The doctor tells me I will soon be dead. I ask how I could “be” dead, but she has no time for philosophical questions within the confines of my fifteen minute allotment. That’s just as well; no amount of inquiry will solve the mystery of death in any case.

My friend Scott has asked permission to transcribe and publish some talks I recently gave, and I must decide whether I wish to leave behind something of my dao, though it can only be a dead dao since its creator will also soon “be” dead. A dao is a living thing when it arises out of the process of a life being lived. Yet the world is full of dead daos though their adherents are very much alive. An adopted dao is someone else’s dao and can only be genetically inferior and soon to die. For what is a dao if not the process of an individual navigating her-, him-, or their-self through the bewildering experience of self-aware existence? The ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi tells us that a dao is made by walking it. And in the book that bears his name we are told the story of a young man who heard of a barbarian tribe that had a special way of walking. Thinking this might be the best way for him to walk, he went to join them so as to learn their special way of walking. But it was not his own natural walk, and he could not master it. After many years of failure, he decided to return home. Only now he had forgotten his own native way of walking and could only crawl home. I do not wish to cripple you.

Yet, I have just now made reference to the dao of Zhuangzi and one of his interpreters. For my dao, like every living dao, though uniquely my own, has not arisen outside the context of the daos of others. Our daos arise out of our own unique experience, but they are built with the help of those who have gone before us. Can I leave you a few scraps of my dao that might help you build your own? Only if you are able to “forget” them even as you use them—or forget them without using them at all. I must trust you in this.

As one about to die I must also ask why I would wish to leave anything behind besides the unavoidable pile of ashes and a few rapidly fading memories, soon to follow me into apparent extinction. Nothing lasts for long. Every “legacy” is just a fool’s hope. In “the broad daylight of Heaven” nothing really matters all that much. It will all come out in the final rinse. But, of course, things do matter for we who live and we have every reason to engage with them as meaningful. This is what life does. Only we needn’t cling to them as to eternal verities.

So, as one still alive, I will permit Scott to share my dao, thinking it might inspire others in the process of walking their own. And I will hope my legacy will be to have been helpful though utterly forgotten.


Here’s the back cover blurb for THE SIMPLE WAY:

If you feel the need for a guru, make one up.  What teacher could possibly have better insight into your personal growth trajectory than the one who abides in your own heart? Xudanzi is just such a one. And he learned his craft from one of history’s greatest masters of sage-making, the 4th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu). Zhuangzi populated his fantastical prose with fictional sages of many stripes, all of whom gave voice to, and likely helped to fashion, his own philosophy of life. Xudanzi is just another Zhuangzian sage, albeit one cultivated in foreign and more contemporary heart-soil.

From Socratic irony, to Zhuangzian “spill-over-goblet-words”, to Kierkegaard’s indirect communication we have learned the power of teachings that self-efface by virtue of the medium through which they come. We learn and we grow, but never are we required to believe. We are left free of all “positive teachings”—free to wander on the path of our own unique ever-becoming.

Like Zhuangzi, Xudanzi invites us to engage our hearts and minds in the discovery of ourselves, and in finding only emptiness, to soar upon it in unfettered and carefree wandering.

THE SIMPLE WAY: A Daoist Response to Life

This is to announce the publication of my third (and likely final) book inspired by the philosophy of Zhuangzi.

It can be had at:



The Neo-Daoist Guo Xiang (252-312), in his commentary on the Zhuangzi, makes much of the unreal cognitive images by which we conceive and order our realities. He calls these “traces” (or “footprints”). There is, in fact, nothing thought or imagined that is not in some sense a trace, a mere representation of reality that must of necessity fall short of reality itself—whatever that might “be”. Truth be said, we “know” nothing, or perhaps more truly, we do not know whether we know anything or not. This is a matter of epistemology I suppose, but for Guo and for Zhuangzi both it is simply an honest description of the human condition. And given that we want to make the most of this incredible experience of being human they both turn this apparent negative, this “uselessness”, into an invitation to experience the world in an altogether different way. There is nothing useless that cannot be rendered useful. Indeed, the greater something’s apparent uselessness the greater its potential usefulness.

This is familiar ground. When words and ideas are transcended our experience of the world is transformed. Words divide. In their absence, the world is one. The experience is “mystical”. Guo calls it “vanishingly merging into things.” Zhuangzi exclaims, “All things and I are one.” Call it being empty. Call it being full. There’s no real difference between them.

This is not about truth, of course. It’s just a way of experiencing the world that feels good. And our every pronouncement upon it is also just another trace. Trace-making is unavoidable but essentially as valuable as its opposite. Indeed, without trace-making there would be no alternative, just as without yang there would be no yin, without uselessness there would be no usefulness, and without death there would be no life. And vice versa. The point is to embrace both. When opposites are transcended without their negation, Zhuangzi tells us, this is the experience of Dao.

