Original post date: May 12, 2010
Continuing with the discussion from Zhuangzi, Chapter 6...
There is, however, the case of the worthless tree. This tree, by virtue of its apparent uselessness, has managed to fully live out (its) natural lifespan. But although Zhuangzi no doubt considers this a happy outcome, I think his real meaning is that, by virtue of living a long life, it has been able to fully realize its natural potential, in this case, being of immense size.
This applies equally to the useless tree in the following story where Ziqi exclaims: It turns out to be a useless tree, and thus it has been able to grow so huge. Ah! This is the worthlessness that the Spirit Man relies on! These, and all the stories within this chapter (Four), are meant to illustrate the more direct teaching given in their context and which might be summarized: Let yourself be carried along by things so that the mind wanders freely. Hand it all over to the unavoidable so as to nourish what is central within you.
Finally, the story of Shu the Discombobulated concludes thusly: A discombobulated physical form was sufficient to allow him to nourish his body, so that he was able to live out his natural life span. And how much more can be accomplished with discombobulated Virtuosity! However profitable it may be to live a long and full life, the true value of such a life is that it allows one to fully realize the full potential of the inner life.
This sentiment is echoed in Chapter 19 of the Outer Chapters: To stay alive, the precondition is not to part from the body; but sometimes without parting from the body one has ceased to be alive. Yes, we must pay due attention to the body, for without it we cease to live. Yet, there is much more to living then having a body and to ignore this to fail to truly live. The nurture of the body is necessary, but ‘only’ as a precondition for the nurture of the inner reality. Completion and fulfillment, therefore, are not achieved through a long life, but through what might be accomplished as a consequence of a long life.
Finally, it needs to be said that when Graham posits a Yangist past for Zhuangzi, he also posits a conversion from that school (where one’s chief concern is the preservation of life) to one of his own making in which one is reconciled with the inevitability of death through transcendence of both life and death in union with that from which both arise. As we shall see, much of the subsequent discussion of the qualities of the True Man that follows is an expression of this idea.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.