Zhuangzi’s idea of spirit and nourishment of life

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It is well known that, in the Zhuangzi, problems of understanding and practice arise from taking one’s completed heart-mind (cheng xin 成心) as the guidance. Questions remain about what can be the guidance in one’s person if the completed heart-mind is not in charge. One possible candidate is spirit (shen 神), as discussed in several skill passages such as the story of Cook Ding and the cicada catcher. In this article, I articulate the relationship between heart- mind and spirit to show three points: first, spirit is a kind of qi 氣 that relates to clarity in thinking or action, or rather the state in which that qi runs smoothly. This reading brings the skill passages together with the fasting of heart-mind (xin zhai 心齋) passage. Secondly, the proceeding of spirit admits no fixed ways and is not confined to any particular organ or faculty, so it avoids the problem of self-assertion mentioned in Qiwulun. Thirdly, the proceeding of spirit implies that one’s practice takes as many particularities of the context as possible into account, so the person has a higher chance to reduce conflict in interacting with things and other people and bring out their potential. This is a reason why skillful activates are related to Zhuangzi’s ideal of nourishing life, both physiologically and psychologically.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
EventSingapore-Hong Kong Symposium on Chinese Philosophy - Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 13 Mar 201514 Mar 2015


ConferenceSingapore-Hong Kong Symposium on Chinese Philosophy
OtherNanyang Technological University
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