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Open Journal of Philosophy
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 153-164
Published Online May 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2012.22024
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 153
Body Thinking: From Chinese to Global
Kuang-Mi ng Wu
Philosophy Department, University of Denver, Colorado, U S A
Received March 8th, 2012; r evised April 7th, 2012; accepted April 26th, 2012
This essay is devoted to calling global attention to body thinking neglected yet routinely practiced by us
all, especially in China for millennia. This essay, one, responds to the feature, universality, of disembod-
ied thinking, by paralleling it with Chinese body thinking, two, shows how basic body thinking is to
disembodied thinking, and three, shows how body thinking in China elucidates bodily matters, time, con-
tingency, and bodily death, what Western disembodied cannot handle.
Keywords: Body Thinking; Disembodied Thinking; Story-Thinking; Universality; Time; Contingency;
1) This essay would have been an exercise in obvious futility,
were it not for the mysterious fact today that thinking is usually
taken as something bodiless. We had better, then, explain how
obvious body thinking is. Obviously, no human being is with-
out a body, a unique body per a unique person, every person
thinks, and so no human thinking is not “body thinking” con-
crete and actual.
As human life is body living integral and holistic, so human
thinking is body thinking, pure and spontaneous. Our body
thinks as we eat and breathe. We breathe thinking in and out in
mutual dialogues with things and matters, as well as among
bodily persons, as we eat and drink not in reflex but humanly
aware, as we think spontaneously.
By the same token, seen from thinking, thinking is not bodily
thinking, as if thinking independently exists, and just happens
to have bodily aspect. Actually, however, our human thinking
is not at all appended with a haphazard body. Instead, thinking
body-thinks. It is body itself that thinks; thinking is a feature of
the body behaving-as-body . Thinking is our body thinking, actu-
ally, in shifting time and concrete places, and in our deep feel-
ings quite intelligent. Examples from China the body-thinking
culture help explain this natural fact.
Mencius of 2500 years ago passionately mentions our “heart”
inherently sensitive “unbearable to people 不忍人之心,”
alarmed at a baby crawling into a well, and so much unbearably
sensitive to an ox in mortal jitters, being dragged to sacrificial
slaughter, as to release it. Five centuries later, Jesus was
“, in viscera-agony,” at seeing persons in pain.
This word is used exclusively of Jesus and by Jesus in acts of
mercy.1 Heartless cruelties directly incense us heartfelt, and we
spontaneously wish to be the Good Samaritan helping those
beaten half dead, in Buddha’s “mahakaruna, great mercy.”
Pain incites co-pain, co-pathos in com-passion. My son told
me of being pricked himself as his baby was drawn blood for
test, crying in pain. I was in tears hearing the story. Now, don’t
we see all such heartfelt co-pain—in China, in Buddha, in Jesus,
in my family—as body thinking com-passionately at work?
How could any one dare deny body thinking here total, rea-
sonable, and life-moving? As we live to think, we constantly
body think as we constantly breathe; we do not mind-think, not
brain-think. Our whole body, our whole being, is directly in-
volved in this body thinking as our body feels to live on. Our
body lives feeling in body thinking. Body thinking is naturally
A reverse side of pain-co-pain complex in body thinking is
imposing pain without co-pain. This pain-no-pain link shows
our irrational passion, body un-thinking. Still, heartless cruelty
incites our wholehearted indignation, and such incitement and
indignation are body thinking at work. Our anger over Nero,
Hitler, and Ch’in’s 秦First Emperor produces floods of litera-
ture to wail out our human body thinking, tragically.
Unfortunately, we cannot prove that our tendency to violence
is unreason. Reason cannot prove no-reason; reason cannot tell
an absence of reason. We just see that violence is irrational
impatience, but of course “seeing” is part of body thinking, and
so in this direct seeing, perhaps body thinking “demon-
strates-proves” the existence of violence as no-reason.
In the West, Arendt2 straightly considers violence in her tur-
gid style, while China handles this strange unreason of ubiqui-
tous violence by constantly describing it in history, in essays,
and in fiction and dramas, but seldom thinks about violence as
such. This situation is part of China completely dipping itself in
history but never asking what history is. To think of it, though,
doesn’t violence so disastrous of China’s Legalism and German
Nazism stem from the preset regimen stoutly “disrobed” from
people-actuality? With this notice, we leave this ugly theme of
2) All such bodily situation heartfelt, thought-full, is so ob-
vious so actual, as China honestly recognizes it to innocently
and naturally practices body thinking for several millennia. The
2See Hannah Arendt, On Violence, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969,
1970. In pp. 63-66, Arendt asserts that violence against injustice and hypoc-
risy is justified. I differ, taking violence to be an irrational ineffective affect,
to be repl aced wi th flex uous tacti cs of a ti ger tamer, as Chan g Tzu ’s Ch ap te
4 proposes. But developing this theme would take us too far afield from ou
context. Arendt is mentioned in Ted Honderich’s wider Political Violence,
Ithaca, NY: Cornell Universit
1Mencius 1A1, 2A6; “,” #5072 in The Greek-English Con-
cordance t o t he N ew T est amen t, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997, p. 693
Buddha’s “mahakaruna” is all over, in nee d o f n o citation.
K. M. WU
West cannot help but trying also to approach actuality. In the
West, revolting, in the name of phenomenology, against Des-
cartes’ split of the mind-un-extended from body-extended,
shows how the West has come of age in body thinking.3 But
mysteriously the West still harbors love of Platonic impersonal
analysis, trying to “see from nowhere” (Nagel4), disembodied.
Still, Western love of ac tua lity is undeniable.
Perhaps natural actuality is intended in the following various
schools of Western philosophy, theoretical cognitive explora-
tion. We see approach to actuality in “common sense philoso-
phy” of Reid and Moore, “naturalism” of George Santayana
and Henry Nelson Wieman, and “existentialism” of Sartre in-
sisting on existence before essence and of Merleau-Ponty see-
ing an intertwining of the flesh singing the world.5
Moreover, deconstructionism is out of fashion now but its
general ethos lingers on. No philosopher today would carelessly
tout naked logic; all thinkers are much “hushed” thanks to de-
constructive revolution. Still, this ethos touches no “body
thinking” explicitly, as it cannot help but handle bodily themes
of insanity, power, etc. These are hopeful signs, but they are all
still attached to “thinking” as widely logical-analytical, not
thinking as one of our gutsy body thinking- b e h a viors alive.
In fact, whenever the West does notice body thinking, most
thinkers rashly claim themselves all the way as being empiri-
cists, naturalists, and even materialists, ever identifying “body
alive” with mere physiological functions. Thinkers such as
Nietzsche, d’Holbach, Schopenhauer, Hobbes, Santayana, Sar-
tre, and so on, come to mind. Taking body alive and whole as
“mere physiological functions” shows their deeply embedded
mode of disembodied thinking disrobing body alive into a me-
chanical object to handle.
3) Time is overdue for the world, China and the West in it, to
squarely face up to this basic, obvious, and essential life-active-
ity of body thinking, and we will all then have life-revolution in
actualizing our thinking. Since China has been doing body
thinking for millennia, it is natural that the West should pay
attention to it with critical scrutiny.
China’s innocent body thinking will then be carved and
shaped out saliently by responding to the West’s queries. Thus,
critical dialogue enlivens body thinking; in fact, dialogue is
possible only among full-bodied thinkers. Strangely, however,
Plato’s Dialogues soar up to disembodied Forms while the dia-
logue partners are all bodily persons, not fairies of pure ideas.
4) Professor Zhang Zailin has solidly pioneered body think-
ing as essential in China, as I pioneered it in Taiwan by pub-
lishing it in the Netherlands. Mine was criticized as lacking in
Chinese citations, and Professor Zhang’s volume came along to
respond to it for me.6 Zhang’s book, Traditional Chinese Phi-
losophy as the Philosophy of the Body, is systematically ar-
ranged to elucidate body thinking in Ch in a .
In the introduction—modestly called “preface”—Professor
Zhang issues a clarion call. Body thinking has been the back-
bone of traditional Chinese philosophy yet, strangely, it has not
been noticed so far anywhere, and so noticing it amounts to a
revolution in our purview and understanding of China. Zhang’s
book then opens out into two divisions and two appendixes.
