UNDER HEAVEN LXIII

Even so, he was able to respond to every transformation, and thus [his writings] have a liberating effect on all creatures.” (p 124)

I mentioned that this ability to respond to every circumstance as it arises is an attribute of the sage in much of classical Chinese philosophy. This is worth a bit more attention in that the differences in how this is expressed clearly demonstrate the differences between Zhuangzian sensibilities and more “practical” takes, chiefly in Confucianism, but also in some Daoist positions.

The Confucian (and more religious) Daoist ideal is that the sage knows how best to respond to every situation. She or he has deep insight into the nature and working of things and can therefore always make the right choices when encountering them.

The Zhuangzian ideal has the sage “attuning”, harmonizing, with every circumstance. The Confucian take has to do with a practical kind of wisdom; the Zhuangzian with a psychological kind of wisdom. The former immediately rolls up its sleeves so as to change things; the latter first acknowledges the “rightness” (because it exists) of the circumstance and helps it be its own change where necessary.

The Daoist view that advocates for such a practical kind of wisdom is rooted in a heavenly knowledge. United with Dao one understands the human, the here below. The Confucian view sees heaven as only mandating what it takes as the optimum understanding of human nature and culture. This Daoism knows heaven, while Confucianism knows humanity.

Zhuangzi (and philosophical Daoism generally) knows neither. He prioritizes neither. His sage is therefore able to “follow along with the ‘rightness’ of the present ‘This’”.

The difference is, of course, between wei and wuwei. And this is rooted in whether one believes one can know what is best or not. Does one take one’s mind as one’s teacher, or does one release into not-knowing?

It seems clear enough that those who know best what is beneficial often do the greatest harm.

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