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Sufism and Taoism

Izutsu (ST:293-297) – Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi)

Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu

quarta-feira 16 de março de 2022, por Cardoso de Castro


IZUTSU  ,Toshihiko. Sufism and Taoism  . Berkeley  : University of California Press, 1984, p. 293-297


Turning from Lao-tzu   to Chuang-tzu  , we feel ourselves standing on a far more solid ground. For, although we are no better informed about his real life and identity, at least we know that we are dealing with an historical person, who did exist in about the middle of the fourth century B.C., as a contemporary of Mencius, the great shaman  -poet Ch’u Yuan of Ch’u to whom reference has been made, and the brilliant dialectician Hui Shih or Hui-tzu with whom he himself was a good match in the mastery of the art of manipulating logical concepts.

According to the account given by Ssu Ma Ch’ien in the above-mentioned Book of History, Chuang-tzu or Chuang Chou was a native of Meng; he was once an official at Ch’i  -Yuan in Meng; he had tremendous erudition, but his doctrine was essentially based on the teachings of Lao-tzu; and his writing, which counted more than 100,000 words, was for the most part symbolic or allegorical.

[294] It is significant that Meng, which is mentioned by Ssu Ma Ch’ien as Chuang-tzu’s birthplace, is in present-day Ho Nan and was a place in the ancient state of Sung. I regard this as significant because Sung was a country where the descendants of the ancient Yin   people were allowed to live after having been conquered by the Chou people. There these descendants of the once-illustrious people, despised by the conquerors as the ‘conquered’ and constantly threatened and invaded by their neighbors, succeeded in preserving the religious beliefs and legends of their ancestors. The significance of this fact with regard to the thesis   of the present study will at once be realized if one but remembers the animistic-shamanic spirit   of Yin culture as manifested in its sacrificial ceremonies and rites of divination as well   as in the myths connected with this dynasty. The people of Yin were traditionally famous for their cult of spirits and worship of the ‘God  -above’. From of old the distinction between Yin and Chou was made by such a dictum as: ‘Yin worships spirits while Chou places the highest value on human culture.’

Quite independently of the observation of this historical relation between the Yin Dynasty and the Sung people, Fung Yu Lang in his History of Chinese Philosophy points out — quite rightly, to my mind   — that the form of Chuang-tzu’s thought is close to that of the Ch’u people. ‘We should keep in mind’, he writes, ‘the fact that the state of Sung bordered Ch’u, making it quite possible that Chuang-tzu was influenced on the one hand by Ch’u, and at the same time was under the influence of the ideas of the Dialecticians. (Hui Shih, it will be remembered, was a native of Sung.) Thus by using the dialectics of the latter, he was able to put his soaring thoughts into order, and formulate a unified philosophical system.’

Of the ‘spirit of Ch’u’ we have talked in an earlier passage in connection with the basic structure of Lao-tzu’s thought. Fung Yu Lang compares the Elegies of Ch’u (Ch’u Tz’u) with the Chuang-tzu and observes a remarkable resemblance between the two in the display of ‘a richness of imagination and freeness of spirit’. But he neglects to trace this resemblance down to its shamanic origin, so that the ‘richness of imagination and freeness of spirit’ is left unexplained. However it may be, we shall refrain from going any further into the details of this problem at this point, for much more will be said in the following chapter.

The problem of the relationship between Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu has been discussed at length by philologists. As we have already observed the major doctrines of Chuang-tzu have traditionally been regarded as being based upon the teachings of Lao-tzu. On this view, Lao-tzu of course was a predecessor of Chuang-tzu in Taoist [295] philosophy; the main lines of thought had been laid down by the former, and the latter simply took them over from him and developed them in his own way into a grand-scale allegorical system according to the dictates of his philosophical and literary ability. This view seems to be a natural   conclusion drawn from the observation of the following two facts: (1) the existence of an undeniable inner connection between the two in the very structure of their world-view and their mystical way of thinking; (2) Chuang-tzu himself often mentioning Lao-tzu as one of the earlier Taoist sages, and the expressions used being in some places almost the same.

The matter, however, is not as simple as it looks at the first glance. In fact serious questions have been raised in modern times about this problem. The Tao Te Ching   itself, to begin with, is nowhere referred to in the Chuang-tzu, although Lao-tzu, as a legendary figure, appears in its pages, and his ideas are mentioned. But this latter fact proves almost nothing conclusively, for we know that many of the persons who are made to play important roles in the Chuang-tzu are simply fictitious. Similarities in language may easily be explained away as the result either of later interpolations in the Tao   Te Ching itself, or as going back to common sources.

