WALKING TWO ROADS I

There is hardly a post in which I do not mention “walking two roads” or feel I could do so. It so neatly conveys the paradoxical relationship between the “heavenly” and the human that obtains whenever we imagine humanity outside its immediate anthropocentric context. It enables us to be informed by a “higher” point of view without negating the more parochial human point of view. By it we can care without caring, hope without hoping, grieve without grieving, fear without fearing, and nourish life without fearing its loss.

Zhuangzi actually uses the term only once, and then somewhat differently, and in a more complicated sense. I have, therefore, adopted it more broadly to describe what is nevertheless an important part of his overall vision.

In the story called Three in the Morning (2:23-4) a monkey trainer tells his monkeys that he’ll be giving them three nuts in the morning and four in the afternoon. The monkeys are outraged. Okay, says the trainer, I’ll give you four in the morning and three in the afternoon. The monkeys are delighted.

Several conclusions are drawn from this simple story. The first is that, “This change in description and arrangement caused no loss . . .” In the vastest arrangement, where all things are equalized, just as 3+4 is the same as 4+3, so also are all things.

But more germane to our current topic is the observation: “Thus, the sage uses various rights and wrongs to harmonize with others and yet remains at rest in the middle of Heaven the Potter’s Wheel. This is called ‘Walking Two Roads.’”

There is the human world of rights and wrongs and there is the higher perspective that understands their relative nature and ultimate dis-valuation; they too can be united to form a oneness.

The sage can live in, appreciate and make use of both points of view simultaneously.

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