Division One elucidates in four chapters the bodily feature in
China’s cosmology, ethics, religiosity, and history. Division
Two details these themes in Chapters 5 through 11, meticu-
lously depicting “family”, “Change Classic”, “body politic”,
“body knowledge”, “body-philosopher Wang Fuzhi”, “novel,
Dreams of the Red Chamber”, and “the necessity of exploring
body thinking in China”. Appendix One reports on three direc-
tions of exploration into body thinking in China. Appendix
Two details the budding “New Feminine” in China today.
Now, it is obvious that Chinese culture is composed of its
distinctive cosmology, socio-ethics, and religious reverence, all
of which begin at family to expand to the classical poetry of
cosmic change, both of which are based on body knowledge.
Zhang sensitively demonstrates all this in body-philosopher
Wang Fuzhi’s thinking and the well-known fiction of Dreams
of Red Chamber, to conclude with reports on the necessity of
body thinking, three directions in its exploration, and the bud-
ding ethos of “new feminism” out of body thinking.
Thus, differing from the usual analyses of small topics and
details so common throughout academia, Professor Zhang’s
volume is the first ever comprehensive bird’s eye view, any-
where in the world, of the entire Chinese culture and philoso-
phy as body thinking, from bodily bisexuality of the cosmos to
its historical process ongoing.
3See, e.g., a convenient anthology, Stuart F. Spicker, ed., The Philosophy o
the Body: Rejections of Cartesian Dualism, Chicago: Quadrangle Books,
4Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1989).
We will soon re t urn to him.
5See a convenient anthology, Thomas Reid’s Inquiry and Essays, eds. Keith
Lehrer and Ronald E. Beanblossom, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975, “G.
E., Moore” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy (1960), Eds .,
Jonathan Rée and J. O. Urmson, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. 259-261, and
William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, Amherst, NY:
Prometheus, 1999, pp. 495-496. George Santayana, Scepticism and Animal
Faith (1923), NY: Dover, 1955, and Dialogues in Limbo (1926), NY:
Charles S cribn er ’s (1 94 8) , wher e we ev en s mell ph ilo so phy t o d is cover it . A
convenient reference can be found in The Empirical Theology of Henry
elson Wieman, Ed., Robert W. Bretall, Carbondale: Southern Illinois Uni-
versity Press, 1963; it has his bibliography till 1962. See a convenient an-
thology with useful bibliography, Jean-Paul Sartre: Essays in Existentialism
(1965), Ed., Wade Baskin, Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1974. See Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge & Ke-
gan Paul, 1962), The Primacy of Perception (1964), The Visible and the
Invisible (1968), and The Prose of the World (1973), among others. The last
three vo lumes are from Evans ton, IL: Northwes tern University Pr ess. Emo-
tivism of David Hume, Charles Stevenson, and Paul Edwards is omitted; see
its dreary criticism in J. O. Urmson, The Emotive Theory of Ethics,Oxford
University Press, 1968. An obvious example of Marcel, my idol, is omitted
as well. He would be the closest thinker in the West to body thinking, per-
haps the only “oddball” to my general description of the West here. See a
convenien t The Philoso ph y of Gabriel Marcel, Eds., Pa ul Ar thur Schilpp and
Lewis Edwin Hahn, La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1984, with useful bibliogra-
This book of Zhang’s clearly announces to the whole world
the essential significance of body thinking, not in vague gener-
ality but from the concrete perspective of Chinese thinking as a
whole. It is a pivotal trailblazer. This volume has abundant
materials in China, in ancient bodily ethos pervading today, on
body thinking in China. Its coverage is so careful and compre-
hensive that nothing is left to be desired.
Of course, we could quibble about the book on its lack of
distinction between sex and gender together with the lack of
their involved relations, as Merleau-Ponty also failed to do,7
and a lack of overall coherence, but Professor Zhang can easily
respond that his book essentially blazes the trail of body think-
ing by elucidating it in terms of China.
6Zhang Zailin, Traditional Chinese Philosophy as the Philosophy of the
Body, Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Publishers, 2008. Kuang-ming Wu,
On Chinese Body Thinking: A Cultural Hermeneutic, Leiden, the Nether-
lands: E. J. Brill, 1997.
7“The Body in Its Sexual Being” should have been “in gender being” in
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge
an Paul, 1962 ,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. M. WU
And so, such niceties demanded by critics can easily be
preened by and by, by the critics themselves, in the major
body-historical direction set by his book that portrays body
thinking alive, quite impossible to sum up in a set neat formula,
as any child jumping alive so protean, daily growing, can never
be capsuled in a preset pattern.
In contrast to Zhang’s conscientious probing of Chinese
body thinking, my approach in the book, Chinese Body Think-
ing, is to critically dialogue on body thinking with an explicit
exponent in the West of body thinking (though he did not use
this phrase), Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I tackle him round and
round, to go from China to him, and then go from him to China,
both routes in critical dialogues. I did Chinese body thinking
interculturally, while Professor Zhang dug deep into China as
We form a good complementary team. Kant in his disem-
bodied analyticity was still conscientiously observant enough to
notice our pair of hands to be asymmetrical counterparts that
compose our body to orient us in the world.8 Professor Zhang
and I form such fitting counterparts asymmetrical in body
5) I now continue my approach of critical dialogue on body
thinking with the West, by facing up to the Western challenges
to body thinking practiced in China, in pages that follow. Of
course in the dialogue between equal partners, China and the
West, the enormity of Western contributions cannot be ne-
glected. Thanks to the exactitude and accuracy of its disem-
bodied thinking, we all now enjoy various harvests of engi-
neering, heavy metal routinely air-flying and ocean-floating,
medical advances to advance longevity, nuclear power conven-
iences, and even outer spac e e x pl o r a ti o n s.
Still, since resounding kudos on disembodied thinking in the
West has been sung so loud for too long, it is time to balance,
however belatedly, our logical attention and stress the indis-
pensability of body thinking no less crucial and, in fact, basic to
disembodied thinking and to human living.
This essay is thus devoted to calling our global attention to
body thinking that has been completely neglected yet routinely
practiced by us all, and especially in China for millennia. Now,
one must shout to call attention to body thinking, and shouting
for it can sound unfair to disembodied thinking. For this essay’s
partiality to body thinking, and over-emphasis on it, we plead
This essay shall, one, respond to the standard feature, uni-
versality in space and time, of disembodied thinking, by paral-
leling it with Chinese body thinking, to demonstrate how body
thinking does have such feature of disembodied thinking. And
then, two, this essay shall show how indispensably basic body
thinking is to disembodied thinking that is in fact a part of body
Finally, three, this essay shall show how body thinking in
China elucidates matters in bodily life, such as time, contin-
gency, and bodily death, that Western disembodied thinking
lacks and so cannot handle, for such thinking has none of them,
and cannot think clearly-coherently about such important mat-
ters in embodied living.9 To repeat this important point, being
not embodied-actual, disembodied thinking has no motion in
thinking, no actual contingency, no bodily death, and so of
course it cannot handle them. Now, we go into these three sec-
tions one by one.
Body Thinking Paralleling Disembodied
Disembodied thinking would condescendingly say, “Our
lived body is so fragile, how could our body think? Body
thinking cannot be, unless it thinks of ‘universality’ in space
and in time, and fragile body is only for a while, and no more,
right?” All right, to simplify, let us agree that thinking consists
in thinking “universally”10; let us consider how bodily ubiquity
parallels disembodied universality, space-wise and time-wise.
We must note here that disembodied thinking has no univer-
sality in space or in time, for disembodied universality is gained
by leaving actual space and concrete time, and so its universal-
ity is out of space and time, anywhere any time without touch-
ing time or space at all. In contrast, bodied ubiquity goes
through actual space, at home in time. With this understanding,
let us see body ubiquity in space, then in time.
1) Disembodied thinking “spreads” in space by space-less
universality, and so such thinking does not literally spread but
just stays indifferently as it is, anywhere, nowhere. In contrast,
body thinking actually spreads all over by naming things. Chi-
nese etymology of “name 名” says that11 naming is a bodily act.
In the dark of the vague dusk (夕), the mouth (口) calls out a
name (名), thereby the “horse” stands out (立). And the “horse
馬” in China serves as a common cipher (碼) to stand for
Things come into being to our notice by our naming them.
