Having finished the Daodejing section of my introductory course, one of my students said to me, “The Daoist sage doesn’t sound very friendly.” That caught me by surprise because I had always based my images of Daoist sages on the colorful — and it seems to me, friendly — figures in the Zhuangzi, including the image of Zhuangzi and Huizi having clever and fun conversations with each other. But I realized that my student was responding to the account in the Daodejing and that she was onto something.
The sage there is alternately austere, reclusive, silent, and in some ways “up to something” — he is trying to set the world right, albeit through unconventional means. Take, for example, Daodejing 5, where sages follow Heaven and hence, 聖人不仁 “Sages are not humane.” If we take 仁 ren in its full meaning of “having affection for others as human,” it seems clear that sages are not friendly, much less humane. Is there something here, or am I being mislead by some sort of genre difference between the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi?