The Chuang-tzu and Chuang-tzu

Doctrines It could be said that there are broadly two types of solution to the problems of human existence in the world, the first, the political or physical, in which one attempts to change the world itself, and the second, the mystical or psychical, which is that of the Chuang-tzu, in which one attempts to change how one sees or experiences the world.
With great Úlan, beauty, and a playful, disarming humanness, and drawing on a wide range of devices (philosophical and intuitive arguments, satire, humour, mystical insights,) housed in a variety forms (allegories, anecdotes, dialogues, poetry) the Chuang-tzu tries to persuade us to question our normal, discriminatory, understanding of the world. Specifically, the text locates the source of human problems in our propensity to draw absolute boundaries between things, to name and categorise these things, to evaluate them, and ultimately to strive to obtain those we value and to avoid those we do not. In addition, we invariably attempt to force our evaluations on others who do not share them, or on things that do not naturally conform to them, frequently doing these others harm in the process. On this reasoning, and that given below, the Chuang-tzu takes to task the followers of the philosophical and political systems of its day, primarily the moralising Confucians and Mohists, and the rationalistic Logicians.
A number of powerful arguments are produced to undermine and overthrow dualistic, discriminatory, knowledge. First of all, is it not so that the things and values we distinguish, name, and imagine to be absolutely separate from one another - such as subjects and objects, life and death, right and wrong - in fact only arise and exist together with their respective opposites, and are only discriminated, and become meaningful, in relation to them. Moreover, because each individual's particular view and understanding of the world (which is itself always changing) is relative to that of every other individual, and, in turn, the view of the human species relative to that of other animals, no one can claim to have absolute knowledge about anything. Our knowledge is also not absolute because it is a circular, justifying and verifying itself in only terms of itself, and because, like the language it is articulated in, it is conventional and consensual - as the text says, "A road is made by people walking on it; things are so because they are called so", (Watson 1968: 40).
The Chuang-tzu asks, then, do we really know what we think we know? That our good is the good, and good for others? That life is better than death? That we are waking and not dreaming? The Sage escapes this sceptical limbo by turning inward in meditation, stilling the mind and emptying it of thoughts, and thus achieving mystical insight and union with the Tao. The Tao or Way, also referred to as Heaven, is nothing less than the dynamic totality of existence, the natural functioning of which is perpetual transformation; into life and form, and into death and formlessness. Producing all the Tao has no preferences, and including all it reconciles all opposites: "From the point of view of the Way, what is noble or what is mean? These are merely what are called endless changes," (ibid.: 181). Mystical insight, called ming, "clarity", or the "light of Heaven", is perceiving the fundamental unity, harmony, and inevitability, of this process and everything in it. Inevitability, because transformation is the nature of our universe, and what cannot be escaped or changed must be accepted, something the Sage does with great joy. Unity and harmony because for him all things are no longer experienced as discrete, dislocated, entities, but integral and equal parts of the organic whole which is the Tao.
Seeing the radical equality of all things the Sage ceases to value and prefer some things over others. Instead he accepts, affirms, and reverences each individual thing as perfect in its own unique te, or intrinsic virtue, just exactly as it is. The Sage "forgets" discriminatory knowledge and language, meaning that he no longer believes their divisions and names to be absolute, and when he uses them now it is without attachment: "Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?" (ibid.: 302). Thus with a mind no longer cramped by concepts, predisposed by pre-judgements, and driven by personal desires, the Sage is able to respond creatively and appropriately to existence. Such appropriateness obviously cannot be learnt via rules or prescriptions - "If the Way is made clear, it is not the Way" (ibid.: 44) - for situations are unique in nature and infinite in number. Rather, the ideal is that demonstrated by such figures in the Chuang-tzu as the expert swimmer, who, "forgetting" both himself and the water, has no fear and becomes at ease and at one with the river, simply following its swirls and going along with its eddies. Similarly, the Sage "forgets", as separate, opposed entities, himself and others, so becoming at home in the world and in harmony with those within it. This reconciliation extends even to death, which the Sage accepts equally joyously: "Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, are all a single body? I will be his friend!" (ibid.: 84).

