Abstract Dennis Schilling

In the Zhuāng zǐ, human life becomes a questionable issue. Horses bite and lash out when put in harness. Birds refuse to eat when kept in cages. People, on the contrary, take pleasure in taming and dressage – of other beings as well as of themselves. Thus, human nature differs from other beings’ nature by accepting artificiality. Why is that the case? A historical explanation points out that human civilization let people alienate from their native state, gradually from generation to generation. Accordingly, we have to abandon human sociality and take up the life of a recluse. Reclusion, however, might not be enough. The text also requests us to get free from humanity itself. Endowed by birth with cunning and calculating hearts and rooted in emotional comprehension, human life hardly ever can equal the ease and effortlessness which characterize the weathering of the leaves, the change of seasons and other natural processes (tiān, 天). Anyway, we have to try it. We have to disburden ourselves from emotional attachment, perceptual discernment and reasoning. Then we will respond to outer stimuli automatically and in an absolutely mindless manner. Practically speaking, this seems to be an almost impossible task. The abandoning of emotional attachment, however, leads to further questions. Emotions are considered a constitutive part of human nature. Do we have to give up our (human) nature in order to correspond to (cosmic) Nature (whatsoever this may mean)? Obviously, in the human-nature-relationship, different concepts of nature go together. How do they relate to each other? It is hard to imagine that they do not overlap each other. But they also exclude each other: What is natural for the ordinary way of living is artificial in more idealized conceptions and vice versa. Hence, different concepts of nature constitute different forms of human life. In addition, naturalness is defined in different ways. A common description, based on the concept of non-activity (wú wéi, 無為), is what is natural is not artificial. A second description, based on the concept of bù dé yǐ (不得已) is what is natural is inevitable. (Besides these two, other descriptions of naturalness are given, too.) The discussion about death in the sixth chapter offers a combination of these two definitions. Usually, death is considered a purely natural event. Now, dying requests a highly artificial performance. People do not simply die. They first form a community united by vows; and, at the moment of dying, they examine each other and bear witness to. Death connects human existence to the principles behind any natural constitution. And we have to prove our understanding of these principles, even though we only can do that in a ritualized and highly artificial way. Inevitability requests acceptance (shùn, 順), and acceptance equanimity. Equanimity or the abandonment of emotional attachment (wú qíng, 無情) does not only mark the distinction between ordinary and idealized ways of life, the nature of being human and the nature of the cosmos (tiān). It also marks their relatedness. Since equanimity enables people to give an account of the reality of the inevitable which underlies all natural processes, regardless whether they belong to the human realm or to the realm of heaven.