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A Walk With Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu Chinese line drawing
"Identify Yourself with the Infinite, and Wander in the Unfathomable"

Chuang Tzu is perhaps the greatest interpreter of Taoist thought and by far, my favorite philosopher. Just as Tao is described as unknowable and in a constant state of change, so too are people by virtue of Te, or how Tao flows to become form. While we may observe mutability in nature, we fail to acknowledge mutibility in ourselves. Since we are changing and growing, there is no need to defend anything.

Non Duality

One of the most difficult, but valuable lessons one can learn from Taoism, is the ability to see beyond distinctions. Many philosophies will describe the necessity of getting beyond judgment and attachment, but what makes Taoism different is that it actually sheds light on non duality.


We can view a hill during the day of Yang and see it's crevices, foliage, flowers and boulders. At night, under the dimness of Yin, it may look like a grey silhouette, where the outline describes an entirely different form. But it is the same hill influenced by the flow of Yin and Yang. Similarly, cold is the absence of heat or Yang, and heat is the absence of cold or Yin. Whatever classifications and distinctions the mind wants to put on anything can be traced to a momentary snapshot of what is. And what is cannot really be defined. In time, oceans recede and mountains form. Mountains are carved by the wind and the only absolute is change.

Coming to Be Real

Taoism emphasizes 'coming to be real.' Other philosophies may negate experience, passion and offer principles for correct behavior. In Taoism, one must allow for the realness of their expression, warts and all. Using the 'mysterious mirror' to observe projection - or how the mind can only see what it knows - or through an objective examination of reactions, one can quiet the Monkey Mind. In order to tear anything down -we must first set it up. In other words, liberty and freedom of action are paramount in giving expression to Te. And once we understand this blueprint that makes us unique, we discover our life purpose.

Pondering Mutability

"Let us forget the distinction of right and wrong," Chuang Tzu said. "Let us find enjoyment in the realm of the infinite and remain there." To see all of life from the viewpoint of Tao, one can see the mutability of all things and give up the need to classify anything. This is not unlike what Rumi wrote centuries later: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” It is the pondering of mutability in a world without distinction that makes life more fulfilling.

No Standard of Conduct

In Taoism, the way to happiness is always to follow one's spontaneous nature. Since we are all constructed differently, we can find a sense of unity in our differences. There should never be a single standard of conduct. This is not the way of Tao and standards do little to foster the budding of Te in our 'coming to be real.'

Tranquility in Disturbance

Tranquility in Disturbance or equanimity of mind during the most disturbing circumstances is a way of understanding the meaning of wandering in the unfathomable. Even the most enlightened often seek meaning and when the moment crisis arrives, they are left wondering why they still face conflict. Since Tao evens out extremes - and this means one in non-attachment will often meet another who is very attached - Tao behaves the same in human relationships as it does in nature. A warm front pulls a cold front into a dance of wind. Opposites attract until balance is achieved. Knowing this, the enlightened can rise to the occasion. Tranquility in Disturbance is a type of initiation for the Taoist.

There is No Real Separation

When we identify ourselves with the Infinite, we see that we cannot be separate from Tao, nature and all we see around us. In our 'coming to be real' we are different, but we are not separate. When we wander in the Unfathomable, we have no need for distinctions. "I alone am muddled, as if I have no home to go back to." In the same way we might admire the intricate beauty of how nature designs everything so purposefully - we too, shine when we acknowledge our realness.

Arriving at Pure Experience

According to Chuang Tzu, all of us can arrive at a state of pure experience in which we accept any given presentation of what the universe is at any moment of time. We can be in rapport without the need for knowledge or intellectual processes. "The less knowledge one has of things, distinctions, and of right and wrong, the more pure is the experience. Heaven (Tao) and Earth (Yin/Yang) came into being with me together, and with me all things are one." In knowing this, we achieve the most pure perspective. To take this idea even deeper - our ability to discover this 'oneness' within actually opens us to seeing it all around us as synchronicity.

Fasting of the Mind

Fasting of the mind is a daily practice of overcoming the need for distinctions. We can meet experience as a reflection of our inner world. In other words, we can transcend the idea that anything (including us) has a separate nature from the whole. This is the essence of Chuang Tzu's butterfly dream. The awakened Taoist lives in perpetual wonder. It took many years to grow our assumptions and unraveling them is not without effort - but liberating.

Sitting in Forgetfulness

Sitting in Forgetfulness, one actually aligns with the flow of energy without defending the past against the future. We may know that what is unfolding is challenging, but our detachment makes it an adventure of discovery. The mind always knows what it knows and gallops around in search of proof. Sitting in Forgetfulness, we fast the mind of this tendency and settle into a state of innocence.

In the use of just 10 words - Identify Yourself with the Infinite and Wander in the Unfathomable - Chuang Tzu has captured all one needs to know to practice the Taoist way.