Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Simple thoughts on Zhuangzi 2

A good spirited discussion is currently ongoing in Tao Speaks between deep thinkers on Chapter Two of the Writings of Zhuangzi. Since one has limited reading of this Daoist text and arising from different experiences may hold differing views; it would be more appropriate to post some simple thoughts here instead of disrupting their deep thinking on the profound subject of making duality into one.

Zhuangzi started chapter two with a story about a master by the name of Tzu-chi of South Wall who was staring up at heaven and breathing – vacant and faraway as though he lost a companion. His student standing by his side in attendance asked, "What is this? Can you really make the body like a withered tree and the mind like dead ashes?”

Tzu-chi remarked that it was a good question and went on to explain how to make duality; some may like to call the ‘double walk’, into one.

Zhuangzi as usual teased one’s mind with various analogies and sub plots therefore making his writings profound. It is good and healthy for deep thinkers to have a go at understanding what he actually meant. This invariably leads to a deeper train of thoughts and study but it can also reveal the limitations of each class of scholars. Hearing about Tao we seem now to keep it and now to lose it instead of earnestly carry it into practice to reach the highest class (TTC 41). Whether one eventually gets it right or not, at least one has some fun and amusement for the mind. Do not get me wrong, Zhuangzi indeed knew in depth of what he wanted to say in his own way of discoursing on the Tao. And he knew much about meditation, which he discussed in the ‘fasting of the mind’ (Xin Zhai) and a bit more elaborately this time in chapter two.

Starting with the example of piping, Tzu-chi discusses the duality between Heaven and Earth; and went on to differentiate between great and little minds; sleep and awake; rights and wrongs; completeness and impairment; forms and emptiness; being and non being (Wu Wei). Only with clarity can ‘the man of far ranging vision’, get to the center. This is what Zhuangzi called the Way. Without lucidity, how do we discern we are learning and practising the correct methods? For the people who do not practice to return to the center, he said, ‘when their minds draw near death, nothing can restore them to the light’.

Perhaps some may understand the question raised by Tzu-chi’s student which initiated Zhuangzi’s elaboration on duality in chapter two. According to Lu Dongbin, from a continuous practice of the Circulation of the Light meditation neidan practitioners can reach the condition where a person sits like a withered tree before a cliff. Did readers spot what Tzu-chi was first doing before his student asked the question? He was staring up at heaven and breathing. Can this action not allude to meditation? Indeed Zhuangzi is sagely and like to play tricks on one’s ‘little’ mind!

In the later part of the chapter, Zhuangzi voiced his objections to ‘Confucian’ virtues; therefore one would not proffer any comments on them except to point out that his views on the cultivation of virtues differ from other ancient sages such as Laozi, Confucius and Buddha; as well as Daoist immortals and Bodhidharma. However his writings still prove a good read and insightful.

Meanwhile remember to take this entry on Tao with a bit of salt as always.

Relevant entries for further reading if required: Thoughts on Hsin Hsin Ming (I and II) Oct 12; A simple note on Xin Zhai Sept 26; Daoist virtues Sept 11; A muse on emptiness and form Aug 26; Twofold entrance to Tao May 03; and Directory for a day Apr 25.

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