In order to understand Zhuangzi’s primary methodological approach to self-transformation, what we are calling “transformative recontextualization”, we need to begin with an understanding of his critique of reason and language. For this, we could not do better than to begin with a passage attributed to Zhuangzi which we have already cited in part:
“A fish trap is there for the fish. When you have got hold of the fish, you forget the trap. A snare is for the rabbits. When you have got hold of the rabbit, you forget the snare. Words are for the intent. When you have got hold of the intent, you forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words, so I can have a few words with him?” (Zhuangzi 26; Ziporyn, p 114)
From this we understand that words—language—are an entirely necessary and affirmable human facility. Only they should not be taken as an end in themselves; their true purpose is to direct us beyond themselves, to an appreciation of their intent that affects our interface with that of which they speak. To make this movement is to forget the words.
We can understand this as suggesting that we move from the letter to the spirit of what is said. By way of example, consider Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees as represented in the Christian Bible. The Pharisees objected to Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath. The Law says that one should do no work on the Sabbath. However, Jesus replied that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The Pharisees, in following the letter of the Law, missed its spirit, namely the betterment of the human condition. Forgetting the words and realizing the intent can lead to real behavioral change.