RE-SEEING THE WORLD VII

This argument turns on an appreciation of the subjective, perspectival nature of all knowing and discriminating. “This” is a perspective that of necessity chooses one point of view to the exclusion of others. But every “this” is also everyone else’s “that”, and that is their “this” (perspective). How we deem things, whether right or wrong, beneficial or harmful, is determined by our perspective. This is most easily appreciated when seen in inter-species differences of perspective:

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“When human beings sleep in the cold and damp they wake up in pain—but is this also true of eels? When human beings climb trees, they tremble with fear—but is this also true of monkeys? Which of these three knows the best place to be? . . . . Male monkeys like female monkeys, bucks mate with does, male fish play with female fish, and humans think certain women are great beauties—yet when fish see them they take to the depths, when birds see them they take to the skies, and when deer see them they take to the woods. Which of these four knows what it truly beautiful? From my perspective, all definitions of humaneness and correctness, and of right and wrong, are all hopelessly tangled and confused. How could I figure out which is the ‘best’ one among them” (2:49)?

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Eels like it cold and clammy; humans like it warm and cozy. We wouldn’t suggest that eels have got it wrong, while humans have got it right. There is no one “right” dao among these infinite daos. This is easily appreciated, though still it challenges us to broaden its implications. Can we say the same of the different daos which humans follow? This is more difficult to envision. We might start by understanding how it is true in our individual experience, how over the passage of time we change our perspectives and yet unite them in the experience of a single “me”.

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“When Lady Yi was first captured and brought to Qin she wept copiously, but after some time sharing the king’s bed and eating fine foods she wondered that she had wept at all” (2:55).

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“Zhuangzi said to Huizi, ‘Confucius went along for sixty years and transformed sixty times. What he first considered right he later considered wrong. He could never know whether what he presently considered right was not fifty-nine times wrong’” (27; Ziporyn, p 115).

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