Chuang Tzu’s Conception of Tao2 min read

To follow Chuang Tzu’s thought, it is necessary to understand his conception of Tao which forms the pivot on which the whole of his philosophy hinges. Tao has been translated as “ Way ” or “ Path.” But this is misleading. Here is Chuang Tzu’s definition of Tao.

“ Tao has its reality and evidence, but no action or form. It is transmitted in all things, but nothing can be said to have and own it. It is obtained by all things but nothing can be said to have seen it. It exists by and through itself. It exists before heaven and earth, and indeed for all eternity. It causes the gods to be divine and the world to be produced. It is above the zenith, but it is not high ; it is beneath the nadir, but is not low. It is prior to heaven and earth, but is not ancient ; it is older than the most ancient, but is not old.”

It would be a mistake to assume that Tao is the same as the God defined by Christian theologians. God loves as Tao loves, but the chief difference is that the Christian God is personal and the Creator of heaven and earth, while Tao is impersonal and far from being a Creator.

Besides, Tao never incarnates as the Son, and is not partial to those who accept the divinity of His Son, having no son and no heaven and hell. Kuo Hsiang, one of Chuang Tzu’s recognised commentators, says: “ How can Tao cause the gods to be divine and the world to be produced?

Tao did not cause the gods to be divine, but they are divine themselves ; this means that Tao causes them to be divine by not causing them. Tao did not produce the world, but the world produced itself : this means that Tao produced it by not producing it.” Yu Lan Fung says that Tao is the totality of the spontaneity of all things in the universe. Kuan Yin Tzu, a Mahayanist philosopher who was probably not a follower of Lao Tzu, says : “Tao is that which is above all thought and explanation.

When this Tao is evolved, there appears heaven and earth and the ten thousand things. But Tao in itself does not fall under the categories of freedom and necessity, of mensuration or divisibility. It is all and each of these. Therefore it is called Heaven, Destiny, Spirit, or the Mysterious.” Tao appears very much like Shri Shankaracharya’s Brahman or the Upanishadic conception of Atman. In Yoga Vasishtha, a monumental work on Vedanta, the author speaks of Brahman more or less in the language of Lao Tzu.