As previously stated, I am in pretty much full agreement with the authors’ take on Zhuangzi (which no doubt would elate them immensely should they get wind of it). Nevertheless, I do have some questions about several of their assumptions. The importance of these issues probably lies more in the ambiguity to which they give rise than in any possible resolution.


The first of these issues may be the least ambiguous, namely the presumption that there is a single philosophy to be found in the Zhuangzi. The reader will know that I take the Inner Chapters as representing one philosophy—possibly that of Zhuangzi, though whose philosophy it is really doesn’t matter. As for the rest, though some are very sympathetic with the Inner Chapters, none of the remaining chapters completely capture the spirit and intent of “Zhuangzi”. At the risk of sounding dogmatic, I will say that this matters hugely. If, for instance, Zhuangzi advocated for complete non-dependence, then the introduction of some sort of dependence by subsequent writers would completely overturn his dao. If he eschewed all metaphysics, then the later introduction of qi (chi) as some form of substance to appropriate would be another dao altogether. If he did not recognize the existence of a reified self, then any talk of “original nature” would be anathema.


All this might seem nit-picky, and if we were only talking philosophy it would be. (And that I assume is all that Moeller and D’Ambrosio are doing.) But we are not. This is a philosophy of life with a mystical twist. I feel compelled to reiterate that by “mysticism” I mean only that something deeply transformative is intended to occur—it has no reference to anything extra-mundane, but remains entirely psychological. Indeed, it is this understanding upon which the whole thing turns. As the Xin-Xin Ming says: “Separate by the smallest amount and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth”. I always appeal to Zen in this regard. You can’t mess with Zen and have it remain Zen. This is not an evolving philosophy but a single, radical point of view intended to issue in a point of view that embraces all points of view. But you’ve got to pass through the gate to get there.


Moeller and D’Ambrosio explicitly renounce all knowledge of authorship and temporal sequence of any of the Zhuangzi, and we cannot but follow their lead to some extent. If any of this absolutely mattered, then we would be depending on knowledge and off the dao of non-dependence. Nevertheless, this dao begins in understanding it, and understanding it requires discernment and discrimination. Much in the Zhuangzi is antithetical to the dao of the Inner Chapters and it seems somewhat disingenuous to plow ahead, even when acknowledging this, and speak of a single philosophy of the Zhuangzi.


This piece is full of self-contradictions and I am not entirely comfortable with it. In the end, we must all make intellectual compromises; we must choose a point of view if we are to speak at all. Now seems like a good time to practice some Zhuangzian Daoism and equalize all argument.

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