Zhuangzi is an ancient Chinese book written by ‘Master Zhuang’ that contains powerful wisdom on life, society, culture, human nature and consciousness. Contained within this book and the ‘Tao Te Ching‘ written by Lao Tzu is the foundation of Taoism (Daoism).
Taoism is basically a philosophical tradition that empathizes living in harmony with the Tao or the source or eternal consciousness.
This article is a collection of some of the best quotes from Zhuangzi that contain in them deep wisdom on life, human nature, consciousness and the universe. You will find some of these quotes inspirational and some others deeply insightful that will help you look at things from a different perspective.
1. ‘A path is made by walking on it.’
This is such a simple quote from the Zhuangzi but is extremely inspirational and carries in it a powerful message.
Just because nobody has done it before, does not mean that it cannot be done. So do not be discouraged by the fact that it has not been done before; instead look at it as an opportunity knowing that once you start walking on this path, things start to clear up. Every path out there was made by someone who envisioned a path there, others just followed suit.
2. ‘Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.’
The word ‘education’, comes from the Latin word, ‘educare’ which means to ‘bring up’, ‘draw out’ or ‘to nourish’. So to educate basically means finding, bringing out and nourishing the hidden potential within a student. When you look at education in this manner, the element of rewards and punishments do not make sense and this is exactly what Zhuangzi is trying to say.
Yet, our current education system is the inverse of this. It encourages comparison as everyone is forced to learn the same things irrespective of their individual talents.
We reward students (with better grades, praise etc.) if they perform better and punish them otherwise as our main concern is producing knowledgeable humans who are fit to join the workforce once they finish their studies.
Zhuangzi is right in saying that this is the lowest form of education.
3. ‘Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.’
Happiness is a state of peace, contentment and relaxation which is why striving takes you away from happiness than bringing you close to it. To be happy, all one needs to do is let go and relax into the present moment.
Also Read: 101 Quotes On How To Be Happy
4. ‘To a mind that is still, the entire universe surrenders.’
The entire universe exists within your mind cause the universe is a merely your mind’s interpretation of the external. Therefore, when the mind becomes still, free from thoughts of past and future and is resting in the present moment, the entire universe surrenders to it.
5. ‘The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.’
This quote from the Zhuangzi is trying to convey that instead of getting lost in concepts, we should try to understand the real essence of things and drop whatever is unnecessary.
When a finger points towards the moon, you follow the finger and see the moon. Once you see the moon, you no longer need to see the finger. But if you lose yourself in looking at the finger rather than where it is pointing to, you will never see the moon. In a similar way, we must always try to understand the deeper truth that words are trying to convey instead of getting lost in the words themselves.
6. ‘The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world.’
According to Zhuangzi, to a wise person, what matters in the end is peace of mind. The wise person does not strive for fame or power, instead he finds happiness in the simplest of things. This is why a wise man is happy simply sitting by a remote stream, having a deep sense of peace, than to chase fame and fortune.
7. ‘To be truly ignorant, be content with your own knowledge.’
When someone thinks that they know everything they stop to grow. They become stuck with the ideas in their mind and become a slave to those ideas. These ideas now begin to rule their life and hence they can be considered ‘truly ignorant’ as Zhuangzi puts it.
8. ‘When the heart is right, “for” and “against” are forgotten.’
It’s the mind that takes sides, the heart always remains neutral because it looks at everything through the eyes of empathy. It does not automatically label things as good and bad. The heart knows that everything is a manifestation of pure consciousness and that’s how it looks at things.
9. ‘Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.’
The term, ’emptiness’ here signifies a mind that is free from thoughts of past and future. A mind that is still in the present moment. Just like fasting helps cleanse the body, stillness or the state of no thoughts, cleanses the mind. And when the mind becomes clear, solutions appear on their own.
10. ‘Heaven, Earth and I live together. All things and I comprise an inseparable oneness.’
Even though we appear separate on the outside, we are all connected through this one consciousness or life energy. So in essence, everything is one, there is no separation except on a mind level, which is what this quote is trying to convey.
11. ‘A marsh pheasant has to walk ten paces for a bite to eat and a hundred for a sip of water. But still it wouldn’t want to be tamed and put into a cage. Even treated like a king, it could never be happy and content.’
This quote empathizes the need of a wise person to be free. To a wise person, freedom is of utmost value. No riches or fame in the world can compare to his/her need to remain free.
12. ‘The little child learns to speak, though it has no learned teachers – because it lives with those who know how to speak.’
Just by being observant of our surroundings by being in the present moment, we can learn a lot of things. Being in the present instead of being lost in the mind can reveal to us many hidden aspects of reality.
13. ‘When a man does not dwell in self, then things will of themselves reveal their forms to him. His movement is like that of water, his stillness like that of a mirror, his responses like those of an echo.’
‘Not dwelling in the self’ is akin to not being lost in the mind or not being fully identified with the egoic identity of the mind. When you are one with the egoic identity, you get trapped in it. The identity controls you rather than you controlling the identity. But once you become free from your egoic sense of self by stilling the mind, you become free. This is true liberation even if it exists only for a few moments. States of stillness can be reached through practices like meditation and mindfulness.
14. ‘When I speak of good hearing, I do not mean listening to others; I mean simply listening to yourself. When I speak of good eyesight, I do not mean looking at others; I mean simply looking at yourself. He who does not look at himself but looks at others, who does not get hold of himself but gets hold of others, is getting what other men have got and failing to get what he himself has got. He finds joy in what brings joy to other men, but finds no joy in what would bring joy to himself.’
In simple words, this quote is trying to convey that when you are too focused on the external, you miss out on the internal. Relationship with your own self is the highest form of relationship there is.
15. ‘A man like this will not go where he has no will to go, will not do what he has no mind to do. Though the world might praise him and say he had really found something, he would look unconcerned and never turn his head; though the world might condemn him and say he had lost something, he would look serene and pay no heed. The praise and blame of the world are no loss or gain to him.’
Zhuangzi here is talking about a liberated mind that has turned inwards and is no longer overly concerned with the opinions or others. Such a mind can now focus fully on things that matter and remove attention from petty and limiting thoughts.
16. ‘Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.’
Zhuangzi here is asking you to use your inner self as an anchor that you can hold on to and you will not be swayed by external events. You will learn to go with the flow.
17. ‘During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream.’
By ‘awakening’, Zhuangzi means coming to the present moment and no longer being lost in either thoughts of the past or future. When we are present, we become conscious and that is akin to awakening. When we are not present, we are lost in the thoughts generated by the mind, which is akin to the asleep state.
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