The True Dao has been lost in its wholeness, but inklings of it can still be seen in the many diverse daos of “nook and cranny scholars” even though they foolishly take their narrow and fragmented daos for the True Dao.

The difference between this and Zhuangzi’s view is profound, yet subtle. For Zhuangzi, there is no “True Dao”, no Ideal Form of which daos can be a conditional reflection. For him, Dao is the confluence of all daos no matter what their expression. As such, it is and can be everything and anything—it has no content in itself, but subsumes every content. It is empty and open. It is in effect Openness itself. It is all-embracing, excluding nothing.

The Dao of the author of the Tiantai can be spoken, even if we are currently failing to fully express it. Thus, in his inclusion of “Daoism” in his grand synthesis, he has completely nullified it. Of course, for Zhuangzi, all daos by their nature are nullifying and understanding this opens up to Dao. When this dao nullifies itself all that’s left is an empty space—and openness.

The opening observation above forms the author’s introduction to what becomes a critique of the philosophies of his fellow academics and their principal antecedents. In most cases the author first tells us in what way their philosophies reflected the True Dao, and then proceeds to tell us how they fell short. The only exception is the “Logician” Huizi, who is dismissed as a self-absorbed egoist who knew nothing of the Dao. (So let’s include him especially!)

We will explore both the attributes of the Dao that these worthies imperfectly reflect and the daos themselves as understood by the author. These provide an opportunity to better understand Zhuangzi by means of their sameness and difference.


Somewhat ironically, the recitation of the wonderful attributes of the Dao can become a bit monotonous and tedious, but we will make the effort nonetheless.

But first, we will look at one especially curious and important omission in this parade of philosophers: Confucius and his interpreters Mencius and Xunzi.

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