- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; Revised ed. edition (April 15, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231105959
- ISBN-13: 978-0231105958
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings Revised ed. Edition
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Burton Watson... possesses all the qualities which distinguish a master translator. (Review)
Chuang Tzu (369?-286? BC) was a leading Taoist philosopher. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth in this book the early ideas of what was to become the Taoist school. This collection includes the seven "inner chapters," three of the "outer chapters," and one of the "miscellaneous chapters."
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Top customer reviews
Yu-lan was apparently a notable Chinese philosopher-scholar (1895-1990) and this slim book includes his pithy translation with commentaries by the 3rd century philosopher Kuo Hsiang interspersed. There is also the occasional commentary from the translator as well. Generally the commentaries are helpful and subtle without being too obtrusive, and the translation is clear and fluid. I especially enjoyed the introductory 17 page chapter where Yu-lan presents the essential points of Taoism as pointed out by Chuang-Tzu.He is clearly an able teacher of Taoism and how it relates to Western philosophy. There are also 28 pages of appendixes where Yu-lan presents the philosophical and historical context for Kuo Hsiang and Chuang Tzu. I found this helpful, and not the kind of information easily obtainable.
"Everything has its own proper nature. Everything is happy if it is allowed to be in accordance with its own nature…Every modification of nature is the cause of pain and suffering… Yet in the world, most people try to modify the nature of things. Their intention may be good. But what they consider to be good may not be considered good by others… Taoism opposes institutions, rules, laws, and government, because all these things are to impose one idea of good (if it is good) upon the infinite variety of things. So the best way to govern the world is not to govern it." (Fung Yu-lan from the introduction, p. 9)
Overall, this is a very knowledgable, readable and enjoyable, if scholarly, presentation of Chuang-Tzu's Inner Chapters (only the first 7 are covered).
I did not know this going in and had to return the Chuang Tzu.
Hope this helps.
I recently completed reading the last of three complete translations of the Chuang Tzu, and I decided to wait until I read all of them before reviewing any of the three. Since this text is written in ancient Chinese, a language that was reserved for the intellectual and cultural elite two thousand years ago and has been considered effectively "dead" (like Latin) for quite a while, even understanding what the author(s) were trying to say is difficult, let alone translating the words from Chinese to English. So I figured reading a few different translations is probably the best way to get a broad and deep understanding of the text, and the cumulative effect would make up for each translation's weaknesses. This proved a good strategy--the other translations I chose were Victor Mair's Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu and A.C. Graham's The Inner Chapters. All three were rewarding and worthwhile reads (I mean, it IS the Chuang Tzu!), but I still come back to Burton Watson's The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu as my favorite. I won't go into depth about what the Chuang Tzu says, since the writing in the text is so eloquent and vivid that any description won't do it justice, and because I would probably ramble on forever about either the academic issues and questions regarding the text's authorship, historicity, and philosophy, or about how mind-blowingly intellectually stimulating it is!
After reading three different translations of the Chuang Tzu, I have to say that this Basic Writings translated by Watson is the best place for the uninitiated to start--it contains nearly all the best ideas and passages from the text (which has many interpolations from other, later authors that are often not as interesting and never as well-written as the ideas expressed in the Inner Chapters). Graham's translation is very academically rigorous, but makes Chuang Tzu's already distant culture and time period even more distant for new readers by means of very technical terminology and commentary. Mair's translation is good but doesn't flow as well as Watson's, and it's also much longer since it contains the entire Chuang Tzu. Watson's Complete Works is great, but this Basic Writings is much cheaper and more concise an introduction--once you read it and get hooked on the surprisingly fresh insights of these ancient thinkers, perhaps you'll delve into some other illuminating translations--until then, I have to say that this should be required reading for anyone interested in philosophy or Eastern classics.
It is difficult reading. I had to read it at least twice, and then several passages more times before I could take away meaning from it.
If you enjoy the Tao Te Ching, The Diamond Sutra, Nagarjuna's verses of Emptiness, and other similar buddhist / zen / tao titles, I can say with near certainty that you will greatly enjoy this book.
It is not for everyone. A person without any background buddhism may find this book to be incomprehensible and or a very difficult read.
I enjoyed it thoroughly, and consider it to be among the best books I have ever read.