Why only try to go around full when you could also, simultaneously, go around empty? The alternative is a life lived half-full—or half-empty.


I try to keep this blog about philosophical Daoism rather than about me, though ultimately it is of course always necessarily about me. Nevertheless, I try to avoid trivial reference to my doings. This post is an exception since I am about to start posting again after a long hiatus.

I have left my boat in Mexico and am presently staying with my 97 year old father in Oregon, USA. This puts me back on the worldwide grid.

I close with a picture of the boat in my favorite summer anchorage.


Since neither I nor friends received this post I re-sending it:

I thought I should let you know what’s up with me since I haven’t written for some time now.

The first reason is that I felt I needed to regroup after my “conversations” with Zhuangzi revealed a bit of religiousness in my treatment of him.

Secondly, I realized that I really didn’t have much more to say.

Finally, I’ve taken off sailing my boat in the Sea of Cortez (Baja, Mexico side) and am thus off the grid and away from the internet most of the time.

I think about writing again, but it may be awhile.

Cheers. Scott



Since neither I nor friends received this post I re-sending it

I thought I should let you know what’s up with me since I haven’t written for some time now.

The first reason is that I felt I needed to regroup after my “conversations” with Zhuangzi revealed a bit of religiousness in my treatment of him.

Secondly, I realized that I really didn’t have much more to say.

Finally, I’ve taken off sailing my boat in the Sea of Cortez (Baja, Mexico side) and am thus off the grid and away from the internet most of the time.

I think about writing again, but it may be awhile.

Cheers. Scott


Scott:  I’d like to go back to the idea that since no one ever existed before their birth, they do not even truly exist after their birth, and therefore certainly not after their death. Its real practicality it seems to me is that it helps us reconcile with the core emptiness we all experience.

Zhuangzi:  Right. If it isn’t rooted in our experience then it’s just adding to life.

Scott:  But we do experience ourselves as a someone nonetheless. How do we account for that?

Zz:  We experience ourselves as an experience that naturally objectifies itself—calls itself “me”—and then takes that “me” as something substantial and enduring. We then become attached to that identity and fear its loss. Instead of understanding the self-creation of “me” as a process in the flow of continual process we try to freeze the process and make our “me” an essential something—a “soul”, true-self, or whatever.

Scott:  But it is natural to do this, so . . .

Zz:  Everything that happens is natural. Doing the most “unnatural” thing imaginable is still natural. It’s just as you say with humanity—it is what it does; it isn’t some ideal reality removed from how it manifests. If there is inhumanity, then inhumanity is also humanity. All these declarations that “we are better than this” are said in bad-faith, self-deceit. So yes, it’s natural to posit a “me”—and even to take that “me” as “full and real”. The appendix is also natural—a troublesome and useless left-over within the evolutionary process. A positive consequence of our self-awareness is that we can tweak nature to our own advantage—we can remove the appendix. The habit of taking oneself as a fixed-self is also a natural but troublesome evolutionary product that we can tweak to our own advantage.

Scott:  So the egoic-self is not evil.

Zz:  Not unless nature is evil. Nor does the cosmos care one way or the other that we make ourselves suffer. Nor is the cosmos in any way negatively affected by our dysfunction. Yet we in our anthropocentrism think the cosmos must be fragmented because we seem to be.

Scott:  Humpty-Dumpty—hundun—chaos—does not yearn to be put back together again.

Zz:  Right! And the case can made that all our supposed rational de-chaos-ification is really just chaos on steroids.

Scott:  You seem to be pretty well integrated into today-speak.

Zz:  Sure, when you’ve non-existed forever it’s easy to keep up with the times.

My New Book

This is to let you know that I have just (self-) published a second book: THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS: Daily Reflections on the Philosophy of Zhuangzi.

This is a compilation of posts that have appeared here and thus contains little new material.

It can be found at:





The 33rd and final chapter of the Zhuangzi, “Tianxia” (“Under Heaven”), is the first extant summation of the philosophies of the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE). As such it is an especially helpful window into not only the philosophies themselves, but also their synthesis into a new philosophy.

For the author of the Tianxia clearly had his own philosophical agenda and this guided his interpretation of all the others.

It is my modus operandi to interpret and critique the other chapters of the Zhuangzi in the light of the philosophy presented in the Inner Chapters (1–7), rather than the other way around. This is frequently not the case with more scholarly studies of Zhuangzi. Not only is his philosophy interpreted in the light of these other chapters, but also in the context of a wider understanding of “Daoism”. Even when contrary to the stated purpose, we often see the superimposition of external ideas onto Zhuangzi. Because he is taken as a “Daoist”, he must be expressing a Daoist point of view—even though it took form long after he wrote.

Because I take Zhuangzi’s philosophy as quite unique in a radical sense, this study of the Tianxia will be as much about contrast as about agreement.