Chuang Tzu’s Political Philosophy6 min read

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.”