Zhuangzi’s Crazy Wisdom & Da(o)da(o) Spirituality
The following essay is a slightly abridged version of a longer work that will appear in Max Cafard’s forthcoming book: The Surregionalist Manifesto and Other Essays, to be published by Exquisite Corpse (and available through FE).
“Wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven, but do not think that you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all.”
“Try to be empty and to fill your brain cells haphazardly. Go on destroying what you have in you. Indiscriminately. You could understand a lot of things, then.”
As Zen Master Wu-men takes us through the “Gateless Gate,” the Daoist Sages Laozi and Zhuangzi (many know these two philosophers by the former spellings, “Lao Tzu” and “Chuang Tzu”) take us along the Wayless Way, the Pathless Path. A contemporary pathless pathfinder tells us that “[t]here are paths that can be followed, and there is a path that cannot...it is the wilderness.” The Pathless Path of Zhuangzi takes us into that wilderness, exploring the wildness of the world and wildness of the spirit. We find this path in the Inner Chapters, the sections of the ancient “Zhuangzi” writings that are thought to come from Zhuangzi himself (or selves). The Inner Chapters, we will discover, are the AnarChapters. They are chapters on wildness, freedom, spontaneity—in short, on Anarchy.
Those looking for “mysticism” in Zhuangzi may be disappointed—unless they’re looking for the mysticism of discovering what’s right before their eyes. Yes, in Zhuangzi you’ll find strange, altered states of consciousness. Clarity of mind. Attentiveness to the things of the world. Vividness of imagination. Zhuangzi’s mysticism is less about merging the Self into the Quietude of the One than about scattering selfhood into the Maelstrom of Multiplicity and watching, and taking part in, the Whirl of the Real.
Is this a form of Daoist “spirituality”? The term “spirituality” inevitably has undertones of the vaporous, the vapid, or even the vacuous. But if Zhuangzi is “spiritual,” this means being a fully embodied spirit, while at the same time having lightness of spirit (as in French, spirituel means “witty”). What usually passes for “Nature Spirituality” or “Earth Spirituality” (check it out at your local book chains) is vastly more transcendentalist than Zhuangzi could ever be. It’s usually fixated on an Idea of the Earth or Nature—almost inevitably a romanticized, sentimentalized, sanitized, or nostalgic Idea. Zhuangzi’s spirituality has the smell of the Earth. It reeks of the Real and will no doubt offend those with excessively delicate aesthetic—and ontological—sensibilities. Watch out!
You may be getting into deep Dada.
Yes, the radical spontaneity of Daoism links it to Dadaism. Daodao is Dada and vice versa. Tristan Tzara in fact said that Zhuangzi “was as dada as we are.” Daoist spirituality is Dada spirituality. Zhuangzi’s Daoism, like Dada, breaks down all the barriers, wanders off the path, and crosses all the boundaries. It takes us into wild, unchartered regions of nature, culture, and psyche. It’s a surre(gion)al spirituality.
JUST DO IT—WITHOUT DOING IT
The AnarChapters are all about non-domination or an-archy. Daoists call this wuwei, doing without doing, doing without dominating. It’s a concept that many know from its influence on Ch’an and Zen Buddhism. What’s often called “Zen mind” has deep roots in Daoist wuwei. And so does Dada mind, as Tzara indirectly points out: “Dada isn’t at all modern, it’s rather a return to a quasi-buddhist religion of indifference.” He might have said “it’s a return to a Daoist spirituality of wuwei” since that’s where we find the Pre-Ancientist origins of the spontaneity, non-egoism, non-duality and non-domination of experience that he has in mind when he says “indifference.” One of Zhuangzi’s most intriguing tales is his anecdote of Prince Wen Hui’s cook, Ding, who could carve an ox without his knife ever touching a bone. Cook Ding explains that “the blade of the knife has no thickness. That which has no thickness has plenty of space to pass through these spaces. Therefore after’ nineteen years my blade is as sharp as ever.” This story gives a prime example of wuwei. The Cook Ding’s skillful action is so natural that it’s effortless, without striving, without resistance from an alien world that has to be dominated or forced into submission.
Cook Ding’s knife can also be seen as the sharp blade of ruthless analytical and intuitive consciousness. Daoist mind grasps (without grasping) the moment of unity of all things, but also the particularity and “thusness” of all that appears. It can “cut through” things naturally without hacking them apart.
