Friday, April 22, 2011

Guo Xiang

Guo Xiang
by Scott Bradley


Guo Xiang (Kuo Hsiang) (died ca. 312) was the Neo-Taoist who edited the Zhuangzi and gave us the first extant complete commentary of it. Unfortunately, I have only been able to discover an occasional quote from that commentary. I told Brook Ziporyn, who has translated some of it for his translation of the Zhuangzi with excerpts from commentaries, and has written a book on Xuo's philosophy (The Penumbra Unbound), that if I win the lottery, I'll commission a full translation and publication of that commentary, and others as well (especially Wang Fuzhi's). I really do feel like I'm missing out.

I do not always agree with his views, of course, but Guo says so much that I find myself frequently echoing. Here's a brief excerpt from Fung:
There is nothing that is not natural...Peace or disorder, success or failure,...are all the product of nature, not of man.
Guo has been described as a fatalist, and perhaps he was, but I'm not so sure; I think he was simply affirming that all things are Tao manifest. The expressions of free-will are not excepted. What humanity does is what nature has wrought, however extenuated. Likewise, what humanity does is what humanity is. There is no other, ideal humanity. There is only this mess. This does not mean we cannot be hard at work to 'improve' the human expression; it just means that we approach that work from an entirely different perspective. This applies to how we deal with our own selves, as well.

"There was a farmer from Sung who, when he saw that his grain was not rising as fast as he wished, pulled it up to make it higher." (paraphrased from Fung). Better to weed, water and fertilize -- to let things grow naturally -- than to impose external standards on what is. Acceptance is a powerful fertilizer. Affirmation is like water to a thirsty heart.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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