Zhuangzi: Basic Writings

Translated by BURTON WATSON
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Only by understanding Dao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in its unity can humankind achieve true happiness and freedom, in both life and death. This is the central tenet of the philosophy that was to become Daoism, espoused by the person -- or group of people -- known as Zhuanzi (369?-286? B.C.), in the text of the same name. In order to be free, individuals must discard rigid conventions that distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, and follow a course of action not founded on motives of gain or striving. When one ceases to judge events as good or bad, man-made suffering disappears and natural suffering is embraced as part of life.

    Elucidating a mystical philosophy dedicated to the spiritual nourishment of the individual, Zhuangzi makes many points through humor. He also uses parable and anecdote, non sequitur and even nonsense, to jolt the reader into awareness of truth outside the pale of ordinary logic. With inspired, unconventional language and visionary ideas, the Zhuangzi seems to float free of the historical period and society in which it was written, addressing all people across all ages.

    Columbia presents this renowned translation by Burton Watson of a seminal text in Chinese philosophy in pinyin romanization for the first time. Look for new pinyin editions of three other classic philosophical texts translated by Watson: Xunzi: Basic Writings, Han Feizi: Basic Writings, and Mozi: Basic Writings.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52133-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. x-xiv)
    (pp. 1-22)

    All we know about the identity of Zhuangzi, or Master Zhuang, are the few facts recorded in the brief notice given him in the Shiji or Records of the Historian (ch. 63) by Sima Qian (145?–89? B.C.). According to this account, his personal name was Zhou, he was a native of a place called Meng, and he once served as “an official in the lacquer garden” in Meng. Sima Qian adds that he lived at the same time as King Hui (370–319 B.C.) of Liang and King Xuan (319–301 B.C.) of Qi, which would make him a...

    (pp. 23-30)

    In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is Kun.¹ The Kun is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is Peng. The back of the Peng measures I don’t know how many thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move,² this bird sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven.

    The Universal Harmony³ records various wonders, and it says:“When the Peng journeys...

    (pp. 31-44)

    Ziqi of South Wall sat leaning on his armrest, staring up at the sky and breathing—vacant and far away, as though he’d lost his companion.¹ Yan Cheng Ziyou, who was standing by his side in attendance, said, “What is this? Can you really make the body like a withered tree and the mind like dead ashes? The man leaning on the armrest now is not the one who leaned on it before!”

    Ziqi said, “You do well to ask the question, Yan. Now I have lost myself. Do you understand that? You hear the piping of men, but you...

    (pp. 45-48)

    Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger. If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain! If you do good, stay away from fame. If you do evil, stay away from punishments. Follow the middle; go by what is constant, and you can stay in one piece, keep yourself alive, look after your parents, and live out your years.

    Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui.² At every touch of his...

  9. IN THE WORLD OF MEN (Section 4)
    (pp. 49-62)

    Yan Hui went to see Confucius and asked permission to take a trip.¹

    “Where are you going?”

    “I’m going to Wei.”

    “What will you do there?”

    “I have heard that the ruler of Wei is very young. He acts in an independent manner, thinks little of how he rules his state, and fails to see his faults. It is nothing to him to lead his people into peril, and his dead are reckoned by swampfuls like so much grass.² His people have nowhere to turn. I have heard you say, Master, ‘Leave the state that is well ordered and go...

    (pp. 63-72)

    In Lu there was a man named Wang Tai who had had his foot cut off.¹ He had as many followers gathered around him as Confucius.

    Chang Ji asked Confucius, “This Wang Tai who’s lost a foot—how does he get to divide up Lu with you, Master, and make half of it his disciples? He doesn’t stand up and teach, he doesn’t sit down and discuss, yet they go to him empty and come home full. Does he really have some wordless teaching, some formless way of bringing the mind to completion? What sort of man is he?” Confucius...

    (pp. 73-88)

    He who knows what it is that Heaven does, and knows what it is that man does, has reached the peak. Knowing what it is that Heaven does, he lives with Heaven. Knowing what it is that man does, he uses the knowledge of what he knows to help out the knowledge of what he doesn’t know, and lives out the years that Heaven gave him without being cut off midway—this is the perfection of knowledge.

    However, there is a difficulty. Knowledge must wait for something before it can be applicable, and that which it waits for is never...

    (pp. 89-96)

    Nie Que was questioning Wang Ni. Four times he asked a question and four times Wang Ni said he didn’t know. Nie Que proceeded to hop around in great glee and went and told Master Puyi. Master Puyi said, “Are you just now finding that out?¹ The clansman Youyu was no match for the clansman Tai.² The clansman Youyu still held on to benevolence and worked to win men over. He won men over all right, but he never got out into [the realm of] ‘not-man.’ The clansman Tai, now—he lay down peaceful and easy; he woke up wide-eyed...

  13. AUTUMN FLOODS (Section 17)
    (pp. 97-112)

    The time of the autumn floods came and the hundred streams poured into the Yellow River. Its racing current swelled to such proportions that, looking from bank to bank or island to island, it was impossible to distinguish a horse from a cow. Then the Lord of the River¹ was beside himself with joy, believing that all the beauty in the world belonged to him alone. Following the current, he journeyed east until at last he reached the North Sea. Looking east, he could see no end to the water.

    The Lord of the River began to wag his head...

  14. SUPREME HAPPINESS (Section 18)
    (pp. 113-120)

    Is there such a thing as supreme happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?

    This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad...

  15. MASTERING LIFE (Section 19)
    (pp. 121-132)

    He who has mastered the true nature of life does not labor over what life cannot do. He who has mastered the true nature of fate does not labor over what knowledge cannot change. He who wants to nourish his body must first of all turn to things. And yet it is possible to have more than enough things and for the body still to go unnourished. He who has life must first of all see to it that it does not leave the body. And yet it is possible for life never to leave the body and still fail...

  16. EXTERNAL THINGS (Section 26)
    (pp. 133-142)

    External things cannot be counted on. Hence Longfeng was executed, Bi Gan was sentenced to death, Prince Ji feigned madness, E Lai was killed, and Jie and Zhou were overthrown.¹ There is no ruler who does not want his ministers to be loyal. But loyal ministers are not always trusted. Hence Wu Yun was thrown into the Yangzi and Chang Hong died in Shu, where the people stored away his blood, and after three years it was transformed into green jade.² There is no parent who does not want his son to be filial. But filial sons are not always...

  17. Index
    (pp. 143-152)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 153-164)