Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Only Rule

Scott Bradley

The author of the twentieth chapter of the Zhuangzi tells a story about Zhuangzi in which he declares the uselessness of a tree as the reason it has been able to live so long. That evening he stays with a friend who has his servant kill a goose for dinner. When asked which goose to kill, the host says to kill the one that does not honk, the one which is useless as a watch-goose.

This leads Zhuangzi's disciple to ask which path to pursue, uselessness or usefulness, since uselessness led in on instance to long life and in another to swift death. What sure principle can we follow to avoid harmful entanglements?

Zhuangzi's answer is that the only rule to follow, the one followed by the sage-kings, is "to float and drift long, mounted only on the Course (Dao) and its Virtuosity (te) — untouched by both praise and blame, now a dragon, now a snake, changing with the times, unwilling to keep to any exclusive course of action...with momentary harmony as your only measure ..." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 20; Ziporyn)

Daoism is in sharp contrast with any way which prescribes fixed principles which determine how we should respond to the events of life. We might say that the realization of “momentary harmony” in each situation is such a principle, but since the event, response and harmonic form in each case is entirely unpredictable, it can tell us little about how to behave.

One thing is clear; that behavior will not be determined by the external, the opinions of others. The sage does not seek praise, nor does he fear blame; his tranquility is entirely independent of moral judgment, applied either by himself or others. “Now a dragon, now a snake”, now thought supremely wise, now thought the lowly enemy of humanity; it does not matter. This, Zhuangzi tells us, is the non-dependence required for “far and unfettered wandering”.

“What could then entangle you?” he concludes. The real point is not whether one can avoid the axe or not, but whether in either case one’s peace remains intact.

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


  1. "peace" resonates with the Taoist concept of contentment.

    "He who knows when he has enough is rich"

    TTC, Ch 33, ln 5.

    ... & I'm sure that the reference of "rich" is to a great deal more than money.

  2. Ps Independent of "moral judgement" but guided by Taoist Ethics of right action as is appropriate to living the 'way of goodness/Virtue' for the Cultivation of Body & Mind.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.