Yang Jung   Kuo, to whom reference has been made earlier, may be mentioned as a representative present-day scholar who not only doubts Lao-tzu’s having been a predecessor of Chuang-tzu, but goes a step further and completely reverses the chronological order. In an interesting chapter of his above-mentioned book, History of Thought in Ancient China, he decidedly takes the position that Chuang-tzu was not a disciple of Lao-tzu; that, on the contrary, the latter — or, to be more exact, the Tao Te Ching — was nothing other than a continuation and further development of the Chuang-tzu. And the way he defends his position is strictly philological; he tries to prove his position through an examination of some of the key-concepts common to Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. And he concludes that the Tao Te Ching presupposes the prior existence of the Chuang-tzu. For instance, the most important of all key-concepts of Taoism, tao (Wag) as the cosmic principle of natural growth, or Nature, is in the Chuang-tzu not yet fully developed in its inner structure. The concept is already there, he says, but it is as yet a mere beginning. The Tao Te Ching takes over this concept at this precise point and elaborates it into an absolute principle, the absolutely unknowable Source, which is pre-eternal and from which emanate all things. And Yang Jung Kuo thinks that this historical relation between the two — Chuang-tzu being the initial point and Lao-tzu representing the culmination — is observable throughout the whole structure of Taoist philosophy.

This argument, highly interesting though it is, is not conclusive. [296] For the key-concepts in question allow of an equally justifiable explanation in terms of a process of development running from Lao-tzu to Chuang-tzu. As regards the metaphysics   of tao, for instance, we have to keep in mind that Lao-tzu gives only the result, a definitely established monistic system of archetypal imagery whose center is constituted by the absolute Absolute, tao, which develops stage after stage by its own ‘natural’ creative activity down to the world of multiplicity. This ontology, as I have pointed out before, is understandable only on the assumption that it stands on the basis of an ecstatic or mystical experience of Existence. Lao-tzu, however, does not disclose this experiential aspect of his world-view except through vague, symbolic hints and suggestions. This is the reason why the Tao Te Ching tends to produce an impression of being a philosophical elaboration of something which precedes it. That ‘something which precedes it’, however, may not necessarily be something taken over from others.

Chuang-tzu, on the other hand, is interested precisely in this experiential aspect of Taoist mysticism   which Lao-tzu leaves untouched. He is not mainly concerned with constructing a metaphysics of a cosmic scale ranging from the ultimate Unknowable down to the concrete world of variegated colors and forms. His chief concern is with the peculiar kind of‘experience’ itself by which one penetrates the mystery of Existence. He tries to depict in detail, sometimes allegorically, sometimes theoretically, the very psychological or spiritual process through which one becomes more and more ‘illumined’ and goes on approaching the real structure of reality hidden behind the veil of sensible   experience.

His attitude is, in comparison with Lao-tzu, epistemological, rather than metaphysical. And this difference separates these two thinkers most fundamentally, although they share a common interest in the practical effects that come out of the supra-sensible experience of the Way. The same difference may also be formulated in terms of upward movement and downward movement. Lao-tzu tries to describe metaphysically how the absolute Absolute develops naturally into One, and how the One develops into Two, and the Two into Three, and the Three into ‘ten thousand things’. It is mainly a description of an ontological — or emanational -movement downward, though he emphasizes also the importance of the concept of Return, i.e., the returning process of all things back to their origin. Chuang-tzu is interested in describing epistemologi-cally the rising movement of the human mind from the world of multiplicity and diversity up to the ontological plane   where all distinctions become merged into One.

Because of this particular emphasis on the epistemological aspect of the experience of the tao, Chuang-tzu does not take the trouble of [297] developing the concept itself of tao as a philosophical system. This is why his metaphysics of tao appears imperfect, or imperfectly developed. This, however, does not necessarily mean that he represents chronologically an earlier stage than Lao-tzu. For, as we have just seen, the difference between them may very well be only the difference of emphasis.

I shall now bring this chapter to a close by giving a brief explanation of the book itself known by the name Chuang-tzu.

The important Bibliography contained in the Chronicle of the Han Dynasty notes that the Chuang-tzu consists of fifty-two chapters. But the basic text of the book which we actually have in our hands has only thirty-three chapters. This is the result of editorial work done by Kuo Hsiang. In fact all the later editions of the Chuang-tzu ultimately go back to this Kuo Hsiang recension. This eminent thinker of the Taoist school critically examined the traditional text, left out a number of passages which he regarded as definitely spurious and worthless, and divided what survived this examination into three main groups. The first group is called Interior Chapters (nei p’ien) consisting of seven chapters. The second is called Exterior Chapters (wai p’ien) and consists of fifteen chapters. And the third is called Miscellaneous Chapters (tza pi’en) and contains eleven chapters.

Setting aside the problem of possible additions and interpolations we might say generally that the Interior Chapters represent Chuang-tzu’s own thought and ideas, and are probably from his own pen. As to the two other groups, scholars are agreed to-day that they are mostly later developments, interpretations and elucidations added to the main text by followers of Chuang-tzu. Whether the Interior Chapters come from Chuang-tzu’s own pen or not, it is definite that they represent the oldest layer of the book and are philosophically as well as literarily the most essential part, while the Exterior and Miscellaneous Chapters are of but secondary importance.

Ver online : Sufismo y taoísmo. Volumen II Laozi y Zhuangzi.