Home Psychology Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought
The Hasidic Zhuangzi
Heidegger’s familiarity with the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi in German translation has been frequently noted in discussions of his engagement with Eastern thinking. Heidegger is reported to have repeatedly read Buber’s 1910 edition of selections from the Zhuangzi, Reden und Gleichnisse des Tschuang Tse, which Buber translated from the English translations of James Legge and Herbert Allen Giles into German and published with Insel Verlag in 1910.16
There has been extensive analysis of the few passages where Heidegger evokes early Lao-Zhuang Daoist images and ideas. Little attention has, however, been devoted to how Heidegger’s brief allusions to and employs of Daoist ideas, images, and metaphors might be shaped by his sources: in particular, the translations of Buber and Wilhelm.17 There is accordingly good reason for us to reconsider this context for both historical and philosophical reasons.
First, Buber’s edition of the Zhuangzi cannot in any way be understood as a neutral medium for presenting the Zhuangzi text to German readers. It intentionally and selectively focuses on the poetic and narrative presentation of ideas in the Zhuangzi. Second, Buber’s edition contains a long afterword that makes his interpretation of the Zhuangzi explicit. There he develops the continuity and the transformation of the “teaching of the Way” (die Lehre des Weges, daojiao from the Daodejing into what he considers its fullest
actualization in Zhuangzi.
In this early account from 1910, Buber expresses great sympathy for the Zhuangzi in contrast with the Daodejing, a contrast that he will later revise. Unlike what he construes to be the more monistic, elemental, mystical, and anti-linguistic presentation of the teaching of the dao that Buber sees in Laozi, echoing its interpretation in earlier German philosophers, the teaching of the Way is enacted through a more indirect, playful, and poetic dialogical language. What appears inhuman and monstrous in the Daodejing appears in a more human form in the naturalism of the Zhuangzi.18 The teaching of the way is realized more communicatively through language in the Zhuangzi and is therefore existentially more genuinely and fully enacted. There is a clear alignment between his approach to the Zhuangzi in the 1910 publication and his own philosophy that received its fullest articulation in his classic dialogical personalist work I and Thou (Ich und Du, first published in German in 1923).
Buber’s visualization of Zhuangzi in 1910 is that of a sage who resembles in certain respects the Hasidic Rabbis and masters of whom Buber wrote during this period. The young Buber emerged as an early scholar and interpreter of Hasidism, a movement in Eastern European Judaism that focused on the piety and spirituality of ordinary people and the immanence of the divine in everyday life. Hassidim or chassidim (ПТОП) signifies “piety” or “loving kindness” in Hebrew. It indicates for Buber a spiritual feeling of life and way of living and dwelling within the world. This means in Buber’s interpretation of the Hasidic encounter with and experience of the divine that God—similar to his vision of the dao—is internal to or “immanent within the world,” “and is brought to perfection” through human life in the world as the co-creation of the world.19
Buber’s earliest works are primarily translations and interpretations of Hasidic and Chinese sources. Buber’s edition of Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten (Chinese Ghost and Love Stories) published in 1911 is a translation from English into German of a collection of stories drawn from the Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai zhiyi М1Ш) of Pu Songling ^1Й^.20 These strange stories of seductive fox spirits (huli jing ШШМ), angry ghosts, Confucian scholars, Buddhist monks, and religious Daoist exorcists reveal aspects of the dao refracted through the popular imagination akin to the Hasidic storyteller. The Hasidic master is the Eastern European teacher of Judaism who teaches the spiritual through evocatively enacting and living the symbolic in story, song, and poetry.
In the exemplary cases ofChinese Daoist and Jewish Hasidic teaching (lehren), parable teaches more experientially and primordially than doctrine and theory: “The parable is the engagement of the absolute into the world of things"21 The poetic and narrative enactment of the teaching is more fundamental than its doctrinal and theoretical presentations or its being hidden in silence and ineffable that he associated with the Daodejing in 1910; silence is only the condition of the word, as the communication of the teaching is the teaching itself. Analogous to the Hasidic narrators of Yiddish tales of the golem, the wandering Jew, magic wielding Rabbis who protect the community from a hostile world, the dybbuk or malevolent lost soul who possesses the young and the innocent, shape shifting and talking beasts, and tales of gilgul or reincarnated souls, popular Chinese tales such as those of Pu Songling are taken to be “Daoist” in communicating the uncanny supernatural sensibility through evocative images and affective words.
