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165 Beyond Life and Death Zhuangzi’s Great Awakening BRIAN HOFFERT In his influential essay, “What is Daoism?” Herrlee G. Creel argues that the English term “Daoism” refers to two distinct traditions (1956, 139-52). One evolved out of the philosophical musings of Laozi and Zhuangzi, based on the principle of wuwei 無為 (nonaction). The other has its root in an immortality cult that sought as its ultimate goal the indefinite perpetuation of the physical body. The latter, according to Creel, had no connection to the philosophies of Laozi and Zhuangzi until around the first century BCE. Although this sharp distinction between what came to be known as philosophical (daojia 道家) and religious Daoism (daojiao 道教) was once widely accepted in the West, it has been abandoned by an increasing number of contemporary scholars. Many agree with Livia Kohn’s contention that “such artificial bifurcations…do not do real justice to the facts and serve little heuristic purpose” (2000, xi). This notwithstanding, I argue that the presumptions upon which this distinction is based continue to strongly influence how we read early Daoist texts. For example, the tacit assumption that Zhuangzi is ultimately a philosopher rather than a religious practitioner typically results in the highlighting of philosophical aspects of the Inner Chapters at the expense of prominent religious themes, most notably those that focus on inner cultivation , the afterlife, and immortality. I do not suggest that these religious themes ought to overshadow Zhuangzi’s brilliance as a philosopher, but rather that these two dimensions of the text are not inconsistent and indeed allow us to develop a richer, more complex understanding of the text as a whole. In order to 166 / Journal of Daoist Studies 8 (2015) explore the significance of inner cultivation, the afterlife, and immortality in the early Daoist tradition, I examine an early- to mid-fourth century BCE text called Neiye 內業 (Inward Training). It contains descriptions of mystical practices that, as Harold Roth persuasively argues, provide the key to developing a more cohesive picture of the Daoist tradition (1999, 5-9).1 Roth identifies the technique of meditation described in the text as a form of apophatic or self-emptying meditation, whose ultimate goal is the attainment of “a fully concentrated inner consciousness of unity, which is filled with light and clarity and is not tied to an individual self” (1999, 125). More importantly, he provides solid textual evidence that this technique of inner cultivation was shared by the authors of both the Laozi and the Zhuangzi. This leads him to conclude that the Neiye is “the earliest extant statement of the one common mystical practice that ties together the three phases of early Daoism, including the texts heretofore regarded as the sole foundations of this tradition, the Laozi and the Zhuangzi” (1999, 8). After establishing the mystical foundations of the early Daoist tradition , I explore Zhuangzi’s perspective on the relationship between this inward training and the metaphor of dreaming. I focus especially on his suggestion that we may one day attain a “great awakening” (dajue 大覺) that would appear to have a lot more in common with the later Daoist notion of immortality than is typically recognized. I do not intend to suggest that Zhuangzi’s conceptions of immortality and the means by which it might be attained are identical to those that developed in later organized Daoism. Still, I hope to show that the religious dimensions of Zhuangzi’s philosophy is an essential aspect of his overall system of thought that should not be overlooked due to lingering conceptions of a fundamental divide between the different kinds of Daoism. Early Daoist Cultivation in the Neiye Although the Zhuangzi is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant works in the Chinese intellectual tradition, most Western interpreters have fo1 For the dating of the text, see Roth 1999, 23-27. All Wade-Giles transliterations are now in Pinyin. Hoffert, “Beyond Life and Death” / 167 cused largely on its philosophical insights. To appreciate these philosophical insights fully, however, it is necessary to explore the foundations of early Daoist cultivation. Despite Creel’s suggestion that such “mystical incomprehensibilities” are unworthy of serious study (1956, 24), numerous passages in the Inner Chapters assume a context...


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pp. 165-178
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