No naming, no thing. Naming stands “things.” Now, naming is
our body perceiving. As Berkeley famously said, “To be is to
be perceived,”12 so China’s body thinking in Hsün Tzu (Chap-
ter 22, 正名篇) would say, “To be is to be perceived and
named.” A white horse comes to be “white horse” only by be-
ing so seen-named, as any horse would be so named to be
“horse,” says Name Scholar 名家. Naming is body thinking at
Naming is also body thinking cosmological. Naming goes
le, Martin Heidegger would say, “facticities” of “contingency”
and “physical death” are where thinking must stop. However much natural
science tries, there remain stubborn contingent exceptions. Søren Kierke-
gaard’s The Sickness unto Death (its first translation appeared in 1941,
Princeton University Press) is closest to thinking about death in the West,
but it is on death-agony in life, despair, not on bodily death. Perhaps
Kierkegaard’s thinking was closest to body thinking, and so he thought
about thinking of death, though in the realm of life. No jesting in thinking,
essential in time, exists in Western philosophy. We will detail on time and
its attendant play in irony, contingency, and bodily death, to conclude our
10Let us set aside the thought of “instant thought”; going into the theme will
take us far afield, though we must warn disembodied thinking that thinking
always happens in an instant—thinking is a unity of “always” and “instant,”
for “always” is nowhere without “instant”—and disembodiedthinking has
no instant. D oes it mean disembodied thinking d oes no thinking?
11See 說文解字詁林, 臺北市鼎文書局, 1983, 2: pp. 1154-1157. In con-
trast, English “name” has no etymology behind its surface meaning. See
Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 2001, X: 201, and The Oxford
Companion to the English Language, Ed., Tom McArthur, 1992, p. 678.
12Sadly, Berkeley said so not to dwell in bodily perceiving but to hook the
saying on to the eternal God who perceives always to keep things existing.
This is his “proof” of God’s etern al existence ti meless and s pace-less. He is
in the realm of disembodied thinking.
8Immanuel Kant, Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation and Early Writings on Space
tr. John Handyside, Chicago: Open Court, 1929, and the Critique of Practi-
cal Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, tr. Lewis W. Beck,
University of Chicago Press, 1949. They are conveniently but insufficiently
collected in The Philosophy of the Body, ed. Stuart E. Spicker. Chicago:
Quadrangle Books, 1970, pp. 90-97. We will return to Kant in our later
section on body thinking as basis to disembodied thinki ng.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 155
K. M. WU
from a specific “white horse” to many horses-in-general. This
generalization process goes on because “name” is not owned
privately but shared-agreed among the social public, and yet the
public-in-general does not name but it is “I” an individual who
names, as Name Scholar cautions that (specific) white horses
are not (general) horse. So, my mere act of “naming things”
tells of I-things ubiquity in I-society spread. Naming shows
how I was born in my family to spread to society, which in turn
expands throughout the cosmos as a big family.
2) Similarly, disembodied thinking “lasts” timeless, staying
indifferently outside time. In contrast, body thinking actually
lasts in time, through history-transmission by storytelling—in
books, in education—from one generation to another. Of course,
our human body lasts only for a century or less. And yet, this
fragile body’s saying so lasts and lasts in time. “People born
between heaven and earth are as white colt passing door-crack,
only so sudden”, said Chuang Tzu (22/39), and this saying has
lasted for 2500 years, to last into the future unlimited. Words so
ephemeral are amazingly incorruptible.
By the same token, personal integrities (virtues) and private
achievements (merits) are transmitted, by the most fragile
words yet incorruptible, into their incorruptibility of respective
sorts. In fact, this very saying about Three Incorruptibles 三不
朽 was casually made (in 左傳, 襄公二十四年) when Confu-
cius was only a child of three, and this saying has been lasting
till today and will last into the future far beyond today.
3) We note that it requires human body to say and hear say-
ings. All this composes not indifferent eternity but actual in-
corruptibility of body thinking. We call it “history”, as China is
the culture of storied-history 文史 in body thinking. It is body
thinking that produces history story-told. Thus concrete spatio-
temporal ubiquity in body thinking parallels abstract universal-
ity, timeless, space-less, of disembodied thinking.
Now, this body-approach to thinking bypasses to dissolve a
conundrum eked out by separatism of disembodied thinking.
Descartes says the mind alive is not the body extended. Marcel
says I have no body, for I am my body. There would be no such
problem of dichotomy possible—body separate from mind vs.
“I am my body”—if my body itself thinks, if my spirit is the
animated élan of my body alive. Besides, my body is body
socio-politic, homo-cosmic, and so I am macrocosm writ small
as the cosmos is my body writ large. Unity in diversity of myr-
iad things exists in Heaven an d Earth.
4) Someone careful may say, “All this ubiquitous incorrupti-
bility works when the body is taken collectively. What about
the body of an individual person, though? When an individual
body is gone, it is gone, and no more universality is left, right?”
To this demur, two responses must be respectfully made.
One, the above description does not take body collectively,
for “collective body” does not exist. Body is always an indi-
vidual person; the above description takes human body indi-
vidually as my body, as your body. This body-act—via my
individual naming that is socially charged—spreads through
family to my community, to make a big cosmic family of all
myriad things through time, as naming lasts long, as horse is
“horse” to me as it is to my parents and to my grandparents as it
is to my children and my grandchildren.
Two, of course each individual body soon dies away. Still,
sober disembodied thinking will then be surprised to find body
thinking celebrating the joy of bodily death that goes on alive
incorruptible, and the joy is both individual and cosmic. We
will describe this incredible joy in the concluding part of the
present essay. Excitement is still ahead of us, my friend. Just
you read on.
Body Thinking as Basic to Disembodied
“If those two thinking modes—disembodied and body—
parallel, then we can do either disembodied thinking or body
thinking, right?” To correct this natural reaction to the above
description, we must realize that body thinking is at the base
supporting disembodied thinking, which would be toppled
down baseless if we do not attend to body thinking. To show
that the base of disembodied thinking is body thinking, we will
show how disembodying assumes being embodied, how “see-
ing” as theorizing stops without our body seeing, and how all
key operations of disembodied thinking vanish without body
1) To begin with, disrobing cannot happen without having
robes before taking them off. Disembodied thinking cannot take
place without having body thinking in the first place, and it
takes labor to take off body thinking. This is naturally shown in
the laborious dialogues displayed by Plato to step by step take
off body thinking.
The Allegory of the Cave in the Republic (vii. 514a-521b) is
a graphic summary of such disembodying process attended with
ultimate violence, murder of the pioneer of disembodied think-
ing. This is because body thinking is seen in a violent way, to
wit, body is our chain of illusion, inborn and firm, from which
we must be unchained, violently if need be.
This thought originates in turn in an illusion that body think-
ing cannot attain the necessary universality that disembodied
thinking supposedly attains. That this assumption is itself an
illusion is exposed by the paralleling of body thinking with
disembodied thinking in our previous section. Now that their
parallelism is shown, we need not disrobe our body, need we?
2) Moreover, the situation is in fact worse than described
above. The eternal ideas envisioned by disembodied thinking
cannot happen without “ideas” and “vision”. Ideas—from idein,
see—are seen, a nd seeing cannot happen without the body seeing.
In fact, “theorization”—from thea, act of seeing13—so proudly
touted by disembodied thinking, is just seeing, nothing else. “See -
ing from nowhere” as prominently advertised by disembodied
thinker, Thomas Nagel,14 cannot happen, for seeing always sees
something there by a bodily seer here. Seeing is concretely
spaced, and concrete spaces are inherently body-charged.
“Seeing from nowhere” thus destroys the very seeing itself
that is made possible only by the body seeing. “Disembodies
thinking” makes theorization impossible. Therefore, theoriza-
tion ceases, thinking stops, when thinking disembodies itself.
Surprising as this conclusion may seem, it is an inevitable result
of disembodying. All this amounts to saying that disembodied
thinking is based on body thinking. Now, let us detail this gen-
eral description by looking into concrete operations of disem-
bodies thinking, one by one.
3) Thinking, bodied or disembodied, begins when I see what
you mean, and then we argue about the point proposed; to mean
is to mention what you have-in-mind, and to argue is to plead
and to respond, and we need a body to propose.15 To see, to
13See Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2008.
14Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxf ord Univer sity Press, 1989.
15What to see, to mean, and to argue mean are taken from Merriam-Web-
ster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2008.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. M. WU
mean, to argue, and to propose are all body-acts. Again, think-
ing, bodied or disembodied, logicizes and understands; to logi-
cize is to bundle,16 and to understand is to stand under to un-
dergo an idea. To logicize and to understand are both body-acts.