Buber’s Zhuangzi teaches through surprising dialogical reversals, strange and unusual stories of humans, animals, and spirits, and most importantly through humor and laughter. The Zhuangzi is exemplary for Buber because it teaches through humor. The affective and non-cognitive dimension proves to be a more essential way of addressing and shifting the mood, the ethos, and way of living of the listener or reader. Reversing typical criticisms of the Zhuangzi as a mystical escape and quietist withdrawal from the world, Buber’s Zhuangzi fulfills the teaching of the dao by playfully returning it to the images and words of ordinary life with a free and easy meandering comportment (xiaoyao you ЖШ^) within life in order to nurture and nourish it (yangsheng ^A). Buber distinguishes Zhuangzi’s immanent liberation within the world from the seriousness and almost inhuman endorsement of silence expressed in the Daodejing. However, despite this early critique, the Daodejing would replace the Zhuangzi as his preferred text in discussions of Daoism by the 1920s.
In his 1910 account, each Lao-Zhuang Daoist text responds to what is “needful” in human existence.22 The needful can only be realized in the wholeness of this worldly life; that is, in the “central life” and “truthful life” of the zhenren Ж A.23 Maurice S. Friedman describes Buber’s version of the genuine or perfected person (zhenren) as the one who harmonizes the greatest transformations (hua ft) with the fullest sense of unity.24 In a description that captures an element of
Judaism as well as Daoism, Buber concludes that to be one with the dao is to constantly renew creation and life in the everyday and the ordinary.25 In this sense, Daoism is not the anti-ethical or nihilistic philosophy that some modern proponents and critics conceive it as. It is essentially an ethical teaching of the good that warns against the separation from and destruction of creation through its notion of non-doing (wuwei ШМ), as non-interfering and non-harming the life of others.26 Buber’s Zhuangzi accordingly indicates a more fundamental teaching than the flights and fancies of otherworldly mysticism, which it pokes fun at in the figure of Liezi Щ^, as genuine unity is practicable only immanently in the midst of the dynamic changes of life and nature.27
Zhuangzi transformed and perfected Laozi’s teaching of the way by communicatively bringing it back to immanent life in Buber’s early interpretation. The Daodejing responds to the needful in terms of a silent contemplation of a unitary mystical unity. It is the elemental, yet not the fulfilled. It is a life of solitude and concealment in which Laozi does not talk with others but only with and to concealment itself. In contrast to the hiddenness and consequent incompleteness of the teaching in Laozi, the Zhuangzi fulfills the needful within everyday ordinary existence through the dynamic, playful, and transformative oneness in multiplicity that can be taught only in the “complete speech” of parable. The non-monistic playing of oneness in multiplicity and difference in the one is Buber’s gloss on the music or panpipes of heaven. Here, the oneness of the world is at the same time the oneness of each singular thing that can only be considered “from out of itself” The way is not distinct from each thing in which it is enacted: “Each thing manifests dao through the way of its existence, through its life”28
The “love of things” and love of the world articulated in the dao-teaching embraces and nourishes life (yangsheng) in each thing and releases things through “non-doing” (wuwei). Typically, the Jewish and Chinese understandings of the world are seen as opposites; according to Hall and Ames, for instance, one accentuates otherworldly divine transcendence and the other this-worldly natural immanence.29 In contrast, Buber perceives in both Hasidic Judaism and Lao-Zhuang Daoism tendencies toward the humanistic actualization of the transcendent in the immanent, of the sacred in the mundane, in everyday life through exemplary figures and genuine teachers teaching the needful and the authentic life.
Buber speaks of the Daoist genuine person (zhenren) in this Jewish-Chinese comparative context as renewing and perfecting creation in “surrendering.” The human being in Judaism and Daoism is a necessary co-creator of the world.
Despite the prevalence of anti-humanistic elucidations of early Daoism, the role of the human in the balance of nature and in nourishing life is articulated in Chapter 6 of the Zhuangzi (Dazongshi ^ж№). It is precisely the genuine person who adeptly bridges and nourishes the natural and the human: “When neither heaven nor humanity wins over the other, this is called being a genuine person (zhenren)"30
Buber’s interpretation of classical Daoism resists identifying it with an indifferent resignation or unresponsive passivity: renouncing violence against things, as is distinctive of modern Western technological civilization, wuwei “helps all beings to their freedom" and “redeems them out of the slavery of violence and machinery"31 Buber’s language of a non-coercive surrendering, letting, and nondoing anticipated and perhaps influenced Heidegger’s way of speaking.32
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