Zhuangzi translation and commentary

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Qu Boyu went along sixty years and changed sixty timesWhat 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."

All things are born from somewhere but no one sees their source, they make their entrance but no one sees the door. People honor what knowledge knows but none know to rely on what knowledge doesn't know and then to know. Can't this be called great doubt? Stop! Stop! There's no escaping it. Is what we call "so" so? [1]



The way comprehends. Division is completion, and ruin. What's bad about division is that people take the divisions as entire. What's bad about entirety is that it goes on needing to be entired. [1]

Leaving and not coming back, they've seen a ghost. If they leave and get what they're looking for, they've gotten death. Destroyed but still here--it's the same as being a ghost.  Using shapes to model the shapeless, they're fixed.

Things emerge from no root and re-enter through no opening. They have substance but no location. They grow but without roots or tips. What emerges through no opening has substance. What has substance but no location is space. What grows without root or tip is time. There is emergence, there is death. There entrance, there is exit. The entrance and exit with no visible form is nature's door. Nature's door isn't. All things come from isn't. Being cannot use being to make being; it must come from what isn't. What isn't is one with what isn't. This is where the wise secrete themselves. [2]



What is ultimately fixed in space shines with natural light. What shines with a natural light, people see as people, things see as things. When people can cultivate it, only then will they be constant. One who is constant, people will shelter under and nature will aid. Those who people shelter under are called nature's subjects. Those who nature aids are called sons of heaven. [1]



In the olden days, people’s knowledge got somewhere. Where did it get? There were those who thought there had never been anything. Perfect! Done! There was nothing to add. Next were those who thought there were things. [1] They mourned birth and saw death as a return by which distinctions end. The next said "Originally there was nothing. Then there was life, with life suddenly death. [2] They took nothing as the head, life as the body and death as the tail. Who knows the single ancestor of something, nothing, life, and death? I’ll be that person’s friend.” These three are like branches of a family, renamed after their occupations and locations, until they are no longer one. 

There is life—kersplat! Scattering, we state our shifting perspectives. If you try to explain your shifting perspectives, it's not what you say. Still, we can never knowThe Christmas goose has white meat and dark. You can separate them but you can't separate them.  Someone touring a house sees all the bedrooms and halls but still has to go to the outhouse. Do this for all the moving rights. We insist based on these shifting perspectives.

Let me try explaining what I mean about shifting perspectives. They are rooted in life but take knowledge as their teacher and on that basis calculate rights and wrongs. As a result we have names and things, for which each takes himself to be the judge. To make others deem them righteous, they'll die to fulfill righteousness. For such people, what is useful is considered smart; what's not useful, stupid.  Make it, and you're famous; fail, and you're a fool. Shifting perspectives is what people are today, like the cicada and the student dove agreeing on what they have in common.



Southern Uncle, Mr. Dapple, sat leaning on his armrest. He looked up and sighed. Yancheng Zi, coming in, saw him and said,"Sir, you are unique among things. Can the body really be turned to dried bones? Can the mind really be turned to dead ashes?"

He said, "I once lived in a mountain cave. During that time, Tian He was rewarded three times over by the people of Qi. I must have showed myself in order for him to have known me. I must have been selling something in order to him to come buy. If I had not had something, what would there have been for him to know? If I had not been selling something, what would there be for him to buy? Ugh! I pitied those people who bury themselves. And I pitied those who pity people. And I pitied those who pity those who pity people. But those days are long past." [1]



Yancheng Ziyou said to East Wall Mr. Dapple, "Since I first heard your words, after one year I was wild; after two, I followed; after three, I got through; after four, I was a thing; after five, I came along; after six, the ghosts entered; after seven, nature ripened; after eight, I did not know death and did not know life; after nine, it was a great mystery. 