Finally, notice that the character in the story is a cook, someone who combines ingredients into a synthesis of creative expression, not a mere butcher who slices things into parts. The Daoist cook, rather than “murdering to dissect,” dissects to make whole. Cooks are familiar figures in both Daoist and Zen stories, often showing lightening insight that turns learned monks and renowned scholars into bumbling fools. The cooks’ skill expresses wuwei. Their art requires a sense of spontaneity and creativity. And they work in the realm par excellence in which spirituality and materiality converge: no wonder that the breaking of bread has been the center of both social and spiritual ritual.
“Discard wisdom!” says Laozi. “Get cooking!” says Zhuangzi. Don’t be a do-nothing know-it-all. Just do it—without doing it.
In another of his stories, Zhuangzi writes of Liezi, who was renowned for possessing the skill of riding on the wind. The literal-minded may dismiss this claim as ancient superstition. But Zhuangzi was not referring to a literal feat that can now easily be surpassed by businessmen and tourists on 707’s, but rather to an experience that even the most frequent flyers seldom have. This is the Daoist experience of being attuned to the way and knowing the effortlessness and ease of “doing without doing.” Tzara also uses the wind as a symbol of Dadaist spontaneity. Dada, he says, “mingles its caprices with the chaotic wind of creation.” So Liezi was a Master of this (non-) practice of wuwei. But the merciless dialectician Zhuangzi can’t allow even the great Liezi to get away with anything. True, that sage “escaped the trouble of walking, but he still had to depend on something to get around.” Instead, he should have “mounted on the truth of Heaven and Earth, ridden on the changes of the six breaths, and thus wandered through the boundless.” Ultimately, we must depend on Nothing at All, or we will soon fall flat.
But Zhuangzi has more to say about that creative wind. He tells us that it blows through everything and makes “the music of heaven.” It rushes through each thing, plays each thing like a musical instrument, so that each thing makes its own unique sound, and sings its own song. He asks us whether we can hear this Music of All Beings, in all its harmonic and discordant multiplicity.
What’s most astounding is that this Music of Heaven plays all around each of us and even in and through us! “Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, hope and fear, indecision and strength, humility and willfulness, enthusiasm and insolence, like music sounding from an empty reed or mushrooms rising from the warm dark earth, continually appear before us day and night. No one knows from whence they come. Don’t worry about them. Let them be!” Who ever decides, “Now. I’ll be angry,” or “Now I’ll be joyful”? And even if someone did, would that person first have decided, “Now I’ll decide to be angry,” or “Now I’ll decide to be joyful”? No, the wind merely blows through our reed and the reeds of others. The music plays through us and all around us. Just as at times some exotic species of mushroom springs up within us.
Zhuangzi helps us discover an anarchistic epistemology and sensibility. He describes a state in which “you are open to everything you see and hear, and allow this to act through you.”
Part of wuwei, doing without doing, is “knowing without knowing,” knowing as being open to the things known, rather than conquering and possessing the objects of knowledge. This means not imposing our prejudices (whether our own personal ones, our culture’s, or those built into the human mind) on the Ten Thousand Things.
Zhuangzi, like Laozi, is a Pre-Ancientist Anarchist. He looks back to the non-existent, more than real, yet historically-rooted Dynasty of the Yellow Emperor, the Era of the Uncarved Block. The age prior to the rise domination before the ascendancy of the State, the Patriarchy, the Class System and the Megamachine. The establishment of this Many-Headed Monster was a huge historical mistake, a serious but also a laughable one. At once Theater of Cruelty and Comedy of Errors. Napoleon (who laid siege to nations and murdered multitudes in order to become Emperor of a small island) once said, La Force n’est jamais ridicule. For Zhuangzi, all attempts to dominate reality and to force one’s way are not only ridiculous but indeed absurd. Even the long saga of domination is at once both tragedy and farce.
A propos the absurdity of the State, Zhuangzi quotes Xu Yu as saying: “You want to govern the world and the world is already well governed.” The history of the State is the history of replacing good rule by evil. For over 99 percent of human history and 99.9998 percent of earth history, the planet was governed quite well. Then came the Monster. Zhuangzi, who lived in the Period of the Warring States (alias “interesting times”), recounts the opening act of this World Historical Tragicomedy, while we’re fortunate enough to have front-row seats for the denouement.
