“Viewing Huizi’s skills against the Dao of Heaven and Earth, they look like the busy labors of a mosquito or fly.” (p 125)

Perhaps Huizi had insight enough to realize that that was pretty much the best that anyone could do. Aren’t the labors of a mosquito and a human being in some sense the same in any case? Getting a sense of how this is “so” is as much an invitation to universal affirmation and celebration as it is to nihilism. Ego- and species-centrism, to the extent that they cannot transcend themselves, can only take this as negation and nihilism. Yet if there is pleasure in self-affirmation, how much more so might there be in a universal, cosmo-affirmation?

“What use are they [his skills] to other creatures? That [uselessness] would still have been perfectly acceptable, if only he pushed all the way to its conclusion his idea of Oneness, which is to say, if he had valued the Dao a bit more. He was so close!”

After we have understood that sense in which Huizi’s “failures” were themselves absolutely “perfectly acceptable”, we can move on to consider how he could have done “better”.

Zhuangzi would have basically agreed with this assessment, I think. This was his own exhortation to Huizi—follow through, take the next step, take the leap out of your rationalism and into the positive élan of your life-experience.

The Tianxia shares the “paradox” wherein Huizi seems to be on the cusp of this very thing: “Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body.” (p 124) This could indeed be the psychological movement that is Dao—but that movement must be a mystical experience, not simply a cognitive one.

Why “love all things without exception”? Why not rather hate them all? Or be indifferent to them all? Because the experience is “love”—joyous affirmation; and this Huizi apparently experienced, however briefly. Reason can’t justify love; life loves. “He was so close!”

Love for all things, just as love for any other, is an extension of self-love. Where is the negation in that? Morphing Zhuangzi’s joining of life and death, we can say: Because loving myself is good, so also is loving all things good. So also is loving the Totality of what contains all things.

Zhuangzi purposely echoes Huizi when he exclaims: “Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one!” (2:32) Only he seems to have prolonged the experience in having taken the leap and having gone all-in in his commitment to pan-affirmation.

Reason and mystical experience—can we “unite them to form a oneness”? Can we allow them to stand together both fully affirmed and both fully informed by the other? This, it seems to me, is precisely what’s going on when Zhuangzi (and Huizi to some extent) makes his reasoned case for mysticism, takes the plunge, and then returns to tells us all about it.

The key phrase here is “stand together”; and allowing them to do so is “walking two roads”.


Huizi’s writings “filled five carts”. That’s a lot of blabber—I’ll never catch up.

“Viewing Huizi’s skills against the Dao of Heaven and Earth, they look like the busy labors of a mosquito or fly. What use are they to other creatures?”

We might rather ask, What use were they to Huizi? Why this presumption that they must be useful to others? And why would they need to be of any use at all? Could we say that they can be viewed as useful in both their usefulness and uselessness? Could we dispense with this utilitarian point of view altogether? If, so, how so? If not, why not? Go deep enough and you’ll discover a Daoist sensibility here. It’s all about you.

Putting Huizi’s actual intentions aside for the moment, since I see writing as a kind of “spiritual” practice, its value is primarily personal. Any benefit to others is purely incidental. Otherwise, I would be proselytizing, would I not? And that is a most un-Daoist activity. Admittedly, it helps to imagine that someone reads and enjoys this. And of course, as between daos, there are “no sealed borders” between our various possible intentions. Like right and wrong, it’s all “hopelessly tangled up”.

But what did Huizi get from his labors? How could we know? Given human nature, however, it is likely that he got the ephemeral satisfaction of thinking himself “someone”, as the Tianxia repeatedly suggests. And given that that is what everyone else on the planet is also doing (with the possible exception of that sage who subsists on wind and dew) it’s hard to fault him overmuch.

But to answer the author’s question, we can think of several occasions when his labors were useful to others. They were most useful to Zhuangzi, as we have seen. They were useful to the author, because they gave him someone to criticize and thus to have a definitive other by which to establish his own “someone”. And they are useful to me, since I get to write about him, and do the same. So, it turns out that Huizi’s five carts of blabber—even though all lost—were and continue to be most useful indeed.