Mathematics is the home and the bone of disembodied
thinking arguing. Kant observes that “7 + 5 = 12” is a priori
rational but must rely on extra-analytical synthesis of 7 with 5
to conclude 12, for 12 is not analytically contained in 7 or 5 as
“unmarried” is contained in “bachelor,” so he calls mathematic-
cal operation synthetic a priori. The a priori arithmetic acts
body-synthesis. Merleau-Ponty then observed that geometry
proceeds by body moving from one spot to next. Arithmetic
and geometry are body-acts. Kant says, our body-awareness of
right-left, front-back orients us to cosmology.17
All these bodily operations are pivotal in disembodied think-
ing, and so disembodied thinking is based on body thinking. In
short, no body, no disembodying, and disembodied thinking
continues to do body-operations as its pivotal essential argu-
mentation. Disembodied thinking vanishes when body thinking
leaves, as surely as “seeing from nowhere” ceases seeing.
Put it another way, we can simply say this. Words of mouth
and acts of hands in body thinking produce storytelling, which
includes poetry, fiction, history, to inquire into matters to gain
knowledge and report its stories in history,18 fiction, poetry,
mathematics, and arguments. For reasons of “precision, exacti-
tude, and clarity”, disembodied thinking engages mathematics
and arguments alone, as if history and other genres of storytel-
ling are not exact, precise, and clear enough.
China shows how mathematics is also part of body thinking,
but in an unexpected way of clothing math in self-cultivation in
the homo-cosmic universe. The Confucians would study and
time and again practice it, to geometrically shape the self, to
daily self-invigilate three times to arithmetically add self-stat-
ure, to adjust the family and pacify the world. The Taoists
would learn to add daily to lose in cosmic Tao daily, all syn-
thetic a priori operations.
Then the Taoists would smile and sigh, “I used to pity people
self-losing, then pity those who pity them, then pity those who
pity those who pity them, but such days are far gone now”. All
this is to self-grow in time-geometry synthetic a priori. China
has mathematics as time-poetry in Change Classic, dragon-soar
some time, snake-slither some other time, always timely meas-
ured, intimately harmonious, “thinging things”.19
4) A further piece of evidence can be adduced for this claim
of body thinking as the basis of disembodied thinking. Think-
ing operates by concrete notions and abstract concepts. Notions
are noted within actual situation; concepts are abstracted from
actual matters. Noting and abstracting are impossible without
the body acting as thinking.
Thus disembodied thinking operating in notions and concepts
would have been impossible without body thinking. It is what
we meant when we said, to repeat, disembodied thinking is
dis-bodied from body thinking as disrobing is done by taking
off the robe-covering, and now we can add, disrobed disem-
bodied, the body vanishes with thinking itself.
Actually, it is incredibly difficult to take off our body we are
born with. It laboriously took Plato so many Dialogues to “dis-
robe” body thinking into disembodied thinking, as dramatically
described-crystallized in myths and the Allegory of the Cave.
After all, thinking is done alive, and every human being here
now thinking is body-alive.
And so all thinking is body thinking, together with its self-
imposed derivative, dise mbodied thinking. Unfortunately , simply
due to its restriction, disembodied thinking ends up cutting off
many topics of body-living handled routinely by body thinking.
To this final clinching theme we now turn.
Life Outside Disembodied Thinking: Time,
Contingency, Bodily Death
Not only does body thinking parallel disembodied thinking;
not only does body thinking support disembodied thinking at its
base. Body thinking in addition can routinely do things that
disembodied thinking cannot, simply because time is an ingre-
dient of body thinking but is out of bound of disembodied
thinking. This simple feature, disembodied thinking as having
only timeless space,20 results in its three consequences quite
serious, to wit, lack of time, lack of contingency, and lack of
bodily death, as compared with body thinking.
Consequence One: Time
1) First, in disembodied thinking, time is a mere “shadow of
eternity” entirely timeless. Shadow is unreal; what is real is
eternal, not time that moves. Aristotle’s thinking thinks think-
ing; it is the “unmoved mover” itself not moving, to move oth-
ers that are only shadows. So, Aristotle is just cheating himself
fooling around with the phrase, “unmoved mover”.
In other words, disembodied thinking has no time, and so
such thinking has no motion, as Zeno correctly intuited. The
problem here is, though, Zeno could not have proved his thesis,
for proving, arguing, takes time to move from premises to con-
clusion. So, proving no-motion is to move to deny moving. It is
Disembodied thinking has no time, only space universal
eternal, so it has no motion, and so it cannot even think. Think-
ing and arguing moves, and is itself impossible in disembodied
thinking. Time implicates change, 1) change in space, locomo-
tion; 2) change of direction back and forth in time, in implica-
tion; 3) change of self, metamorphosis, e.g., growth, changing
mind in gestalt, in assumption, in inter-living. All such motions
and changes are entirely impossible in disembodied thinking
immobile. Simple locomotion alone is a contradiction, as here
2) But time-sired motions are what life-actuality is, as shown
in the six features below, which are completely outside disem-
bodied thinking. As a result, disembodied thinking incurs six
impossibilities, future-hope-plan, past-history-as-present, play-
irony, self-examination, impact-imagination, and alive-chang-
16On “logic” as “bundle”, see my On Metaphoring: A Cultural Hermeneutic,
Leiden: Brill, 200 1.
17On “7 + 5 = 12” as synthetic a priori, see Immanuel Kant’s Critique o
Pure Reason , B15-17 . On geo metry as hand- operat ed, see M auri ce Merleau-
Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1962, pp. 384-386. On Kant’s insistence that our body orientations originate
our cosmological knowledge, see his Critique of Practical Reason, Univer-
sity of Chica g o Press, 1949, pp. 294-295.
18History is linked etymologically to story that means to inquire to gain
19Analects 1 /1, 1/4, Tao Te Ching 48, Chuang Tzu 24/64-65, 20/67.
First, thinking not just of things but as the very change of its
mode and its direction belongs to hope and plan for the future.
Future-thinking is possible only in body thinking growing un-
20Actually, space can only be here and there and everywhere, and they are
odily conc rete, and so bodiless thinki ng would not even have space. But we
would let go of this point to simplify the matter.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 157
K. M. WU
ceasingly. In the unchanging eternity of set disembodied think-
ing, such future-thinking is unthinkable.
Secondly, time-thinking involves prospective retrospection
in prospective history, the lively past created only by bodily us
at present to point us forward. This is storytelling forever novel,
yet stories can be told only of what has happened, even in
imagination of our future. Science fiction takes off from what
we already know, and “already” is the past. Such dynamics of
time-flow to and fro is impossible in static disembodied think-
Thirdly, even mild metaphor that tells of this to point to that
is despised by disembodied thinking as a frivolous dispensable
decoration. Body thinking not only thrives in metaphor; it even
revels in irony, telling this to deny this or deny that, and winks
at the listener. Lin Yutang said, Chuang Tzu is frivolous when
profound, and profound when frivolous.21 Chuang Tzu does so
by playing even with argument22-bits and story-bits. Such a
play-stunt can never be pulled off by no-mouthed disembodied
thinking timeles s .
Fourth, time-thinking in body thinking is self-reflexive, and
so self-examination to self-adjust and change, urged by Confu-
cius and Socrates, can happen only in body thinking. Disem-
bodied thinking cannot look back; it only looks in one direction
to eternal Forms of ideals unchanging. In fact, even “looking”
without eyes is impossible in disembodied thinking. Forms are
just there, stark and logical.
Fifth, thinking makes impacts on life only by body thinking.
Impacts can be made even by imagination that fictively projects
actuality beyond actuality, and making real impacts makes
imagination real. Fictions are more real than mundane reality.
Impact is made on concrete bodily living, and so all this is un-
thinkable in disembodied thinking. Sixth, in short, body think-
ing is alive natural. No disembodied thinking anti-natural can
be alive at al l.
3) Moreover, the third and final consequence of disembodied
thinking must be added to this list quite serious. Body thinking
naturally elucidates two tough matters in life-actuality that
disembodied thinking is unable to handle, i.e., actual contin-
gency and bodily death, simply because disembodied thinking
is disrobed from body-actuality. Let us consider first “contin-
gency”, then “bodily death”, and see how naturally and beauti-
fully body thinking handles each of them.
Consequence Two: Contingency
1) Contingency has long been a chronic headache to disem-
bodied thinking that tries vainly to tame it with statistics. Its
statistics so incredibly complex tells not how complex actuality
is but how inept disembodied thinking is, how incapable it is of
handling our daily straightforward contingency in actuality.