For Zhuangzi, there’s an alternative to this Tragicomedy: the Play of Anarchy. Anarchy, the anti-political politics of wuwei. The anarchic ruler rules without ruling. “No one is aware of him, but he brings happiness to every man. He stands on that which is not known and wanders in the land of nowhere.” This is nothing like Bakunin’s anarchist Invisible Dictatorship that guides the Masses strategically from behind the scenes. A Dictatorship that is “without insignia, titles or official rights, and all the stronger for having none of the paraphernalia of power.” Zhuangzi’s ruler renounces all kinds of manipulation and even the subtlest forms of domination. Zhuangzi agrees with Laozi that “the Empire is a spiritual thing.” And the Spirit of the Empire is the Spirit of Anarchy.
What could such an anarchic ruler be like? For an example, Zhuangzi looks back to the ancient sage (traditionally called “The True Man of Old”) who “did not forget his beginning and did not seek his end. He accepted what he was given with delight and, and when it was gone he gave it no more thought.” This sage was in many ways merely the ordinary person of a prior age before the Uncarved Block was chopped up, before the integrity of nature and humanity were shattered by the violence of the State.
In that world, both human society and nature were gift economies. People practiced primal “economics,” the nomos of the oikos: “home rule”! This was “economics” in the sense of the extravagant and automatic self-allocation of abundant non-resources. Before the institution of industrialized agriculture, the rise of scarcity and exploitation, and the origins of Imperial Barbarism, human beings could still experience the rich generosity of nature, the overflowing of being. The Daoist sage preserves this Spirit of the Gift in a world gone insane with acquisitiveness and possessiveness.
If we fall under Zhuangzi’s spell (if we’re wooed by his way!), are we naively yearning for the permanent reality of a mere Temporary Autochthonous Zone of the imagination? Or are we lapsing into radical nostalgia for a romanticized distant past? As enjoyable as utopian fantasy and radical nostalgia may be, neither is required in this case. Zhuangzi was looking back to real history, as mythologized and poeticized as this history has been. Eden and all its variations have actual historical roots in gathering and hunting societies, and in the village communities of the late Neolithic. But more crucially, Zhuangzi is describing a living world that anyone can enter in the present, through a wuweian practice that undoes the psychic mechanisms of domination and allows us to open ourselves up to experience—to the absolute gratuity of all that appears. After all, that’s the way reality actually is, beyond the illusions of all reality “principles.” When everything is a gift, the only appropriate attitude to life is gratitude and joy at receiving completely undeserved largesse. Everything is lagniappe!
So maybe the only Emperor is the Emperor of Ice Cream (Quick. It’s melting!). Zhuangzi says or hints at a great deal about the qualities this anarchic ruler (that is, just anybody who wanders along the Wayless Way). Scattered through the AnarChapters we find traits such as these: Calmness and equanimity; Intensity and spontaneity of feelings and passions. Skepticism about her own knowledge; Lack of concern for praise or blame; Freedom from guilt; Refusal to conform to the expectations of others; Rejection of all subservience and subordination; Humility; Creativity of thinking; Openness to every point of view; Love of solitude; Compassion for all beings; Absence of meanness, rancor and resentment; Lack of self-importance, egotism and arrogance; Reasonableness and fairness. Self(less)-Confidence; Disdain for traditions and institutions; Fierce loyalty to the truth of experience and of things themselves.
Is this ruler-sage then a good example for others? Zhuangzi says that people tell him that the good ruler does what is right, promotes law and order, and makes sure that people are “never tempted to break the law.” Doesn’t it sound fantastic? It seems much like some people’s idea of anarchy—everybody does what’s right not because of coercion, but because they follow the good example of others. But for Zhuangzi this isn’t nearly anarchistic enough. The problem is that it “subverts virtue,” by which he means that it undermines the creative power of each person to act rightly and skillfully in a given situation. Establishing such a system of rule is like “making a mosquito carry a mountain on its back.” Zhuangzi would undoubtedly be nauseated by all the talk of “role models” that we hear in schools and mass media today. His own advice is for each of us to keep our own minds clear, follow our own way, impose it on no one, do what we can, and be satisfied. We should watch out for rulers, including the best of all rulers (maybe especially the best of all rulers), and avoid trying to be a good example.
The problem is the intrusion of the ego. One of Zhuangzi’s persistent themes—the very secret of wise (non)rule—is, “Get rid of self-obsession!” Paradoxically, “the perfect man has no self, the holy man has no merit, the sage has no reputation.” “No more gurus!” teaches Zhuangzi. And get rid of that inner guru! The more we think of our self, the more everything appears imperfect, unacceptable, and completely inadequate—including our own beloved self. The more we claim credit and recognition, the less we deserve it. And the less reason anyone would have to give it to us. The more we try to become heroic, self-asserting “individuals” the more we become pitiful puppets playing a ridiculous role.
