The purpose of the story of the trainer and his monkeys, Zhuangzi tells us, is to illustrate the folly of trying to prove the oneness of things. “But to labor your spirit trying to make all things one, without realizing they are all the same [whether you do so or not], is called “Three in the Morning.’” (Ziporyn; 2:23)

This is most likely a reference to Zhuangzi’s sparring buddy Huizi who did precisely this. As a conclusion to his many paradoxes was the pronouncement: “Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body.” (33; Ziporyn, p 124) Zhuangzi obviously does not disagree with the sentiment, but only with the means of realizing it. Indeed, he exclaims the same sense after his own series of paradoxes: “Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one.” (Ziporyn 2:32)

Some scholars take this to be an ironic dig at Huizi, that it does not actually express Zhuangzi’s opinion. I disagree. The difference between the two is that for Huizi it was a logical conclusion and for Zhuangzi it was an ecstatic experience. If we apply his story of the monkeys here, we see that he does not disagree with the conclusion per se, but only that it never leaves the realm of reason. Huizi always and only took his mind as his teacher.

Huizi is likened to the monkeys, worrying himself about immediate differences without intuitively (phenomenally) realizing that there is no need to do so. Zhuangzi, of course, is the monkey trainer, at least in his imagined scenario. He experiences the oneness of things such that he can walk two roads at once—he can flexibly follow along with every parochial expression while never clinging to any one, including his own.

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