Master Chuang and craft

“In Chuang Tzu’s view, the man who has freed himself from conventional standards of judgement can no longer be made to suffer, for he refuses to recognise poverty as any less desirable than affluence, to recognise death as any less desirable than life. He does not in any literal sense withdraw and hide from the world — to do so would show that he still passed judgement upon the world. He remains within society, but refrains from acting out of the motives that lead ordinary men to struggle for wealth, fame, success, or safety. He maintains a state that Chuang Tzu refers to as wu-wei, or inaction, meaning by this term not a forced quietude, but a course of action that is not founded upon any purposeful motives of gain or striving. In such a state, all human actions become as spontaneous and mindless as those of the natural world. Man becomes one with Nature, or Heaven, as Chuang Tzu calls it, and merges himself with Tao, or the Way, the underlying unity that embraces man, Nature and all that is in the universe.

To describe this mindless, purposeless mode of life, Chuang Tzu turns most often to the analogy of the artist, or craftsman. The skilled woodcarver, the skilled butcher, the skilled swimmer, does not ponder or ratiocinate on the course of action he should take; his skill has become so much a part of him that he merely acts instinctivly and spontaneously and, without knowing why, achieves success. Again, Chuang Tzu employs the metaphor of a totally free and purposeless journey, using the word yu (to wander, or a wandering) to designate the way in which the enlightened man wanders through all of creation, enjoying its delights without ever becoming attached to any one part of it.

But, like all mystics, Chuang Tzu insists that language is in the end grievously inadequate to describe the true Way, or the wonderful freedom of the man who has realised his identity with it. Again and again, he cautions that he is giving only a “rough” or “reckless” description of these things, and what follows is usually a passage of highly poetic and paradoxical language that in fact conveys little more than the essential ineffability of such a state of being.”

Burton Watson (trans.) 1966 Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, New York: Columbia University Press Pp 6-7

It strikes me how closely this chimes with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow.

Also, that the Royal College of Art is not the least likely place to come across purposeful motives of gain or striving, but, while Ceramics & Glass students are not exempt, they do seem to be the most popular with support staff.

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