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Zhuangzi on “The Dislike of Death”

January 12, 2013

“Zhuangzi” 莊子 is a supposedly Classical (pre-Qin Dynasty) Chinese text we know from a “copy” (possibly a wholesale rewriting) made by Guo Xiang 郭象, a Western Jin Dynasty writer who lived in the 3rd Century. It was supposedly written by someone named “Zhang Zhou” or his “disciples,” though whether such a person had disciples or even existed at all is unknown. The text is supposedly a central part of a religion called “Taoism,” but scholars disagree on it’s importance in the various religious practices and groups spanning two thousand years that scholars label with the umbrella term “Taoism” (which might basically be synonymous with “indigenous (non-Buddhist or Muslim) Chinese religion”). The above disclaimer aside, “Zhuangzi” is an interesting text that is often quoted in China today. I will share a small piece below


眾人役役,聖人愚芚,參萬歲而一成純。萬物盡然,而以是相蘊。予惡乎知說生之非惑邪!予惡乎知惡死之非弱喪而不知歸者邪!麗之姬,艾封人之子也。晉國之始得之也,涕泣沾襟;及其至於王所,與王同筐床,食芻豢,而後悔其泣也。予惡乎知夫死者不悔其始之蘄生乎!夢飲酒者,旦而哭泣;夢哭泣者,旦而田獵。方其夢也,不知其夢也。夢之中又占其夢焉,覺而後知其夢也。且有大覺而後知此其大夢也,而愚者自以為覺,竊竊然知之。君乎,牧乎,固哉!《莊子 • 齊物論12》

“Zhuangzi” on the Dislike of Death

“Men in general bustle about and toil; the sagely man seems stupid and to know nothing. He blends ten thousand years together in the one (conception of time); the myriad things all pursue their spontaneous course, and they are all before him as doing so. How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion? and that the dislike of death is not like a young person’s losing his way, and not knowing that he is (really) going home? Li Ji was a daughter of the border Warden of Ai. When (the ruler of) the state of Jin first got possession of her, she wept till the tears wetted all the front of her dress. But when she came to the place of the king, shared with him his luxurious couch, and ate his grain-and-grass-fed meat, then she regretted that she had wept. How do I know that the dead do not repent of their former craving for life? Those who dream of (the pleasures of) drinking may in the morning wail and weep; those who dream of wailing and weeping may in the morning be going out to hunt. When they were dreaming they did not know it was a dream; in their dream they may even have tried to interpret it; but when they awoke they knew that it was a dream. And there is the great awaking, after which we shall know that this life was a great dream. All the while, the stupid think they are awake, and with nice discrimination insist on their knowledge; now playing the part of rulers, and now of grooms.” — “The Adjustment of Controversies” in “Zhuangzi” (trans. James Legge)


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