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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Fall 2002, Vol. 29 No. 2

Chuang Tzu as Teacher: Pedagogical Insights from the Chuang Tzu

Liam Corley

In the third century BCE, a brilliant and idiosyncratic Chinese philosopher wrote an assortment of anecdotes and metaphysical assertions which were later collated by his disciples into a textbook bearing only his name as a title: the Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu the bizarre; Chuang Tzu the perverse; Chuang Tzu the philosophical imp now elevated into the Taoist empyrean by a host of admirers, disciples, and kindred spirits! Rarely is the passage from great wisdom into religious system so drawn out as in the case of Chuang Tzu. Most often, this transition moves in the opposite direction and is viewed as a decline from revelation to pious reflections, and from thence to secular generalizations. Aquinas attempted something similar to Chuang Tzuís journey when he proposed in his Summa Thelogiae to arrive at a set religious destination by means of an intellectual journey that began with rational natural laws. In contrast to Aquinasí ratiocinative approach, Chuang Tzu had a more elusive manner of describing the natural way of things. Thomas Merton, a Catholic priest with great admiration for Chuang Tzu, affirms the spiritual tendency of Chuang Tzuís thought: "while there is a certain skeptical and down-to-earth quality in Chuang Tzuís critique of Confucianism, Chuangís philosophy is essentially religious and mystical. It belongs in the context of a society in which every aspect of life was seen in relation to the sacred." Indeed, Chuang Tzuís presentation of the Tao shares so many characteristics with metaphysical propositions that the tradition of interpreting Chuang Tzuís thought has splintered into philosophical and religious schools. He is thus an excellent model to consider when exploring the connections between spiritual and intellectual pursuits.

[Fall 2002 Issue Contents]