Chuang Tzu and Confucius

At the same time as Chuang Tzu started the propagation of his mystical philosophy, Mencius, pupil of the grandson of Confucius, was popularising the thought of his great master. His wonderful eloquence, great controversial ability and dignified behaviour silenced his opponents, and established the efficacy of music and rites. Confucius had said : “ The strongest desires of man are (for) food and sex. The strongest aversion of man is to death and poverty. Desire and aversion are the fundamental elements of man’s mind. If it is to be wished to give a uniform measure to these elements there is no other way besides rites.” ‘‘Music establishes union and harmony ; rites maintain difference and distinction. From union comes mutual affection ; from distinction, mutual respect.” “ Therefore the ancient philosopher-kings instituted rites and music to give measure to everybody.”

In the Confucian pragmatism there was no mystic element. Speculations on life after death, the origin of the universe, the nature of the First Cause, and the destiny of the human soul were not only discouraged, but eliminated. A vague conception of virtue and the ideal of the superior man were all that Confucius thought necessary for social welfare and the perfecting of the individual character.

Chuang Tzu looked at the universe from a different standpoint. He said : “ Virtue is the connecting link between man and God.” Not only virtue but spirituality also was essential to human perfection. He condemned music and rites, and recommended the emptying of the heart to enable the light of the spirit to shine forth. He insisted that one should find true spirituality in order to be able to maintain virtue, and to understand the meaning of life. The following passage illustrates his point of view well : “ The Yellow Emperor travelled to the north of the Red Lake and ascended the K’un-lun Mountains. Returning south he lost his magic pearl. (His spiritual part, his soul.) He employed Intelligence to find it, but without success. He employed Sight (dialectics) to find it, but without success. Finally he employed Nothing, and Nothing got it. (He did not employ Nothing to find it. He only employed Nothing.) “ Strange indeed,” quoth the Emperor, “ that Nothing should have been able to get it ! ” As Giles remarks, knowledge, speech and sight tend to obscure rather than illuminate the spiritual nature of man. Only in a state of negation can true spirituality be found. The Indian sage Vasishtha comes to the same conclusion : “ Some search for non-duality, and others seek after duality. Neither of them knows the mystery of Shiva (God-Absolute) Who is above duality and non-duality.”

Chuang Tzu’s Political Philosophy

Like his master, Chuang Tzu advocates anarchism, and exposes the futility of all restrictions imposed by others. He is so confident of the innate purity and goodness of human nature that he refuses to tolerate any imposition of law on man. For the evolution of Tao, it is necessary that man should live according to nature. Tao controls the evolution of man and society, and what man should do in order to receive the highest blessings of Tao, is not to put any artificial barriers in the way of its unfoldment. Moral, social and political obligations imposed on men are called fetters by this brilliant thinker. There was once a seabird which alighted outside the capital of Lu. The Prince of Lu was delighted, and ordered the best meal to be served and the best music to be played at a banquet in its honour. The bird however was dazed and dared not eat or drink, and in three days it was dead. This was treating the bird as the prince would treat himself, not treating the bird as a bird. Chuang Tzu holds that what is good and useful to sages and politicians, cannot be good and useful to all men. It is therefore best to let mankind alone, so that Tao will be its sole guide and will lead it to perfection.

In short, Chuang Tzu is as much against government as he is against culture. As birds, imprisoned in a cage, cannot realise true happiness, so mankind, under the artificial restrictions of kings and governments, cannot attain the summutn bonum.

Chuang Tzu did not recognise the validity of the institution of private property. In fact, no anarchy is possible unless private property is abolished. Chuang Tzu’s life in a forest on the top of a high hill, was free from any civic obligations, and he possessed virtually nothing which could be called exclusively his own.                                                                    ‘

Chuang Tzu does not believe in the perfection of man after death. In fact, he does not give any consideration to the question of whether the soul after death enters heaven or hell. Being Chinese, he was practical, and taught that perfection in this life consists in rising above the operations of matter, above heat and cold, gain and loss, love and aversion, honour and contumely—in establishing oneself in a state of perfect equilibrium. This teaching resembles that of the Bhagavad Gita, in which Arjuna is taught to be above all the “ pairs of opposites ” and to find peace within himself. The idea is crystallised in a sentence of the Upanishad : “ He who is established in his Infinite Self is happy.” Heraclitus touches the same note when speaking of perfect happiness. The following incident from the life of Chuang Tzu illustrates the point : “ When Hui Tzu went to condole with Chuang Tzu on the death of his wife, he found Chuang Tzu squatting on the ground, singing and drumming upon a basin. He said : “ When a man has been living with his wife who has borne him sons, grown old and finally died, and he does not weep for her death, is there no defect in his conduct ? And when he sings into the bargain, is not this a great deal worse ? ’ 1 Certainly not ’ replied Chuang Tzu, ‘ When she first died I was a little depressed, but when I came to ponder, I saw that in the beginning she had originally been lifeless, originally formless, originally lacking all substance. A transformation took place and a vital principle came into existence, this underwent transformation and a corporeal form was developed, this form undergoing transformation, it was born. Now, transformed once more, it has died. The whole process is like the sequence of the four seasons

