Philosophies of nature, most pointedly Taoism, describe large universal cycles as the â€œGreat Transformation.â€
The multiple transformations we describe, observe,and experience are grand planetary cycles but also the small circumscribed cycles of earth, water, elements, and living beings. Our identification of and with these cycles represent tzu-jan or â€œself-so,â€ meaning that which transpires naturally, of itself, without arrogant imposition or call for subjective interpretation. Adopting a philosophy of life that accords with tzu-jan is to embrace tranquility, simplicity, and wisdom.
Embracing tzu-jan in every sphere of life â€” especially in the heart of the mundane, in occupation, dwelling-place, routines, or the writing of poetry and submersion in spiritual mindset â€” minimizes mental struggle. We adopt a body of wisdom from a high source of wisdom without ever suppressing our own caution or sense of observation. We do not need to understand, interpret, or justify what is given by nature. We do not need to justify a contrived philosophy of life based on a human-made authority or projection.
Indeed, we do not even need to understand the fullness of tzu-jan as simplicity or its life-style as â€œidleness,â€ as the ancient Chinese poet Tao Chienâ€™s modern editor David Hinton notes. This idleness, he notes, is â€œprofound serenity and quietness,â€ not the artificial busyness embraced as productive and vital by the world.
The Chinese pictographs representing hsien or â€œidlenessâ€ are two: a tree standing alone in a courtyard or moonlight through an open door. Tzu-jan is the revelling in nature, the meditative view that became what Hinton calls â€œthe essence of spiritual practiceâ€ adopted by Zen.
Tzu-jan was not popular among the system-builders in the East, and in the West would only influence a few figures, romantic and nature-oriented. Tzu-jan in the Taoit and Zen traditions is worth comparing is Yoshida Kenkoâ€™s 14th-century Essays in Idleness, where, however, the Great Transformation takes a great subjective turn.
In the Western world is found Henry David Thoreauâ€™s limited adventures in solitude beside Walden Pond, the latter viewed as natureâ€™s crystallization of the subtle transformation. Thoreau is a novice introducing Eastern works like the Bhagavad-Gita, and a mature notion of tzu-jan is not to be expected here. But his recommendations about solitude, nature, and the pace of life are nevertheless instructive. In contrast, misunderstanding the notion of â€œidleness,â€ is the Western worldâ€™s inevitable bungling of the concept in the exhausted decadence of Marcel Proust.