Lao Tzu is austere and serene; Confucius is the ritualist in life; but now we approach Chwang Tzu — the breaker of idols, the advocate not only of serene but of joyous living. Regarding Lao Tzu as his Master, he practised the austerities of the straight and narrow path of Tao; but unlike his great predecessor he was an active propagandist and labored incessantly to teach so that many may live the higher life.

His title “The True Man of Nan-Hua” shows the deep reverence in which he is held by the Chinese. His writings are known as “The Divine Classic of Nan Hua.” Nan Hua was his birth place, and living in the fourth century B.C. he was a contemporary of Mencius. His poet soul gives his writing the graceful touch so pleasing to his students, the touch that produces a sparkling quality of pure joy, non-sensuous, and on contacting it, argument and even reason subside into silence. The wealth of illustrations in innumerable anecdotes and episodes does not make the reiteration of his principles boring but on the contrary it continuously enlightens the varied aspects of those fundamentals. A celebrated commentator of the Second Century, B.C., says, “His teachings were like an overwhelming flood, which spreads at its own sweet will.” His thirty-three books are generally classified thus: I to VII the esoteric, VIII to XXII the exoteric, and XXIII to XXXIII miscellaneous. Thus Chwang Tzu is a voluminous writer and where Lao Tzu would speak a terse but telling aphorism, he narrates an anecdote and adorns it with imagery.

A great change came over the world of thought after the passing of Lao Tzu. The influence of the great Buddha was steadily permeating all Asia and Chwang Tzu distinctly shows the impress of this influence on his consciousness. In the period between the death of Lao Tzu and the birth of Chwang Tzu both the Buddha and Sankar Acharya had resuscitated Theosophy, and the echoes of Their teachings unmistakably resound in those of Chwang Tzu; this accounts for the more detailed development of Lao Tzu’s teachings and the becoming exoteric of that which was esoteric previously. Because of this, his Tao appears different from the Tao of Lao Tzu; but in reality the introduction of the expression Tien Tao, the Divine Way or the Heavenly Way, was formulated by Chwang Tzu as a protest against the degradation in which the Lao Tzu’s doctrine of Spontaneity was falling. Some pseudo-Taoists were preaching, and indulging in the belief that lust can be killed out if gratified, and spontaneity consisted in free indulgence. To emphasize the ethical aspect without discarding the metaphysical, Chwang Tzu spoke of Tien Tao and Tao; but these two like the Macro- and the Micro-Cosmos are related in identity. With this short introduction, we will let Chwang Tzu speak his own words on the different topics of interest to the student of Theosophy.

Deity and Nature

The ultimate end is the Heavenly Tao. It is manifested in the laws of nature. It is the hidden spring. At the beginning, It was. This, however, is inexplicable. It is unknowable. But from the unknowable we reach the known.

We are embraced in the obliterating unity of the Heavenly Tao. There is perfect adaptation to whatever may eventuate; and so we complete our allotted span. But what is it to be embraced in the obliterating unity of the Heavenly Tao? Take no heed of time, nor right and wrong. But passing into the realm of the Infinite, take your final rest therein.

Knowledge of the great ONE, of the great Negative, of the great Nomenclature, of the great Uniformity, of the great Space, of the great Truth, of the great Law — this is perfection. The great ONE is omnipresent. The great Negative is omnipotent. The great Nomenclature is all-inclusive. The great Uniformity is all-assimilative. The great Space is all receptive. The great Truth is all-exacting. The great Law is all-binding.

Speech is not mere breath. It is differentiated by meaning. Take away that, and you cannot say whether it is speech or not. Can you even distinguish it from the chirping of young birds? But how can TAO be so obscured that we speak of it as true and false? And how can speech be so obscured that it admits the idea of contraries? How can TAO go away and yet not remain? How can speech exist and yet be impossible?

TAO is obscured by our want of grasp. Speech is obscured by the gloss of this world. Hence the affirmatives and negatives of the Confucian and Mihist Schools, each denying what the other affirmed, and affirming what the other denied. But he who would reconcile affirmative with negative, and negative with affirmative, must do so by the light of nature.

There is nothing which is not objective: there is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge. Hence it has been said, “The objective emanates from the subjective; the subjective is consequent upon the objective. This is the Alternation Theory.” Nevertheless, when one is born, the other dies. When one is possible, the other is impossible. When one is affirmative, the other is negative. Which being the case, the true sage rejects all distinctions of this and that. He takes his refuge in the Heavenly Tao, and places himself in subjective relation with all things.

When subjective and objective are both without their correlates, that is the very axis of TAO. And when that axis passes through the centre at which all Infinities converge, positive and negative alike blend into an infinite ONE. Hence it has been said that there is nothing like the light of nature. TAO operates, and given results follow. Things receive names and are what they are. They achieve this by their natural affinity for what they are and their natural antagonism to what they are not. For all things have their own particular constitutions and potentialities. Nothing can exist without these.

To place oneself in subjective relation with externals, without consciousness of their objectivity — this is TAO. But to wear out one’s intellect in an obstinate adherence to the individuality of things, not recognizing the fact that all things are ONE, this is called Three in the Morning. What is Three in the Morning? A keeper of monkeys said with regard to their rations of chestnuts that each monkey was to have three in the morning and four at night. But at this the monkeys were very angry, so the keeper said that they might havefour in the morning and three at night, with which arrangement they were all well pleased. The actual number of the chestnuts remained the same, but there was an adaptation to the likes and dislikes of those concerned. Such is the principle of putting oneself into subjective relation with externals. Wherefore the true Sage, while regarding contraries as identical, adapts himself to the laws of Heaven. This is called following two courses at once.

Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting-point. Existence without limitation is Space. Continuity without starting-point is Time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of the Heavenly Tao.

This Portal is Non-Existence. All things sprang from Non-Existence. Existence could not make existence existence. It must have proceeded from Non-Existence, and Non-Existence and Nothing are ONE. Herein is the abiding place of the Sage.

Nature is no other than a man’s parents. (The term “Nature” stands here as a rendering of Yin and Yang, the Positive and Negative Principles of Chinese cosmogony, from whose interaction the visible universe results.) If she bid me die quickly, and I demur, then I am an unfilial son. She can do me no wrong. TAO gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. And surely that which is such a kind arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.

Your body is not your own. It is the delegated image of Tao. Your life is not your own. It is the delegated harmony of Tao. Your individuality is not your own. It is the delegated adaptability of Tao. Your posterity is not your own. You move, but know not how. You are at rest, but you know not why. You taste, but know not the cause. These are the operations of Tao’s laws. How then should you get TAO so as to have it for your own?

Man’s Knowledge

A man’s knowledge is limited; but it is upon what he does not know that he depends to extend his knowledge to the apprehension of the Heavenly Tao.

A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker. How much less in the case of greatness? And if doing great things is not enough to secure greatness, how much less shall it secure virtue? In point of greatness, there is nothing to be compared with the universe. Yet what does the universe seek in order to be great? He who understands greatness in this sense, seeks nothing, loses nothing, rejects nothing, never suffers injury from without. He takes refuge in his own inexhaustibility. He finds safety in accordance with his nature. This is the essence of true greatness.

Great knowledge embraces the whole: small knowledge, a part only. Great speech is universal: small speech is particular.

The best language is that which is not spoken, the best form of action is that which is without deeds. Spread out your knowledge and it will be found to be shallow.

Now the transmission of messages of good- or ill-will is the hardest thing possible. Messages of good-will are sure to be overdone with fine phrases; messages of ill-will with harsh ones. In each case the result is exaggeration, and a consequent failure to carry conviction, for which the envoy suffers. Therefore it was said, “Confine yourself to simple statements of fact, shorn of all superfluous expression of feeling, and your risk will be small.”

Small knowledge has not the compass of great knowledge any more than a short year has the length of a long year. How can we tell that this is so? The mushroom of a morning knows not the alternation of day and night. The chrysalis knows not the alternation of spring and autumn. Theirs are short years.

You don’t ask a blind man’s opinion of a picture, nor do you invite a deaf man to a concert. And blindness and deafness are not physical only. There is blindness and deafness of the mind.

You cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog, the creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect, the creature of a season. You cannot speak of Tao to a pedagogue: his scope is too restricted. But now that you have emerged from your narrow sphere and have seen the great ocean, you know your own insignificance, and I can speak to you of great principles.


The man of complete virtue remains blankly passive as regards what goes on around him. He is as originally by nature, and his knowledge extends to the supernatural. Thus, his virtue expands his heart, which goes forth to all who come to take refuge therein. Without TAO, form cannot be endued with life. Without virtue, life cannot be endued with intelligence. To preserve one’s form, live out one’s life, establish one’s virtue, and realize TAO — is not this complete virtue? Issuing forth spontaneously, moving without premeditation, all things following in his wake — such is the man of complete virtue! He can see where all is dark. He can hear where all is still. In the darkness he alone can see light. In the stillness he alone can detect harmony. He can sink to the lowest depths of materialism. To the highest heights of spirituality he can soar. This because he stands in due relation to all things. Though a mere abstraction, he can minister to their wants, and ever and anon receive them into rest — the great, the small, the long, the short, for ever without end.

The man of perfect virtue, in repose has no thoughts, in action no anxiety. He recognizes no right, nor wrong, nor good, nor bad. Within the Four Seas, when all profit — that is his pleasure; when all share — that is his repose. Men cling to him as children who have lost their mothers; they rally round him as wayfarers who have missed their road. He has wealth and to spare, but he knows not whence it comes. He has food and drink more than sufficient, but knows not who provides it. Such is a man of virtue.

The birth of the Sage is the will of the Heavenly Tao; his death is but a modification of existence. In repose, he shares the passivity of the Yin; in action, the energy of the Yang. He will have nothing to do with happiness, and so has nothing to do with misfortune. He must be urged ere he will move. He must be compelled ere he will arise. Ignoring the future and the past, he resigns himself to the laws of Tao. Therefore no calamity comes upon him, nothing injures him, no man is against him, no spirit punishes him. He floats through life to rest in death. He has no anxieties; he makes no plans. His honor does not make him illustrious. His good faith reflects no credit upon himself. His sleep is dreamless, his awaking without pain. His spirituality is pure, and his soul vigorous. Thus unconditioned and in repose he is a partaker of the virtue of Tao. Sorrow and happiness are the heresies of virtue; joy and anger lead astray from TAO; love and hate cause the loss of virtue. The heart unconscious of sorrow and happiness, that is perfect virtue. ONE, without change, that is perfect repose. Without any obstruction, that is the perfection of the unconditioned. Holding no relations with the external world, that is perfection of the negative state. Without blemish of any kind, that is the perfection of purity.

The sea does not reject the streams which flow eastward into it. Therefore it is immeasurably great. The true Sage folds the universe in his bosom.