The Philosophy of Zhuangzi: A Brief Overview

A phrase often heard among many millennials and young people today is the “care for the entire person.” What does it mean? 

According to the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, care for the entire person or cura personalis is multidimensional. It involves caring for one’s spiritual life, his or her relationship with God the Holy Trinity. However, it also involves caring for one’s earthly needs as well: mental well-being, physical well-being, and social well-being. All of these combined, according to Ignatian thought, serve the goal of cura personalis

And so, we talk about rest and recreation. One Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi, an advocate of the Taoist school, can tell us a thing or two about its importance these days. 

Do we still stop, slow down, and appreciate?

The online encyclopedia Britannica states the following on Zhuangzi’s philosophy: 

Life is the ongoing transformation of the Dao, in which there is no better or worse, no good or evil. Things should be allowed to follow their own course, and men should not value one situation over another. A truly virtuous man is free from the bondage of circumstance, personal attachments, tradition, and the need to reform his world.

That line of thought contrasts with that of Confucianism, which upholds rituals as means of instilling discipline. Remember: these philosophers, Confucius and Laozi (the original founder of Taoism), found themselves in the context of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods in China. Their goal was to bring about order in a context of societal disorderliness. 

For Zhuangzi, that meant letting life run its natural course. The following, also mentioned in the encyclopedia Britannica, would’ve horrified the ritualistic Confucians. When Zhuangzi was nearing the point of death, his disciplines began planning a great funeral for him, and this is how he responded:

Zhuangzi immediately stopped the discussion by declaring that he did not need the paraphernalia of a great funeral, that nature would be his inner and outer coffin, the sun and the moon his jade rings, and the stars and the planets his jewelry … He needed no more. Somewhat taken aback, his disciples declared that they were afraid that the crows and the buzzards might eat him. To this, Zhuangzi replied, “Above the ground, it’s the crows and the kites who will eat me; below the ground, it’s the worms and the ants. What prejudice is this, that you wish to take from the one to give to the other?”

While we definitely don’t advocate just leaving the bodies of our deceased loved ones out to dry, there are takeaways from Zhuangzi’s thoughts that are relevant today. So, we go back to rest and recreation.

Many people, including — and maybe even more so — a number of people from the Chinoy community, value work the most. Money needs to be earned. Sundays cannot be days of rest and prayer because it’s a waste of time. Children absolutely need to get straight A’s. 

It would do well, however, to sometimes let things run their natural courses. Yes, earning money is very important. Yes, studying is very important. We must indeed strive to be financially capable, absolutely. But in order to truly live a better life, a healthy balance between work, rest, and recreation is needed. Who knows: maybe by being better physically and mentally, we’d be more capable at our work, too!


The author of this article: 

An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook:

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