Contingent particulars always “leak through” the general av-
erage concocted by disembodied thinking; they always come in
as stubborn “exceptions” to the neat “natural laws” painstak-
ingly devised by disembodied thinking out of controlled ex-
periments. To say that natural science—our knowledge of na-
ture—is ever in progress is a euphemism for its constant errors,
2) But in fact contingency is just actuality alive natural as our
body is natural alive; this “as” rhymes contingency with body
thinking that actually thrives there. Body thinking never
“tames” or “controls” contingency. Instead, body thinking na-
turally tells stories of its mathematical poetry whose bodily
participants we are, as Change Classic the I Ching 易經 ad-
umbrates, intimates .
China calls such rhyming intimacy “history” that continually
weaves out the continuous network natural alive into criss-
crossing literary stories, wen 文; China is cultured with storied
history 文史, in Yin and Yang internecine inter-nascent among
the cosmic Five Agents 五行, as woe and weal inter-lean-on to
inter-lurk-under ( La o T zu, 58).
We live on the edge of contingency as our home. Our situa-
tion is told in a Huai Nan Tzu’s story of Uncle Fort at the
city-limit of expectation, forever expecting the unexpected,
ever asking, “How could this woe not do weal?” and then “How
could this weal not do woe?” In this way, we are ever experi-
enced and body-prepared, serving ourselves as weathered
weatherman and bodyguard of safari walkabout, living on in
contingent ongoing. We follow along body-actual, riding on
waves of winds, to turn into birds, “storm petrels,” soaring in
the uncertain air, vast and sky high.
Body thinking in such story-way adapts—come what may—
to adapt whatever comes to feed life, growing and blossoming
as flowers out of mud, not muddied. We are Chuang Tzu’s
(17/81-84) slow turtle that must drag its tail in the wet mud to
thrive, not to be cleaned up and shuffled up embalmed in the
dry abstract Platonic Altar so neat, glorious, and dead.
Ugly muddy events are now beautifully told as history alive,
unending, by the grand historians of all ages. Contingency is
humus to story-thinking in body thinking; body thinking is at
home in none other than messy contingency itself. All this
body-story-thinking is actuality-thinking in history-thinking,
lustily intoning o ur Yin-Yang living natural alive.
3) Let us put the whole matter of contingency another way.
In the West, proving validity against falsehood is indispensable,
for disembodied thinking leaves actuality as it tries to apply
itself to actuality. The gap made by leaving away and coming
back thus must be crossed, and the crossing often goes amiss.
Therefore, proving and checking on validity is required in all
operations of disembodied thinking, yet verification requires
getting out of disembodied thinking to be done by disembodied
thinking. Such a self-defeating operation keeps disembodied
thinking busy for ever, in vain.
In fact, this self-defeating disembodied thinking more than
“labors in vain”; it harvests disaster. Disembodied thinking
sires perfectionism pining after whatever pies in the sky ever
separate from the bodily present, to result in mistreating our
own body, such as eating disorders in overeating or hatred of
eating, and compulsive over-exercises, to ruin our body-self.
Disembodied thinking ruins the body to ruin body thinking, to
ruin disembodied thinking in return. The cure is, of course,
body thinking. It goes this way.
In contrast to disembodied tragedy, as body never lies (for I
am what I am), my body thinks in and with things (as body is
one thing among things), and things do not lie (for things are as
they are), and so body thinking is naturally true to things and
true to our body. Checking is out of the question here, for the
body is ever at home in what it is, in no need of pining after
pies in the sky.
21Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of China and India, NY: Random House, 1942,
22My meditation on “playing with arguments” is done by watching Chuang
Tzu. See Kuang-ming Wu, On the “Logic” of Togetherness: A Cultural
Hermeneutic, L eiden, the Nethe rlands: Brill, 19 9 8, pp. 150-293.
Unfortunately, our body gets sick once in a while, and then it
is overrun by things coming and by body self-twisted. And so,
“correcting names 正名” in “self-reflective examination 自省”
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. M. WU
is required to adjust body thinking back to itself among actual
things. I ad-just what I mean (names I profess) back to my
body-actuality, by self-examining how twisted my self-image
In doing all this self-reflective activity, we must remember
that name-correction and self-reflection are themselves body
thinking at work not-lying to itself and to things. Now, where is
the need to independently verify and prove validity? Isn’t body
thinking the cur e of disembodied thinking and its disast e r?
In sum, we see how the whole world keeps changing. Myriad
things keep coming to keep body thinking alive; body thinking
is as alive as things are. Countless things are alive, i.e., contin-
gent, ever changing without prior notice; the situation is quite a
headache to disembodied thinking set in prior rules set by dis-
embodied thinking itself, while body thinking alive flexes with
things contingent, thriving in contingency as its home.
Consequence Three: Bodily Death
1) Now, the ultimate limit of life-contingency is its cessation,
bodily death. Completely out of bound of disembodied thinking,
it is here in bodily death that body thinking is at its beautiful
best at handling it in story-thinking. Stories must be told by
words of mouth. No wonder, Western disembodied thinking
lacks story-thinking. Let us take five stories, all proposed with
an impish wink by an ancient friend of ours, 2500 years young;
he is that unconquerable Chuang Tzu story-frolicking even in
Disembodied thinking has separated itself from the body, so
it has no bodily death and cannot handle it. In contrast, bodily
death is an intimate integral aspect of body thinking. It thinks
on—not of—bodily death to show how body thinking goes
beyond Western materialism, how body thinking reveals “ac-
tual eternity in time and space,” and how bodily death is even
excitingly natural alive, quite cosmic.
Thus body thinking opens up a novel horizon no Western
disembodied thinking would ever envision at all. Only body
thinking can pull off such stunt, unheard of in disembodied
thinking. Significantly, body thinking opens out this novel mi-
lieu via storytelling embodied concrete, as a matter of fact de-
scription, thoroughly historical beyond factual history.
2) Let me repeat. Death is at the rock-bottom limit of life
natural alive. Incredibly, here are five stories on death in an
ascending order of joy. They are bequeathed by Chuang Tzu of
ancient China, who is jumping alive today among us. His five
vibrant stories are here, singing at his wife’s death, dreaming to
be a butterfly, Lady Beautiful happily kidnapped, some bosom
friends in joy seeing off their dearest friend on death-journey,
and the absolutely ineffable joy of a dry skull casually doing
These five stories of Chuang Tzu’s are playful stations in our
changes by death. Or rather, they are ebullient stages of our
changes into natural death alive. The farther we go into death,
the happier we turn, until we ourselves become Joy Ultimate
with Heaven and Earth, natural alive, precisely at the
rock-bottom miseries of life-now-dead.
We will now go into these delightful death-stories, one at a
time, all incredibly natural, all alive—in death. These death-
stories so natural require no transcendent divine to crank out
joy in death. These stories are all told by Chuang Tzu alive
today, precisely in death, after these 25 centuries.
Death-Story One, Chuang Tzu Singing on His Wife’s Death
Chuang Tzu’s wife died. Hui Tzu went for condolence, and
found him squatting drumming a bowl, singing. Hui Tzu said,
“With her you lived, raised kids, grew old; at her death no
weeping is already enough. You eve n squat an d sing, isn’t it too
much?” Chuang Tzu said, “Not so. At her death, was I alone in
no deep feeling? Reflecting on the beginning, as I calmed down,
I saw that originally there was no birth, no body-form, not even
And then, in jumbling I-know-not-what, change came to
have breath, and birth brought body, which now changed again
into death—all this change changes with the four seasons turn-
ing. She now sleeps in a vast room, while if I were to wail after
her, isn’t it not-aware of destiny? So I stop.”23 Now, can any
cutting edge science today go beyond this description? All that
our sciences do is to say such and such a change is what just
happens, what sciences call “contingency”; such is a “jumbling
I-know-not-what, ” i s n ’ t it?
The poignant point expressed in this incredible story is
deeper, more concrete, and more colorful, natural, and actual,
than the long-faced Stoic ataraxia, apathy, in the teeth of death,
for Chuang Tzu sings drumming on an upturned empty bowl.
No Buddhist would have feelingly done so. What moving
chanting, what meditative wailing that sings itself out, into soft
sensitive kindness to his dearest wife, now at rest in the restive
nature-process, as nature-inevitable as autumn turning into
silent snow of winter!
