April 25, 2020
Confucian and Chuang Tzu’s
Confucianism and Taoism are both influential Chinese philosophies, which, however, focus on different aspects of human existence in this world. Although the concept Tao (the Way) is central to Chuang Tzu and to Confucius’ teachings, the content and determination in these philosophies vary. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the meaning of Tao in Chuang Tzu and the Analects, which represent the ethical and ontological levels of its interpretation.
Get a price quote
While Tao first appears in the Analects as a result of the connection between the generations, a tradition, in Chuang Tzu this concept means the unity that is behind the separated things. The Way that is introduced in the Confucian view demonstrates a positive meaning, as it shows the children’s respect for their ancestors, parents, and rulers: “…And as for such men starting a revolution, no instance of it has ever occurred. It is upon the trunk that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows”. To ‘let the Way grow’ means to behave well and to maintain the tradition that is only possible via the connection between the youngest and oldest. The Way, in other words, represents the ethical dimension of people’s lives and makes cultural, historical, and, therefore, spiritual development possible. In Chuang Tzu, Tao emerges as something that makes separate things holistic and united: “For this reason, whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar, a leper or the beautiful His-shin, things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange, the Way makes them all into one”. Hence, Tao may be viewed as a capacity to see the constant and one behind the variety of things, whether a person is aware of it or not. “Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one. So he has no use [for categories] but relates all to the constant. The constant is useful; the useful is possible; the passable is successful; and with success, all is accomplished. He relies upon this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way”. In this way, Chuang Tzu demonstrates that all things are the same in nature, relating the Way to the ontological principle. The Way is not what nature is, instead, it is how nature is organized. Thus Tao appears as a traditional and appropriate social behavior in Confucian vision, and as an ontological background or principle that constitutes the world as well as a capacity of seeing it according to Chuang Tzu.
The Way appears as a result of people’s judgment about the right and wrong in Chuang Tzu, although it becomes descriptive in some parts of the Analects. As a unity, the Way could be injured by humans’ judgment on the right and wrong because when these categories appear, the holistic nature of the world is forgotten: “Because right and wrong appeared, the Way was injured, and because the Way was injured, love became complete. But do such things as completion and injury really exist, or do they not?” Relating everything to the constant without using categories to divide things leads to clarity: “So he does not use things but relegates all to the constant. This is what it means to use clarity”. Such a statement has three implications: firstly, that human capacity to see the unity (Tao) is injured when people judge the world, which means that disjunctive claims pull one away from living Tao; secondly, as the Way is opposed to temporal separate things, Tao may be characterized as eternity that is behind all things; thirdly, the clarity of judgment is achieved when temporal separate things are related to Tao, not when they are weighted and relegated to the same temporal things. These aspects demonstrate that Tao is connected with human judgment because seeing the constant is the attribute of clarity. Thus, Tao embraces the epistemological aspect that implies seeing things clear via Tao. In contrast, the Way in the Analects does not have its self-standing meaning and is used with attributive and descriptive purposes. The matter is that the Way is used the same as “conduct” or “behavior”, which answers the questions “how” and “what kind of”: “Mater Yu said, in the usages of ritual it is harmony that is prized; the Way of the Former Kings from this got this beauty”. It represents the technical character of the Way, which helps in constructing attributive judgments and is written with a capital letter to show that this particular way of doing something is respected. It makes Tao a respected way of behavior, which has no separate meaning. Thus, in Confucian interpretation, Tao does not have epistemological connotations as in Chuang Tzu.
The relationship between Taoist and Confucian Way may be regarded as a difference between skills and what goes beyond them. The Confucian way of living emphasizes the right behavior and ritual in terms of artistry that must be acquired by a gentleman. Recognition of a set of skills becomes the purpose of learning and represents wisdom. On the contrary, in Chuang Tzu, the Way is something that goes beyond skill: “Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied: hat I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill”. Further, it is said that spirit comes after perception and understanding: “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 the spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants…”. These statements mean that perception and understanding are the first stages that come while acquiring skills. The higher stage of competency is following the spirit instead of rationality, which is to follow Tao. Thus, while, according to the Confucian belief, the Way demonstrates the procedural aspects of ‘being good’, in Chuang Tzu the Way exceeds this border.
In both Chuang Tzu and The Analects, Tao represents a spiritual entity, though ‘to be spiritual’ has different meanings in these teachings. For Confucius, the spirituality has both mystical and ethical connotations: to respect the spirits of the dead ancestors via the rituals is to behave in a correct way. In this respect, Confucian interpretation of spirituality is close to the Christian vision of it and it characterizes someone who possesses a ‘high degree of morality’ in particular conduct or condition. However, in Chuang Tzu ‘spirit’ does not refer to the saint or morally applicable. Here, a spirit is closer to its metaphysical features, which transform the spirit into a transcendental principle that has a positive meaning but is not related to ethics. Tao simply stands above all the things, and it cannot be seen as moral or immoral. While there is a world of judgments about temporal things or deeds made by humans, Tao is constant and represents a higher level of being. Therefore, Tao is above human life, though the wisest may recognize it, whereas in The Analects the Way represents spirituality, which is practiced daily.