BEING GOOD FOR NOTHING
Zhuangzi was a radical relativist and perspectivist. Not in the nihilistic Post-Mortemism sense of losing all sense of materiality and rootedness in the real, but rather in the Pre-Ancientist sense of openness to both the radical uniqueness and the natural commonality of all beings. Openness to both their absolute emptiness and their dense physicality. According to Zhuangzi, we miss both the uniqueness of others and our commonality with them because “we cling to our own point of view, as if everything depended on it.” We can’t shift our perspective. We can’t see the perspective of the other person, the other tree, the other fish.
Zhuangzi’s relativism seems to go to wild extremes. He might seem crazy for saying that “No one has lived longer than a dead child,” and that Peng Zu (who lasted a not negligible seven-hundred years) “died young.” Yet any of us, like Zhuangzi, can pick up a piece of stone that is a billion years old. What’s the usual life span for us insects of a day that we are—compared to that? Should we congratulate each other on every second that we manage to survive? And whatever the length of one’s life, it equals precisely one life. Peng Zu “alone is famous today for having lived a long time, and everybody tries to ape him. Isn’t it pitiful?” Zhuangzi says that we’d be better off if we weren’t so pitiful and self-pitying. A shocking thought! Maybe the length of my life is suited precisely to someone like me.
We aren’t very good at “thinking like a mountain,” but most of us live as if we think we have the life-span of a mountain. Zhuangzi’s works are full of stories about the relativity of all things, and the human tendency to ignore the perspective, and the way, of other beings. He points out that a human who sleeps in a wet place will get aches and pains, but it’s a perfect resting place for an eel. A human who lives up a tall tree will be anxiety-ridden, but a monkey takes it in stride. He mentions two famous women who were thought to be the most beautiful in all of China. Yet fish, on seeing them, dive to the bottom of the water, birds fly away in honor, and deer run away terrified. Who is the true judge of beauty?
In one story, Zhuangzi is crossing a bridge with Huizi, points to the fish swimming around in a steam and remarks on how happy they are. Huizi replies, “You’re crazy! How can you know what it’s like to be a fish? You’re not a fish!” Zhuangzi replies, “How do you know I don’t know what it’s like to be fish. You’re not me!” In this tale, two profound truths hide behind one apparent sophistry. We can fail to recognize the experience of the other, and we can fail to recognize the otherness of the other.
And then there’s the story of the huge old tree that is no good for lumber. A carpenter dismisses it as completely useless, since he can’t use it. But its very uselessness has been useful to it in keeping it alive until it towers above all the other living things. In the story, the tree says to the carpenter, “You and I are both things. How can one thing judge another thing?” An excellent question! Indeed, how can one being have the gall to impose its concept of value on every other of many billion times billions of beings in the universe?
One of the most famous of Zhuangzi’s stories is “Three in the morning.” He tells of a monkey trainer who decides to give the monkeys three acorns in the morning and four in the afternoon. The monkeys are infuriated. So the trainer says, “OK, you get four in the morning and three in the afternoon!” And the monkeys are all delighted. A common reaction to this story is, “What stupid monkeys and what a brilliant trainer!” But those who jump to this conclusion may be a bit slower than the monkeys they laugh at. Somehow it doesn’t occur to these dull-witted primates that the monkeys are the best judges of whether they’re hungrier in the morning or in the afternoon! And the trainer was not necessarily any genius either. He was just a down-to-earth Daoist, smart enough to figure out what the monkeys were rather obviously trying to communicate. And as for the monkeys they got exactly what they wanted.
Beyond making monkeys out of certain overeducated Third Chimpanzees, Zhuangzi seems to be saying that we tend to hang on to our precious acorn distribution systems (what Wilhelm Reich called “character armor”) for no good reason. We try to control other beings (monkeys, people, the things of the world) in completely irrational ways, not realizing that there’s really nothing at stake.
He might have added that if we stop wasting our time trying to train monkeys a few more acorns might grow into magnificent oak trees.
