ZhuangZi Quotes

Zhuang Zi, also known as Zhuang Zhou or Chuang Tzu, was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BCE during the Warring States period. A foundational figure in Taoism, his contributions to Eastern philosophy are profound, with his work standing alongside the Tao Te Ching in terms of its impact and importance.

Zhuang Zi’s most significant contribution is his articulation of the philosophy of relativism and skepticism, challenging the rigid dogmas of his time. He advocated for a life of spontaneity and freedom from societal constraints, emphasizing the relativity of human concepts and the importance of harmony with the Tao, or the fundamental principle of the universe.

His quote, “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly…Suddenly I awoke…Now, I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that I am a man,” is a brilliant reflection on the nature of reality and identity. This thought-provoking statement is essential as it questions the certainty of our perceptions and the distinction between dream and reality.

In today’s society, this quote resonates with the ongoing discussions about consciousness and the nature of existence. It invites us to consider the fluidity of our identities and the subjective nature of our experiences. In a world increasingly defined by virtual realities and alternative spaces, Zhuang Zi’s musings prompt us to question the very fabric of our existence and the constructs we take for granted.

Zhuang Zi’s legacy, through his challenging of conventional wisdom and his celebration of the mystical aspects of life, continues to inspire introspection. His philosophical inquiries into the dream-like quality of life encourage a deeper exploration of our place in the cosmos, making his teachings as relevant and transformative now as they were centuries ago.


Zhuangzi says: “. . . You never find happiness until you stop looking for it. My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course… If you ask “what ought to be done” and “what ought not to be done” on earth in order to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have an answer.”

Zhuangzi says: “A frog in a well cannot discuss the ocean, because he is limited by the size of his well. A summer insect cannot discuss ice, because it knows only its own season. A narrow-minded scholar cannot discuss the Tao, because he is constrained by his teachings. Now you have come out of your banks and seen the Great Ocean. You now know your own inferiority, so it is no possible to discuss great principles with you.”

Zhuangzi says: “A man like this will not go where he has no will to go, will not do what he has no mind to do. Though the world might praise him and say he had really found something, he would look unconcerned and never turn his head; though the world might condemn him and say he had lost something, he would look serene and pay no heed. The praise and blame of the world are no loss or gain to him.”

Zhuangzi says: “All attempts to create something admirable are the weapons of evil. You may think you are practising benevolence and righteousness, but in effect you will be creating a kind of artificiality. Where a model exists, copies will be made of it; where success has been gained, boasting follows; where debate exists, there will be outbreaks of hostility.”

Zhuangzi says: “All existing things are really one. We regard those that are beautiful and rare as valuable, and those that are ugly as foul and rotten. The foul and rotten may come to be transformed into what is rare and valuable, and the rare and valuable into what is foul and rotten.”

Zhuangzi says: “All men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless!”

Zhuangzi says: “Can you be a little baby? The baby howls all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse – harmony at its height! The baby makes fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped – virtue is all it holds to. The baby stares all day without blinking its eyes – it has no preferences in the world of externals.”

Zhuangzi says:  “Cease striving. Then there will be transformation.”

Zhuangzi says: “Compare birth with death, compare death with life; compare what is possible with what is not possible and compare what is not possible with what is possible; because there is, there is not, and because there is not, there is.”

Zhuangzi says: “Don’t go in and hide; don’t come out and shine; stand stock-still in the middle.”

Zhuangzi says: “Don’t you know about the praying mantis that waved its arms angrily in front of an approaching carriage, unaware that they were incapable of stopping it? Such was the high opinion it had of its talents.”

Zhuangzi says: “During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream.”

Zhuangzi says: “Easy is right. Begin right, and you will be easy. Continue easy and you are right… The right way to go easy is to forget the right way, and forget that the going is easy.”

Zhuangzi says: “Everything has its “that,” everything has its “this.” From the point of view of “that” you cannot see it, but through understanding you can know it. So I say, “that” comes out of “this” and “this” depends on “that” – which is to say that “this” and “that” give birth to each other. But where there is birth there must be death; where there is death there must be birth. Where there is acceptability there must be unacceptability; where there is unacceptability there must be acceptability. Where there is recognition of right there must be recognition of wrong; where there is recognition of wrong there must be recognition of right.”

Zhuangzi says:  “Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”

Zhuangzi says: “Great knowledge sees all in one. Small knowledge breaks down into the many.”

Zhuangzi says: “He who knows he is a fool is not the biggest fool; he who knows he is confused is not in the worst confusion. The man in the worst confusion will end his life without ever getting straightened out; the biggest fool will end his life without ever seeing the light. If three men are traveling along and one is confused, they will still get where they are going – because confusion is in the minority. But if two of them are confused, then they can walk until they are exhausted and never get anywhere – because confusion is in the majority.”

Zhuangzi says: “Heaven is in everything: follow the light, hide in the cloudiness and begin in what is. Do this and your understanding will be like not understanding and your wisdom will be like not being wise. By not being wise you will become wise later.”

Zhuangzi says: “Heaven is like an egg, and the earth is like the yolk of the egg.”

Zhuangzi says: “I cannot tell if what the world considers ‘happiness’ is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.”

Zhuangzi says: “I have heard that he who knows what is enough will not let himself be entangled by thoughts of gain; that he who really understands how to find satisfaction will not be afraid of other kinds of loss; and that he who practices the cultivation of what is within him will not be ashamed because he holds no position in society.”

Zhuangzi says: “I’ve heard my teacher say, where there are machines, there are bound to be machine worries; where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts. With a machine heart in your breast, you’ve spoiled what was pure and simple; and without the pure and simple, the life of the spirit knows no rest.”

Zhuangzi says: “If a man crosses a river and an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be bad tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again, and yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because someone is in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting, and not angry.
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you”

Zhuangzi says:  “If you have grasped the purpose of life there is no point in trying to make life into something it is not or cannot be.”

Zhuangzi says: “Let your mind wander in simplicity, blend your spirit with the vastness, follow along with things the way they are, and make no room for personal views – then the world will be governed.”

Zhuangzi says: “Look at this window: it is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light.”

Zhuangzi says: “Love of colors bewilders the eye and it fails to see right. Love of harmonies bewitches the ear, and it loses its true hearing. Love of perfumes fills the head with dizziness. Love of flavors ruins the taste. Desires unsettle the heart until the original nature runs amok. These five are enemies of true life. Yet these are what men of discernment claim to live for. They are not what I live for. If this is life, then pigeons in a cage have found happiness!”

Zhuangzi says: “Men of the world who value the Way all turn to books. But books are nothing more than words. Words have value; what is of value in words is meaning. Meaning has something it is pursuing, but the thing that it is pursuing cannot be put into words and handed down. The world values words and hands down books but, though the world values them, I do not think them worth valuing. What the world takes to be values is not real value.”

Zhuangzi says: “Moreover, I have heard that those who are fond of praising men to their faces are also fond of damning them behind their backs.”

Zhuangzi says: “Not to understand is profound; to understand is shallow. Not to understand is to be on the inside; to understand is to be on the outside.”