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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孔子曰:「彼方之外者也,而丘游方之內者也。外內不相及,而丘使女往弔之,丘則陋矣。彼方且與造者為人,而地之一。彼以生為附贅縣疣,以死為決 以死為決肒潰癰。夫若然者,又惡知死生先後之所在!假於異,託於同體,忘其肝膽,遺其耳目,反覆終始,不知端,芒然彷徨乎塵垢之外,逍遙乎無為之業。彼又惡能憒憒然為世俗之禮,以觀眾人之耳目哉!」




孔子曰:「魚相造乎水,人相造乎道。相造乎水者,穿池而養給;相造乎道者,無事而生。[a] 泉涸,魚相與處於陸,相呴以溼,相濡以沫,不如相忘於江湖。與其譽堯而非桀,不如兩忘而化其道。故曰:魚相忘乎江湖,人相忘乎道術。」



Mister Mulberry-home, Anti-Mencius, and Mister Great-Zither all three joined together as friends. They said, "Who can join with others in not joining with them, do for others by not doing for them? Who can climb heaven, roam the mists, and whirl in the infinite, living forgetful of one another for ever and ever?"  The three men looked at each other and smiled.  None was reluctant in his mind, so they joined as friends.

Nothing happened for a while and then Master Mulberry-home died.  Confucius heard about it and sent Zigong over to help out.  One of them was plaiting frames for silkworms and the other was playing the zither while they harmonized together and sang:

            Come on, Mulberry-home!

            Come on, Mulberry-home!

            You've returned to your truth,

            While we go on as men-o!

Zigong hurried in and approached them, saying; "Excuse me, but is it proper to sing over a corpse?"

The two men looked at each other and smiled, saying "What does he know about what's proper?"

Zigong went back and reported this to Confucius, asking "What kind of men are those?  Correct behavior is nothing to them, as though their physical bodies were something external.  They sing overlooking the corpse without even changing expression.  I don't know what to say about them.  What kind of men are they?"

Confucius said, "Those are men who wander outside the rules.  I am one of those who wanders within them. Inside and outside don't meet, and it was stupid of me to send you to mourn. They are about to join with the former of things in being human  and wander in the single energies of heaven and earth.  They think of life as a hanging tumor and a dangling mole and of death as a lost wart or a bursting boil. People such as this, how can they say whether death and life are ground gained or lost?  They lend themselves to different things but trust to their all being of one body. They forget liver and gall and abandon the ears and eyes. They exchange the beginning for the end and cannot tell relatives from extremes. Bewildered, they dilly-dally beyond the dirt and dust, hippy-dippy-ing their do-nothing careers. How could people like that go all tick-tick over conventional propriety just to put on a display for the ears and eyes of the crowd?"

Zigong said, "So why then does my master follow rules himself?"

Confucius said, "Me, I am one of those who are punished by nature.  Still, I share this with you." [1]

Zigong said, "May I ask about these rules?"

Confucius said, "Fish  form one another in water.  People form one another in the Way.  For things which form one another in the water, dig a pond and they will be provided for.  For things which form one another in the Way, don't busy yourself with them and their lives will be settled. When the springs dry up and the fish are stuck together on the land, they douse each other with spit and spray each other with drool, but it is not as good as forgetting each other in the rivers and lakes. So, too, praising Emperor Yao and vilifying tyrant Jie is nothing like forgetting them both and changing with the way. Hence it is said, 'Fish forget one another in the rivers and lakes; people forget one another in the arts of the way."

Zigong said, "May I ask about deviant people?"

He said, "Deviant people deviate from people but converge with nature.  Hence it is said, 'Nature's loser is a prince among men.  The prince among men is nature's loser.'"

[1] I find this an interesting and beautiful line. The ambiguity of the situation centers on the status of Confucius' "punishment."  The character 戮 lù usually refers to the slaughtering of political enemies (3:01, 4:01, 9:01), though the fact that Confucius is still alive suggests that here it means something more along the line of mutilation.  It is cognate with the characters 瘳 chōu, which means, by contrast, "recovery" or "health" (also in 4:01, as well as 7:05 and 11:11 ), 寥 liáo, which I translated as "absence" in 6:04 and 6:07, and 繆 móu, which means "tangled" or "knotted together" (11:12). At the heart of all these characters is 翏 liù which Zhuangzi uses in his "Pipings of Nature" passage (2:01) to describe the blowing of the wind as it rushes through the various openings in the world.  Each opening produces a different sound depending on its shape.  Similarly, the image implies, the differences among philosophers are simply so much wind stemming entirely in their initial choices of definitions.  We might speculate then that there is a pun at work here assimilating Confucius' condition to the wind.  Its status as punishment or health, deficiency or perfection, is ambiguous and dependent on one's choice of definitions and standards. 

The beautiful part of the line, to me, is the end, where Confucius says to Zigong, "Still, I share this with you." The remark is surprising and has two meanings. On the one hand, he is delivering to Zigong the alarming news that he too, like his teacher, is defective. On the other hand, though, he identifies their defect as something they have in common, something which binds them together. Although this seems to be an admission of inferiority, it stands in a suggestive juxtaposition to the behavior of the Friends. In spite of their designation as "friends," these characters are cold and distant to one another. Not only do they speak about Zigong in the third person when he is standing right in front of them, they never even directly address one another: they harmonize but do not converse. Similarly, in the story of Masters Priest, Pomp, Farmer, and Arrive, their interaction is limited to challenging opportunities to each other to express their skeptical indifference to their disease and immanent deaths. This stands in marked contrast to the obvious and touching warmth of the relationship between Confucius and Zigong. This poses the familiar question: who is this story really about, Confucius or the three masters? Who is the hero? 

Assuming for the sake of argument that Confucius is defective, why should his defect be less forgivable than that of the Commander of the Right in 3:03, Uncle Splay-limb in 4:07, or others? Could Confucius be the example of what it means to have "splayed powers" (4:07 [1])? If Confucius is the real hero, what does that say about the friends, and even the whole notion of "true people" developed throughout this chapter that they represent? Even if Zhuangzi's focus is not character development but epiphanies, are the true people a subject of psychological study, or are they a point of reference? Indeed, they seem more like figures painted in the background.

[a] Graham places the passages excised from 6.02 here based on continuity of theme.