April 09, 2007


Zhuangzi: Basic Writings
Zhuangzi, 4th century B.C.E.

So I've been reading through some philosophical texts lately, and rediscovered the Zhuangzi (also transliterated as Chuang-tzu). For me, this is the definitive Taoist text, much more earthbound than the etherial Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), but still with all the wonderfully dizzying questions of authorship and the deep, continually unlocking mysteries.

One of my favorite things about the book is the way I can't read it without constantly changing my "distance" from the text. It draws you in close and pushes you back, and sometimes seems to do both at once, so that you experience several layers of meaning at a time. Or at least that's how it seems to me.

My favorite bit is one of the more famous ones - the Linkparable of Cook Ting. It's a story that finds the Tao in, of all things, the process of butchering an ox. Cook Ting says:

"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. ... However, when 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 until - flop! the whole things comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground."

Now that's real philosophy, dude - you just don't find that sort of thing in "Men Are from Neptune" or whatever.

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