Friday, January 8, 2010

Tao Books: Learning the Tao - Chuang Tzu as Teacher

Like most westerners who become interested in philosophical Taoism, most of my readings to date have concerned the words of Lao Tzu. While I have also read portions of the Lieh Tzu and Chuang Tzu, I've spent far more hours contemplating the Tao Te Ching and related works.

I think one of the reasons that Lao Tzu is more accessible to the western eye is that his words are more poetic and deal directly with metaphysical concepts and ideas. Chuang Tzu, on the other hand, shares his take on Taoism through fantastic stories filled with names and places that few of us have ever heard of.

However, after just finishing Learning the Tao: Chuang Tzu as Teacher by Keith Seddon, I am now very anxious to take another crack at the Chuang Tzu! In his slim 84-page book, Seddon lays out the key points that he believes Chuang Tzu wishes to impart to us.

When I was first exploring the classic Taoist texts, I read that the first work was the Tao Te Ching and it was followed latter by the Chuang Tzu. However, in the Preface, Seddon writes,
The traditional view, now rejected by modern scholars, is that Chuang Tzu as a disciple of Lao Tzu carried on the tradition of the Tao Te Ching. This is almost certainly false. Even though the text of the Chuang Tzu as we have it today was restructured, added to, and commentaries inserted by Chuang Tzu's students and heirs in ancient times, there is reason to believe that a coherent core text, perhaps written by Chuang Chou, was in circulation by the latter half of the fourth century BC -- earlier than the Tao Te Ching which is unattested until 250 BC.
Perhaps this means that the works of Lao Tzu are a distilled version of the school of thought associated with Chuang Tzu. Of course, it may also be that these two schools of thought began independently and were later merged. But I will leave that debate for others!

Far from dealing with solely esoteric concepts, Seddon presents Chuang Tzu as a sage concerned with how to live one's life within the confines of human civilization. Each short chapter deals with a central concept (e.g., living in society, attaining the Tao, wu wei, etc.) by which the author presents one or more stories by Chuang Tzu and then a brief explanation of the main points of the story.

I really enjoyed this book and I'm sure I will reference it again and again.

Here's some information about the author from Warnborough College (Ireland).
Professor Seddon’s area of expertise is Philosophy in general, but specifically Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysics, Ancient Philosophy, Stoic Ethics, Classical Chinese Philosophy (including Taoism), and Applied Philosophy. Until 1996 he was the Director of Studies and editor of The Philosopher for the Philosophical Society of England. He has taught a wide range of Liberal Arts topics in further education colleges and correspondence colleges. Since 1987, he has been actively mentoring students via distance learning for Warnborough College. Professor Seddon has had his work published in books, and has published numerous articles and reviews in several periodicals including: Practical Philosophy, the Volga Journal of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Philosophy Now, and The Philosopher.

Professor Seddon serves on the International Editorial Board of Practical Philosophy and is a Fellow of the Philosophical Society of England.
Before diving back into the Wen Tzu tomorrow, I will share some quotes from this book throughout today. For one, this will give you a chance to see Seddon's writing style and thought process. For another, it will give you some ideas to chew on.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great book. Please share all you can :)


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