I thought we would end October with a little diversion from Laozi and Zhuangzi and take a brief look at the most ancient Taoist text of all, the “I Ching” (the Book of Changes). Laozi, Confucius and Zhuangzi were all greatly inspired by the Changes. We might say that the Changes was the very root of their works and Chinese philosophy in general.

From Wang Bi’s Commentary on the I Ching (“Changes”) Appended Phrases, Part I, Section 4:

“The ancient sages created the “Changes” (the I Ching) to provide a paradigm of Heaven and Earth, and so it shows how one can fill in and pull together the Dao of Heaven and Earth. Looking up, we use it (the Changes) to observe the configurations of Heaven, and, looking down, we use it to examine the patterns of Earth. Thus, we understand the reasons underlying what is hidden and what is clear. We trace things back to their origins then turn back to their ends. Thus, we understand the axiom of Life and Death.” (The hidden and the clear involves images that have form and do not have form. Life and Death are a matter of fate’s allotment for one’s beginning and end.”

Wang Bi’s Commentary on Chapter 35, Dao De Ching:

The “Great Image” is the mother of the images of Heaven. (The images of Heaven are the sun, moon, planets and constellations. The “great Image” image is another way to refer to the Dao.) It is neither hot or cold, warm or cool. Thus, it can perfectly embrace the myriad things, and none suffers any harm…The great image is formless. As soon as there is a form, distinctions exist, and with distinctions, if something is not warm, it must be cool, if something is not hot, it must be cold. Thus, an image that has a form is not the great image (the Dao)”

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 4

“When material force consolidates into essence (jingqi), it meshes together, and with this coalescence, a person comes into being. When such coalescence reaches its end, disintegration occurs, and with the dissipation of one’s spirit (youhun), change occurs. If one thoroughly comprehends the principle underlying coalescence and dissipation, he will be able to understand the Dao of Change and Transformation, and nothing that is hidden will remain outside his grasp.”

In Section 5 of Wang’s Commentary, he analyzes the reciprocal process:

“The reciprocal process of yin and yang is called the Dao. What is this Dao? It is a name for non-being (wu); it is that which pervades everything and from which everything derives. As an equivalent, we dll it Dao. As it operates silently and is without substand, it is not possible to provide images for it. Only when the functioning of being reaches its zenith do the merits of nonbeing become manifest. Therefore, even though it so happens that the numinous is not restricted to place and change and is without substance, yet the Dao itself can be seen: it is by investigating change thoroughly, that one exhausts all the potential of the numinous. and it is through the numinous that one clarifies what the Dao is. Although yin and yang are different entities, we deal with them in terms of the unity of nonbeing. When the Dao is in he Yin state, it does not actually exist as yin, but it is by means of yin, that it comes into existence, and when it is in the yang state, it does not actually exist as yang, but it is by means yang that it comes into being. This is why it is referred to as ‘the reciprocal process of yin and yang.

(It is important for me to point out that the choice of the word “state” is not quite right. The Dao, the infinite, absolute Oneness, doesn’t have any “states,” and for that matter neither does a process. A phase or stage may be a better choice of words. As an analogy, we can liken the reciprocal process of the Dao to our own phases of waking and sleeping. which like yand and yin, are different phases. Thus, when the Dao is in its Yin phase, it is dormant. Unlike our own sleep phase, the Dao’s dormancy can last for eons. Does this mean that the Dao is completely still, empty. No, that is why Wang Bi states “it does not actually exists as yin.” Let’s use the analogy of breathing to explain. When we are in our sleep phase, Yin, usually at night, are we completely empty and still? Do we exhale as we enter our Yin phase then never inhale and fill up? No, not at all. Though we are dormant, we continue our breathing cycle throughout the night despite it being an unconscious process. The same is true for our waking phase, Yang. Our breathing cycle, though usually not a conscious process unless there is a problem, continues from exhale to inhale throughout the day. The same is true for the Dao. At this moment, the Dao is in its Yang phase, having manifested as the living Universe or Nature. Still, the Dao cannot be said to actually exist as yang because its energy cycle of Yin stimulating Yang and vice versa continues through the present eon.)

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 5:

That which allows the Dao to continue to operate is human goodness (shan), and that which allows it to bring things to completion is human nature (xing). The benevolent see it and call it benevolence; the wise (zhi) see it and call it wisdom. It function for the common folk on a daily bases, yet they are unaware of it. This is why the Dao of the noble man is a rare thing! {Here, Richard John Lynn, the translator comments: The noble man embodies the Dao and applies it as function, but if it is merely the benevolent and wise, then they are limited to just what they see of it, and if it is the common folk, then it functions for them on a daily basis, but they are unaware of it. Those who truly embody this Dao are they not indeed rare! Thus, as it is said, “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety.” This is how one can begin to talk about its perfection and address its ultimate meaning.}

(Again, I must point out that the last line which Lynn quotes – “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety” – is the exact wording he uses for Wang Bi’s translation of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1, paragraph 3. Then in the very next paragraph, Lynn’s translation has Laozi stating “And always have desire to see their ends.” Confusing? Wang Bi explains: “Subtlety is the absolute degree of minuteness. As the myriad things reach completion only after originating in minuteness, {Think back to how each of us started as infinitesimal fertilized cells in our mothers’ wombs}, so they are born only after originating in nothingness. Thus always be without desire and remain empty, so that you can see the subtlety with which things originate.” Then after the fourth stanza, he adds, “Ends here means the ends to which things revert. If anything that exists is to be of benefit, it must function out of nothing. Only when desire is rooted in such a way that it is in accord with the Dao will it prove beneficial. Thus always have such desire that you can see those ends to which things finally arrive.”)

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween, and see you in November.


