what people perceive as truth is made into absolute truth.
From the standpoint of the Tao (Transcendent Being), human values, including truth
value, have only relative validity. Chuang-tzu uses a beautiful analogy to explain this
(Chapter 2). He talks about the music of earth, the music of man, the music of
heaven. The music of the earth is when the wind blows in holes and cavities of
mountains and trees: It generates roaring, screeching, gasping, crying, howling
(Watson: 36), as if an army of demented is on the move. Yet, with the wind as music
master, there is a oneness of sound with all particular sounds blending together.
Similarly, the music of man consists of a great orchestra with many different
instruments, but the baton of the musical director creates harmony, where
otherwise, if each plays his/her own tune, there would be cacophony and chaos. As a
group, each plays his/her own part, and the result is meaningful and delightful.
However, with the music of heaven, there is a difference. Heaven "breathes" through
the minds of all people. Yet everyone thinks differently (three people, four
opinions!), and when emotions get involved, the result is disastrous. Here too there
should be a unifying principle, but it is hard to find. As a result, societies are in
chaos, because opinions or partial truths are taken for absolute and complete. This
leads to intolerance, hatred, prejudice, discrimination, suppression, dictatorship,
exploitation, even persecution. The world does not need this.
Looked at in the light of heaven, one should realize that the Tao is like the axis of all
things and opinions (the title of Chapter 2 is the "relativity of all things and
opinions"). There is no absolute expression of truth in any particular statement. All
opinions and convictions are necessarily relative and incomplete. Fighting with words
and arguments is nonsense. Within the greater light of Tao as central axis, all things
and opinions find their place as partial expressions of the real. That is the wholeness
of the Tao, which leads to the harmony of minds and peaceful coexistence.
Tao as Reality is one and absolute;
what we know of it cannot be absolute.
A simple yet deeply meaningful anecdote concludes Chapter 2: the famous "butterfly
dream" (Watson: 49). In his dream, Chuang-tzu becomes a butterfly, happily
fluttering around. When he "wakes up," he is Chuang-tzu again ... or is he? Dream
and reality are fluid, easily transforming into one another. (The dream motif occurs
frequently in both the the Chuang-tzu and the Lieh-tzu .)
Caring for life (Chapter 3) is an important motif in the Chuang-tzu . Life is a precious
gift and should be nurtured; it must be enjoyed to the fullest, always in moderation.
Once time is up, the gift should be returned without a grudge. Some people abuse
their life energies: they are like butchers who hack when cutting up a dead ox. The
sage goes along with the flow of life, but does not "hack," does not exhaust his life
force. After watching Cook Ting cut up an ox, his Lord exclaims: I have now learned
how to care for life! (Watson: 50-51).
A corollary of this episode is that Chuang-tzu does not advocate efforts to prolong
life beyond what is heaven-given and less so efforts to reach immortality.
Indeed, acceptance of death or submission to fate are a theme very dear to Chuang-
tzu (Chapter 6 and many others). Life and death are fated, they rotate in perfect
order, just like the four seasons. Life is a gift, to be apreciated, but when the allotted
time is up, it should be returned without any fuss.
The sage understands the higher reality of the life processes; here, too, his insight
transcends the mediocre mind of most. It is not the individual who is important, but
the eternal "play" of the Tao, creating, destroying, and creating again. As individuals,
appearing somewhere from nowhere, we are on the stage for a short while, and then
must get off; the life cycle goes on. This is reality: Because it is fated and
irreversible, it is wise for us to accept it with joy. Life will be more joyful without the
scare of death. (Related anecdotes in the Chuang-tzu , besides Chapter 6, are in
Chapter 3, Watson: 52-53; Chapter 18, Watson: 191-2, when Chuang-tzu's wife
died; Chapter 18, Watson: 193-4, story of the skull.)
Chuang-tzu's cynical views on the world of politics are well-known. Would-be
ministers and royal advisers take heed: Rulers cannot be trusted. Two of the inner
chapters discuss the matter of government: Chapters 4 and 7. The theme of Chapter
4 is a warning: It is very difficult to be a good advisor to kings. If one uses any
approach that the king dislikes, one could be in danger. It is safer not to serve in
government and to be useless, that ensures long life. In episode 3, a realistic
analogy is proposed: how to deal with tigers (in a zoo). Go along with the tiger's
wishes, to a point. To oppose them completely is dangerous, but so is going along.
Other analogies are about "useless" old trees (see below) and "useless" people:
crippled Shu is a "reject" of society, but is able to live well and be cared for. How
much better is "crippled virtue"!
Chapter 7 discusses responsive rulership . Although this title promises a treatise on
the Taoist way of government, there is not much to support the title. Episode 3 best
reflects Chuang-tzu's views, when he lets "Nameless" give this advice:
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