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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People who have the knowledge for one job, the manners for one town, or the powers to impress one ruler to get put in charge of one country see themselves like this. Song Rongzi would  laugh at them the same way. The whole world could praise him and he wouldn't be pleased or condemn him and he wouldn't be upset. He has settled the difference between inner and outer and distinguished the limits of glory and disgrace. Yet he stops there. With regard to the world, he didn't keep score, but there is still something he left unplanted. [1]

Liezi rides the wind around. There's nothing like it! He’s gone two weeks at a time. He doesn't count his money but, though he avoids walking, he relies on something. If he could mount the world's regularities and ride the changing weather to travel forever, then what would there be to rely on? [2]

So I say that perfect people have no selves, spiritual people have no accomplishments, and wise people have no names. [3]

[1] Song Rongzi, with his open-mindedness to glory and disgrace, which he sets aside as external, seems to have adopted the big perspective. On the other hand, the fact that he is laughing suggests that his perspective is small. Is his laughter "similar" to that of the cicada, dove, and quail? Or to that of the narrator of the previous section who described them as "these vermin"? It is possible that the uncertainty of the "similarly" exploits the puzzle noted in the previous section of rejecting judgmental perspectives without being judgmental oneself. All this hinges on the question of what Song Rongzi "left unplanted."

[2]  Liezi is described here in magical terms. Interestingly, Zhuangzi does not seem skeptical of magic but rather critical of the use of magic (or technology, or money) to "fix" the world rather than to embrace it as it is. Zhuangzi's language here is metaphoric. There is no consensus among commentators on precisely what these terms mean, but I think "the world's regularities" are the orderly passage of the days and seasons, and "the changes in the six mists" are the fluctuations in the weather. The point seems to be that, impressive as Liezi's accomplishments are, he still relies on something to escape the world, whereas if he accepted things as they are, the everyday, what need would there be to rely on anything? Could this have something to do with what Song Rongzi left unplanted?

[3] Context suggests to me that these are supposed to be paradoxes. 名 míng, "name," also means fame or reputation, so "wise people having no names" would sound like "true celebrities are unknown." Spirituality was often understood as the power of action at a distance, like the power of the sun to make things grow, so saying that spiritual people accomplish nothing would also be an oxymoron. That leaves "perfect people have no selves," which is a mystery to me. Assuming that 1:01, 1:02, and 1:03 go together, it is interesting to ask how we get from Roe and Breeze to this final set of paradoxes. Is there a direct line between them or has the conversation just wandered?

gù fū zhī xiào yī guān , xíng bǐ yī xiāng , dé hé yī jūn ér zhēng yī guó zhě , qí zì shì yě yì ruò cǐ yǐ 。 ér sòng róng zǐ yóu rán xiào zhī 。 qiě jǔ shì ér yù zhī ér bù jiā quàn , jǔ shì ér fēi zhī ér bù jiā jǔ , dìng hū nèi wài zhī fēn , biàn hū róng rǔ zhī jìng , sī yǐ yǐ 。 bǐ qí yú shì , wèi shù shù rán yě 。 suī rán , yóu yǒu wèi shù yě 。

fū liè zǐ yù fēng ér xíng , líng rán shàn yě , xún yǒu wǔ rì ér hòu fǎn 。 bǐ yú zhì fú zhě , wèi shù shù rán yě 。 cǐ suī miǎn hū xíng , yóu yǒu suǒ dài zhě yě 。 ruò fū chéng tiān dì zhī zhèng , ér yù liù qì zhī biàn , yǐ yóu wú qióng zhě , bǐ qiě è hū dài zāi !

gù yuē : zhì rén wú jǐ , shén rén wú gōng , shèng rén wú míng 。

People who have the smarts to ace one class, the luck to bear one market, or the coincidence to lead one country are like this. Gandhi would smile at them the same way. The whole world could love him and he wouldn't be pleased or hate him and he wouldn't be sad. He didn't care about wealth or status, but that's as far as he got.

It would be cool to be magic, flying around, invisible. You wouldn't have to worry about wealth or status, but you'd still need the magic. Imagine instead surfing the weather, changing with the changes. Then what would you need?

So, I say wise people aren't; successful people don't; and the brightest star doesn't shine.