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The Zhuangzi also known as ““莊子”, “Book of Master Zhuang”, “Nanhua zhenjing 南華真經”” Fodde-Reguer, Anna-Alexandra


This entry explores the creation and development of the Zhuangzi (Chuang tzu), purportedly written by Zhuang Zhou 莊周 (d. 286 BCE) and his followers. The text of the Zhuangzi is traditionally divided into 33 chapters--Inner, Outer, and Miscellaneous chapters--but these divisions were created after the author's death by commentators and editors. The Inner chapters are purportedly the closest to Zhuang Zhou’s original meaning. While it is unclear if a religious group or network existed during the early formation and transmission of the text, later centuries of transmitted materials and excavation sites reveal that the Zhuangzi was collected and read by elites and was considered a valuable Daoist text. Although later scholars of religion made a clear differentiation between “philosophical Daoism” and “religious Daoism,” of which the Zhuangzi belongs in the former, those are not historically accurate terms. In fact, the Zhuangzi was added to the Daoist canon (Daozang) relatively early (some say as early as the 5th century) but the earliest extant version (thus far) dates to 1445 CE and the Ming dynasty. The central tenant of the text is the concept of the Dao as a Way or path to live one’s life in accordance with nature but unlike texts such as the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi is more interested in ways to pursue happiness and an ease or flow of the mind that can be realized by an individual with a change in perspective. Categorizations made by humans in an effort to understand the world around them are always inaccurate and prevent us from truly understanding the Dao. Tapping into the Dao is the only way to truly live one’s life to the fullest. Making use of parables, stories, and humorous dialogues, the author(s) of the Zhuangzi expand the concept of the Dao posed by the Daodejing and how it relates to the internal world of the mind. Society and governments are not important to the Zhuangzi. The text focuses on the ideal human as a perfect Sage, but such a learned individual is not exactly the same Sage as we find in the Daodejing. According to the Zhuangzi, the Sage is happy and freely wanders the cosmos and is integrated to it in mysterious ways. Breath (qi 氣) and essence (jing 精) are basic elements to life, and understanding how we can link such life-essentials to the Dao is part of the focus of the text. Such mystical elements found in the Zhuangzi set the stage for later Daoist schools to expand longevity practices and other forms of meditation. Cultivating one’s breath and essence can cause spiritual and physical transformations to a person, and in later periods of history, Daoist longevity techniques focused on how to transform oneself into an immortal using some of the concepts introduced in the Zhuangzi (e.g. fasting the mind xinzhai 心齋 and sitting in oblivion zuowang 坐 忘).

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