Throughout all these tales of many life forms, Zhuangzi develops a certain concept of value: what we would now call a non-anthropocentric one. He says: “You were born in a human form, and you find joy in it. Yet there are ten thousand other forms endlessly transforming that are equally good, and the joy of these is untold.” By reducing everything to a narrow, monolithic standard of value economic value, instrumental value, or even use value—we destroy these myriad modes of enjoyment, and finally make our own lives less than enjoyable as we survey a devastated landscape of domination. The Daoist rejects this sad, absurd reductionism and affirms the incomparable value of all the diverse forms of life and the manifold expressions of natural and human creativity. Johannes Baader said much the same of Dada: “A Dadaist is someone who loves life in all its uncountable forms, and who knows and says that, ‘Life is not here alone, but also there, there, there (da, da, da).’”
Both Daoism and Dadaism take a stand for all that is devalued according to the nihilistic calculus of civilization and domination. Zhuangzi comments ironically that “[a]ll men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless!” And Tzara echoes the irony in his remark that “Dada is as useless as everything else in life.”
BECOMING A BUG’S ARM
Zuangzi says that when Laozi died, Chin Shih went to the funeral, “yelled three times, and left.” The mourners were shocked and thought this was a disgrace. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, saw it as a quite reasonable response. Maybe Chin Shih was giving three cheers for old Laozi. Or maybe he was just getting his mourning over with quickly. Either way it makes perfect sense. The alternative is to hang on to what can’t be caught. “The Master came because it was time. He left because he followed the natural flow.” Zhuangzi was a rebel against all that is stupid, unimaginative, cruel and oppressive, but he never saw the point in rebelling against our own nature and the nature of nature. For Zhuangzi, following the Dao means achieving “freedom from bondage,” exactly as Spinoza said almost two millennia later in his Ethics. Zhuangzi concludes his funeral story in the spirit of his great pre-Ancientist predecessor Heraclitus: “The wood is consumed but the fire burns on.” We shouldn’t be surprised that when we try to hold on to the wood we end up with a handful of ashes. And what kind of buffoon would try to hold on to fire?
Zhuangzi’s spirituality of death is a refusal to fall into the death neuroses of civilization. His approach with death seems weird, shocking, and abnormal because it is neither safely tragic nor safely romantic. It seems unnatural because of its stark naturalism. He is actually willing to approach the unapproachable. He befriends the corpse. Old, dependable Death. “Brother Death, please mind the store.” He also avoids death psychosis, civilization’s poisoned legacy from ancient barbarism. The delusion that death is neither tragic nor romantic because its just not there. He announces loudly that the grinning corpse cannot be evaded. Grin back! Zhuangzi recounts the words of Master Li to the dying Master Lai: “How marvelous the Creator is! What is he going to make of you next? Where is he going to send you? Will he make you into a rat’s liver? Will he make you into a bug’s arm?”
In confronting the reality of death, Zhuangzi confronts the reality of life. To him, the idea that everything just changes form, so there is really no death, is a fraud. “One may say, ‘There is no death.’ What good does that do? When the body decays, so does the mind. Is this not a great sorrow? Is life really this absurd? Am I the only one who sees the absurdity?” Apparently there was some New Age ideology floating around in the Ancient World, and Zhuangzi didn’t buy it. Death is real, so life is irreducibly absurd. But we have no good reason to flee from this absurdity. Rather we need to embrace it as part of life. The question is whether we are capable of embracing life itself, rather than clinging to our own ghostly phantasms of life.
Zhuangzi’s affirmation of the laughable, sometimes outrageous, sometimes grotesque absurdity of real life runs throughout his stories and aphorisms. In this he was a precursor of the Carnivalesque. Bakhtin explains that The laughter of Carnival is an affirmation of our place in the Cosmos and Chaos of Nature. It “does not permit seriousness to atrophy and to be torn away from the one being, ever incomplete. It restores this ambivalent wholeness.” Carnival is “the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal” and is “hostile to all that was immortalized and complete.” In Carnival, people participate in “the wholeness of the world,” and affirm the fact that “they too are incomplete, they also die and are revived and renewed.”
Zhuangzi is a Pre-Ancientist rather than a Post-Mortemist precisely because he faces both life and death.
THE TRUTH IS THE HOLE
Most of what has passed for dialectic in the West has quickly subverted all dialectical subversion by falling into dogmatism and harnessing an anarchic procedure on behalf of an imperious ego and the forces of domination. As Tzara put it, dogmatists use this pseudo-dialectic for “looking hurriedly at things from the opposite point of view, so as to impose their opinions indirectly,” so it turns into a game of “heads I win, tales you lose, dressed up to look scholarly,” “an amusing machine that leads us (in banal fashion) to the opinions we would have held in any case.”
