Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu)

Zhuangzi lived in the fourth century (c. 369–286) B.C.E. during the confusion and conflict of the Warring States period in China (403–222 B.C.E.). He is considered the intellectual heir of Laozi (sixth century B.C.E.) and the second most important sage in the development of Daoism. Zhuangzi transformed Laozi’s thought in a lively, insightful, and often humorous style. He deepened the philosophical basis of Daoism by developing sophisticated strategies of argumentation and confronting rival philosophical positions. The foundation of his approach is ziran: naturalness or spontaneity.
The thirty-three chapters of the Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzu describe his conversations, thought, and way of life. Zhuangzi apparently only authored the first seven Inner Chapters of the existing text. The remaining Outer Chapters are derived from his students’ writings, the “School of Zhuangzi,” and related thinkers, whom A. C. Graham classified as Primitivists, Yangists, and Syncretists. These texts were presumably included because they develop themes from the Inner Chapters or introduce other materials about Zhuangzi, although some are different in style and content. Whereas philosophers such as Confucius, Mozi, and Xunzi argued for perfecting the human condition according to contradictory ideals of human nature and morality, Zhuangzi showed the superiority of the Dao (Way) such that humans ought to live according to nature, by letting it be, rather than against it, by attempting to control it (chapter 5).
Instead of focusing on profit, progress, and morality, humans, Zhuangzi said, needed to understand how they related to nature from within nature itself. Zhuangzi thus asked whether humans could save themselves from their own activity by yielding to the immanent spontaneity of nature itself in order to let it occur. He concluded that one could do the most by doing nothing (wuwei). This nonassertive or inactive action occurs in relation to unprincipled or anarchic knowing (wuzhi) and objectless desire (wuyu). Zhuangzi viewed nature as a self-transforming web demanding naturalness, understood as spontaneity, flux, and change. All things involve a natural difference in perspective as well as relative parity such that they are equally important (chapter 2). Zhuangzi’s principle of transformation also involves the mutuality of opposites such that, for example, a man is connected to a butterfly (chapter 2), life is tied to death (chapter 6), and the masculine can find the Dao only by recourse to the feminine (chapter 7). Zhuangzi therefore ultimately affirmed the dynamic unity of opposites beyond all duality in order to recognize the uniqueness of all things as interdependent particularities.
(Eric Sean Nelson in “Holy People of the World”)

Zhuangzi (source: wikipedia)


He who rules men lives in confusion.
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
Yao therefore desired
Neither to influence others
Nor to be influenced by them.
The way to get clear of confusion
And free of sorrow
Is to live with Tao
In the land of the great Void.

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.

But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.
The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character
And outshine others;
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
You will not avoid calamity.

A wise man has said:
” He who is content with himself
Has done a worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is the beginning of disgrace.”

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

(from Thomas Merton, “The Way of Chuang Tzu”)