Quotes from Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu) on philosophies & teachings

Who is Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu) ?

Master Zhuang (Chuang-tzu 莊子, late 4th century BC) is a key character in Classical Philosophical Daoism. He and others wrote the Zhuangzi during the height of China’s philosophically profound Classical period (5th–3rd century BC).

Humanist and naturalist ideas on normativity were shaped by the dào metaphor—a social or natural path. Traditional orthodoxy saw Zhuangzi as a mystical Laozi disciple who was anti-rational.

That traditional view dominated mainstream text interpretations. Archeological discoveries have disproven that ancient orthodoxy.

Six centuries later, Zhuangzi’s naturalism and Laozi’s text influenced Chan Buddhism (Japanese Zen), a Chinese naturalist blend of Daoism and Buddhism that emphasizes focused engagement in daily life.

This vast range of Zhuangzi opinions stems from its style. Zhuangzi’s prose is a literary gem. The basic idea is a fable between imagined or actual characters.

His short stories are approachable and philosophically alluring, entertaining and making you think. Traditional Chinese intellectuals and literati loved the poem as a break from Confucian moralizing.

Modern Western readers are drawn to the Zhuangzi’s realism, philosophical depth, and sophisticated humor, set in a unique conceptual scheme and exotic setting.

Zhuangzi is more of a Hume than a system builder like Plato, Aristotle, or Kant. He saw skeptical and relativist implications in naturalist normative guidance. His treatment of natural dàos focuses on language norms. His ethical relativism was based on an indexical explanation of how natural conditions generate term standards.

Indexical contexts were notably important for evaluating natural behavior choices (dàos) in this linguistic research. Zhuangzi’s opponents were naive and dogmatic Confucian humanists, especially Mencius-style intuitionist absolutism.

He also used his linguistic skills to discredit Mozi’s pragmatic utilitarian Confucianism. He seriously considered subsequent Mohist, realist, and linguistic theories, admitting their challenge to primeval quietism (the anti-language attitude in The Laozi) but remaining suspicious of the realist conclusion. His most frequent co-discussant was rival linguistic relativist Hui Shi.

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The following discusses the main interpretive debates and proposes a philosophical explanation that fits the Zhuangzi within classical philosophy.Master Zhuang (Chuang-tzu 莊子, late 4th century BC) is a key character in Classical Philosophical Daoism.

The Zhuangzi is a compendium of his and others’ writings from China’s theoretically complex Classical period (5th–3rd century BC).

Zhuangzi (“Master Zhuang”) Wade-Giles romanization Chuang-tzu, also known as Zhuang Zhou, was one of China’s early interpreters of Daoism.

His work, Zhuangzi, is considered one of the definitive texts of Daoism and more comprehensive than Laozi’s Daodejing. Chinese Buddhism, landscape painting, and poetry were also influenced by Zhuangzi’s beliefs.

Despite his prominence, Zhuangzi’s biography is obscure outside of the Zhuangzi’s many tales. The “Grand Historian” of the Han period, Sima Qian (died c. 87 BCE), included just the most basic material in his biography of Zhuangzi.

Zhuangzi was a junior official at Qiyuan in Meng, his personal name was Zhou, and he was from Meng. He lived under Prince Wei of Chu (died 327 BCE), China’s “Second Sage,” and was a contemporary of Mencius.

Sima Qian says Zhuangzi’s teachings were based on Laozi, but his vision was broader. He refuted Confucians and Mohists (followers of Mozi, who promoted “concern for everyone”) with his literary and philosophical skills.

Zhuangzi taught that what can be said about the Dao is not it. It has no beginning, end, or boundaries. Life is the Dao’s continual evolution, with no good or bad. Men should let things happen and not prioritize one circumstance over another.

Virtuous men are free from circumstance, personal attachments, tradition, and the impulse to improve their surroundings. Zhuangzi declined Chu’s prime ministership because he didn’t desire a court career.

Quotes from Zhuangzi

  1. The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him? – Zhuangzi
  2. Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness. – Zhuangzi
  3. The wise find pleasure in water; the virtuous find pleasure in hills. The wise are active; the virtuous are tranquil. The wise are joyful; the virtuous are long-lived. – Zhuangzi
  4. The more knowledge you have, the greater your troubles. – Zhuangzi
  5. I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man? – Zhuangzi
  6. The mind of the perfect man is like a mirror. It does not lean forward or backward, it merely reflects what is before it. – Zhuangzi
  7. A path is made by walking on it. – Zhuangzi
  8. The petty man is eager to make boasts, yet desires that others should believe in him. He enthusiastically engages in deception, yet wants others to have affection for him. He conducts himself like an animal, yet wants others to think well of him. – Zhuangzi
  9. To be wrong is nothing unless you remember it afterwards. – Zhuangzi
  10. The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous from anxiety; and the brave from fear. – Zhuangzi
  11. When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for very long, because you have nothing to lose. – Zhuangzi
  12. The man who grasps the truth of the free and easy wanderer is like the sky and the earth, firm and solid; the universe and its myriad creatures are like a rambling, wandering herd, ever-changing and impermanent. – Zhuangzi
  13. The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. – Zhuangzi
  14. Great wisdom is broad and unhurried; little wisdom is cramped and busy. – Zhuangzi
  15. The sage embraces things. Ordinary men discriminate amongst them and parade their discriminations before others. So I say, those who discriminate fail to see. – Zhuangzi
  16. Joy and anger are like left and right; they are on opposite sides. – Zhuangzi
  17. A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean. – Zhuangzi
  18. A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. – Zhuangzi
  19. If you want to be a mountain dweller, just walk away from your home and wander into the mountains. If you want to be a valley dweller, then stay at home and cultivate your fields. – Zhuangzi
  20. When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set. – Zhuangzi
  21. If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself; if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. – Zhuangzi
  22. The wise find pleasure in water; the virtuous find pleasure in hills. The wise are active; the virtuous are tranquil. The wise are joyful; the virtuous are long-lived. – Zhuangzi
  23. Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness. – Zhuangzi
  24. He who is able to bend down in the morning will be able to stand up at night. – Zhuangzi
  25. Do not seek fame. Do not make plans. Do not be absorbed by activities. Do not think that you know. Be aware of all that is and dwell in the infinite. Wander where there is no path. Be all that heaven – Zhuangzi
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