Zhuangzi revels in freedom and contentment-庄子逍遥自得

During the Warring States period, Mencius represented the Confucian school of thought, while Zhuangzi was the representative figure of Daoist philosophy. Zhuangzi, whose given name was Zhou, was the inheritor and developer of the philosophical ideas of Laozi. Later generations referred to him and Laozi collectively as “Lao-Zhuang,” and his philosophical system became known as “Lao-Zhuang Philosophy.”

Zhuangzi was a descendant of King Zhuang of Chu. Despite being born into a declining family, he later moved to the state of Song due to turmoil. He worked as an official in the Qi Gardens of Song. However, disillusioned by the corrupt state of society and filled with despair and frustration, he chose to renounce the world and live a reclusive life of contentment and tranquility, rejecting the pursuit of wealth, power, and fame.

Once, Zhuangzi visited the king of Wei. The king, seeing Zhuangzi dressed in patched clothing and wearing worn-out straw sandals, asked, “Sir, how did you come to such a destitute state?” Zhuangzi corrected him, saying, “My appearance now may indicate poverty, but not destitution. True destitution lies in the inability to manifest one’s virtue to the world. What you see now is poverty, not destitution. It’s what people commonly call ‘misfortune.’ Your Majesty, have you ever seen agile apes swinging and leaping among tall trees? Even skilled archers like Hou Yi and Feng Meng would probably find it challenging to deal with them. However, once they enter a thicket of thorns, they become hesitant and constrained, appearing stiff and clumsy. It’s not because their bodies are no longer nimble but because they’re constrained by their environment and unable to demonstrate their abilities. In today’s world, with incompetent rulers and unscrupulous ministers, I choose not to be destitute, but I’m afraid that may be impossible.”

Zhuangzi inherited and expanded upon Laozi’s Daoist philosophy, which revolves around the concept of “Dao.” Zhuangzi’s “Dao” is the Dao of Heaven, the natural way, fundamentally characterized by emptiness. It transcends temporal and spatial constraints, existing eternally and pervading all things. Human appearances are bestowed by the Dao, and our physical forms are given by Heaven. We should not inflict harm upon ourselves or others based on personal preferences. Therefore, Zhuangzi advocates for “peaceful inaction.”

Zhuangzi and his disciple once arrived at the foot of a mountain, where they saw a tall tree standing beside a stream, lush with branches and leaves, towering and eye-catching. Surprisingly, such a tree remained untouched for use as timber in the forest. This puzzled Zhuangzi, prompting him to inquire with the woodcutter.

The woodcutter disdainfully replied, “This tree’s wood is of little use. If used for shipbuilding, it will sink; if made into coffins, it will quickly rot; if fashioned into tools, it will easily break; if used for doors and windows, it will become damp; if used as pillars, it will attract insects. This tree’s wood is of little use, so it can stand here tall and undisturbed for a long time.”

Upon hearing this, Zhuangzi said to his disciple, “Because this tree cannot be used, it can stand here indefinitely. Isn’t this a benefit of being of no use? To have no function is advantageous to oneself.”

Zhuangzi advocates for the unity of Heaven and humanity, forgetting distinctions between self and others, achieving a state of harmony with all things. He hoped for spiritual liberation and bodily independence from external forces, aspiring to a state of carefree ease. He once dreamed of transforming into a butterfly, fluttering freely and contentedly. When he woke up, he found himself lying stiffly in bed, realizing he was Zhuang Zhou. The dream felt so real that he wondered whether he was Zhuang Zhou dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuang Zhou.

Zhuangzi was also a literary figure, surpassing Laozi in literary prowess, and his work “Zhuangzi” has been passed down through the ages. “Zhuangzi” is a Daoist classic on par with the “Dao De Jing.” Its writings are expansive and unrestrained, imbued with romanticism, exerting a significant influence on later literature.