Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi)

This page is written in collaboration with Raymond Sigrist, student of Zhuangzi mysticism  http://www.apophaticmysticism.com/

Scholars of mysticism have concluded that two types of mystics can be distinguished. The first type of mystic holds that you yourself can work at your own enlightenment. You can actually do something to bring about an everlasting transformation in your life. You can have a sadhana, they say, a religious path, a spiritual training. These mystics of the so called via affirmativa, ´the path of doing´, say that if youChuang Tzu follow some basic guidelines and exercise a certain discipline in your life, that the result is as clear as two plus two equals four. All it needs is to train your body to be completely still and receptive for enlightenment to occur. The mind also needs to be trained in becoming completely one pointed, still and resting in its final Ground.

Patanjali is such a mystic who has laid down meticulous rules how to become enlightened. He was strongly convinced that mysticism was an exact science. He had experienced in his own life that mysticism was nothing but a spiritual experiment, like a scientist sets up in his laboratory. If all of the necessary requirements were met the expected result would certainly come about. But the rules and requirements are very subtle. You have to abide precisely by what is required. If you deviate just a little and mess up the data then the results of the scientific experiment will be completely different from what´s expected. Just like it is in the scientist´s laboratory.

But then there is this second type of mystic who shrugs about all these rules and prescriptions. He has come to the conclusion that nothing can be done for enlightenment to occur. In fact the very notion of you doing something for your own salvation is detrimental for it to happen. Enlightenment can only occur when 'the you' is completely absent. Doing ´scientific experiments´ will only enforce the strength of your ego. It breeds a subtle feeling of superiority: ´look at me praying, meditating and following all the rules of Yoga! wouldn´t such a beautiful person be rewarded for it?´ ´No´, the mystics of the via negativa, ´the path of no-doing´, say, ´enlightenment is an act of grace and it can not be brought about by any act of your own accord. The only thing you have to do is not to do. Remain always in this bodily and mental atmosphere of no-doing and one day it will happen, maybe when you expect it the least.´

Somewhere else we will try for a reconciliation between these two seemingly opposed views. For what seems at first glance to be diametrically opposed is in fact a different stating of the same view. But it would take too much time to discuss the more inner concordance of these two views here. Here we want to go deeper into the study of the via negativa by analyzing the mystic philosophy of one of the greatest mystics of ancient China, Chuang Tzu. Maybe we can, by discussing the ancient Taoist mysticism of Chuang Tzu, get a more thorough understanding and appreciation of what mystical negatio entails.

The spiritual foundation of Chuang Tzu is paradoxically the rejection of any fixed spiritual foundation.  This is called wu dao, which means not positing the notion that there must be a necessary permanence to Chuang Tzu12the way the world of phenomena works. Wu dao also indicates one is free of any notion that the best way to approach the world is something which must always remain the same. In effect, one does not make the existential claim (or deny the claim) that there are any fixed values. In fact, the world might or might not be completely absurd.

Chuang Tzu´s practice entails the suspension (not the elimination) of all a priori assumptions. All prior explanations of how the world has been operating up to now, are continually subject to revision. All prior notions of how one might best approach the world´s unfolding activities are open to question.

The suspension of all fixed perspectives apparently permits the adept to perceptually obtain the most unfiltered view of what is happening at the moment. With a clear view of what is occurring right now, the adept can effectively integrate what she sees, and respond to it in a satisfactory and timely manner.

In practice the wu dao approach obtains an inexplicable result: with practice the adept increasingly gains a know-how which allows her to respond to the world in a way that is more materially effective; but she also increasingly obtains a perspective which allows her to be completely content with any material loss or gain that might occur.

This ability to be content no matter what occurs is called zi le, which means ´self-generated contentment´or ´sovereign contentment´. This does not mean that the adept is generating a contentmentChuang Tzu which does not depend on what is happening in the world around her. It rather means that she has learned to find an uncanny mind-body disposition within her world, and this disposition allows her to integrate everything she experiences in a manner that is completely satisfactory for her.

To arrive at sovereign contentment the adept employs many of the same meditative practices that have been handed down through the ages by other schools of meditative arts.  For instance there is Chuang Tzu´s xin zhai, which means ´fasting of the mind´. What is unique in the Chuang Tzu approach to life is that the idea ´non-attachment´ (wu suo yin) seen in so many other schools is taken to its logical extreme:  Which is to say, in the practice, the value of non-attachment itself (as well as any other value) is continuously subject to question and reconsideration as one enters the next moment of immediacy.  The adept is not attached to the notion that non-attachment must have a fundamental/eternal value.

The practical result of the practice, for reasons that are far from clear, is the  adept´s realization of a love for all beings and a love for all-being, without any conceptually rational reason for that love. Without reason, the realized adept has come to love and cherish the world exactly ´as it is´. Chuang Tzu says that such love (ai) arises naturally (xing ye) when we free our minds of all our fixed assumptions regarding this mysterious world we inhabit.

San Francisco/Amsterdam   July 5 2005

Chuang Tzu

Not much is know about the historical life of Chuang Tzu. The Chinese hisorian Ssu-ma Chien sets his date to the 4th century BC.

Chuang TzuThe Taoist book Zhuangzi of the same name as the author is a composite of writings from various sources. The traditional view is that Chuang Tzu himself wrote the first several chapters (the "inner" chapters) and his students and related thinkers were responsible for the other parts (the "outer" and "miscellaneous" chapters). Strong proof of direct authorship by Chuang Tzu of any of the text is difficult.

In general, Chuang Tzu's philosophy is rather antinomian, arguing that our life is limited and things to know are unlimited. To use the limited to pursue the unlimited, he said, was foolish. Our language, cognition, etc. are all biased with our own perspective so we should be hesitant in concluding that our conclusions are equally right for all things. Chuang Tzu's thought can also be considered a precursor of multiculturalism and pluralism of systems of value. His pluralism even leads him to doubt the basis of pragmatic arguments (that a course of action preserves our lives) since this presupposes that life is good and death bad. In the fourth section of "The Great Happiness" (the 18th chapter of the book), Chuang Tzu expresses pity to a skull he sees lying at the side of the road. Chuang Tzu laments that the skull is now dead, but the skull retorts, "How do you know it's bad to be dead?"

From: http://en.wikipedia.org

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