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.

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Following the Tao while Boxing

As readers may or may not know, Yang and I participate in our university’s boxing club and compete at the collegiate level. We have always liked boxing but I’m sure we never understood major aspects of the sport, such as intending to KO opponents or being driven by titles or recognition. Given that we follow the Tao, or at least try to do so, it makes little sense that we compete in boxing or box in general. If we want to follow the Tao and believe in the teachings of Philosophical Taoism, how then can we be said to follow the Tao and box?

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An Initial Understanding of Confucius

pic from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yu_the_Great
pic from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yu_the_Great

Although I haven’t finished reading the Analects of Confucius, I thought I should make a post about the general direction of my perspective on Confucius. There is no doubt that there are some common and various perspectives concerning the Analects, given the range of people who have at least heard of Confucius — from sinologists to perhaps elementary-school students, and all of whom in between. It’s possible that there are radical interpretations and there are common-sense ones, and mine might be towards the latter (as I’ve yet to intensively study Confucianism).

With that said, I have a little help for interpreting the Analects, coming by way of my memory of Arthur Waley’s introduction in Disputers of the Tao, the footnotes provided, and of course, the reliable and wholly not inaccurate Wikipedia, and as a caveat, I am not big on using many Chinese terms such as li, rem, etc., as I find these sufficient but not necessary.

My general understanding of Confucius’s philosophy consists of understanding the Tao and Te, the way and potency or virtue. The way is meant as proper course of human conduct, of a gentleman who abided by antiquity (the patterns of the Sage-kings, such as Emperor Yu, is what is meant by antiquity). Te as potency or viture is a universal civilizing force. And ruling through virtue, a leader’s goodness makes the people good. Throughout the Analects, Confucius mentions repeatedly the concept of being filial, not just to one’s father, but to the Sage-kings. I see being filial as the execution of the Confucian Tao, which contrasts very starkly to Zhuangzi’s (or Laozi’s) Tao. Music, tradition, essentially the ways of the Zhou, are the pinnacles of one’s conduct, as they are derived from the Sage-kings.

I found that Confucius’s philosophy rests on two relevant concepts. The first is the interrelationship, and perhaps nonphysical interdependence, between oneself and others, such that there can be no virtue in the absence of such relationships. The second is the derivation of virtue from an exemplar to Tao to oneself, rather than the very Zhuangzi concept of deriving virtue from the Tao to oneself, who becomes the Zhuangzi equivalent of the Confucian exemplar. The reason I say these are “relevant,” instead of, say, “important,” is because Zhuangzi finds himself supporting the notion that one’s virtue is dependent on oneself’s ’emptying of mind and spirit.’

As Zhuangzi wrote, (and Arthur Waley translated):

“Puny and small, [the sage] sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.”

Not Good is Not No Good

Scarecrow_in_Taipei
In logic, there is a fallacy (an instance of poor reasoning) called the straw man: contorting a proposition only for it to be “beaten” down. Scarecrow in Taipei by 陽炎.

A logical opposite is a sentence (I use sentence very loosely here.) that is the negation of its counterpart. In practice, logical opposition is generally inserting a “not” near the core of the sentence.

Zhuangzi could have been striving to be therapeutic or (its logical opposite) not therapeutic. 

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