History The philosophical text known as the Chuang-tzu is second only to the Tao-te ching, both in terms of its importance in Philosophical Taoism, and as an influence upon the Religious Taoism that came later.
The Chuang-tzu takes its name from its reputed author, Chuang-tzu, or "Master Chuang". What scant biographical information we have about Chuang-tzu, as with Lao-tzu, comes from Ssu-ma Ch'ien's (154-80 BCE) Shi chi, or Records of the Historian, although this account is based substantially on material found in the Chuang-tzu itself. We learn that Chuang-tzu was a contemporary of King Hui of Liang (r. 370-355 BCE) and King Hsuan of Ch'i (r. 319-301 BCE), and thus some scholars give his dates as approximately 369-286 BCE. He was a native of the Meng district (in present day Honan Province) in what was then the state of Sung, and his personal name was Chou, making him Chuang Chou. He held a minor official post for a while before apparently retiring from public office. The historian relates a story, similar to several in the Chuang-tzu, that when King Wei of Ch'u (r. 339-329 BCE) offered Chuang-tzu a ministerial position he refused it, saying he preferred personal freedom to the bondage of office, no matter its material rewards.
Ssu-ma Ch'ien describes Chuang-tzu's doctrines as being based on those of Lao-tzu, and there is some evidence in the Chuang-tzu, such as reverential stories about Lao-tzu and apparent (though often imprecise) quotations from the Tao-te ching, that this may be partly the case. However, despite the traditional view which places Lao-tzu more than a century before Chuang-tzu, the relationship between the two Taoists remains uncertain. What is beyond doubt is that Chuang-tzu was not responsible for all of the work that now bears his name. The presence in the Chuang-tzu of apparently conflicting ideological material, pronounced differences in literary style and quality, and persons or perspectives that post-date Chuang-tzu himself, all indicate the text to have been added to and worked on, over a period of several centuries, by more than one hand or school. Some scholars believe that the work was either first compiled or edited at the court of Liu An (d. 122 BCE) the Prince of Huai-nan, but if so it continued to be revised, especially in the late third century CE when at least four new versions appeared. The work reached its final form around 300 CE when it was radically re-edited by the Hsuan-hsueh thinker Kuo Hsiang (d. 312), who removed material (perhaps as many as nineteen chapters worth), keeping and rearranging that which he thought best presented the main philosophy of the work. Thus the Chuang-tzu we know today has thirty-three chapters divided into three groups: seven "inner chapters", fifteen "outer chapters", and eleven "miscellaneous chapters". It is generally thought that the seven "inner chapters", containing as they do the main philosophy of the work, brilliantly and artfully expressed, are those most likely to be by Chuang-tzu himself.
Compared to the Tao-te ching, the Chuang-tzu appears to have enjoyed little attention during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). However, with the emergence of the Hsuan-hsueh (Neo-Taoism) at the beginning of the third century CE this changed. Although some of the educated gentry in this movement read the work as much as art as philosophy, and especially as an inspiration for a more care-free existence away from the tribulations of political life, many others, like Kuo Hsiang, were more concerned with the work's metaphysical import. This interest in metaphysical issues was shared by Chinese Buddhists of the period, and through the ensuing exchange the Chuang-tzu's thought and spirit entered the new religion, having a formative influence on the character of the Ch'an School in particular. Hsuan-hsueh ideas and the Chuang-tzu also influenced Religious Taoists of the period, particularly those more mystically inclined such as the Mao Shan sect who took a special interest in the text, using it as a guide to meditative practices.
The Chuang-tzu has been the subject of many commentaries through the centuries, and its influence, like that of the Tao-te ching, reaches beyond purely religion or philosophy into other aspects of Chinese culture, most especially the arts.

Symbols There is no indication in the Chuang-tzu that its authors associated the Tao with any visual symbol, although in later Taoist history the Tao did come to be represented by the t'ai-chi, or Great Ultimate, symbol (see The Tao-te ching and Lao-tzu). The Chuang-tzu does speak of the Tao in symbolic language, for example as the Great Clod, Great Unity, or Great Thoroughfare, but not in any systematic fashion. Similarly the Sage is variously referred to as the True Man, the Perfect Man, the Great Man, and so on, but beyond suggesting the qualities of the Sage, no especial symbolic importance is attached to these titles. The mind of the Sage itself is likened to a mirror, indicating its immediate and unprejudiced responsiveness, and this symbolism later resurfaced in the Ch'an School of Buddhism.

Adherents There is no extant group concerned with the study of the philosophy of the Chuang-tzu. Nonetheless, like the Tao-te ching, the work has always attracted the individual thinker, and Chinese artists, poets, philosophers, and would-be mystics, have long turned to it for inspiration, wisdom, and enjoyment. Similar parties in the West have recently begun to discover its treasures.

Main Centre
 Chuang-tzu was apparently born in Meng, a district north of Shang-ch'iu (Shang Hill) city, in the east of what is today Honan Province. One can only assume that he was active somewhere around this area.