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.

Table of contents

6:01

之所為,知人之所為者,至矣。知之所為者,而生也;知人之所為者,以其知之所知,以養其知之所不知,終其年而不中道夭者,是知之盛也。

雖然,有患。夫知有所待而後當,其所待者特未也。庸詎知吾所謂之非人乎?所謂人之非乎?且有真人,而後有真知。

何謂真人?古之真人,不逆寡,不雄,不謨士。若然者,過而弗悔,當而不自得也。若然者,登高不慄,入水不濡,入火不熱。是知之能登假於道也若此。

古之真人,其寢不夢,其覺無憂,其食不甘,其息深深。真人之息以踵,眾人之息以喉。屈服者,其嗌言若哇。其耆欲深者,其機淺。

古之真人,不知說生,不知惡死;其出不訢,其入不距;翛然而往,翛然而來而已矣。不忘其所始,不求其所終;受而喜之,忘而復之。是之謂不以心捐道,不以人助。是之謂真人

若然者,其心志,其容,其顙頯,淒然似秋,煖然似春,喜怒通四時,與有宜,而莫知其極。[a]

古之真人其狀而不朋,若不而不承,

與乎其觚而不堅也,

張乎其虛而不華也,

邴邴乎其似喜乎!

崔乎其不得已乎!

滀乎進我色也,

與乎止我也,

厲乎其似世乎!

謷乎其未可制也,

連乎其似好閉也,

悗乎忘其言也。[b]

古之真人,以待之,不以人入。古之真人以目視目,以耳聽耳,以心復心,若然者,其平也繩,其變也循。

故其好之也一,其弗好之也一。其一也一,其不一也一。其一,與為徒;其不一,與人為徒。與人不相勝也,是之謂真人


Knowing what nature does, and knowing what people do, is perfect. Those who know what nature does are born of nature. Those who know what humans do use what they know they know to nurture what they know they don’t know, live out their natural years and not die along the way. This is the height of knowledge.

Even so, there is a problem. Knowledge depends on something before it can be fitting. But what it depends on has not yet been fixed. So how do I know that what I call nature is not really human and what I call human is not really nature? Only when there are true people can we have true knowledge. [1]

What do I mean by true people? The true people of olden times did not resist poverty, did not glory in success, did not plan their affairs. Such people missed without regretting it and hit without being pleased. Such people could climb high without shuddering. They could enter water without getting wet and fire without getting burned. This is how knowledge can transcend falseness along the way. [2]

The true people of the olden days slept without dreams and woke without worries, ate simply and breathed deeply. True people breathe with the heels whereas most people breathe with the throat, bent over, blurting out words like vomit. The deeper their senior-citizen desires, the shallower their natural impulses. 

The true people of the olden days knew nothing of loving life and nothing of hating death. They emerged without delight and returned without resistance. They went and came briskly, is all. They neither forgot their beginning nor sought their end. They enjoyed what they received, forgot it, and handed it back. I call this not using the mind to lose the Way, not using the human to help nature. I call these true people. [3]

Such people, their minds are focused, their faces placid, foreheads broad. They are crisp like the autumn, warm like the spring. Their joy and anger comprehends the four seasons and accords with things but no one knows their limits. 

The true people of the olden days, their demeanor was polite but not chummy; 

as though they lacked but didn't take.

With! Idiosyncratic but not stubborn!

Strength! Vacant but not splendid!

Bingbing! It looks like happiness!

Steep! What can't be helped!

Laah! Showing my own face!

With! Restraining my powers!

Ugly! They resemble the world but--

Proud!--they can't be copied;

Still!--they seem shut up

Duh!--and forgot what they were saying.

The true people of the olden days used nature to serve man but didn't use man to intrude nature. They used the eye to see the eye, the ear to hear the ear, and the mind to grasp the mind. This way, their peace is moored and their movements accord. 

