Kung Fu Exercise Book #6

6) Those who lose themselves in their pursuit of material objects, and lose their nature in the study of what is vulgar, must be pronounced people who turn things upside-down.

Admittedly, this one was relatively easy to decipher when I was younger.  Honestly, the simplest interpretation makes the most sense here – Don’t make thing matter more than experiences or people and don’t get lost in the unsavoury because this is backwards.

Easy, simple and, honestly, a good way to think about life.

And this is the conflicts between history and cultures comes to the forefront because, apparently, my desire for an idyllic interpretation meets with the differences between East and West…

You remember Chuang Tzu?  The 6th century BCE Taoist philosopher?  Well, this quote is attributed to him from the book that has been named after him (commonly referred to as “the Chuang Tzu”, or Zhuangzi as an alternate spelling).  Knowing this, the whole notion of “vulgar” does a little spin from my interpretation above – instead it takes one a subtle slap against Confucian ideals of knowledge as the ultimate learning.  In this particular passage, I would argue that Chuang Tzu is saying that Confucianists are just as lost as the people who focus on material gain – to lose ones nature in the pursuit of academia is just as bad as losing oneself in the practice of accumulating wealth and material things.  Both are against the Tao, and do not follow the natural order of things.

Honestly, this is where I will have to disagree with Chuang Tzu a little – but only in a matter of degrees.  I agree that there is a difference between “book-learning” and the lessons taught by experience and the ‘school of hard knocks’ (although some of the lessons that life has taught me, I would have preferred to learn from a book… and yes, I know that I wouldn’t have taken these lessons as much to heart had they only been written in black and white, and not included the clear sweat and red blood I’ve shed to really drive the point home…).  As a self-professed academic and modern renaissance man, I find that any statement that tries to reduce the value of learning and study rankles me at a nearly core level.  Nope – after reading what I just wrote I have to amend this to “At a core and fundamental level” as my gut just gave a twinge… and I trust my gut.

Which only goes to show my point – There is a point of the ‘nature’ of things, but also the study into them.  If you trust knowledge over your feelings, when does the limit get reached?  Just because we can, does this mean we should?  The ethical dilemma’s that come from this are huge, and continuously increasing.  What is right or wrong but the way we feel about a given thing?

If someone does something solely for the material gain, or solely to see what would happen – this is where I would say they’ve turned things upside down.  But introduce the natural, organic feeling of something into the equation and now (in my opinion) you can see the world the way it is.  Recognize what is your feeling and what is there, and distinguish between them so that your opinion isn’t the fact, nor is the fact your opinion.  But put the two together and you can formulate an understanding… and, to keep with other Taoist and Buddhist views – don’t get all caught up on what you see or feel, because that isn’t what it is anyway.

Ultimately I believe that this statement was meant to guide people from the extremes of selfish accumulation of things – be they material or immaterial.  Don’t get caught up in stuff or attainments because the natural order doesn’t have these demarcations… it is only the human mind that values these, and getting stuck with and in them means that we lose a bit of the way things are…

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