Origins

The book called Zhuangzi was quite unusual for its time.  Containing some stories and some didactic passages, its tone is often witty and humorous.  At times historical persons are mentioned; at other times the stories feature characters with names like No-Toes or Woman Crookback.  Greater and lesser deities are also featured, as well as mythical creatures, and talking animals and insects — all engaging in a discourse about Tao.

In addition to being an important text in its own right, the Zhuangzi provides further clues about the debates about the Tao.   Confucius appears often in the texts, as does his star pupil Yen Hui; usually they take the role of individuals whose Tao is inadequate and wrong-headed.  Lao Dan, another name for Laozi, also appears, but is not central to the text.  Zhuang Zhou is the main voice of the text, and his Tao has some similarities to that of the Taode jing, but also many differences.  Concerning the topic of leadership, for example, the Taode jing advocated a laissez-faire style — doing by not-doing — while the Zhuangzi discouraged taking up official positions altogether. 

While many in the West think of the Taode jing and Zhuangzi as the sacred texts of Taoism, or at least as the texts with which Taoism began, it would be many centuries before Taoism as an organized religious tradition emerged and when it did, it would be based on new texts, the first of which were "received" from a deified Laozi.


Study Questions:
1.     What can you say about the relationship between the rise of Taoist thought and political developments of the time?
2.     What was the role of religion in politics throughout the rise of Taoism?
3.     Compare and contrast the authorship and teachings of the Taode jing with the Zhuangzi. Should either be referred to as a sacred text of Taoism?

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