What is the Best Way to Read Zhuangzi?

Hackberry Tree

It’s summer time, which means some of us have more time to catch up on the things we miss. For my brother and I, we chose to revisit The Complete Works of Zhuangzi (2013) and found it more enjoyable than the first time we read it (in full). Additionally, we realized that some chapters are worth a deliberate pace while others are worth a mere glance.

Chapters that Stood Out

Chapter 1, 2, 4, and 7 provide amusing stories and perhaps all the core ideas of Zhuangzi’s philosophy. Chapter 1 introduces you to the writing style of Zhuangzi and the motif of North, South, East, and West. It also gives an account of the Peng, the Great Argus whose wingspan measured how many [meters], and in effect, gives part of the motivation for the philosophy.

For anyone wanting to understand Zhuangzi’s philosophy, Chapter 2 should not be overlooked. Chapter 2, Discussion on Making All Things Equal, explains and argues for many concepts such as mutual arising, the Tao (the constant), and nondistinction.

Chapter 4 complements Chapter 2. It confronts the idea of Fate and contrasts it with the Tao. It advocates for the value of meditation (of the Zen kind). Another highlight: it gives the story of Carpenter Shi, one of the best stories of the book.

Lastly, Chapter 7 is perhaps the most entertaining. It accomplishes bringing everything together exclusively through the use of stories. In fact, the Chapter contains upwards of 6 distinct stories (“The Nameless Man,” “the Holes in Chaos,” the very funny “Huizi and the Shaman,” to name a few).

And the Other Chapters

I am in no position to say nobody should the other chapters because there may be some use that my brother and I overlooked, but if anyone is reading for the philosophy of the book, it makes sense to stay within the Inner Chapters (1-7), for these are almost certainly Zhuangzi’s writing.

I hope this post provides at least a little insight for anyone wanting to read or reread the Zhuangzi. And if you liked it, please consider following the blog.

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Published by

Yang Ho

I attend UNC at Chapel Hill, double majoring in Philosophy and Economics. I write poetry, compete in amateur boxing, and volunteer as a writing coach for the local high school, all supplemented with my deep interest of eastern philosophy.

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