Daoist dialectic, on the other hand, resists closure and cooptation, leaping the abyss between theory and practice, between spirit and sensibility, between being and nothingness. It remains suspended above the abyss while at the same time firmly grounded in nature. From this powerfully precarious position it affirms the logic of the absurd and the absurdity of all logics, the metaphysics of physicality and the physicality of all metaphysics. It inhabits at once the utopian nowhere of meaning and the topian density of earth. It is this intoxicating air and this rich and fertile soil that nourish Zhuangzi’s ironic spirit of affirmation.
Zhuangzi is a dialectical thinker, not merely as a vague precursor of the real thing, but in the most radical sense. In his world, all things are making each other what they are. Minds are creating realities and realities are transforming minds. Everything is in a process of incessant transformation. A thing always is what it is not, and is not what it is. As he explains, “‘That’ comes out of ‘this’ and ‘this’ depends on ‘that’—which is to say that ‘this’ and ‘that’ give birth to each other.” But where there is birth there must be death; where there is death there must be birth. Where there is acceptability there must be unacceptability; where there is unacceptability there must be acceptability. Where there is recognition of right there must be recognition of wrong; where there is recognition of wrong there must be recognition of right.”
The self itself is entirely immersed in this delirious dialectic of relativities. In what may be his most famous story, Zhuangzi says that he dreamed he was a butterfly. On awakening, he wondered whether he had really dreamed he was a butterfly or whether the butterfly was now dreaming it was Zhuangzi! This is usually taken as an instance of Zhuangzi’s light-hearted skepticism, or an example of good-natured and perhaps slightly sophistic philosophical playfulness. And it may very well be both of these. But it’s also an early expression of the injunction to “take your dreams for realities.” Not because you can then heroically will them to become real, but because they are already absolutely real. Zhuangzi’s butterfly-dream-mind is as much a reality as his human-being-in-the-world-mind. Mind, says Zhuangzi, surpasses the boundaries created by our illusion of the unified ego. Reality is surre(gion)al.
The Inner/Anar Chapters end with a story about boundaries. It is the story of Hun Tun, or Primal Chaos. According to this tale, Light and Darkness decided to do Chaos the favor of giving him the seven openings by which the world can be perceived. So they drilled one hole in him each day for seven days. On the seventh day, he died. Dualism imposes on Chaos a differentiation that ultimately destroys it. Our access to the indeterminate, pre-categorical reality, the flesh of being, the primal source is lost. Yet we have a way back to that source, since we are also that chaos. As Tzara expresses it, “How can anyone hope to order the chaos that constitutes that infinite, formless variation: man?”
Zhuangzi’s dialectic accepts unity only if it’s pervaded by diversity, difference and multiplicity. Harmony only if it exists through opposition and discord. His holism is not pacification. “That which kills life does not die; that which gives life to life does not live. This is the kind of thing it is: there’s nothing it doesn’t send off, nothing it doesn’t welcome, nothing it doesn’t destroy, nothing it doesn’t complete. It’s name is Peace-in-Strife. After the strife it attains completion.” As Proudhon said, “Freedom is the Mother, not the Daughter, of Order.” Mother Chaos died giving birth to the Cosmos.
In speaking up for Hun Tun, Zhuangzi was a True Surre(gion)alist Of Old. He realizes that all regions overlap and interpenetrate. He knows that “the Way has never known boundaries.” It is only because of our imposition of our own conceptual categories, our creation of a “this,” and consequently of a “that,” that boundaries arise. Just as Laozi said that “the path that can be followed is not the true path,” Zhuangzi says that we should “wander where there is no trail.” This pathless path is the way of experience, the way of awakened mind, rather than the dualistic way of already knowing, of preconceived ideas, of dominating and thus destroying a living, moving reality.
The moral of the Zhunagzi’s story of Hun Tun is left unsaid. One might imagine that it’s something like this: “Hun Tun is dead. But don’t mourn, disorganize!” Hun Tun died and did not die. Seek the unity beyond the dualities. And seek to resurrect Chaos.
The Zhuangzi quotes come from Burton Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Thu (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), and Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters (New York: Random House, 1974). The Tzara citations are from Seven Dada Manifestos (London and New York: Calder Publications and Riverrun Press, 1992).
Other quotations are from Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990), Johannes Baader as cited in Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997), Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), and the “Hymn of Creation” in A Sourcebook of Indian Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).