Zhuangzi translation and commentary

Thank you for coming to this site, a translation and commentary on the fourth century BC Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi! This is a work-in-progress, so your feedback is welcome. Feel free to read away below, or here are an introduction to this project, how to use this site, and how to leave comments.

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Bootstrap met with crazy Jie Yu. Crazy Jie Yu said, "What did Getting-up-at-noon tell you?

Bootstrap said, "He said, 'If a ruler creates his own classics, plans, rights, and measures, no one will dare not to listen and be transformed."

Crazy Jie Yu said, "Those are fake powers! Trying to order the world that way is like wading the ocean, chiseling a river, or making a mosquito shoulder a mountain. When wise people govern, do they govern on the the outside? They are straight and then they advance, certain they can do the job is all. Birds fly high to avoid the danger of shot arrows. Mouse rats tunnel deep under sacred hills to avoid the worry of being smoked or dug out. Do you lack the knowledge of these two vermin?" [1]



Nature's Root wandered north of Mount Huge and got above the Weed Waters where he ran into A Nameless Man and asked him, "How do you do the world?" [1]

A Nameless Man said, "Go! You rustic man, what an unhappy question! I am about to join with the former of things in being human. And if I get bored I'll ride on the bleary blurry bird to get outside the six extremes and wander in nothing-at-all village to stay in the pasted wasted wilds. Why are you blah bringing up saving the world to mess with my mind?" [2]

He asked again. A Nameless Man said, "Let your mind wander in the insipid, join energies with the desert, let things be as they are, with no room for yourself, and the world will save."



Lives-in-the-Light saw Lao Dan. "There's this guy, quick as an echo and strong as a beam. He gets things clearly and studies the way without tiring. Is this what the glorious rulers are like?"

Lao Dan said, "Compared to wise people, he's helter-skelter and a leashed beast, taxing his body and worrying his mind. The tigers stripes bring the hunt. The monkey's nimbleness and the fox-hunting dog bring the leash. Is that what the glorious rulers are like?"

Startled, Lives-in-the-Light said, "May I ask how glorious rulers govern?"

Lao Dan said,"When glorious rulers govern, their work covers the world but seems not to come from themselves. Their transformations release ten thousand things but people don't rely on them. Nothing stands out, so all things enjoy themselves. Standing in what cannot be fathomed, they wander where nothing exists." [1]



In Zheng there was a spirit priest called All-seasons, who knew when people would be born or die, recover or succumb, prosper or fail, live long or die young--down to the year, month, week, and date--like a spirit! When the people of Zheng saw him, they ran away but Liezi saw him and was intoxicated. He went home and told Master Pots. "I used to think your way was supreme, but there is more!"

Master Pots said, "I've only shared the patterns with you, not the substance. Are you sure you know my way? If you gather hen's without cocks, what kind of eggs should you expect? You push your way on the world too aggressively, demanding to be believed, so people can see right through you. Try bringing him so I can see him." 

Next day, Liezi brought him to see Mr. Pots. After they left he said to Liezi, "Sheesh, you're teacher's dead. No life in him!. He won't make it ten days. I something weird in him, saw wet ashes in him." 

Liezi went back inside, tears soaking his shirt, and told Mr. Pots. Mr. Pots said, "I just showed him the earth pattern--sprouting, continuous, directionless. He likely saw my mechanism for suppressing my powers. Try bringing him again." 

Next day, he brought him to see Mr. Pots again. After they left he said to Liezi, "It was a lucky thing your teacher ran into me! He's cured, all on fire with life. I saw him suppressing the scales." 

Liezi went back inside and told Mr. Pots. Mr. Pots said, "I just showed him the natural soil, where name and substance don't enter in and the mechanism comes from the heels.  He likely saw the mechanism of my good. Try bringing him again." 

Next day, he brought him to see Mr. Pots again. After they left he said to Liezi, "Your teacher is so unsettled I can't read him. Let him try settling down and I'll see him again."

Liezi went back inside and told Mr. Pots. Mr. Pots said, "I just showed him the great maelstrom where nothing wins out. He likely saw the mechanism of my balanced energiesTry bringing him again." 

