What Are We Exactly?
Everyone claims that they know exactly who they are. They could be self-reliant and emotional people or they could be narcissistic dwellers, but do we all know who we really are? Do we really know anything about the world around us and what it possibly means? Zhuangzi thinks he has an idea or two about what exactly we could consider ourselves and our actions within this world. Everything must have a great deeper meaning right? Everything must have a special purpose in life shouldn’t it? Zhuangzi gives many theories and explanations as to why things exist the way that they do. What we do need to ask ourselves is whether or not we should listen to this man, I mean who does he think he is anyway? If you do know who he is then you might have an inkling as to why you should listen to him, but if you have no idea who he is, let me give a brief explanation of his background and I might be able to convince you that he is legit.
Who is Zhuangzi?
Although we don’t actually know much about this fundamental Daoist philosopher, we are given a picture of what type of man he is from the text that shares his name. The goal of Zhuangzi is to teach others how they can live a good life and be good themselves even though they are surrounded in a world full of violence and possible misery. One of Zhuangzi’s main concepts is that an individual is living a good life if they are free from any type of societal bound or political affiliation and are one with the “natural Way” (Norton, 1369). The “Way” is actually the main idea of Daoist philosophy which states that Dao is the impersonal dynamic ground of being (Clasquin-Johnson). It simply is. Zhuangzi uses our lack of understanding in order to ask us important questions about human life. He claims that humans don’t understand what is really useful in this world (Norton, 1369). Zhuangzi has many different philosophies about certain aspects of life such as, death, nature, and even heaven. He also talks about many of the skills that we are graced with that cannot be passed on to others and that will die with us when it is our time.
Death. Why Do We Mourn?
Chapter three in Zhuangzi discusses how Qin Shi reacts to the death of one of his beloved friends and Laozi’s disciples is the witness to his action. What is interesting is how there are three stories within this one chapter which discuss becoming one with the “Way” or why we are created to look differently than others, but I am mainly going to focus on the last story of the chapter. When Laozi dies Qin Shi comes to mourn him, but he finishes mourning only after three cries. This interests Laozi’s disciples and so one of them dare to ask the question as to why he is mourning him this way. “Weren’t you a friend of the Master?”…”And you think it’s all right to mourn him this way?” (“Zhuangzi”, 1383-1384). His disciples almost seem offended that he has not mourned much more than three cries for his supposed friend. I mean, wouldn’t we all question him for not mourning his friend much more than three cries? Wouldn’t we also wonder if he was actually his true friend because of his short mourning session? Wouldn’t we all agree that when we lose someone that is close to our hearts, we mourn them longer than crying three times? It almost makes Qin Shi look disrespectful and insincere in a sense because he doesn’t mourn his dear friend for very long. Qin Shi does have an explanation for his behavior and Zhuangzi agrees with him because it shows one of the Daoist ways of life. He says, “[a] little while ago, when I went in to mourn, I found old men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a son, and young men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a mother. To have gathered a group like that, he must have done something to make them talk about him, though he didn’t ask them to talk, or make them weep for him, though he didn’t ask them to weep” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Qin Shi is trying to say that although he was a great friend of Laozi, he wouldn’t want him to waste too much time mourning his loss. Qin Shi goes on to explain that Laozi knew that it was his time to go and that weeping for him in such a manner would be committing the crime of hiding from Heaven. This meant that you would believe that everyone should have the chance to live forever, but the Daoist way of belief is that you are “being freed from the bonds of God” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Qin Shi knows that you can’t deviate from the cycle of life. You will lose people you love, but as long as that person was content with the way that they lived their life, then he believes that it isn’t possible for joy or grief to penetrate. It’s almost a modernistic way of thinking about death for the time that this was written. We all know that it is hard to lose the ones that we love, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t continue to live with us even after they are gone. It means that we are able to cherish the memories that they left behind with us. Are we ever truly gone? Qin Shi stated “[t]hough the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Was this a possible hint to the belief in the afterlife. I mean, we don’t really have any evidence that proves that we don’t go to an afterlife when we die because no one has the chance to come back and tell us all what happened. It isn’t guaranteed that we won’t see each other ever again, so maybe Zhuangzi wants us to take note by saying that we should be present and not worry about what we could possibly lose. Maybe we should cherish each moment as if it were our last and we will never have to wonder if we feared missing out on anything.
It is important to note that the “Way” is a very important symbol and belief in the Daoist religion. Chapter 22 Knowledge Wandered North discusses the “Way” in many different terms. Master Dongguo approaches Zhuangzi one day and asks him where the “Way” exists. Zhuangzi replies that the “Way” exists everywhere (“Zhuangzi”, 1393). I might be going too far, but I would compare the “Way” to being the same as “dharma” or “God.” We are always told that it is everywhere and that it exists within all different forms of beings, but we never know if there is a true face or identity to this being. Zhuangzi does however argue that the “Way” won’t be in any particular place at a given time. It does what it pleases and is in harmony with nature. Zhuangzi almost has a hard time with people who wish to complicate situations or life. Zhuangzi believed in living a simple life and not questioning how things are meant to be. We all should just go with the flow and not try to manipulate aspects of our life. Our life is meant to be lived according to the “Way” and if we don’t follow the “Way” we are only complicating our lives.
Clasquin-Johnson, Dr. Michel. “Taoism: The Way.” Brewminate, 21 Jan. 2017, brewminate.com/taoism-the-way/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20Way%E2%80%9D%20The%20central%20concept%20in%20Taoism%20is,play%20like%20ever-changing%20cloud%20formations%20or%20restless%20waves.
Mambrol, Nasrullah. “The Philosophy of Zhuangzi.” Literary Theory and Criticism, 21 Apr. 2019, literariness.org/2019/04/21/the-philosophy-of-zhuangzi/.
“Zhuangzi.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, by Martin Puchner et al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2019.