We start off October with one of Zhuangzi’s famous parables, the story of Cook Ting (Ding)

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

COMMENTARY: This is a follow up to Zhuangzi’s other classic parable in Chapter 1, the Butterfly Dream, in which Zhuangzi co-stars as the lead character in his own parable along with a butterfly. Uncertain as to whether he is really Zhuangzi dreaming that he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he is Zhuangzi, he doubts his own existence. Instead, this Self that he has always known himself to be, may actually be a completely different Self. Or, perhaps there is no self. It is obvious the parable points out a stage of self-doubt in Zhuangzi’s life. However, some have said the point is that Zhuangzi actually finds himself in a Buddhist-like state of No-Self, the final goal. But is it? Is that what Zhuangzi really intended?

Well, in the very next Chapter, we find the parable of Cook Ting (Ding) above and realize that this No-Self phase is not a final goal, but to Zhuangzi and Cook Ting. it is only a transition toward the final goal?

Cook Ting says: “When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. (This is the state of ordinary mind or Cheng Xin) After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. (This is the Butterfly Dream stage of No-Self) And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. (This stage is the real final goal of discovering the True Self or Chang Xin.)  I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. (This is following Nature or following the Tao, which is how we reach the Ultimate Self.) So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.” (Laozi advice of not allowing small problems to turn into huge ones).

The final two paragraphs with Cook Ting explaining how he cares for his knife is, as Lord Wen-hui points out, an analogy of caring for one’s life. In the last paragraph Cook Ting alludes to Laozi’s account of sages in antiquity who were adept at practicing the Tao (Chapter 15, Tao Te Ching) as being cautious and vigilant. Practicing wu-wei and following the flow of the Tao, Cook Ting uses caution and vigilance when he approaches a complicated section of the ox.

This parable then is a transition from the Butterfly Dream to a summary of how to reach the final goal or Chang Xin, the True Self which Zhuangzi unveils in full detail a few chapters later in the discussion between Confucius and his disciple Yan Hui in an exercise called the Fasting of the Mind.

The first part where Kungzi (Confucius) instructs his disciple, Yan Hui and details the “Fasting of the Mind” occurs in Chapter 4. The follow-up, where Yan Hui returns having completed the full practice is written in Chapter 6. Bear in mind that the Cook Ting parable which appears in Chapter 2 is actually a very brief summary of the entire process.

The prelude to the actual detailing of the Fasting of the Mind in Chapter 4 is quite long, so I will summarize. It begins with Yan Hui coming to Kongzi (Confucius) to ask permission to take leave after years of studying with him. Yan Hui explains that he wants to go out into the world and put what he has learned from Kongzi into practice.

Kongzi asks him how he intends to do this. Yan Hui replies that he wants to go to the State of Wei, where the ruler has become an autocratic tyrant and has wrought great devastation upon the people of Wei. Yan Hui wants to see if he can restore Wei and save the people. Kongzi asks him how he plans to do this.

Yan Hui tells him that he wants to take what he has learned from Kongzi and derive some standards and principles from it to apply to the situation in Wei. Kongzi tells him that he is more than likely to get himself killed. If he is following a certain course, it is best not to mix in anything extraneous which will lead to multiple courses because that will cause anxiety and confusion. Kongzi then proceeds to give Yan Hui a lengthy lecture on real Virtuosity and Cleverness. Then he asks Yan Hui how he plans to get around these all of these problems.

With each solution that Yan Hui puts forth, Kongzi has a wise rebuttal, detailing why each one will not work. Finally, in total frustration, Yen Hui said, “I have nothing more to offer. May I ask the proper way?”

“You must fast!” said Confucius. “I will tell you what that means. Do you think it is easy to do anything while you have [a mind]? If you do, Bright Heaven will not sanction you.”

Yen Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?”

“That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.”

“May- I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”

Confucius said, “If you merge all your intentions into a singularity, you will come to hear with the mind rather than with the ears. Further, you will come to hear with the vital energy rather than with the mind. For the ears are halted at what they hear. The mind is halted at whatever verifies its preconceptions. But the vital energy is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings. The Course alone is what gathers in this emptiness. And it is this emptiness that is the fasting of the mind.”

Yan Hui said, “Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that ‘myself’ has never begun to exist. Is that what you mean by being ‘empty’?”

Confucius said, “Exactly. Let me tell you about it. With this you can play in his cage without impinging on his concern for a good name. When he’s receptive, do your crowing, but when he’s not, let it rest. Do not let him get to you, but do not harm him either. Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided. This will get you close to success. It is easy to wipe away your footprints, but difficult to walk without touching the ground. It is easy to use deception when you are sent into your activities at the behest of other humans, but difficult to use deception when sent into activity by Heaven. You have learned how to fly with wings, but not yet 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.

“Good fortune comes to roost in stillness. To lack this stillness is called scurrying around even when sitting down. Allow your ears and eyes to open inward and thereby place yourself beyond your mind’s understanding consciousness. Even the ghosts and spirits will then seek refuge in you, human beings all the more so! This is the transformation of all things, the hinge on which Shun and Yu moved, the lifelong practice of Fu Xi and Ji Qu. How much more should it be so for others!”

(Fu Xi was one of the early proponents of the I Ching. Ji Qu or sometimes Ji Zi was a semi-legendary Chinese sage who is said to have ruled Gija Joseon in the 11th century BCE.)

So there we have it. Zhuangzi full From Chapter 6, the co


Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten benevolence and righteousness!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten rites and music!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving! ”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I can sit down and forget everything!”

Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything.’-”

Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”

Confucius said, “If you’re identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you’ve been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! 23 With your permission, I’d like to become your follower

Thus both Cook Ting and Yan Hui realized their True Selves.

Be well. See you next time.


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