Yan Hui has discovered his own inner emptiness and is able to lose himself there. He is nearly ready to proceed on his mission to transform the tyrant of a nearby kingdom without getting himself killed. But the work of his own transformation is not complete; nor does it seem that it ever will be in an irreversible sense; he has learned a skill that requires constant application; he has not become a new kind of being, free of the dialectical struggle of humanity, but has simply learned how respond within it. The transformative work is an on-going effort.
This, at least, is my take. The Daoist sage has not ‘arrived’. There are no saints. There are only those with the tools necessary to transcend in each new situation. Perhaps it becomes easier with time and habit, but the work remains one of exercising one’s necessarily contingent existence.
“Confucius” continues: “Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided....It is easy to wipe away your footprints, but difficult to walk without touching the ground....You have learned how to fly with wings, but not how to fly without wings. You have learned the wisdom of being wise, but not yet the wisdom of being free of wisdom. Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness....Allow your ears and eyes to open inward and thereby place yourself beyond your mind’s understanding consciousness.”Dr. Ziporyn offers a different rendering of the first sentence which, though essentially making the same point, might make it clearer: “Making your real home in the oneness, let yourself be temporarily lodged in whatever cannot be avoided.” Identified with Vastness, “the vast wilds of open nowhere”, we are able to embrace and affirm every particular circumstance. Free of an identity dependent on and threatened by things temporal, we are able to both be fully in them and yet to transcend them. This is the Daoist freedom.
(Zhuangzi, 4:10; Ziporyn)
The rest of the passage speaks to what facilitates this freedom and to its efficacy in transforming others. The contrast is between purposive, ‘clever’ activity and wu-wei, spontaneous activity. To fly with wings is to be skillful at accomplishing things; to fly without wings is to be skillful at allowing things to accomplish themselves. Should Yan have attempted the first with respect to the tyrant he would probably have lost his head. Ego calls forth ego. If, on the other hand, he sees the hollowness of things, their relative nature, and nurtures the hollowness at his own core, letting things develop as they will, this will generate the “brightness” which just might positively affect the tyrant.
The passage concludes with Zhuangzi’s fundamental axiom: Transcendence happens when we move beyond the confines of the mind that ‘knows’ and controls. Release into Vastness.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.