Looking at things from the point of view of their sameness is a relatively easy way to imagine the oneness of things. Zhuangzi’s argument for “uniting opposites to form a oneness” is more complicated. This, in part, is because it is a step in a larger argument deconstructing the use of reason as a means to understanding ourselves in the world context.

Zhuangzi makes use of the terminology and techniques of the Mohists and Logicians to push their arguments beyond what they themselves had in mind. The former used logical argument to demonstrate what was “admissible” and what was not. This would lead to an understanding of how best to fulfill the first principle of their political strategy: love (care for) all things equally. There’s some suggestion of Dao here, only its expression is not Dao in that it remains only conceptual and is actively applied. Love, in this instance, became tyrannical.

The Logicians used logic to demonstrate its internal contradictions through the use of the paradoxes that our discriminations about time, space and size naturally suggest. (“The south is both bounded and boundless, so you can go to Yue today and arrive yesterday.” (33; Ziporyn; p 124)) This led Huizi to exhort: “Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body.” (33; p 124) The breakdown of our ability to logically divide up the world, led him to a declaration of its unity.

For Zhuangzi, both made a good start, but failed to go far enough—they never left the realm of reason, “the understanding consciousness”, but rather continued to “take their minds as their teacher”. What’s the alternative? A mystical re-integration with the life-experience.

It’s curious how all three arrived at essentially the same conclusion. After a series of his own paradoxes, Zhuangzi declares: “Heaven and earth were born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one.” (2:23) The difference is that for Zhuangzi this is an ecstatic experience while for the other two it remained an intellectual concept, something to apply to the world rather than something to be.

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