A lot of this week was spent writing a paper based on the teachings of the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu/Zhuang zi. Since his teachings are part of what this blog is all about, I decided to share some of my thoughts on what he has to say.
In the chapter ‘Autumn Floods’ of the Inner Chapters, Jo of the North Sea said:
“You can’t discuss the ocean with a well frog – he’s limited to the space he lives in. You can’t discuss ice with a summer insect – he’s bound to a single season. You can’t discuss the Way with a cramped scholar – he’s shackled by his doctrines. Now you have come out beyond your banks and borders and have seen the great sea – so you realize your own pettiness.”
The Inner Chapters are writings by the great Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu. Much like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu was a follower of the Tao (Way). Within his writings, Chuang Tzu was constantly faced with the challenge of describing the indescribable. The Way, as it was viewed by the Taoist sages, was something that was all-encompassing and contained an unsolvable mystery. (For more info you might want to read this earlier post.)
I fell in love with this Taoist conception of ‘the Way’ because it offered a refreshing perspective on my life, and on life in general. As someone who was constantly trying to solve every mystery, I was always so dissatisfied with never having all the answers. Always asking questions: why is this so? why am I like this? why are you like that? why is the world like this? Why, why, WHY? Imagine my initial meeting with Chuang Tzu! He would have slapped me over the head. “You ask so many questions young man! And yet, have you heard the crickets in the distance? Listen! They do not ask why. Instead, they sing, and sing, and sing.”
Right now, the question on my mind is, “how do I achieve my goals. I can see the destination, but I don’t know the path. How do I find the path (the Way)? If I took this question to Chuang Tzu, his response would be just the same:
*slap* “Young man, stop asking questions and just start singing.”
Because for sages like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, the destination is the path itself. As long as I’m on the path, then I’ve already reached my destination; I’ve already achieved my goals. Because the path is “the Way,” and if you act harmoniously with the Way, then your life will drop into place as it should. So I must concentrate on the path at this moment, and just listen to the crickets singing.
Returning to that initial quote, Chuang Tzu states, “you can’t discuss the Way with a cramped scholar – he’s shackled by his doctrines.” In this case, the “scholar” is someone who is using language and labels to try and unveil the mystery that is their life. I’d imagine Chuang Tzu might respond like this: “Don’t bother doing that! The more you try and work out “life,” the more you will realize it is a mystery. Instead, embrace its mysteriousness because the very mystery of life is what holds its magical quality. The more you try and label this magic, the more the magic will evade you.” Because we’re “summer insects” attempting to talk about ice. We’re “well frog’s” trying to talk about the ocean. We’re looking at one tree and saying, “here’s the forest!”
Although I still believe strongly in philosophical inquiry and scientific investigation (and I’m still, very much a philosopher), if I’ve realized anything in my life so far, it’s that asking too many questions makes you miss the singing of the crickets.
Don’t miss it!
What is this?
Writings from the Summer of 2013 during study abroad in Kyoto, Japan.