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Zhuangzi

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The Koan-Like Style of Zhuangzi's Writing:

The three principle figures of Daojia - philosophical Taoism - are Laozi (Lao Tzu), Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and Liezi (Lieh Tzu). Of these three, it is Zhuangzi who is most well-known for a style of writing which uses anecdotes, parables and dialogues embedded in playful, paradoxical stories to convey a philosophy very much in line with what we find in Laozi’s Daode Jing.

Why are there two spellings for all of these names?

Zhuangzi's Main Message - Connect with the Wisdom of the Natural World:

This writing suggests that we align ourselves with the rhythms of the natural world, honoring “the way” of the elements. Unlike Laozi, Zhuangzi spends little if any time exploring the possibilities for “enlightened leadership.” Instead, in his writing we find all variety of reminders and hints and nudgings in the direction of aligning ourselves clearly with the laws of the natural – rather than the social/cultural – world.

The 33 Chapters of the "Zhuangzi":

Zhuangzi’s writings are collected, primarily, in the 33 chapters of the Zhuangzi. Whether or not the historical Zhuangzi was the sole author of the texts collected in the Zhuangzi is a topic of debate among scholars. It’s generally agreed that at least the first eight chapters of this classic text were penned by Zhuangzi himself, with portions of later chapters perhaps added by others. The following teaching-poem - "Cutting Up An Ox" - is one of my personal favorites.

A Sample of Zhuangzi's Writing:

Cutting Up An Ox

Prince Wen Hui's cook
Was cutting up an ox.
Out went a hand,
Down went a shoulder,
He planted a foot,
He pressed with a knee
The ox fell apart
With a whisper,
The bright cleaver murmured
Like a gentle wind.
Rhythm! Timing!
Like a sacred dance,
Like "The Mulberry Grove"
Like ancient harmonies!

"Good work!" the Prince exclaimed,
"Your method is faultless!"
"Method?" said the cook
Laying aside his cleaver,
"What I follow is Tao
Beyond all methods!

"When I first began
To cut up oxen
I would see before me
The whole ox
All in one mass.
"After three years
I no longer saw this mass.
I saw the distinctions.

"But now, I see nothing
With the eye. My whole being
Apprehends.
My senses are idle. The spirit
Free to work without plan
Follows its own instinct
Guided by natural line,
By the secret opening,
The hidden space,
My cleaver finds its own way.
I cut through no joint, chop no bone.

"A great cook needs a new chopper
Once a year - he cuts.
A poor cook needs a new one
Every month - he hacks!

"I have used this same cleaver
Nineteen years.
It has cut up
A thousand oxen.
Its edge is as keen
As if newly sharpened.
"There are spaces in the joints;
The blade is thin and keen:
When this thinness
Finds that space
There is all the room you need!
It goes like a breeze!
Hence I have this cleaver
Nineteen years
As if newly sharpened!

"True, there are sometimes
Tough joints. I feel them coming,
I slow down, I watch closely,
Hold back, barely move the blade,
And whump! the part falls away
Landing like a clod of earth.

"Then I withdraw the blade,
I stand still
And let the joy of the work
Sink in.
I clean the blade
And put it away."

Prince Wen Hui said,
"This is it! My cook has shown me
How I ought to live
My own life!"

~ Zhuangzi (translated by Thomas Merton)


Suggested Reading

*Introduction To Taoism
*Basic Taoist Concepts
*Shamanic Origins Of Taoism

Suggested Reading

*Lab-Grown Diamonds, Taoist Inner Alchemy & The Immortal Body
*History Of Taoism
*What Is Qi (Chi)?

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