Speaking of Chuang Tzu..,
After my wife passed away in March of 2014 I returned to the wisdom material that had influenced me when I was a young man. All of it was from the East. Very little of the Western tradition had ever resonated with me and a lot of it made no sense whatsoever when compared with my own life experience. But the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching (Book of Changes) and other Taoist and Buddhist writings matched up with my view of the world at that time, and have ever since. When I first began processing my grief those writings were the first thing I turned to.
But I had forgotten about Chuang Tzu. When compared with the soft wisdom of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu comes across as a crazy man. Most of his statements contain no obvious meaning. It’s not as if he is a wild, crazy sage or anything. It’s more a feeling of cantankerous willfulness, as if he is saying: “This is the way it is and if you don’t see that it’s not my problem.” There’s a little bit of the irritated Zen Master in his expression, but the basis of his thought isn’t exactly Buddhism as it would be for a master teacher. When I was young he was beyond my understanding, like the old man who shouts at the neighborhood kids who walk across his lawn.
For many years my go to edition of the Tao Te Ching was the translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, a large paperback that was beautifully designed. The companion volume of Chuang-Tzu’s Inner Chapters I read less often.
Occasionally it would be revealing, but I think I was too young and inexperienced to really understand it. Both of these books are still in my library. They are still in print in new editions and I recommend them. (Here and Here).
When I began putting the pieces of my life back together I purchased another translation of Chuang Tzu’s writings translated by Martin Palmer and several other people. As I began reading the introduction I found this story:
Chuang Tzu’s wife died and Hui Tzu came to console him, but Chuang Tzu was sitting, legs akimbo, bashing a battered tub and singing.
Hui Tzu said, ‘You lived as man and wife, she reared your children. At her death surely the least you should be doing is to be on the verge of weeping, rather than banging the tub and singing: this is not right!’
Chuang Tzu said, ‘Certainly not. When she first died, I certainly mourned just like everyone else! However, I then thought back to her birth and to the very roots of her being, before she was born. Indeed, not just before she was born but before the time when her body was created. Not just before her body was created but before the very origin of her life’s breath. Out of all of this, through the wonderful mystery of change she was given her life’s breath. Her life’s breath wrought a transformation and she had a body. Her body wrought a transformation and she was born. Now there is yet another transformation and she is dead. She is like the four seasons in the way that spring, summer, autumn and winter follow each other. She is now at peace, lying in her chamber, but if I were to sob and cry it would certainly appear that I could not comprehend the ways of destiny. This is why I stopped.’
Tzu, Chuang. The Book of Chuang Tzu (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Locations 245-254). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I can’t even begin to describe how that story affected me. I knew that someday I would be like that old and cranky man, banging on a tub and singing, but that day I could not feel that way. The wound was too recent, the hurt was too deep, and I was in no normal state of mind. If there is anything that shakes your faith in any acquired spiritual wisdom greater than the passing of a loved one, I can’t imagine it. Yet I knew that there would be a time when I could start singing again and be in full acceptance of what had happened. And I knew when I reached that stage I could write this little post and place that wisdom out there so that anyone could read it and perhaps feel a bit calmer in the midst of whatever sadness they might be feeling.
That time is finally here.
This is not to say that I do not miss her. Far from it. I can’t help but carry her with me as I continue thumping my own tub and singing as loudly as I can with gratitude and joy.
As to the photograph, it was made on the same day as the one in my previous post. The same sunset, the same sky, the same sea and shore. My wife is looking out to the Pacific with our greyhound at her side. Staring at possibilities? The future? The Will of Heaven? There is a path of light leading from the figures to the edge of the horizon. There is always a path. And there is always a song.
(Photo information: Nikon D700, Nikkor 28-300mm at 62 mm, ISO 800, f8 at 1/8000 of a second, Lightroom, Color Efex Pro 3)