“How sad!”

These are the final words of the Tianxia (and consequentially of the Zhuangzi). How sad!

This is the author’s final word on the case of Huizi who “found no peace in it [his labors] even for himself, scattering himself unceasingly into all things, ultimately gaining nothing more than fame as a skilled debater.” His “talents were fruitlessly dissipated running after things and never returning to himself. He was like a man trying to silence an echo with shouts or to outrun his own shadow.” (p 125)

Well, yes, this is sad. But isn’t it also somewhat descriptive of us all? Alas, it’s all true. But before we take a pleasurable wallow in pessimism, let’s take a look at the bright side of life. (Yes, think Monty Python’s Brian singing on the cross.)

There is a bright side, isn’t there? The reader no doubt expects me to now blabber on about the All Is Well doctrine. However, I feel more inclined to pass it back to you. Is there a bright side to your life? If so, what is it? When you’re finished with your list of positives, may I ask if their cumulative effect is enough? Since they are all transitory and utterly dependent on circumstances, might we not compare this to “running after things”? (You may have listed your children—did you include the possibility of your dead children?)

Alas, I’ve prematurely begun my wallow! But perhaps this is the best way to proceed. This is where Zhuangzi begins: “Can this [the futility of life] be called anything but an enormous sorrow? Is human life always this bewildering, or am I the only bewildered one? Is there actually any man, or anything in man that is not bewildering?” (2:11)

After this frank assessment of the human condition Zhuangzi emerges with a comprehensively positive response to and within it. That’s all any of this is about. That’s what this present exercise is about. It’s about the discovery of our own organic, inexplicable Yes!, and leapingly harmonizing with it. It’s about “returning to oneself”.

Is this trying to shout down our own echo? Perhaps. Do you have a better option? Do we ever do otherwise?

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