Confucius: Salutations good sir, I am Confucius. I have come in good faith to pontificate the Dao, and discuss the path one must cultivate in order to harmonize one’s life on a personal and societal level. How are you on this fine day?
Zhuangzi: Greetings Confucius, I am Zhuangzi. I am delighted you have come to this kingdom, as we can now seek mutual enlightenment on our quest for the Dao. I am very peaceful on this day thus far.
Confucius: Well, Zhuangzi, I do believe I am aware of where the Dao is.
Zhuangzi: Please enlighten me, Confucius!
Confucius: I believe the Dao lies within the traditions of the fallen Zhou Dynasty. This dynasty was a golden age for our great nation, and only returning to strict adherence of li, our societal rituals and traditions, will lead us back to a successful path. Li was the cornerstone of our society before we gradually departed from our emphasis on ritual. This detachment from ritual is a fueling factor in our nation’s present social and political crisis. The Dao can be discovered through strict devotion to li.
Zhuangzi: I understand our nation is in a perilous state due to political and social unrest. However, how did you determine your philosophy based on Li, Confucius?
Confucius: I was not blessed with knowledge of the Dao upon birth, nor do I claim to have irrefutable knowledge now. However, “I am simply someone who loves antiquity and looks there for knowledge” (Confucius Book 7, CH 20). In a retrospective view of the Zhou Dynasty, I have concluded we must alter our practices to model strict adherence to ritual in order to once more be a harmonizing society.
Zhuangzi: Our opinions seem to conflict, Confucius. I adamantly believe the practice of ritual is in no way crucial to Dao. Rather than coercing people into observing li, it would be more beneficial to adhere to wuwei, or the process of “unlearning”. Wuwei entails one’s return to one’s original spirit. This allows one to act in a naturally harmonious manner on both an individual and societal level. Virtue can be found in the “blank slates” of these original spirits, rather than through the observance of ritual.
Confucius: While I do agree the foundation of achieving goodness lies within the essence of an individual, without adherence to Li, virtue can potentially be distorted into vice.
Zhuangzi: How can this occur?
Confucius: For example, Even a respectful person that lacks ritual can become exasperated. A careful person that lack ritual can become timid. Even a courageous individual can become unruly without the guidance of ritual (Book 8, Chapter 2). Even though our original spirits may contain virtue, when applied incorrectly, these virtues can become detrimental qualities.
Zhuangzi: I must contest your assertions, Confucius. Your perspective is not broad enough.
Confucius: But this “big picture” you allude to is satisfied from the collective actions of individuals, Zhuangzi. If individuals regulated their own actions through ritual,...