Chuang Tzu
(369 BC-286 BC)

Chuang Tzu (369 BC-286 BC):
Great Awakening, Butterfly Dream,
Transformation, Nature of the Tao

After Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu is considered the greatest Taoist sage of China. After Confucius, Mencius (372 BC-289 BC) is considered the greatest Confucian sage. It is interesting that these two sages were contemporaries, but there is no record of them quoting the other in their writings. Chuang Tzu titles Chapter I of his book "Transcendental Bliss" with a story of the Leviathan fish which "changes into a bird, called the Rukh, whose back is many thousand miles in breadth. With a mighty effort it rises, and its wings obscure the sky like clouds." Chuang Tzu is telling his readers that his vision is from a celestial point of view. While studying at Cornell, I went to Anthony Damiani's American Brahman Bookstore one day (1968). He read to me the passage on "Constant Transformation"— "Isn't that wonderful?" he smiled, and that joyful grin is still in my Mind's Eye now. I have three stories from Chuang Tzu on my web site: A Cook Initiates a Prince, Gardener Watering Ditch, Silent Greetings, as well as Chuang Tzu's views on Peace. For this Poetry Anthology, I've chosen the more poetic passages from Chuang Tzu which have spurred me on to spiritual awakening. The translations are from Herbert Giles, but the one on the Tao is my own. (Peter Y. Chou)

The Great Awakening (Ch. II: The Identity of Contraries)

By and by comes the Great Awakening, and then we find out that this life
is really a great dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves
they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both
dreams; and I who say you are dreams— I am but a dream myself. This is a
paradox. Tomorrow a sage may arise to explain it; but that tomorrow will not
be until ten thousand generations have gone by.

Butterfly Dream (Ch. II: The Identity of Contraries)

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither,
to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as
a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awaked, and
there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man. Between a man
and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. The transition is called Metempsychosis.

Constant Transformation (Ch. VI: The Great Supreme)

To have attained to the human form must be always a source of joy.
And then, to undergo countless transitions, with only the infinite
to look forward to— what incomparable bliss is that! Therefore
it is that the truly wise rejoice in that which can never be lost,
but endures always.

On the Nature of the Tao (Ch. XVII: Autumn Floods)

Limited by space, a frog in the well has no idea what is the ocean.
Limited by time, an insect in summer has no idea what is ice.
Limited by intellect, a man in life has no idea what is Consciousness.

— Chuang Tzu (369 BC-286 BC)
     Chuang Tzu: Taoist Philosopher and Chinese Mystic,
     Translated by Herbert A. Giles (2nd Revised Edition, 1926)
     George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1961, pp. 46-47, 76, 159-160

The Chuang-tzu
   (Lin Yutang translation, Selected Translations, Scholarly Studies)
Chuang Tzu by Paul Harrison
   (Quotes from Chuang Tzu from a Pantheism perspective.)
Wikipedia: Zhuangzi
   (Book, Beliefs, Translations, References, Notes, Links)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-5-2007)