Zhuangzi
Free and 
Easy Wandering & The Equalization of Things

 
If Laozi is hard to understand because he was terse and serious, then Zhuangzi (ca. 399-295 BCE) is even harder to interpret because of his verbosity and his light-heartedness. Zhuangzi expressed his philosophical thinking through fables, fairy tales, parodies, or stories that are mostly fantastic and fanciful. It is not easy to know which of the comments he makes are sincere and which are meant for ironies. As Lee Yearley puts it: Few books existing anywhere are both as compelling and as mysterious as is the Zhuangzi; it simultaneously draws one’s attention and eludes one’s grasp.” [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 152]
In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is Kun. The Kun is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is Peng. The back of the Peng measures I don’t know how many thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this bird sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven. ...
       If water is not piled up deep enough, it won’t have the strength to bear up a big boat. Pour a cup of water into a hollow in the floor and bits of trash will sail on it like boats. But set the cup there and it will stick fast, for the water is too shallow and the boat too large. If wind is not piled up deep enough, it won’t have the strength to bear up great wings. Therefore when the Peng rises ninety thousand li, he must have the wind under him like that. Only then can he mount on the back of the wind, shoulder the blue sky, and nothing can hinder or block him. Only then can he set his eyes to the south.
The cicada and the little dove laugh at this, saying, “When we make an effort and fly up, we can get as far as the elm or the sapanwood tree, but sometimes we don’t make it and just fall down on the ground. 
Now how is anyone going to go ninety thousand li to the south!” ... The little quail laughs at him, saying, “Where does he think he’s going? I give a great leap and fly up, but I never get more than ten or twelve yards before I come down fluttering among the weeds and brambles. And that’s the best kind of flying anyway! Where does he think he’s going?” Such is the difference between big and little. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 96-7]
 

Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn’t there? What does the Way rely upon, that we have true and false? What do words rely upon, that we have right and wrong? How can the Way go away and not exist? How can words exist and not be acceptable? When the Way relies on little accomplishments and words rely on vain show, then we have the rights and wrongs of the Confucians and the Mo-ists. What one calls right the other calls wrong; what one calls wrong the other calls right. But if we want to right their wrongs and wrong their rights, then the best thing to use is clarity.
       Everything has its “that,” everything has its “this.” From the point of view of “that” you cannot see it, but through understanding you can know it. So I say, “that” comes out of “this” and “this” depends on “that” — which is to say that “this” and “that” give birth to each other. But where there is birth there must be death; where there is death there must be birth. Where there is acceptability there must be unacceptability; where there is unacceptability there must be acceptability. Where there is recognition of right there must be recognition of wrong; where there is recognition of wrong there must be recognition of right. Therefore the sage does not proceed in such a way, but illuminates all in the light of Heaven. He too recognizes a “this,” but a “this” which is also “that,” a “that” which is also “this.” His “that” has both a right and a wrong in it; his “this” too has both a right and a wrong in it. So, in fact, does he still have a “this” and “that”? Or does he in fact no longer have a “this” and “that”? A state in which “this” and “that” no longer find their opposites is called the hinge of the Way. When the hinge is fitted into the socket, it can respond endlessly. Its right then is a single endlessness and its wrong too is a single endlessness. So, I say, the best thing to use is clarity. [Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 34-5; cf. Sources of Chinese Tradition, 100-1]
 
 
Realism, Relativism & Skepticism
Zhuangzi’s view on truth and reality has been widely branded as “relativism,” “skepticism,” or even “radical relativism” and “radical skepticism”. ... In a nutshell, Zhuangzi maintained the following theses:

1. Realism: There is Dao existing independently of our perspectives and outside of our conceptual schemes. This Dao is the Truth, the Reality, or the way the world is.

2. Conceptual Relativism: All our thought is internal to our conceptual scheme, and our judgments are always reflections of our own perspectives.

3. Knowledge Skepticism: We can never have knowledge about the absolute Truth, nor can we ever describe it with our language. There is no truth in the semantic sense. ... [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 154-8]

  • If the Dao is independent of our perspectives and conceptual schemes and we can never know it, then of what use is it to us?
 

Understanding that rests in what it does not understand is the highest.
Who can understand discriminations that are not spoken, the Way that is not a way?
If one has the ability to understand this, it is called the Reservoir of Heaven.
Pour into it and it won’t fill up, dip from it and it won’t run dry,
yet no one knows the source from which it comes.

[Zhuangzi, Chapter 2]