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Zhuangzi is known as the author of one of the foundational texts in Taoism. This Chinese thinker had an immense influence on the development of Chinese philosophy. Zhuangzi reveals a skeptical way of thinking. The optimal state of the human being suggested by Zhuangzi lies in an ability to accept things as they come, contemplate the wholeness of all, acknowledge the limits of life, and unlimited nature of knowledge. Attaining the optimal state by a human being requires acknowledging the omnipresent constant, accepting the opposites as one, and embracing the stillness, calmness, and wholeness of life and death.
Optimal State of the Human Being
Ziqi says that we know morning and evening exist and that they measure our lives day by day. What we do not know is how they came to be what they are.1 He says they might have a True Master, but he cannot see him. “He can act – that is certain. Yet I cannot see his form. He has an identity, but no form”.2 The form constitutes the limits of being, and while people strive to determine these limits, the more they try, the more frustrated with the life they become.
Ziqi elaborates on this idea by telling us that while he cannot see the form, it does not diminish the Truth, i.e. the endlessness of the Way. The optimal state is the state of acceptance of seemingly opposite things as one: life and death, beginning and end, right and wrong. The Way has no limits and, thus, encompasses all these things as one.
Words, which human beings are used to trust, should not represent the ways of seeing and understanding the truth. Speech is ever-changing; the meaning of the words is not constant. According to Zhuangzi, a person in the optimal state should embrace the flow of words as meaningless, as it contains every meaning there is and none at all. The optimal state means embracing life as it is, enjoying it. Rejoicing in the pleasant moments, as well as in the unpleasant is crucial, as they are essentially one. Only by accepting the dividedness as completeness, and the completeness as impairment can it be possible for a human being to remain in the still state of joyful contemplation.3
“He took pleasure in it; he forgot about it and handed it back again.”4 Contemplation and joy with no attachment and judgment are the critical notions for Zhuangzi. “Let it be!” Ziqi says.5 The state of mind should exceed the state of the decaying body, just as endless knowledge about life and death exceeds the boundaries of life.
How Should One Attain It?
Profound understanding should never be hurried, but rather broad, illuminating all things as one. The path to attaining such a state lies through acceptance of the fact that there is nothing unacceptable at all. “If the Way is not clear, it is not the Way”.6 Striving to see the Way and justify its nature, to establish the right and wrong, and to find the proper words are all signs of lack of understanding. Embracing the lack of boundaries and the omnipresence of the constant is the way to attaining the optimal state for the human being. The True Man should fully rely on the constant, while not knowing that he is doing so.7 By seeing how there is no right and wrong, as they are all woven in the ever-changing fabric of life, one can embrace the Way.
The notion of stillness is crucial in order to grasp the ideas expressed by Zhuangzi. Virtue does not have a form since it does not have boundaries, as it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Just as water, it holds everything inside and is undisturbed on the surface.8 The state of pure and still contemplation and acceptance of all that exists is the very state one should aim at. “The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame”.9
The Perfect Man is, therefore, in a state of embracing himself as a part of every living thing, with no differentiation, no distinctions, and no boundaries. Any attribute one can think of to describe oneself is always acceptable and its opposite is acceptable as well since they are the same thing. One should understand that it is only a fleeting moment of existence, which encompasses all moments, both past and future, which are an undivided whole.
Every day of our lives is abundant in dubious judgments and fruitless efforts of distinguishing oneself from everything and everyone else that surrounds us. According to Zhuangzi, however, it is but a pointless argument one holds with oneself each day, leading to frustration and disappointment. Embracing the idea of right and wrong, good and bad, as well as life and death being one complete whole, leads to a profound understanding of the Way. Only by seeing what essentially cannot be seen nor acknowledged can a person attain a state of stillness, contemplation, and permanently joyful acceptance.
Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
- Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi: Basic Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 33.
- Ibid., 33.
- Ibid., 35.
- Ibid., 74.
- Ibid., 33.
- Ibid., 39.
- Ibid., 36.
- Ibid., 75.
- Ibid., 26.