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?

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?

Understanding the Universe

The Taoist thinker Chuang Tzu lived about 2,500 years ago, at a time when people knew very little about the world around them. Still he tried to understand the phenomena of nature. He wrote:

Do the heavens revolve? Does the earth stand still? Do the sun and the moon contend for their positions? Who has the time to keep them all moving? Is there some mechanical device that keeps them going automatically? Or do they merely continue to revolve, inevitably, of their own inertia?

Do the clouds make rain? Or is it the rain that makes the clouds? What makes it descend so copiously? Who is it that has the leisure to devote himself, with such abandoned glee, to making these things happen?

Given what you know about Taoism, why do you think Chuang Tzu might have been interested in the workings of nature?