The action of life is death. To motivate just behavior, they say death has a cause. But the flourishing of life doesn't have a cause. Really? How come? How not come? Heaven's predicability, earth's human deviance--how should I find them? No one knows how it ends, so why not fate? No one knows where it starts, so why fate? Things respond to each other, so why not ghosts? Things don't respond to each other, so why ghosts?" [1]



Archer Yi was a master at hitting the target but inept at getting people not to praise him. The wise are masters of nature but inept with people. Only the complete person can master heaven and be hood with people. Only vermin can be vermin; only vermin can be natural. The complete person hates nature, or hates the human "nature." How much more so my "Is it nature? Is it human?" [1]



Lodged words: 90%

Weighted words: 70%

Goblet words rise daily with the sun and harmonize with heaven's relativity. 

Lodged words: 90%. You borrow an outsider to explain it.  Parents don't recommend their own children. A parent praising their child is not as good as someone who isn't their parent. Then it isn't my fault; it's the other person's. If they are like me, they respond; if they are not like me, they resist. If they are like me, they call it right; if they are not like me, they call it wrong.

Weighted words: 70%. The way to end discussion, because they are grand-dads. But if they are ahead in years but haven't woven and grown their experience, then they're not really ahead. One who lacks what it takes to be ahead of others lacks the human way. And one who lacks the human way may be called a stale person.

Goblet words rise daily with the sun and harmonize with heaven's relativity. Orient them with the flowing flood, and so live out your natural yearsWithout speaking, things are compatible. Compatibility and speaking are not compatible. Speaking and compatibility are not compatible. So I say: don't talk. Saying not to talk, I can speak my whole life without ever speaking. I can not speak my whole life without ever not speaking. 

There's a point from which things are right. There's point from which things are wrong. There's a point from which things are so. There's point from which things are not so. How are they so? In the so-ing them they are so. How are they not so? In the not-so-ing of them they are not so. Where are they right? They are right in the righting of them. Where are they wrong? They are wrong in the wronging of them.  

Things surely have a way they can be so. Things surely have a way they can be right. Nothing is not so. Nothing is not right. If it weren't for goblet words rising daily with the sun and harmonizing with heaven's relativity, who could go on or long?

All things are seeds, so they oversee each other while different shapes. Beginnings and ends are like a loop, but no one gets its turning. This is called nature's equality, which is nature's relativity.



A man of Zheng named Lax mumbled and grumbled  at Furcoat's place and, after three years of submission, Lax was a Confucian scholar. As the river's moisture spreads for nine miles, his beneficence reached his whole family and made his little brother a Mohist. The Confucian and Mohist argued and their father sided with the kid, Little Mo. After ten years of this, Lax killed himself. The father dreamt of him, saying, "I'm the one who made your son a Mohist. Why not thank me? It's turning me into juniper berries!" 

When the former of things rewards people, he doesn't reward the people they are but the nature in the people. For he made him. People differentiating themselves from people, in order to despise their dear ones--it's like Qi people at a well, not letting each other drink. So I say, people today are all like Lax. And so, people with powers do it by not knowing, how much more so people with the way! They used to call this ‘the punishment for running from heaven.’ [5]



Zhong Ni asked the Grand Historians Big Quiver, Uncle Always Defective, and Pigsuede, "Duke Ling of Wey overindulged in wine, ignored the government of his home state but spent his time hunting with stringed arrows and nets, ignoring his relations with the feudal lords. So why is he known as the Spiritual Duke?"

Big Quiver said, "Because he was."

Uncle Always Defective said, "Duke Ling bathed in a tub with his three wives. But when Historian Eel brought imperial gifts to give him, Ling supported and assisted him. It's because his crudity in the first instance was so extreme, but his appreciation of the worthy in the second was so solemn, that he is known as the Spiritual Duke"

Pigsuede said, "When Duke Ling died, divinations about burying him in his old family graveyard were unfavorable, while divinations about burying him at Sand Mound were favorable. When we'd dug a few feet, we found a stone coffin. Having cleaned and examined it, there was an engraving: 'Since he can't count on his children, the Spiritual Duke should seize this spot for burial.' Duke Ling was "ling" from long before. What do these two guys know about it?"