Many great Indian and Greek philosophers, and those of other countries also, have been noted for their powers of inner concentration. Both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu dwell at length on the virtue of introspection. They state that by going within, one discovers great spiritual laws, by virtue of which one can command the forces of nature. This process may be said to be the foundation of occultism and Toga. It was misunderstanding of this teaching of Chuang Tzu which was responsible for the degeneration of his system of thought into black magic and the search for the elixir of life and the philosopher’s stone, bringing many brilliant lives to ruin. It seems to be a fact that a large number of people, in order to develop the so-called occult powers, are willing to give up their comforts, the rational frame of mind, and even their moral standards. Such men are too preoccupied with magic to care for moral teachings. It is noteworthy that the Indian Vedantists reject all such occult practices and powers.

The following passage from Chuang Tzu gives a clear conception of his ideal of the perfect man : “ The Perfect Man is spirit-like. Great lakes may be boiled about him and he would not feel their heat ; the great rivers might be frozen up, and he would not feel the cold ; the kurrying thunderbolts might split the mountains and the wind shake the ocean, without being able to make him afraid. Being such, he mounts on the clouds, rides on the sun and the moon, and rambles at ease beyond the four seas. Neither death nor life makes any change in him, and how much less should considerations of advantage or injury do so ? ” No .one will take these expressions literally. What the philosopher seems to mean is that a spiritual man is indifferent to the pairs of opposites, remaining undisturbed by mental or physical changes. It is interesting to note that the same idea is expressed in the great Hindu philosophical work, Yoga Vasishtha : “Mountains may melt, winds may dry up oceans, the sun may become a lump of ice, and the moon a blazing ball. Still a Self-realised one is unmoved.”

Chuang Tzu believed in the perfection of the nature of man. As to Shankara, a life in God—a life of active realisation of God in all and all in God—was everything, the summum bonum, so to Chuang Tzu the discovery of Tao within, meant perfection in life. He says : “ The 7 Yellow Emperqr obtained it (Tao) and soared upon the clouds to heaven. . . . Nan Po Tzu said to Nu Nu : * You are old, Sir, and yet your complexion is like that of a “child. How is this ? ’ Nu Nu replied : ‘ I have learnt Tao A striking point of resemblance between the teachings of the Upanishads and of Chuang Tzu is the unattainability of Tao or Brahman through study alone. As the sage Bharadwaj says : “ The Self (Atman) cannot be obtained by study or discussion.”

Perfect Happiness

The philosophy of this brilliant thinker of China does not start with pessimism like that of the Upanishads or of Shakyamuni Buddha. Chuang Tzu does not find the world a net to imprison the soul, or think human life to be a soul dragging a corpse along with it. He finds harmony, beauty and order in the universe, and delights not only in its contemplation, but also in an active life therein. He does not ask his disciples to kill out desires or to retire to solitary caves for contemplation, nor does he believe in a Nirvana which implies the extinction of consciousness. His goal is the same as that pointed out in the Upanishads—the union of the individual with the whole ; but the Whole of Chuang Tzu is not Abstract, nor is it the Absolute of Shankara. “ If you conceal the whole universe in the whole universe, there will be no room left for it to be lost. This is an eternal fact. Men consider that attainment of a human form is a source of joy. But the human form is only one of the countless forms in the universe. If one identifies one’s own self with the universe, one will undergo all transitions and attain all forms, with only the infinite and eternity to look forward to. What incomparable bliss is that ! Therefore the supreme man makes excursions in that which can never be lost, and which endures always. Those who can deal with death, old age, beginning and end, are already considered as teachers of mankind. How greatly superior to this is he who identfies himself with that which is the supporter of all things and conditions all evolution.”

“ Such a man will bury gold on the hillside and cast pearls into the sea. He will not struggle for wealth, nor strive for fame. He will not rejoice at old age, nor grieve over early death. He will find neither pleasure in success, nor chagrin in failure. He will not account a throne as his own private gain, nor the empire of the world as glory personal to himself. His glory is to know that all things are one, and that life and death are but phases of the same existence.”

“ That which is Infinite is happiness,” says the Upanishad, “ the finite can never lead to true happiness.” The Vedanta Sutras clearly point out that limitations are fetters and that one desiring true happiness must dwell in the consciousness of Eternity. Chuang Tzu says that this state of being at one with the universe is a psychological development which any man can attain in this very life, and so live in perpetual happiness.

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