The Sage Speaks through the Centuries on the Taoist Way with Master Chuang Tzu

I don’t know if Daoist thought is of any interest to you. When you read Classical Daoist theory, it is almost illegible because of all the allegory and symbolism used. I’m reading “The Essential Chuang Tzu.” 2,400 years ago, a Daoist Master, Chuang Tzu, became part of the foundation of Classical Chinese Daoist thought. I am eternally grateful to Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton for translating the writings so I could enjoy this important work.

As I wander through this masterpiece, I’ll share some of the allegory and symbolism that isn’t frequently touched upon.

I have to prepare myself to read Classical Daoist thought. It is a game of patience to discern the internal thought puzzle that is personal to the individual. I worry I will not understand the symbolism being presented and so a great intellect will be wasted on me.

The first chapter is titled “Free and Easy Wanderer.”

There is a famous formula in Chinese Medicine called “Free and Easy Wander.” This formula addresses symptoms of liver qi stagnation. My video “Chinese Herbs You Can Buy Online that Calm the Mind and Knock-Out Cabin Fever” will help make this emotion personal to you so you can understand the intent of liver qi stagnation. 

They say in Chinese Medicine, the liver does not like to be constrained. Yet, much of the current society is focused on constraint. These constraints can impact your emotions. Like the exhaustion at having to get up every morning to go to a job you don’t like. The stress of managing a household. The kids running around when you just want a minute to yourself. You missed an assignment at school, and now your teacher is docking your grade. Your emotions become turbulent.

In Chinese Medicine, the emotions represent an internal dialogue you reflect on the outside world. The formula is famous because it helps so many people open-up that constraint and rest and relax instead of reacting. The formula allows you to wander freely again.

Is that what this chapter is going to do? Help release the constraints I place on myself. I wonder.

I read this chapter. Put it down. Slept on it. Reread it. I meditated. This went on for some time.

“Deep in the Northern Darkness there is a fish called K’un, so large its breadth cannot be measured…it metamorphoses into a bird called a P’eng…it soars all the way to the Southern Darkness, which is also called the Pool of Heaven.”

I was following a guided meditation from Reginald Ray. The goal was to see inside myself as well as I see outside myself. I was having a problem with this. I could feel the boundaries of my skin and sense the external world and the immense vastness of space. Billions of light-years into the expanse. I tried to steer my conscious thoughts inward and found confusion.

The world inside the boundaries of my skin was just as vast, involved, and noisy as the world outside the borders of my skin. Yet, I couldn’t find my way into this vastness.

“Deep in the Northern Darkness, there is a fish called K’un, so large its breadth cannot be measured…”

The symbolism of this passage played in my head. The North is represented by the Kidneys in Chinese thought. But the reading referred to more than just the kidneys. The passage was referring to the obscure symbolism within Chinese thought that enveloped the symbolism of kidneys in Chinese Medicine.

K’un is not an ordinary fish. K’un is a great fish. K’un is so large, it can not be measured. And so it is with the primordial Dao, the Dao before our birth that is reflected through the kidneys. Like the fish called K’un, the Dao is so large, it can not be measured.

All fish like water and water represent the kidneys. Water is the beginning of all the other elements in Chinese Medicine. Without the deep, dark, coolness of the water, nothing could exist. All things must come from water. When Chuang Tzu talks of the Northern Darkness, the depths of an ocean of water is reflected in the primordial Dao. The primordial Dao is the dark nothingness where all things come from.

Inside this darkness, one becomes two – the yin and yang of life. The two polar opposites of energy pull on each other, creating all movement between. From the two comes the spark which ignites the qi. That spark is held between our kidneys. It is called the Fire of the Gate of Life, the ministerial fire, the ming men. This spark is our connection with the Dao.

 K’un is a great fish that transforms from a great fish into a fantastic bird and lifts off from the water. P’eng, the incredible bird, can see water all around as P’eng flies. The Dao is the vast ocean of nothingness. When all things come forth, each will contain their spark of life within water. This spark must be held between the two polar opposites of yin and yang, earth and heaven, water and fire.

And P’eng is not an ordinary bird. P’eng is so large “with a back so long there is no way to know where it ends.” And P’eng is flying to the Southern Darkness known as the Pool of Heaven. I’m overwhelmed with the potent symbolism of the Shen and the Heart. The Heart is associated with the South, fire, and heaven while containing the Shen or the spirit and nature granted from the Dao. To learn more on the heart click here.  

K’un and P’eng have become water and fire. Water being the foundation of all other elements, K’un transforms into P’eng and can see water all around. These two become representations of the taiji symbol of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy. In this symbology, they are more significant than an individual being so large, their size can not be fathomed.

More of the philosophy comes to mind. There is also the belief that the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm. K’un and P’eng exist within the individual as the Kidney and Heart or water and fire elements. And within Chinese Medicine, this vertical axis between the Kidney and Heart is considered the most crucial axis in the body because it represents the balance between yin and yang.

I’m amazed at all the symbolism wrapped up in about 43 words. I want to go on and write more about this, but the thoughts are overwhelming and tiring. I must move on.

“The cicada and the fledgling dove both laugh, saying, ‘When we want to fly, we can easily reach the lower branches of small trees; or if we fall short, we return to the ground. Why would anyone want to fly up thirty thousand miles and head South?’ “

Here an insect and small bird reflect their preconceptions of what life entails. They only see the world of their experiences and are unable to imagine a world outside the small confines of their world. Even the top of the tree is too far for them to visualize.

These two tiny beings ridicule and judge what is outside their realm. Their size helps emphasize the limitations of their thoughts. Judgment is a harsh criticism given to others to justify boundaries. All things that are confined and constrained face the displeasure of the energetics of the liver and the repercussions.

These small beings can not grasp a world bigger than the lower branches of the tree. The cicada can not perceive the seasons. The dove can not fathom a cornfield three miles away. They go about their day unwilling and unable to see an existence more than the one they have right now.   

It may be that Chuang Tzu is chiding you to go beyond preconceptions to advance spiritual knowledge and lay down the internal unrest or angst. Because the chapter is called “Free and Easy Wander,” Master Chuang challenges you to look at what is causing you angst. Each unrest marks a defining principle and border. If you understand the policy and see a fence, you can determine if you are ready to climb over or through the fence and restructure how you see the world. As a primer, check out “Taking Back Your Power! How To Start Letting Go and Moving On from the Past.” It comes with an easy to use worksheet where you can start releasing your past.

Sometimes it feels like I’m sitting at the bottom of the mountain wondering what it will take to get to the top. I know I’m the little fledgling dove who still laughs and judges. But, I hear Master Chuang, and I’m also wondering. Wondering what it will take to get to the top of the tree. And after that? Who knows. Maybe I will be able to find K’un and morph into P’eng.

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