Wandering with the Way
Zhuangzi cartoon with the character for "Dao" (the Way)
flying butterfly

Like Laozi, Zhuangzi refers to both a book and a person, although in this case modern scholarship accepts the historicity of the person and his connection with the book. Little is known about Zhuangzi (Master Zhuang; also known as Zhuang Zhou) as an historical person. Presumably he was an upper-class southerner with unique talents as a creative thinker and writer, who lived during the fourth century BCE (an unconfirmed set of traditional dates for his life is 368-286 BCE). The book that bears his name is a composite text, with only the first seven chapters — the co-called “inner chapters” — usually associated with the historical Zhuangzi. The rest of the book’s thirty-three chapters are hybrid narratives, containing the ideas of a number of unknown authors who lived between the time of Zhuangzi and the third century CE, when the standard version of the text in use today was created. Some parts of the text were perhaps composed by disciples of Zhuangzi, but others represent a range of different strains and perspectives subsumed within the nebulous (proto-) Daoist movement.
       The text of Zhuangzi is of a high literary quality and is widely recognized as one of the great classics of the Chinese literary tradition. It is infused with rich symbolism, makes recurrent use of ingenious allegories that often reveal fascination with the natural world, and frequently exudes an understated sense of humor. The author(s) take the reader on inspired flights of poetic imagination that open up expansive mythopoetic vistas, transposing him or her to new realms of reality populated with strange creatures (including animals that can talk), ethereal sages, and wise men of yore, including Laozi and Confucius. While the stories that feature Confucius usually caricature him as a stiff moralist and compare him unfavorably with the wise and sagacious Laozi, at times he assumes the unexpected role of spokesperson for a Daoist point of view. ...
       Although the text attributed to Zhuangzi was clearly not envisioned to serve as a manual of Daoist practice or meditation, it shows developing concerns with exploration of the inner world and the process of personal transformation. These preoccupations gradually came to incorporate distinctive contemplative techniques as central elements of an integrated system of spiritual cultivation, which aimed at bringing the individual closer to unity with the Dao. In that sense, Zhuangzi is an early forerunner of the later traditions of meditation that came to a full blossom during the medieval period (see next chapter). Such contemplative practices were integrated into larger templates of Daoist practice, broadly conceived as a spiritual quest that is pursued at the individual level. (
ICR, 67-70)
Zhuangzi Texts: original and translations
The Transformation
Peng (giant bird)In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un 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.
Cicada, Dove and QuailThe 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. (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 29-31)
Fasting of the Mind
The Fasting of the Mind
The following exchange takes place after Confucius (expressing the ideas of Zhuangzi here) rejects his disciple’s plan to go to the state of Wei to offer “moral guidance” to its young ruler, suggesting that his only hope for success the so-called “fasting of the mind”:
“You must fast,” said Confucius. “I will tell you what that means. Do you think it is easy to do anything while you have a mind? If you do, Bright Heaven will not sanction you.” Yen Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?” “That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.” “May I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”
Enso (painting of a circle)
Confucius said, “Make your will one! Don’t  listen with your ears, listen with your mind. No, don’t listen with your mind, listen with your spirit [qi]. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but spirit is empty and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.” Yen Hui said, “Before I heard this, I was certain that I was Hui. But now that I have heard it, there is no more Hui. Can this be called emptiness?” “That’s all there is to it,” said Confucius. ... “You have heard of the knowledge that knows, but you have never heard of the knowledge that does not know. Look into that closed room, the empty chamber where brightness is born! Fortune and blessing gather where there is stillness. But if you do not keep still — this is what is called sitting but racing around. Let your ears and eyes communicate with what is inside, and put mind and knowledge on the outside. Then even gods and spirits will come to dwell, not to speak of men!” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 57-8)
Butterfly Flying
Daoist Meditator (Sitting and Forgetting)
Sitting and Forgetting
       Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”
       “I’ve forgotten humaneness and rightness!”
       “That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”
       Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       “What do you mean by that?”
       “I’ve forgotten rites and music!”
       “That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”
       Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”
       “What do you mean by that?”
       “I can sit and forget everything!”
       Confucius looked very startled and said,
“What do you mean, sit down and forget everything?”
Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”
Enso (painting of a circle)
Confucius said, “If you’re identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you’ve been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! With your permission, I’d like to become your follower.” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 90-1)
Butterfly Flying
Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream
The Butterfly Dream
Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (Zhuangzi: Basic Writings, 44)
flying butterfly
Cook Ding Cutting up the Ox
The Secret of Caring For Life
Cook Ding's cleaverCook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his kneezip!  zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.
        “Ah, this is marvelous! said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”
        Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And nownow I go at it by spirit [shen] and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.
        A good cook changes his knife once a yearbecause he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a monthbecause he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room more than enough for the blade to play about in. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
        “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, untilflop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”
        “Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 50-1)
Zhuangzi Cartoon