Words are by their nature a great yanging. They assert. They declare. They impose.

Zhuangzi suggests there is also a “wordless instruction” (5:2), a teaching by way of example. And in this instance, that example is stillness, wordlessness, itself: “People cannot see their reflections in running water, but only in still water. Only stillness can still the multitude to the point of genuine stillness.” (5:9)

How do we know this? Words.

Even were we to assume that Zhuangzi realized what he preached (which I do not), how could he teach anyone but his few disciples (if he had any) except through words?

Zhuangzi thus sought to convey his teaching through words that were also imbued with yin. This is the hallmark of his writing as noted by several of his interpreters. “Vague! Ambiguous!” (33; p 124) We might add: Fantastic! Unbelievable! Ridiculous! Untruthful! Contradictory!

But that would not be original: “He used ridiculous and far-flung descriptions, absurd and preposterous sayings, senseless and shapeless phrases, indulging himself unrestrainedly as the moment demanded, uncommitted to any one position, never looking at things exclusively from any one corner.” (33; p 123) Whew! And to think that we sometimes take him literally.

This all makes perfect sense, of course, given his commitment to not-knowing as an invitation to a transcendent leap into “far-flung and unfettered wandering” “in our homeland of not even anything”.

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