Chuang Tzu and Death

Chuang Tzu, who lived from about 369 to 268 B.C.E., was a leading Taoist thinker. (His name is also sometimes spelled Chuangtse.) his parables and anecdotes were collected in a book that bears his name, Chuang-tzu.

Chuang Tzu said that the only way to be happy and truly free was by understanding the Tao, or Way. If we understand the Way, then we need not fear death, as it is merely an inevitable part of the Way. Death makes new life possible.

How would you describe death?


Chuang Tzu was a leading Taoist thinker. His teachings are collected in a book, Chuang-tzu. This story appears in Chuang-tzu.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Tzu. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

Explain what you think this story means.

On Politics

Chuang Tzu, the Taoist thinker, was offered a job at the emperor’s court. He responded:

Sir, have you seen a sacrificial ox? It is decked in fine garments and fed on fresh grass and beans. However, when it is led into the Great Temple, even though it might earnestly wish to be a simple calf again, it’s now impossible.

What do you think Chuang Tzu meant by this?