Next day, he brought him to see Mr. Pots again. But before he'd even sat down he lost control of himself and ran. Mr. Pots said, "After him!"

Liezi went after him but couldn't catch up, came back and reported to Pots, saying, "He's gone. It's over. I couldn't catch him."

Pots said, ""I just showed him not yet having begun to come out from my ancestor. I came at him empty, undulating, ignorant of who or what, so he thought he was pell-melled, so he thought he was  washing away. That's why he fled."

Afterwards Liezi felt he had never yet begun to learn and so stayed home for three years without going out. He did the cooking for his wife and fed his pigs like they were people. He should no preferences among things, going from a carved gem back to a raw stone. Lump-like, alone, he stood his body there. Sealed in the disorder, he held unity to the end. [1]



Don’t make a name for yourself or follow a plan. Don’t take responsibility or claim knowledge. Thoroughly embody what can’t be exhausted and wander where you can’t be seen. Take everything you get from heaven but don’t consider it gain. Just be empty. Perfect people use their minds like mirrors, without anticipating the future or regretting the past. They respond without keeping, so they can dominate things without decimating them. [1]



The emperor of the north sea was Whish. The emperor of the south sea was Whoosh. The emperor of the center was Allfull. Whish and Whoosh sometimes met at Allfull’s place and he treated them exceptionally well. Whish and Whoosh decided to return Allfull’s powerful favors. “Everyone has seven holes to see, hear, eat and breathe, but he alone has none. Let’s try drilling him some!” Each day they drilled a hole and in seven days Allfull died.



Passages Related to the Inner Chapters



Huizi said to Zhuangzi, "Your words are useless."

Zhuangzi said, "You have to understand uselessness before you can talk about what's useful. Though the earth is enormous, people only use a footful at a time. Still, if you dug away around their feet all the way down to hell, could they still use it?"

Huizi said, "It would be useless." 

Zhuangzi said, "Then clearly the useless is useful." [1]



Zhuangzi said, "If people could shoot first and set their targets afterwards, then everyone in the world would be as good as Archer Yi, yes?"

Huizi said, "Yes."

Zhuangzi said, "In a world without a common 'right,' if each person sets their own right, then everyone would be an Emperor Yao, yes?"

Huizi said, "Yes."

Zhuangzi said, "So, the Confucians, the Mohists, Yang Zhu, Bing, these four plus you makes five. Who's right? Or is it like with Rude-rush? His student said, 'I have gotten your way: I can boil water in the winter and freeze ice in the summer.' Rude-rush said, 'That's just using Yang to summon Yang and Yin to summon Yin, not what I mean by the way. I'll show you my way.' 

Then he tuned some harps and put one in the hall and one in another room. When he plucked E on one, E sounded on the other and when he plucked A on one, A sounded on the other, because their tuning was the same. Then he changed the tuning on a single string so that it didn't hit any of the five notes, and yet when he plucked it all the other twenty-five strings sounded. It would be no different from the others as a sound, so it was the prince of sounds. Is that what it's like?" 

Huizi said, "Now the Confucians, Mohists, Yang Zhu and Bing have all argued with me, tackling each other with our words and sacking each other with our voices. How could they never have disagreed with me?"

Zhuangzi said, "A man from Qi maimed his son to sell him in Song, but the job as gatekeeper did not make him whole. People who collect delicate bottles wrap them with care. They search for lost children but don't leave the state. Are you any different? The man from Chu who was indentured as a maimed gatekeeper picked a fight with the boatman in the middle of the night when there was no one around. He never left the shore but it was enough to make him mad." [1]



Zhuangzi said to Huizi, "Confucius went along sixty years and changed sixty times. What he started out calling right he ended up calling wrong. You can't know that what he calls right today he hadn't called wrong for fifty-nine years."

Huizi said, "Confucius was determined to devote himself knowledge."

Zhuangzi said, "Confucius gave that up, he just never spoke of it. He said, 'We receive our talents at the great root and return the spirit by living.' Getting people to chirp in key, speak correctly, calculate profit and morality to decide what's good, bad, right and wrongthis is verbal submit. Getting them to submit in their minds and not dare rise up in intransi-churlishness, this settles the world's settling. Stop! Stop! I can't catch up with that guy!" [1]