“Although his writings are a string of strange and rare gems, their intertwining twistings will do one no harm. Even though his words are uneven, their very strangeness and monstrosity is worthy of contemplation.” (p 123)

A. C. Graham (Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters; p 283) sees these observations as an attempt to bring Zhuangzi into the fold of Huang-Lao religious-philosophy. Yes, he is a bit of an eccentric uncle, but still he is family. There’s some good stuff in his writings, only we needn’t take him too seriously. Adopting this attitude, he can “do no harm”.

The importance of the School of Huang-Lao has only come to be understood relatively recently, with the discovery in 1973 of texts in a tomb sealed in the 2nd Century BCE. The school itself seems to have roots deep into the Warring States Period. The Tianxia is seen as expressing Huang-Lao sentiments, which accounts for its syncretic agenda. Huang-Lao was an attempt to bring the best of the five main schools of thought (Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, Daoism, Naturalism) together in a grand synthesis. Needless to say, and as we clearly see here, this required negating much of importance to each of those philosophies (with the possible exception of Confucianism).

What was thereby lost in this co-option of Zhuangzi? The most important thing of all—that there is no single articulable Dao—no definitive guidance from Above. The author’s “Ancient Art of the Dao” is a religious fantasy.

Huang-Lao is also seen as the beginning of religious Daoism. There may be some truth in this, but it is also clear that philosophies of Daoist sentiment that predated Zhuangzi already evince a thorough religious-mindedness. The Neiye (Inner Training) chapter of the Guanzi is such a document.

The reader will know that I make much of the difference between not-knowing and religious-mindedness. This is because Zhuangzi’s dao begins in and never departs from our fundamental cluelessness. The alternative, belief, is a flight from our actual experience. He suggests trust as a more authentic response. The difference between them is that belief has an objective focus (truth, fully realized [immortalized] sages, the existence and spiritual efficacy of qi, an explicable Dao), while trust is an affirming release into the givens of our experience.

Nothing is “added to the process of life”.

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