As the Way is a metaphysical entity in Chuang Tzu, its ‘container’ is the human spirit, while in The Analects’ vision, the Way is not a self-standing entity that needs a ‘container’. When a disciple asked Confucius about the fasting of the mind, he replied that it was the condition of emptiness: “Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but the spirit is empty and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind”. The emptiness of the human mind is a ‘container’ for the Way, which must not be understood literally: it means that to see the Tao one should fast their mind to become able to see the Tao via emptiness. It is not connected with epistemology any longer but rather is a recommendation of practicing the Way and preparing to experience it. Though such a claim was held by Confucius in Chuang Tzu, in The Analects the Way is not associated with a mental condition of emptiness. Moreover, in the Analects Tao is rather a fullness with right behavior without a place left for metaphysical emptiness.
The Way serves as guidelines for living with other people from the Confucian perspective while representing an individual-world relationship in Chuang Tzu. In The Analects, Tao means royalty and consideration: “My Way has one (thread) that runs right through it. Our Master’s Way is simply this: loyalty, consideration”. Loyalty to the superiors and consideration for the feelings of others mean not doing to them anything one would not like to have done to oneself. These are the virtues in the Confucian view, which are directly related to the concept of the Way. In Chuang Tzu, the virtues and the directions of conduct are ‘outside’ the Way concept because the latter addresses cognitive, epistemological and metaphysical layers of humans. Thus, the Analects does not imply epistemological issues for the Way but represents it as an ethical code, which is opposite to Taoist interpretation.
Tao in both Confucius’ and Chuang Tzu’s interpretation is conservative in being constant rather than dynamical. In detail, in Chuang Tzu, the Way is the constancy in opposition to temporal separate things. When it comes to virtues, it is crucial not to let the feelings get inside of the human and harm but to let things remain as they are: “When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man doesn’t allow likes or dislikes to get into him and do him harm. He just lets things be the way they are and does not try to help life along”. It demonstrates the human capacity to accept the world as it is, without changing it by own judgment and conduct. It is similar to Confucian interpretation, where the feelings are not denied but must be determined with consideration of other people’s feelings. It does not imply revolutionary behaviors but rather demonstrates that following the tradition requires considering others’ interests. In both philosophies, active engagement of both mind and behavior leads further from the Way, which demonstrates the conservative character of these teachings.
The Analects and Chuang Tzu confirm that the Way is ought to be practiced. In Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu said the following: “ I used to think, Master, that your Way was perfect. Hence, the Way is a capacity of the individual and a degree to which it is developed at the same time. There are different kinds on the path to recognition of Tao, therefore, one’s Way may be better than another. It implies that the Way is not given from above, but is gained through exercising and efforts. In The Analects, the Way is also a principle of conduct that characterizes the knight of the Way. It is expressed in the following lines:
In the furtherance of his own interests
Is held back by scruples,
Who as an envoy to far lands
Does not disgrace his prince’s commission
May be called a true knight
This passage may be interpreted as an ethical code that allows exploring the Way in a deeper manner: being critical and serving the superiors, viewing it as not only the duty but as something that corresponds to their own interests. Serving and being critical are particular recommendations that postulate the knight of the Way. Thus, Tao in both philosophies requires self-improvement through exercising, though means different things.
The Way is a principle that guides not only individual conduct but also the life of the whole country from Confucian perspective, whereas nothing is said about the Way as a principle of governing in Chuang Tzu. In The Analects, there is a discussion of how a gentleman should behave in various cases: “…When a country is ruled according to the Way’ (the gentleman) accepts rewards. But when a country is not ruled according to the Way, he shows compunction in regard to rewards; When the Way prevails in the land, be bold in speech and bold in action. When the Way does not prevail, be bold in action but conciliatory in speech”. Thus, the principle of own behavior may be extended to the social norms of the society and the principles of governance in the country. In Chuang Tzu, the Way is rather self-improvement, spiritual and mental growth that is impossible to be extrapolated to the groups of people or the state. Overall, the Taoist perspective on the Way emphasizes its individual character, whereas the Confucian interpretation is intended to come from individual to collective.
In conclusion, Chuang Tzu and The Analects present both common and distinct aspects regarding the interpretation of Tao. The common features are a spiritual aspect of the Way and a conservative character of the teachings and living according to the Way. The distinct points are metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological implications of the Way in Chuang Tzu, which are absent in the ethical and social vector presented in The Analects’ teaching.
Get a price quote