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Additional Comments to Passage 3:3 in the Zhuangzi



The flow of life may spontaneously run into actions conventionally considered either good or bad, but it is only deliberate activity initiated by the understanding consciousness and its absolute definitions of rightness that can maintain either good or bad activities consistently over an extended period of time, thereby reaching an extreme extent, as fanatically uncompromising and sustained practices, that they would lead to consistent homogenous effects in the world, bringing either punishment or fame.   Left to themselves, the spontaneous fluctuations of behavior tend to normalize around the central current.   Zhuangzi here plays on the term du,  the acupuncture meridian running vertically up the center of the back.  The term also means, in more general contexts, "controller, overseer."  The controller is not the central meridian through the front of the body—where you can see it, a matter of "understanding."  It's back behind you, the center which is always by definition invisible to you.  Trying to know what to do about life is futile; life is not governed by an understanding of life.

The chapter is structured to illustrate these first few lines.   The story of the cook shows what it means for knowledge to follow each situation in life, rather than the other way around, illustrated by the knife that flows through the empty channels already existing in the body of the ox rather than trying to first know it and plan how to control it ahead of time.   The story of the Commander of the Right shows someone whose flow of life has done "evil."   Though he seems to have been punished for it, having a leg cut off, he has managed to accept this as his own fate rather than as a punishment.  Hence this punishment is no punishment, and does not impair his flow of life.   The story of Lao Dan's funeral shows someone whose flow of life has done "good."   Though he seems to have obtained fame as a result, those who really understand him keep this fame from really applying to him.   Hence his fame is no fame, and does not impede the flow of his life—and his death.




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