Tuesday, August 30, 2011


by Scott Bradley

Zhuangzi's philosophy, it seems to me, might be summarized as a call to unfixed living. Nothing is known. There are no sureties to which to anchor our existence. Every foundation is "peculiarly unfixed". We are, in effect, adrift. Indeed, we are this drifting; for we are not ourselves a fixed vessel upon an unfixed sea, but the very source of the drifting. It is out of the nature of our existence that unfixed-ness arises. Nothing is known, yet knowing seems prerequisite. This is about us. We are not describing Reality as it is, only our experience of it.

The road parts here. Some philosophies suggest there is a fixed-ness beyond our unfixed-ness which we can, through various methods, attain. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, suggests no such solution; he stays resolutely on the unfixed path. "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map."

It is the natural inclination of the human to moor itself to something because it is only thus that our identity can be assured. We first anchor ourselves to ourselves as a fixed identity. I am. And because I am this finite, yet fixed identity — a fixed vessel on an infinite and unfixed sea — I must find yet another mooring. Religious belief is this quintessential mooring. But our every other purpose, possession, hope, and manufactured meaning serve us nearly as well.

Zhuangzi would rather have us realize and embrace our essential unfixed-ness. He would have us let go all this clinging to castles made of sand and instead enter the unfixed flow of existence. He would have us realize that we are that flow, not a fixed entity within it. We needn't become something different, but only be what we 'are'.

Zhuangzi has one of his characters describe this release as "roam(ing) in the far-flung unconstrained paths of wild, unbound twirling and tumbling". There is a forbidding quality to this particular description which serves to remind us that there is a price to be paid for this ticket to roam. And that, of course, is our precious identity. To roam unfixed is to abandon ship altogether and realize "no-fixed-identity".

Consequent to having no-fixed-identity is the ability to "follow along with things", to allow each thing and event to be itself, and thus to be in harmony with all things. Having nothing which can be lost, there is nothing which can threaten us. "Death, where is your sting?"

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


  1. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

    Lao Tzu

    Non-attachment – even or especially to ones own self-image – is the necessity for personal change. If we are open to change and to new possibilities and perspectives, without buying into them blindly, we can grow.

  2. Very good post on an essential part of Chuang Tzu


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