Could Chuang Tzu have gently told Rabbi Kushner, who lost
his dearest son so young, that his cherished treasure had previ-
ously come as spring blossomed flower of youth, and then now
has silently dissipated into the Process of winter snow no less
alive, and so it is best not to disturb his son’s ongoing peace of
Doesn’t such kind calm sensitivity go in fact farther to
soothe the living and the dead than a Buddhist austere emptying
of life-transmigration? Doesn’t this sensitive insight go far
beyond chilly physics and physiological sciences today? No
wonder, the story is already at the height of a death-insight that
Death-Story Two, Dreaming to Be a Butterfly (2/94-96):
However scientifically enlightened, seeing death as a dis-
persing of the autumn leaves into winter snow is a view from a
usual living. Matters may possibly be quite different, seen from
the point of view of death. This exciting possibility, no less
natural alive, is pointed to in the story of Chuang Tzu dreaming
to be butterfly and awakening from it into deep puzzlement. It
goes as follows.
“Last night, Chou (my name) dreamed as butterfly. Flitting
and fluttering, I was butterfly, freely going as intended, not
knowing Chou. Suddenly I awoke. And then, so thoroughly it
was Chou. Now I do not get it: is it I knowing Chou to have
dreamed to be butterfly? Is it the butterfly knowing it now
dreaming to be Chou? Chou and butterfly then must have dis-
tinction. This it is that is called things changing.”25
1) Now, “butterfly” is the world-ubiquitous wonder-name of
something alive and natural, flitting to and fro between death
23This is my translation, the origi nal abridged y et kept to its o riginal vigor.
24Arthur Waley, Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939), CA:
Stanford University Press, 1982, p. 6, cf. 30-32. Harold S. Kushner’s When
Bad Things Happen to Good People, NY: Schocke n Books, 1981, is a Juda ic
view so brave, so desperate, and so popular.
25Again, this is my translation of the vigorous poetic original, in as literal an
expression as possible without falling into unintelligibility. See my The
Butterfly as Companion, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990,
p. 493 (inde x on “butterfly”).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 159
K. M. WU
and life. It flutters between dreaming and awakening, each with
its own criteria of what is real and what is not, to interchange to
inter-change. “Distinct” and “things changing” are two phe-
nomena daily common, ubiquitous, and quite crucial among
matters there are, in death and in life.
For example, I am not at all a baby, as the baby is not me.
Only thus distinct can I hug the baby, and we both giggle for
sheer joy of living together. We then change into each other so
much so that I do not know if the baby is hugging me or I am
hugging the baby. The baby thus parents the parents, and we
both grow into the future.26 All this is an everyday happening.
Chuang Tzu’s genius lies in radicalizing this life-precious fact
into dreaming an d awakening to connote l if e and death.
Am I, a man, having dreamed just a while ago to be a butter-
fly? Or am I butterfly currently dreaming to be man? Such a
doubt is equivalent to doubting if I am alive having dreamed
dead or I am dead now dreaming alive. Either doubt makes
sense, for “sense” is inherent in each state of affairs, dreaming
or awakening, living or in death.
2) Death is thus as real as life, as dream is as real and awak-
ening aware; they are only different one from the other. The
deathly real is as natural alive as the lively real, only differently
each from the other. Both are inter-distinct to inter-change,
natural and alive. Such is the stunning message alluded to in
this simple ordinary story of Chuang Tzu dreaming as butterfly,
only to be awakened to scratch his head.
3) We need not go into fine detailed discussions on butter-
fly-as-entity vs. butterfly-as-medium, or on whether the butter-
fly itself is alive or not, and so on. We do not quite understand
any of these issues anyway. It is enough that the story of “but-
terfly, dream, and man” are concerned with life and death mu-
tually distinct and inter-changing one into another. Moreover,
both senses, life and death, are natural alive. That is the point of
Chuang Tzu dreaming to be a butterfly. Now, it may seem odd
to say that death is alive, but this point implicit here is brought
out in the last fabulous skull-story below.
Death-Story Three, Lady Beautiful Happily Kidnapped
To graphically capture an alternative scenario to our usual
gloomy view of death, Chuang Tzu further gives us this color-
ful story. The story runs bare two lines in the terse original
Chinese words. In the briefest parsimony of typical classical
history-narrative, this story packs the thickest of feelings in the
kidnapping of Lady Beautiful elegant and noble, for no kidnap-
ping lacks pathos.
1) The story goes placidly this way, as if nothing was the
matter. “Lady of Beauty is daughter of Ai border-man. When
Chin State first got her, her tears drenched her neckline—until
reaching the king’s place, sharing square bed with the king,
eating grass-fed meat, and then she repents of having been in
tears. How would I know the dead would not repent of their
having pined after life?”
Reconstructed in today’s story line, the story could go
somewhat as follows. Lady Beautiful, the cherished treasure of
the border-guard at Ai, is suddenly kidnapped by a barbarian
Chief of the Chin. Lady Beautiful is transported in tears drench-
ing her entire robe, traveling to the Chief’s residence. No sorrows
can be comparable to such shocking miserable misfortune!
And then, her Ladyship at the royal residence is nightly
treated to the world’s most expensive square-bed available,
such as the highest grade of Sears’ Posturapedics, as she is also
daily treated to the choicest grass-fed steak such as specially
custom-prepared by Ruth-Chris, for the kind and gentle Chief
has money aplenty for all their needs. By and by, her Ladyship
comes to wonder why she had to shed tears at being “kid-
napped” this way in the first place. Now, how can we be sure
that the dead folks are not having a second thought about their
initial wailing afte r life?
2) So, here are new definitions of words. “Kidnap” shows a
view from our usual life-perspective. “Havi ng a second thought”
tells of revolution of point of view from “life” to “death”. From
the point of view of death, death may well be quite enjoyable,
and this “may be” can never be disproved conclusively from the
point of view of life, whose logic is completely distinct from
death-logic, as dream-perspective utterly differs from awaken-
ing-perspective, as shown in the prior butterfly-dream story.
With a wry smile, Chuang Tzu says that we ourselves are her
Ladyship ready anytime to be happily kidnapped by the gra-
cious barbarian Chief Death, to be treated very royally well.
However incredible it may sound, at least this is a distinct pos-
sibility no argument whatever can dispel, and there is nothing
in life to prevent us from jumping at this glorious possibility,
3) All this is so incredible that Karl Marx had to famously
proclaim such otherworldly stuff as “opium”—poor he, he did
not know Chuang Tzu, much less these happy death-stories so
this-worldly—as if he had a rationale for saying so,27 and all
cynics in their sour-grape mindset rush to join Marx. They all
dogmatically assert that all such rosy claims on death are a
desperate pie in the sky. They never know that our grapes, deli-
cious never sour, are not unreachable.
They insist, “Lady Beautiful being happily kidnapped by
kind Chief Death” is a rosy claim of fool ’s paradi se of death as
Joy, which is of course just a dream, a delusory drawing of
empty happiness. Still, these critics are not sure if this “draw-
ing” is really a delusion or not. Isn’t Pascal’s wager for a kind
all-powerful god faraway just a barren rerun of ancient Chuang
Tzu’s colorful “wager for” a kind barbarian Chief Death close-
by? In any case, there is nothing among us living to prevent us
from jumping on to such a delicious death-possibility so natural
If someone still ridicules us for embracing a “fool’s para-
dise,” we can easily retort that his—it is usually a boorish
“his”—possible “cynic’s hell” is just as baseless, and gives us
worse aftertastes to boot, worse off than moping around at un-
reachable sour grapes, for he is not even sure that our delicious
grapes cannot be reached. In short, the kind Chief Death re-
mains our distinct option so daring, so natural, and so pleasant
4) And so, we have an easy counteroffer to make with smile
to Karl Marx. Delusion for delusion, which one would we em-
brace? Fool’s paradise and cynic’s hell, both are beyond the
26This is my refurbished version of William Wordsworth’s “The Child is
father to t he Man” in his “My Hear t Leaps Up When I Beho ld” (1802), lin e
7, in The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth: Student’s
Cambridge Edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1904, p. 277. This
original version already delivered an impact so powerful as to set Sigmund
Freud onto his psychoanalysis and his disciple Erik H. Erikson onto his
psychology of biography.
27That religion is opium makes sense on three assumptions. One, life is
nothing but pain and evil. Two, life has nothing beyond it or after it. Three,
Marx assumes that both assumptions are self-evident. But they are not, nor
can they be proven, either, since such assumptions go beyond life, and none
of us has logic beyond li fe to prove them.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. M. WU
grave, impossible to prove with our life-logic on this side of the
grave, as dream-logic of reality is no awakened-logic of reality
(the dream-story says so).
