The Transformation of Kun

The Transformation of Kun
The Transformation of Kun

Valuable Lessons on Life’s Boundless Horizons and Navigating a Stress-Free Existence.

Last winter, I delved once more into Zhuangzi’s (庄子) timeless poem “Carefree Living,” (逍遥游), a work resonating across millennia. Far from a mere verse, it stands as a profound celebration of unfettered freedom. Epitomized by the tale of Kun, a colossal fish yearning to transcend her aquatic confines and take flight as a bird.

In the narrative, Kun, stretching a thousand miles in length, reigned supreme in her underwater domain, yet yearned for the boundless liberty of the skies. Shedding her fish-like biases, Kun, fueled by an unwavering desire for growth, transformed into the magnificent bird Pang, soaring to unimaginable heights.

The Transformation of Kun

Kun’s metamorphosis isn’t a fleeting whim but a conscious evolution, devoid of greed and driven by an unyielding thirst for growth. Each day, she meticulously cultivates her strength, outgrowing the confines of her habitat until she’s compelled to defy her limitations and ascend to new heights. Her transformation spawns a whirlwind of change, carrying her to realms previously unattainable.

Rather than succumbing to impulsive desires, we’re urged to emulate Kun’s calculated approach, viewing obstacles as stepping stones to growth and transformation. Kun’s journey, allegorical in nature, inspires us to pursue loftier aspirations, transcending limitations to achieve personal fulfillment.

Kun’s Transformation into Pang

Fascinated by this tale, I crafted a mural portraying the transformation of Kun into Pang, symbolizing the poem’s deeper message. Initially, I thought the story had concluded, only to realize that Pang’s journey was just the beginning of a profound narrative. While I may not fully grasp its depth yet, I am committed to delving deeper into its meaning.

Zhuangzi underscores the importance of humility amidst success, cautioning against the pitfalls of self- importance. As we ascend the ladder of achievement, Zhuangzi urges us to shun self-interest and the pursuit of personal gain, fostering harmony with nature and appreciating the beauty of our journey.

Referencing the sage Song Rongzi, Zhuangzi highlights the futility of external validation, emphasizing the need to transcend reputation and pursue a carefree existence. Through the analogy of an immortal being, Zhuangzi illustrates the ephemeral nature of success when plagued by attachment to outcomes.

The Concept of Wù dài 无 待

Zhuangzi emphasizes the importance of remaining grounded in success. He advocates for the concept of Wù dài ( 无 待 -non-clinging), urging us to detach from external validation and self-importance. This mindset allows us to focus on meaningful goals and achieve inner freedom.
Building upon Laozi’s principles of letting go (Fú shì- 弗 恃 & Bù shì- 不 恃 : Passages 2 and 10 of Tao Te Ching, respectively), Zhuangzi’s Wù dài emphasizes non-attachment and a humble approach to align our motivation with the righteous path. By relinquishing the pursuit of external validation, we pave the way for genuine accomplishment.

An illustrative demonstration of these principles can be found in the leadership style of wise mentors, who prioritize nurturing others’ growth over personal acclaim. Through selfless actions, these mentors exemplify the virtues of humility and non-attachment, leaving a lasting impact beyond their individual achievements.

A philosophy that cultivates a profound and purposeful life

Through the courageous journey of Kun and Pang, we’re reminded to transcend self-importance and embrace a carefree existence, aligning our intentions and attitudes with the path of righteousness. By cultivating humility and non-attachment, we attain genuine contentment, living in harmony with nature and savoring the beauty of our journey. The foundational principles of “Carefree Living” now radiate with unmistakable clarity. Both Zhuangzi and Laozi champion a philosophy that cultivates a profound and purposeful life, encouraging us to set lofty aspirations. Laozi emphasizes that the gravest sin lies in yielding to desires, the direst calamity in failing to find contentment, and the utmost transgression in being insatiable (Tao Te-Ching Passage 46). Through the action plans of Bù shì and Fú shì, we shield ourselves from the harmful effects of self-serving interests and excessive attachments to specific outcomes, fame, rewards and praises. These actions foster an iterative process that not only propels us toward greatness but also guides us away from hubris, vanity, and reliance on external validation.

Carefree Living, a beacon of enlightenment

Instead of fixating solely on the end goal and outcome, we embrace a process-oriented approach, allowing us to fully savor and cherish our journey. Ultimately, “Carefree Living” emerges as a beacon of enlightenment, guiding us towards a state of genuine fulfillment and inner freedom, Xiāo yáo (逍遥). As we align our intentions with Zhuangzi’s teachings, we unlock the transformative power of Wù dài, leading us to a life of purpose and authenticity. While my understanding of Zhuangzi’s ‘Carefree Living’ has significantly deepened, my painting remains unchanged. Yet, the magnificent Pang in my mural resonates differently within me now. Though still vibrant with the power of thunder, she no longer exudes pride. Instead, she carries herself with the quiet grace of a dove. Gone is the smug expression, replaced by a thoughtful gaze that reflects introspection. Her focus has shifted from self-aggrandizement to a deeper understanding and appreciation of others’ perspectives. Her declarations, once boastful, have softened into measured and respectful communication. Through this transformation in the portrayal of the bird, I find myself undergoing a metamorphosis as well. Aligning with my core values enables me to delineate my purpose and cultivate the focus and determination necessary to pursue genuinely meaningful objectives, all while remaining grounded in humility.
Herbert Chow (周文斌) Residing in San Diego with roots in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Herbert bridges the gap between science and art. By day, he works as a biotech professional, but his true passion lies in vibrant acrylic paintings and introspective writings. Herbert’s artwork, which includes landscapes, seascapes, and soaring birds, captures the essence of nature’s tranquility and power.
Inspired by the wisdom of Zhuangzi and Laozi, he delves into themes often overlooked in our fast-paced world: self-reflection, interconnections, and the true essence of life. Through his art and writing, Herbert invites viewers on a journey of mindfulness, offering a deeper understanding of life’s complexities and a path toward a more fulfilling existence.

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