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Sage It s Not A Herb

Throughout the course of human existence, man has always considered himself to be the ruler of the world. All other living species were lower in the food chain and therefore are less intelligent and important. After studying the philosophies of Chuang Tzu and Taoism, I wonder whether or not that is actually true. Are we really better than the lizard lying on the rock or the fish in the sea?

We human beings have always lived our lives wanting. . . desiring what we don t have. Just like the Hindu brahma, Chuang Tzu and Taoism have their sage. The best definition of a sage is its synonyms: Perfect man, Great Man, Holy Man, and True Man. Chuang Tzu would describe the Taoist sage in a way that implies that he has magical powers, that he moves in a trance-like state. He is immune to any kind of harm. He might even be immortal. Even though he didn t intend for his description to be metaphorically understood, there is evidence that it was taken literally. The reason being the fact that the Taoist schools in the later times interpreted it that way.

Chuang Tzu had contrasted the sage with the average man in a way that put the human race to shame.

He saw the man-made ills of war, poverty, and injustice. He saw the natural ills of disease and death. But he believed that they were ills only because man recognized them as such. If man would once forsake his habit of labeling things good or bad, desirable or undesirable, then the man-made ills, which are the product of man s purposeful and value ridden actions, would disappear and the natural ills that remain would no longer be seen as ills, but as an inevitable part of the course of life. Thus, in [my] eyes man is the author of his own suffering and bondage, and all his fears spring from the web of values created by himself alone.

He had also described the Perfect Man as one that used his mind like a mirror. He pursues nothing, welcomes nothing, responds but will not use memory. This way, he can always emerge as a winner and never hurt himself. The descriptions go on to say that the True Man does not rebel against want. He didn t show any pride, and that he did not make plans. He can make a mistake and not regret it. He is not afraid of heights. He would be exposed to water and not get wet; fire and not be burned. His breath comes from deep inside. Contrasted with man, he breathed through his heels while man breathes through the throat. In comparison to a sage, a man that is swift as an echo, strong as a beam, has a wonderfully clear understanding of the principle of things is only a drudging slave. He is only a craftsman bound to his calling. He wears out his body and exhausts his mind. For example, the leopard s spots are what will get him killed. The ability of the dog is the reason why he s chained up.

The powers of a sage can best be summed up in one word: God-like. If the great swamps were on fire, he would not be burned. If the rivers freeze, he would not be cold. When the lightning splits the hills and howling winds shake the sea, he will not be afraid. He rides the clouds and the mist, has the sun and moon on either side of him, and wanders beyond the four seas. Life and Death have no effect on him whatsoever.

Thinking about this, even if man may not be as great as we thought, is the sage a better being? Chuang had stated that he pursues nothing so that he will never lose and get hurt. This can be analyzed from two different angles. One way to look at it, is from the human point of view. If one does not pursue anything, how can one gain anything? A simple example would be if we were to not pursue our wanting be successful in a certain field of work. While it would be true that we don t lose a job, we also do not earn any money or an improvement in lifestyle. According the Chuang, the sage should be happy that he did not lose anything. What make it hard to understand Chuang are the contradictions between his philosophies and what we know as human beings.

The best character trait of the sage was best explained by Master Pien Ch ing-tzu to a certain Sun Hsiu.

He forgets his liver and gall and thinks no more about his eyes and ears. Vague and aimless, he wanders beyond the dirt and dust; free and easy; tending to nothing is his job. This is what is called doing but not looking for any thanks, bringing up but not bossing. . . . You ve managed to keep your body in one piece, you have all the ordinary nine openings, you haven t been struck down midway by blindness or deafness, lameness or deformity-compared to a lot of people, you are a lucky man.

This explanation should be combined with what we have learned as of now. Not only should we pursue to be better in all aspects, we should also realize what we have now and be grateful for that.

To become a sage, a man must let go of what he knows as a human and realize the following: [A sage] guards the pure breath. It comes not from wisdom, skill, determination, or courage. Faces, forms, voices, colors, and such are just mere things. But things do have their creation in which has no form and their conclusion in what has no change. He should not develop what is natural to man; he should instead develop what is natural to Heaven. If he develops Heaven, he benefits life; if he develops man, he injures life. Before there can be true knowledge, there has to be True Man (a sage).

There were once three people. Chao Wen played the lute. Music Master K uang waved a baton. Hui Tzu leaned on a desk. Their knowledge was very close to perfection. The only difference between them and a sage were their likes. What they liked, they tried to clarify. What they did not understand, they also had to clarify. And so, they were stuck in the foolishness of hard and white. To a sage, there is no need for any draw a line clarification.

Virtue is the establishment of perfect harmony. Because it has no form, things cannot break away from it. The one thing that can destroy the virtue of a man is fame. Yet, it is important to not jump to the conclusion that the establishment of virtue will not complete a man. Though your virtue may be great and your good faith unassailable, if you do not understand men s spirits, though your fame may be wide and you do not strive with others, if you do not understand men’ minds, but instead appear before a tyrant and force him to listen to sermons on benevolence and righteousness, measures and standards this is simply using other men s bad points to parade your own excellence.

The sage is one that has no fame. Therefore, he has a lot of virtue.

Buddhism describes desire as something that is impossible to satisfy. It is a condition that will separate all of man. It is the most powerful force in the world. This is what sets the conditions of rebirth. Chuang contradicts this and implies that desire is not really important. The sage does not hold it to be so. He desires nothing because he doesn t want to lose anything.

Feelings are also something that the sage does not hold to be very important. He will accept whatever comes along to/at him. He will not experience any feelings of pride, success, anger, sadness, regret, or freight. A True Man doesn t allow the likes or dislikes to get to him and hurt him. He just lets nature take its course and will not try to help life along.

A great percentage of Chuang Tzu s teachings and philosophies will overlap those of Lao Tzu. The reason is very simple. Lao Tzu preceded Chuang and therefore, Chuang s philosophies were based pretty much on those of Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu is even portrayed as a sage in the teachings of Chuang Tzu.

While studying Chuang s teachings and philosophies, Watson explains best on how to comprehend Chuang. In the end, the best way to approach Chuang Tzu, I believe, is not to attempt to subject his thoughts to rational and systematic analysis, but to read and reread his words until one has ceased to think of what he is saying and instead has developed an intuitive sense of the mind moving behind the words, an of the world in which it moves.

Like all religious teachings, Chuang Tzu provides a perfect being and provides an outline of how to become him that is almost impossible. The average man is then condemned for his ways of life because it is not virtuous. He is viewed as being materialistic and bad. I believe that in order to become a sage, one cannot look at each specific item on the list, but look at the whole picture. One must not be ambitious, should be grateful for the now, and have no desire for fame or anything else.


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