Besides, importantly, are we sure we are awakened? Are we
sure we are not insisting “we are of course awakened” while we
may be insisting to be awake in our dream? If we are not sure
of what we are, how could we argue that death-joy is no joy?
All this is just a rehearsal of Chuang Tzu’s Story Two, the
dream-story. In all, then, we would rather embrace our fool’s
paradise of her Ladyship that is as “baseless” as Marx’s cynic’s
hell of non-existing sour grapes.
Death-Story Four, Bosom Friends Happily Seeing Off Their
Friend to Death (6/45-51, etc.):
After disposing of cynical doubt on the joy of death of her
Ladyship, we are now in for the joy as communal (in this story),
and as alive (in the next story). This story here is about the
intimate heart-known friends joyously seeing their bosom
friend off to death-journey. As I translate it, it goes as follows.
Mr. Oblation, Mr. Carriage, Mr. Plow, and Mr. Come met
together and said, “Who can take nothing as neck, life as back,
and death as rump? Who knows death, life, surviving, and los-
ing life, all as one body? We would befriend him.” They in-
ter-looked; and laughed. Nothing was against their hearts; they
end up becoming mutual friends.
Suddenly, Mr. Carriage got sick. Mr. Oblation went visited
him, who said, “Great! The Thing-Maker is making me so
crooked as this! … [He] may change my left arm into a rooster,
and then I’ll watch for night-timing. [He] may change my right
arm into a bow-pellet, and then I’ll watch for an owl-roast. [He]
may change my rump into wheels, my pep into a horse, and
then I’ll ride it; why need I change ride? …”
1) This amazing death-story goes on like this for much
longer, to cover half of the whole Chapter Six of Chuang Tzu’s,
but this much is enough to show three novel points. One,
bosom friends in camaraderie are here in life toward death. We
do not need to die alone. Two, those friends can see us off onto
death-journey in joy. Death is a joy, a part of the logic of laughter.
Three, the death-journey so joyous has a destination constantly
expanding, beyond a definite place, as part of being natural
A group of bosom friends are joyously seeing off their clos-
est friend in death-throe into joyous journey into death. The joy
of death-journey is vastly communal, involving so many non-
sentient existents imaginable and unimaginable. It is important
to see what the tie is that intimately binds them into bosom
friends. This tie is that myriad things birthing in dying in all
time and all spaces are embodied in these friends deep and vast,
to naturally gather in camaraderie un-dissolvable. Their togeth-
erness mirrors the community of my riad b oso m f rie nds in Hea ven
and Earth. They are cosmic joys writ small, vastly natural alive
through all varied deaths into births.
2) While these many friends happily see their dearest friend
off to a happy death-journey, incredibly, none of them knows
the destination to which the happy journey goes. Perhaps the
destination of death is an ongoing process of change alive from
one state of being to another. The wearisome life-transmigra-
tion of Buddhism seems to twist here into positive uncertainty,
to which our death-journey looks forward.
3) Isn’t it incredible once more, though? How could death be
alive? How could death be ongoing? We have seen in the but-
terfly-dream story how death is ongoing back and forth, and in
the next final death-story of dream-talk with a skull on how
cosmically alive death is, so vibrant.
Death-Story Five, Happy Dry Skull (18/22-29):
That death as a communal joy is indeed Joy cosmic and ex-
quisite is actually reported in this story of Chuang Tzu’s,
dream-talking with the most miserable death, concretized in a
roadside28 skull. Here is my translation, as literal as I could
“Chuang Tzu went to Ch’u, and saw an empty skull, bared,
still in shape. Tapping it with a horsewhip, Chuang Tzu asked,
‘Sir, did you come to this by losing reason, with greed for life?
Or did you meet loss of a state, assassinated by axe or spear, to
turn like this? Or had you done deeds not-good, so worried that
you’d shame parents and wife and children, as to turn like this?
Or were you troubled by chill and famine into this? Or was it
your seasonal years that t urned into this? ’ Words done, he pulled
the skull as pillow and slept.”
Now, Chuang Tzu could not help but ask this way, seeing
that Confucius, Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, and even Chuang Tzu,
were all decently buried. Even after beheading a criminal, the
corpse is usually buried whole with the head back on. Thus to
have only the skull, and that casually tossed on roadside so long
as to be dry and brittle as can be, is the rock-bottom misery of
any life that we can imagine. The skull was parched and still in
shape enough for Chuang Tzu to pillow on it to sleep that night.
And then things happ e n e d, so incredible.
“At midnight the skull appeared in a dream, saying, ‘Your
words are like the quibbler’s, all about troubles of the living.
Once dead, I have none of such. Do you, sir, wish to hear about
death’s joy?’ Chuang Tzu said, ‘Yes!’ The skull said, ‘Death
has no ruler above, no subject below, or matters unfinishable
throughout four seasons. Only unhurriedly with Heaven-Earth I
make spring-autumn. Not even the awesome royalty can go
Chuang Tzu, incredulous, said, ‘If I have Destiny Manager to
revive your form, remake your bone, flesh, and skin, and return
you to parents, wife-children, neighbors-acquaintances, would
you like it?’ The skull with deep forehead-wrinkles said, ‘How
could I discard this royal joy to return to labors among peo-
1) Listening to this delightful death-story, we suddenly see
that all four stories rehearsed before are culminated in this story.
Chuang Tzu simply goes along with the process of his wife’s
death as we all goes along with shifts of four seasons (story
one); the skull here blends in with spring-autumn seasons.
Dreaming as butterfly, and then awakening from the dream
(story two), we realize that all things and their life and death are
inter-distinct in inter-change; the death-skull here dream-talks
with Chuang Tzu living, to convey sheer joy of seasonably
changing with myriad things.
Her Ladyship is continually being treated so royally by Chief
Death (story three); are we sure Chuang Tzu is not being
treated kindly by the death-skull here after all? The wearisome
life-transmigration of Buddhism seems to twist here into posi-
tive uncertainty, to which our death-journey looks forward after
pain has done its worst to the skull. The bosom friends co-
congratulate with their dear dying friend, happily seeing him
off to death-journey (story four); with vast Heaven and Earth in
delightful camaraderie, the skull here joyfully performs rounds
28“Roadside” is my addition; it is my only natural inference from how
Chuang Tzu po inted at it with a horsewhip and pillowed it and sle pt.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 161
K. M. WU
2) Now the culminating conclusion of this final death-story,
death as Joy Ult imat e , nat ura l alive , the Joy of all j oy s out of all
sorrows, is so extraordinary, so unheard-of, and therefore so
incredible, as to provoke, quite naturally, some comments. Just
three of our surprises to be mentioned here is enough to illus-
trate our incredulity.
To begin, amazingly, this death as joy requires no super-
natural miracle to pull off. It is quite natural alive. Moreover,
how could death-joy be so natural alive as to be the envy of life,
the be-all and the end-all of all living natural alive? The idea is
a veritable revolution of our usual “natural alive.” Finally, this
revolution is pulled off as “death as Joy Ultimate” by, of all
things, the most insignificant skull dried and tossed on roadside,
achieved and announced by the most miserable of all deaths, a
casual skull so parched that none would take a second look at.
These three surprising contrasts boggle our mind.
Such is the astounding apex of Chuang Tzu’s series of death
stories we have read that culminates in this skull-story, so in-
coherent yet so natural alive. But then, we take this skull-story
as incoherent, because its/his extraordinary cosmic claim to
cosmic joy clashes with its puny insignificance, as no one
would care for such nuisance-skull uselessly tossed out some-
where not even mentioned by Chuang Tzu.
3) Our sense of such inordinate contrasts originates in our
obsession with this side of the grave. We judge the skull from
the viewpoint of this life. The whole point of the skull-story,
the ultimate-death story, however, is precisely to offer a revolu-
tion of standpoint, from this life as solely all-important, to
death that is life-beyond (which we just take as of no account
from the viewpoint of this side of the grave). Once we stand on
the side of death where the skull enjoys itself so very much, we
would understand that its “extraordinary claim” of death as Joy
is quite natural alive.
As gently told by the skull to do, we stand in death to look
back at life, and the whole world totally shifts its outlook. We
will then see that death is never the end of the world; death
begins it. It is now the dead people who truly speak—in the
classics, in history, in nature, and in death—while we the
briefly living are mere chatterboxes shooting the breeze, puff-
ing whiffs to while away life. It is death that is truly “natural
alive,” and we who live for a while—about just a century—
prepare ourselves for its happy entrance.
