Day 5:
Changing a "Fully Formed" View

Live Like a Daoist Week

This is a two-day exercise; you will only submit one reflection, tomorrow night.


If we just follow whatever completed form of our minds has so far taken shape, making that our master and teacher, who could ever be without a teacher? That is something even the most ignorant are always doing without fail. It is not as if the mind is first required to know all the alternating states and then actively selects for itself from among them the one to be taken as master and teacher. For the mind to be able to do that before any completed form has already taken shape in it, to make such an affirmation or negation about which form it will regard as right and which as wrong without already having taken. (ZZ 2 / 13)

The ideas of “completion,” formation,” or “success” — all of which render different aspects of one Chinese term, cheng 成 – are mostly treated critically in Zhuangzi. Given the text’s emphasis on flexibility, on changing perspectives in accord with circumstance, it makes sense to worry about an inflexible, “fully-formed” set of skills or preferences. Even when “completion” leads to great skill, something is lost (note that words translating cheng are underlined here):

Zhao Wen strumming his zither, Master Kuang tapping out the time, Huizi leaning on his desk—the understanding these three had of their arts waxed most full. This was what they flourished in, and thus they pursued these arts to the end of their days. They delighted in them, and observing that this delight of theirs was not shared, they wanted to shine its light and make it obvious to others. So they tried to make others understand as obvious what was not obvious to them, and thus some ended their days in the darkness of debating about “hardness” and “whiteness,” and Zhao Wen’s son ended his days still grappling with his father’s zither strings. Can this be called success, being fully accomplished at something? (ZZ 2 / 16)

The implication at the end here seems to be being “fully accomplished” may be impossible, as something is always left out or undone.

If formation / completion is a problem, then it must be better not to have “completed” attitudes. Consider the way in which increasingly firm boundaries lead the Course to wane:

The understanding of those ancient people really got somewhere! Where had it arrived? To the point where there had never existed any definite thing at all. This is really getting there, as far as you can go. When no definite thing exists, nothing more can be—added! Next there were those for whom specific things existed, but no sealed boundaries between them. Next there were those for whom there were sealed boundaries, but never any rights and wrongs. When rights and wrongs wax bright, the Course begins to wane. What sets the Course to waning is exactly what allows preference for one thing over another to succeed in reaching its full formation. (ZZ 2 / 16)

Given that people these days tend to have “fully formed” views, what should be done? One approach is to loosen the “completion” by consciously, charitably trying to consider an opposite view. The goal is not to come to be fully formed in the opposite direction, but rather to be less rigidly “completed.”

Today's Exercise

Over the next two days, you will identify and challenge a “fully formed” opinion. Choose some view on which you have a firm position. It might be a social convention, perhaps around what is attractive; it may be a view on what music you like or what sports team you support; or it may be a political position or social policy. Then, to the best of your ability, change! Change how you present yourself (and try to appreciate the “new you”), listen to different music (and try to love it), advocate for a different viewpoint (and try to embrace it), etc.

Tomorrow’s exercise is a continuation of this one, in part to see whether doing it for a second day makes it easier … or perhaps harder!