Hence what they liked was all the same; what they didn't like was all the same. Their saming it was the same; their not saming it was the same. Saming it, they were followers of nature. Not saming it, they were followers of humanity. When neither heaven nor humanity dominates the other, this is called being a true person. [4]





[1] Note the pattern, as in 2.03-9, etc., of (often a very Zhuangzi-sounding) proposition followed by an objection, usually logical, leaving one to wonder who the speakers are and what Zhuangzi's final position is. Is this an explanation of perfected people? The second paragraph here seems to pull the rug out from under Zhuangzi's whole philosophy, which depends one way or another on the distinction between the natural and the merely human. If helping life along is human nature, and if the effort not to do so is artificial, then Confucius may have been right all along!

The last line is full of puzzles. He says we need true people before we can have true knowledge, but how can we identify true people in the absence of true knowledge? It sounds like truth by hypothesis. He may be saying, like Aristotle, that we need to have a sense of the just person before we can define just actions. But it's still just an assertion of his ideal. Even worse, the passage starts out by contrasting nature and humanity; so what is the "truly human" supposed to represent? Nature or its contrast?

[2] The description of the true people here sounds similar to Royal Relativity's perfect people in 2:11. There I speculated that perfect people are not immune to disasters but rather that they do not regard these things as disasters since they are not able to know for sure that they are really harmful. That is, they enter the water without getting "wet" and fire without getting "burned." I find that less plausible in this context but don't know how else to account for the statements here. In 5:01, Confucius describes Sad Nag as 'transcending falsehood.'


[3] Here he says that true people do not love life or hate death. In the first paragraph of this section, he said true people live out their natural years. Is the goal longevity, or to stop worrying about life and death? Or both? It reminds me of the question in 1:01, whether the sad thing was to envy Grandpa Peng his old age when other things were even older, or to envy him at all.

[4] Returning to my concerns in [1] as to whether the "true man" is meant to represent nature or, as his name implies, man, Guo Xiang notes: 真人人,齊萬致。萬致不相非,人不相勝,故曠然無不一,然無不在(五),而玄同彼我也。"True people unify nature and man and even out all things. There are no contradictions between things or competition between man and nature. So, they are empty and not different from anything, oblivious and not not anywhere, obscurely unifying  self and other."—The reasonable opening gambit is a red herring. The True Man doesn't make the distinction, is not man or heaven but both.

Cheng says Laah is 'gathering like water,' and compare the ugly to Confucius besieged in Kuang: outwardly troubled but inwardly cool. He distinguished the verse from what follows: 自此以前,歷顯真人自利利他內外行。從此以下,明真人為政之方也 Prior to this discusses how the true person benefits themselves and others; afterwards, it describes his methods of government,

Guo takes all this (and the section elided by Graham, which mentions "Qiu") to be about Confucius. CT 6.165 凡此皆自彼而之不在己,則雖處萬機之,而常閒暇自適,忽然不覺事之經身,悗然不識言之在口。而人之大迷,真謂至人之為勤行者也 All that stuff people say is from an external perspective, not himself. 

Cheng says 夫至人者,動若行雲,止若谷神,境智洞忘,虛心玄應,豈有懷於為,情係於拯救者乎!而凡俗之人,觸塗封執,見舟航庶品,亭毒群生,實謂聖人勤行不怠。詎知汾水之上,凝淡窅然?故〔前〕文云孰●以為事也 The prefect person moves like rain, stays like a valley, forgetting outer world and inner wisdom, emptily merges. How could they harbor intention about things and be emoptionally tioed to saving them? But ordinary people, bumping sand grasping, seeing a million vehicles and countless remedies, say the sage works without tiring [Analect 7.34?]. How could they understand [Yao's] losing the world in a daze north of the river Fen (1.05)? Hence what it said above about not making things his business."

[a] Graham moves the next 101 characters to later in the chapter, 6.08. 

[b] Graham removes a 72-character section here which he places at the end of 5.03. He takes two fragments from CTP 24.13-4 (HYZY 24/96-7), of 23 and 17 characters respectively, reverses their order, and inserts them here. Thus, though he found himself at the pinnacle of al things, he was always easily spontaneous. He was obliviously unaware of the work running through his person, gladly unconscious of the words in his mouth. People are so confused that the really say the perfected one doed this on purpose!"