The author of the Tianxia begins with a fundamental premise, namely that there is a true and knowable Dao. This is represented as “the ancient arts of the Dao”, “the total system of the ancients”. (33; Ziporyn, p 119)

If its inclusion in the Zhuangzi was because it was thought to be compatible with Zhuangzi’s radical vision, then “Daoism” as seen in Zhuangzi had already gone completely off the rails.

Of course it had. That vision is just too radical in its challenge to the “natural human inclinations”. We want something fixed and sure. We want something to believe in.

But this alone makes the Tianxia a valuable contribution to the Zhuangzi. We can take the book as a whole as representing Zhuangzi in contrast to nearly all the other contributors, rather than as a more or less coherent whole—as so many scholars seem to do. We better understand ideas through their differences, rather than through their sameness.

We do not, of course, want to forget that sameness. For they are in one sense absolutely equal—something not appreciated in the Tianxia.

This method of referring back to the Dao of the ancients is a very common device and one that Zhuangzi himself employed. The difference rests in how literally it is intended. In Zhuangzi, given his overall playful use of myth, historical fact, and argumentation, we can easily catch the intended meanings while forgetting their vehicle.

This is not the case with the Tianxia however. This is all a very serious business—getting the Dao right, returning to the Original Dao, now fragmented.

Still, this need not stop us from having our own playful romp through this unique presentation of so many classical philosophies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *