UNDER HEAVEN XIII

“Unbound by conventions, unadorned by possessions, undemanding of others, not hostile to the mob, purifying the mind with the aspiration that all in the world enjoy peace and security, not stopping until both oneself and others have enough to nourish themselves with”—these were some aspects of the ancient Art of the Dao that Song Xing and Yi Wen attempted to embody.

Nothing is known of Yi Wen beyond what is offered in the Tianxia, and little more is known of Song Xing. Zhuangzi makes use of him as an example of someone who had insight into the value of not depending on the opinions of others for one’s own self-esteem, though he failed to realize the value of not depending on even that. (1:7)

He is generally identified as mostly sympathetic with Mohism, and we can see clear similarities in the description of his aspirations above and those previously attributed to Mozi. There are, however, significant differences between them, and Song established his own “school”, as seen in his adoption of a special funny hat: “They wore caps in the shape of Mt Hua . . .” (p 121) Chad Hansen sees him as a bridge between Mohism and early Daoism (A Daoist Interpretation of Chinese Thought; p 332).

This can be seen in significant parallels between his thought and that of Zhuangzi, in particular his use of the metaphor of “separating pens” (pie yu) (A C Graham, Disputers of the Tao, p 96) to suggest our chronic habit of being bound to one particular point of view. This is the cause of much of our conflict with others, and has its worst expression as an impetus to war.

If we can understand how our mental processes necessarily divide up the world and separate us from the perspectives of others, we will be able to practice greater tolerance. We all dwell in our own self-imposed separating pens; and though we cannot escape them, we can at least attain another, higher point of view from which we can see them as the same and equal to all other similar pens. Imagine viewing a pig farm from above. Yes, my sty may be cleaner than some, but it is a sty nonetheless.

This, of course, is precisely the point of Zhuangzi’s perspectival relativism, though he suggests a mystical leap that takes it beyond mere intellectual ascent. Seeing that sense in which all opinions are the same, the sage “goes by the ‘rightness’” of the one presently before her. She lets oneness inform her not-oneness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *