This post might be a little longer than usual because I think it’s important to show you how Yang and I started practicing Taoism or “Zhuangzism” to be technical but not-so-eloquent.
Telling you what happened to one of us may draw parallels and contrasts to help you have more insights into Zhuangzi (because I know it can seem paradoxical at times) and get you acquainted with us as the writers of these posts, as we humbly think we can convey the teachings of the Zhuangzi and its applications to the modern world.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
A book about philosophy conveyed through fable-like stories and passages? An ancient Chinese text with literary merit that alone makes it worth reading, never mind the ideas within? What else could pique Yang’s interest as much as this book, the Zhuangzi?
It was sometime in senior year of high school that Yang started reading the Zhuangzi. He told me a little about it, and so my impression was that it was a cool book conveying Chinese thought, of which I had very little understanding- yet that made it more appealing. Even Yang had little idea of what the book was really about after his reading of the first chapter (that applied to me too).
“Understanding Came Slowly”
So, our understanding came slowly, as it probably does for most readers of the book. Yang first read the book, texting me quotes and ideas that were meant as food for thought. Reading it for its writing alone, his primary objective was to read for enjoyment, not necessarily understanding; but it was surprising how different Zhuangzi thought was to western thought– that much we knew.
At the same time of Yang’s reading the book, we ran our school’s philosophy club. In the club, we talked about happiness, stoicism, hedonism, knowledge, and perception. Outside of the club, Yang and I talked about Buddhism and were floating the idea of meditating to each other. I remember Yang telling me that studies on meditation showed some real benefits, and that I asked him something like: If a kid were to meditate, read, and sleep in all of his free time, would he then give his mind the ideal development? This was just a thought (that was half a joke), but our interest in meditation became more than just a thought; I did some research and found that we should take up Zazen meditation, and so we did (as an aside, it turns out Zazen meditation and its principles are related to the Zhuangzi).
As time passed, maybe a month, Yang started to understand more deeply the principles of the Zhuangzi and with it came belief. To say how this greater understanding came wouldn’t be enough because of so many factors at play, but I will say that the knowledge from our discussions in the philosophy club, from researching meditation, and from serious reflection converged to form our wholehearted belief of Zhuangzi’s teachings.
The Final Development of Belief
The final development of our belief was to present this optional, final class-assignment, dubbed “TED talk,” to our class about some idea worth sharing. As you would imagine if you know the principles of Zhuangzi, we weren’t too keen on doing this- and we were planning not to do it. Adding to this resolve, other classes had assigned graded presentations for us to do, so we wouldn’t needlessly add another presentation to our list.
The assignment was assigned around two or three weeks before the first TED talk was to be given. At first our classmates seemed eager to make a TED talk and present it. But this wasn’t the case during the first week of TED talks because only a few people were signing up for a time to present (note: it had been near a month when the “assignment” was assigned), prompting our teacher to ask Yang and I to do a TED talk. He thought we’d certainly have an idea worth sharing, and whether this was true is still unknown (if you know what I mean).
Though it was on short notice, we agreed to do a presentation for the closest vacant time slot of the TED talks (no use in delaying an assignment- right fellow students?). We thought that writing a speech or creating an actual presentation about Zhuangzi was too much work for an assignment like that, so we simply chose passages from the Zhuangzi and prepared notes to talk about during the presentation. Essentially, we had to teach the philosophy to the class, so we examined carefully the philosophy, to know for ourselves what we were going to be talking about, leading to more insights and an even deeper understanding of the Zhuangzi (recent re-readings of the Zhuangzi reminded me that we shouldn’t teach about the Tao if we ourselves don’t have it, but as Zhuangzi teaches, let’s not distinguish and cause unhappiness- this is another topic that needs another post).
On the day of the talk, everyone was quiet. I could feel the anticipation of our classmates in waiting to know what Yang and I would choose to talk about. They knew it would be different; Yang and I knew it was different. To start we introduced the principles of Zen Buddhism, and contrasted that with the principles of Zhuangzi. As experience tells, they were confused about the principles and their implications. To help with the confusion, we selected passages from the Zhuangzi to illustrate the most principal principles. I remember Yang read the passage about Cook Ding, and I read the conversation between Huizi and Zhuangzi about virtue. It was then that questions flooded the discussion, and we had to answer to criticisms, confusion, and requests to provide real-world examples; it was then that we became certain the Zhuangzi had become the basis for all our thoughts thereafter.
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