Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu or Gateless Gate

Let's Have Some Fun

Zen is simple, direct, and effective. Taoism, of course, is also effective, but it is arcane and symbolic.

Let's have some fun with this thread. Reproduced below are two different passages chosen at random — one from a famous Zen source and the other from a famous Taoist source. Can you tell which is which?

Passage 1

In the North Sea, there is a kind of fish. Its name is Kun. Kun's body is extremely huge, its length extending to unknown thousands of miles. Suddenly it changed into a bird. Its name is Peng. Peng's back is even bigger, its width extending to unknown thousands of miles.

When it exerts with force, Peng flies up from the sea to the sky, and its wings are like gigantic clouds at the horizon. Whenever storms arise in the North Sea, the Peng bird fly to the South Sea. The South Sea is void without boundary. It is not created by man's work. It is created by Heaven and Earth, so it is also known as the Lake of Heaven.

Passage 2

Yue An asked a student: Chi Chong made one hundred carriages. He retained the front of the carriage but removed the back, then removed the spokes of the wheels. What remained of the carriage?

( Note: Chi Chong was known in classical China as an expert in making carriages.)

Zen writings and Taoist writings are characteristically different

Here is the answer. The first passage was taken from “Zhuang Zi” and the second from “Gateless Gate” .

“Zhuang Zi” (also spelt as “Chuang Tzu” ) is a famous Taoist classic recording the teachings of a famous Taoist master of the same name. Actually the book is named after the master.

“Gateless Gate” is a famous Buddhist classic recording gong-ans (koans). A gong-an, or “public record” does that — it records the experience of a Zen practitioner gaining a spiritual awakening or enlightenment.

The two texts were chosen at random.

For those familiar with Zen and Taoist writings, it is easy to tell which is which. As mentioned in my previous post, Taoist writings are arcane and symbolic, whereas Zen writings are simple and direct. Typical Zen writings are like Passage 2, and typical Taoist writings are like Passage 1. You won't find Zen writings written in the language of the first passage, or Taoist writings written in the language of the second passage.

I think it is fine to discuss similarities between Taoism and Buddhism as long as we are clear that general similarities do not imply cross-fertilization.

The passages above serve as further testimony that Zen is Buddhism, and not a blend of Buddhism and Taoism. If it were, Zen writings would have more of a Taoist flavour, even in translation. But as the two representative passages above show, Zen writings and Taoist writings are characteristically different.


Topics on Zen and Tao

Courses and Classes