4) All sorrows are exhausted in achieving death, ushering the
living beyond life into death. Now what is left is no-sorrow,
cleansed of all clutters, nicknamed “joy of no joy.” It is “no
joy” while blended in—performing—vast season-rounds. Such
doing of no doing is so vast and clean that it can only feel as a
sort of clean “joy.” This “joy” is ultimate; no higher, no vaster,
no calmer joy can be felt.
This is Joy beyond all joy, Joy cleansed of all sorrows. Since
no living ones, whatever they are, would even dare, much less
can, claim such cosmic blend-in, such pervasive no-perform-
ance, Joy Ultimate properly belongs to dead people alone. In
short, nothing but joy is left in death. The dead is the happiest,
to whom we the living all look forward. Our temporary life is a
mere preparation for this glorious Joy eternal.
5) Kant’s space-time logic is the logic of the living. Dead
folks are beyond time-space, without time and without space,29
so they are “here now” any time, any place. “Here” and “now”
are situation-sensitive30; dead people are situation-sensitive al-
ways. My dead folks show their joys diversely in my diverse
situations, each different in each differing situation. The dead
are relevant each moment, any time any place, alive so natural
to us always.
That is eternity sensitive alive only the dead achieve. Plants
are closest to such eternity. Plants are true unmoved movers
natural alive, ever moving us and moving with us without
themselves moving, talking to us without words, each time
different from another. Dead folks are our plants so eternal,
natural, and ever alive. Eternity situation-sensitive, actual-em-
bodied this way, is eternity full and alive, in contrast to eternity
of disembodied thinking that is eternity-hollow scarecrow.
We must repeat on this eternal joy so incredible. All these
dead beings have nothing but joy, for all sicknesses, despairs,
pain, injustices, miseries, and disasters have perpetrated their
worst to usher these people into this scintillating world of Joy
beyond all joys beyond the grave beyond all sorrows, all so
natural alive. We living here now have nothing but joy to look
forward to this Joy. This is the stunning Gospel of Ultimate Joy,
natural alive,31 that Chuang Tzu matter-of-factly divulged to us
through his dream-talk with death, with that casual skull
6) This extraordinary fact is packed in the fabulous Joy of
“with Heaven-Earth unhurriedly performing-making-doing 為
the spring-autumn 春秋 rounds of cosmic seasons” (18/27).
No living being whatever would dare, much less can, claim
such a magnificent performing of vast season-rounds in cosmic
And remember. The “cosmos” is quite a community all hus-
tling and bustling, all natural and all alive. Just think. All the
dead entities eternal and beyond time since time immemorial
must be much more numerous and more bustling than the
whole world of living entities here now put together. We say
that “they are gone on”, and “on” is their major thrust natural
Moreover, to repeat, as I walk my daily walk, every “same”
thing comes out different. Sidewalk, air, breeze, wood fence,
blue sky, the heat, the sunlight, anything I see and feel, even
what I feel inside, even memories that haunt, all go through me
differently each time I walk by them identical outside. So does
every trivial detail that is my “plant” talking in silence, shading
me restful. T hey are all same di fferent, different in sa me, same
as different. That is eternity, for ever natural alive. They stay
set as dead and as stable death, and as such they are alive quite
7) And, of course, in this death-joy, all this-worldly ambi-
tions are flatly leveled off. Not a single royalty can take a single
penny of his glory into the beyond-grave. Here, all dead pau-
pers are as great as all dead princes. “Who is the greatest in the
kingdom of death?” is as utterly silly a question as asking
which tree is the greatest in the all-lush forest. Everyone dead is
in great joy.
30Logicians call them “demonstratives”, as special words; see Palle Your-
grau, ed., Demonstratives, Oxford University Press, 1990. But actually all
common nouns are such demonstratives, for “[a specific] white horse is no
horse [in general]”, China’s name-logician Kung-sun Lung alerts us.
31This must also be Jesus’ Gospel, though in much less natural terms, so
perhaps less credible, yet as alive. Some passages in the New Testament
may be made more intelligible in this context of “natural alive, e.g., marital
status after death” (Luke, 20: pp. 34-35), and perhaps Beggar Lazarus beside
29Watch out! “Without space and without time in death” is not “space-less
and timeless in disembodied thinking,” for bodily death is thinkable in body
thinking alone. Death-joy beyond time and space can happen only in the
realm of body thinking quite situation-sensitive. Disembodied thinking is
never sensit i ve to the concrete situation.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. M. WU
Death levels everyone into the identical yet various ultimate
Joy of all joys, as all world religions promise. Amazingly,
Chuang Tzu does not promise; he matter-of-factly divulges this
deathly joy to us, with an actual report of his dream-talk with
death, concretized in the most abject skull all dried up. This is
body thinking in all its glories!
8) “Now be reasonable, pal. How could dead people be
happy? Aren’t they just nothing?” My dear friend, your “being
reasonable” is reasonable among the living. Let me try this
explanation. Only when we have something, do we feel loss
and pain, right? So, the less we have, the less pain we have,
until we have nothing, to have no pain. So, the dead person
having nothing, not even himself, is in peace without groan,
happy in silence. Such is Buddhist Nirvana of absolute calm.
Chuang Tzu’s friendly skull shows as much, but he is no
Buddhist, for the dead skull is not calm but does do rounds of
spring-autumn seasons with vast Heaven and Earth, in sheer
cosmic joy. The spring begins summer, and the autumn begins
winter to begin spring. And so, “spring autumn” is a phrase
with the beginning-thrust of seasons turning, turning, without
ceasing. The skull is a happy part of these cosmos-dynamic
turnings forever beginning undying.
Let me put it another way. The baby has nothing, so she gig-
gles for nothing, and absolutely no one can resist her. Chuang
Tzu’s skull is the darling baby of father Heaven and mother
Earth, giggling always for nothing, being so natural alive a
baby. Music is joy resounding in nothing for nothing. Chuang
Tzu’s skull pipes the organ-music of seasons in nothing. The
skull is cosmic music of the cosmic baby, happy as can be.
Besides, there is nothing-as-full and there is nothing-as-hol-
low. Baby-nothing alive is full, while a dummy owl the scare-
crow to foxes is just a hollow. Can Buddhism distinguish a
baby from a dummy owl? Dead people are a happy nothing-
baby alive, not a dummy owl hollow.
This is because death assumes having been born as life lives
to death (the dream-story says so), while hollow-owl is just
hollow of such live dialectic of “distinct” and “inter-change.”
Silence is charged music while calm is not. Nature alive-as-
baby is silence-music; it is Chuang Tzu’s “heavenly piping” be-
yond and behind the sound of music of the myriad.
Children are spontaneous “piping music”. A boy mumbles
that he does not know if he knows anything he does not know,
and then confesses that he does not know someone he has not
met. Wow! No adult logician can refute any of his claims! This
is because our adult logic is nothing but an unpacking of all his
claims. The boy-nothing is so full, so invincible, for he is so
natural alive. Dead people are a nothing-alive boy just growing
up cosmically and happily, as if nothing matters.
9) I hope we are now convinced that the joy of death natural
alive arrives by our actuality-thinking in story-thinking, enli-
vened by body thinking. Disembodied thinking has no actuality
so unpredictable, no story so wayward, and no body so fragile,
yet this fragile, wayward and unpredictable body thinking sup-
ports disembodied thinking so predictable, stable, and eternal.
This puff of disembodied thinking is a teenager looking
down on his own “parents so clumsy, so shamefully dated, and
so impossibly incapable.” Growing up, he would be stunned to
see how quickly they have grown up so wise ahead of him.
Disembodied thinking could also turn itself around by learning
from body thinking in time, in contingency, and in bodily death
in ultimate joy.
Body Thinking Piv o t a l in Life
Physiological body in disembodied thinking ceases at death,
while physical body, as phusis,32 keeps naturing, making sea-
sonal rounds with heaven and earth, precisely in bodily death,
as China describes above. As soon as we body-think, we are led
into even death-as-joy as Chinese body thinking shows us, be-
sides being enabled to thrive in shifting “time” and uncertain
“contingency”, ubiquitous and incorruptible, literally world
This is simply because nothing is more important than life
that includes bodily death; and if life is as protean and unpre-
dictable as history describes it, then body thinking is as bot-
tomlessly alive and fascinatingly mysterious as life is. Being
hydra-headed and quite bottomless, so fascinating so pivotal,
body thinking33 does deserve spreading worldwide, beginning
at China to spread to the West, doesn’t it?
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