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The Princess in Tears


    How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion? and that the dislike of death is not like a young person's losing his way, and not knowing that he is (really) going home? Li Ki was a daughter of the border Warden of Ai. When (the ruler of) the state of Zin first got possession of her, she wept till the tears wetted all the front of her dress. But when she came to the place of the king, shared with him his luxurious couch, and ate his grain-and-grass-fed meat, then she regretted that she had wept. How do I know that the dead do not repent of their former craving for life? (Chuang-tzu, Book II - The Adjustment of Controversies, 9, James Legge)


Indeed, as a matter of fact one can not know if is more agreeable to live than die! There are no testimonies in in this respect, and the very fact that we live - here and now - makes us hold on life as the only reality.

Likewise, princess Li Ki cried sobbing thinking about her future, by marrying the ruler of the state. Then she realized that her life is much more satisfactory at the palace and regretted her foolish crying!

We all are guided by preconceived ideas, by prejudices, not having the certainty of their veracity. And the living experience contradicts most of the times what we had already known about life.

Here we have, in Chuan-tzu's words, a subtle criticism towards formal thinking, specific to the Confucian's intellectual approach.


I have recently read a commentary to this story published on the Net, to find out in the end that it refers, by the symbols it contained, at our relationship with life and death.

The story itself was much extended (I don't know by whom) with lots of details, which, in author's opinion, refer to after life events. When the physical body stops functioning - tells the author - the metaphysical ego moves towards the realm of pure consciousness.

I didn't find anywhere in the philosophical Taoism (tao-chia) ideas about the metaphysical consciousness. They exist in the western occult approach of Taoism. But I certainly know that Chuang-tzu didn't wrote about the metaphysical ego!

Chuang-tzu was an extremely pragmatic person and especially preoccupied by demolishing Confucian' concepts, or more generally, the formal thinking, which starts from abstract precepts and have nothing to do with reality. Chuang-tzu is the advocate of a spontaneous, natural, thinking, as we shown in our Level 1 of our Taoism initiation course dedicated to the explanation of the basic concepts.

Consequently, there's nothing at Chuang-tzu dealing with the esoteric or the pure consciousness.(*)

And what is worst, this commentary has no logical basis. Asserting that we can't know anything about death ("the only certain thing we know is that death cannot be avoided"), the commentator assures us that in the after life the consciousness, the ego, and other such things won't be the same. In short, he knows what happens in the afterlife!

Finally it should be noted that Chuang-tzu's book comprises also chapters composed by his followers (or by persons outside his philosophical realm) that feel unusual for the Master's thinking.

This was a common procedure in those times (the same happened with the I-ching and many other ancient treatises). Therefore we must be cautious when we meet such inconsistencies and do not attribute them to Chuang-tzu.

Selection and commentary by Jhian

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