The ancient Daoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, was one of the most brilliantly witty thinkers of his day, and his work still is influential. He was born during the 4th century BCE, in the state of Meng (modern Honan). He was a contemporary of the Confucian scholar, Mencius.
As a Daoist, Chuang Tzu believed the proper way to live was through non-action, or more simply, living without an intention in mind. When humans do not forge their own paths, they follow the way already laid out by the Dao (the divine Way). His vision of a perfect government incorporated the same idea: he suggests the government should take minimal action and let things develop naturally.
Chuang Tzu expanded on, and clarified, the ideas of Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder of Daoism (also spelled Taoism). He made more spiritual connections to the Dao and composed further descriptions. He further emphasized that everything in existence contained a reflection of the entire Dao, and the best way to respect the Dao was to allow everything in existence to live as the unconscious Dao set it to live, and for as many years as the Dao allotted. Chuang Tzu used metaphors of family to convince his readers of why the unconscious Dao deserved respect and obedience.
While most of Chuang Tzu’s work focused on the Dao and life, he made sure to comfort his readers who feared death. He did not speak of ghosts or spirits, but he made observations on death and the dead. Though he did not attempt to explain what the dead experience, Chuang Tzu wrote that there could be aspects of death that were better than life. Chuang Tzu’s view of Heaven called for universal respect of creation and he attempted to answer spiritual questions of life and death. The fact that Chuang Tzu devoted time to thinking of the realm of the dead makes his work, like that of Mozi (Mo Tzu), contrast with the works of the Confucians, who limit comments on heaven as much as possible.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image of Chuang Tzu by Lu Zhi (1496–1576), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).