It is ironic that Huizi’s most persistent criticism of Zhuangzi was that his ideas were “big but useless”. Presumably, he thought his own ideas useful, though we don’t know in what way he thought so. Deconstruction is indeed useful, but conventional wisdom would only say so when there is also reconstruction, something that Huizi apparently did not bother to do.

For his part, Zhuangzi would understand that deconstruction was itself already reconstruction, and vice versa. (2:21)


“Covering over what is in people’s hearts with their embellishments and altering their ideas, able to defeat their mouths, but not convince their hearts—this is the trap in which all such debaters get stuck.” (p 125)

More than once the author of the Tianxia comes across as a populist, an advocate for the common person and for common sense. Commenting on Mozi’s asceticism, he writes: “The people of the world cannot endure such a thorough rejection of what is in their own hearts.” (p 120) Of Shen Dao he concludes: “In the end he was regarded as merely an eccentric.” (p 122) And now here the Logicians are similarly found lacking because people don’t wish to question their common sense distinctions.

From a Daoist point of view this is in fact a thorny issue. Daoism turns the “natural human inclinations” (our unmediated emotions, our belief in the fixed sanctity of conventions, our bondage to reason, and our sense of an absolute right and wrong) completely on their heads. It tells us we have got it all wrong.

Yet Zhuangzian “Daoism” also suggests that the way that people are is perfectly alright, just as they are. We affirm this incredible mess called humanity just as we do the wonder of nature, irrespective of its ceaseless death and decay and self-devouring necessity, “red in tooth and claw”. (How do we do this latter? However we do it, it is little different than how Zhuangzi would have us do the same with humanity.)

And yet, he also tells us that people generally live in self-imposed bondage, and consequentially suffer needlessly. How do we reconcile these two apparently self-contradictory beliefs? Once again, the concept of walking two roads answers, though this too cuts against the grain of common sense.

This also answers the apparent contradiction in a call for spontaneity in living and the criticism of living our “natural inclinations”. These are still lived, only they are lived enlightenedly. Anger becomes an anger that is also a non-anger; happiness is also a non-happiness; wrong is also “right”. Our natural inclinations cease to be coupled to their opposites. A happiness that depends on no circumstance is no longer coupled to its former opposite, sadness. Nor is our sadness coupled to happiness.

Daoism is by no means unique in its assertion of near universal human bondage. Every religion does the same. In the judgment of humanity, humanity clearly requires some remedial intervention. The real questions then are to what degree that change is necessary (are eternal outcomes at stake?) and how we propose to effect that change. The first answer determines the second. And this is yet another great parting of ways.

Zhuangzi’s dao was for Zhuangzi alone. Whether we wish to incorporate that dao into our own personal dao, is purely a question of preference. Because no cosmic or personal redemption is imagined, no proselytizing is required.


The Logicians were so completely lacking in knowledge of the Dao that the Tianxia dispenses with the usual preamble regarding what aspect they at least “heard of”. Instead, it immediately launches into a scathing personal attack on Huizi and his dao. Some mention is also made of two other “debaters”, Gongsun Long and Huan Tuan, and some of the former’s additions to Huizi’s “uneven” and “mottled” words are listed, but Huizi is mostly taken as representative of them all.

Their many “paradoxes”—nonsense to the Tianxia—seem to have been intended to demonstrate that our discriminations regarding time, space and comparatives generally (bigger, longer, etc.) do not in fact represent reality as it is. Pre-cognitive reality is distinctionless.

Assuming that such is the case, how does this observation affect our being in the world? Life goes on much as before. Why should we wish it to be otherwise? Was Zhuangzi a missionary? Did he know the truth and wish to convert the world? I think not. A physician is for those who find themselves ill, and Zhuangzi, I think, simply offers a remedy for those who feel the need. And chief among these were Zhuangzi’s philosophically inclined peers.

Huizi is mostly roasted for his egoism: “Hui Shi used these statements to make a display in the world, showing them off in debate . . .” “[He] thought his eloquence was the most valuable thing in the world . . .” “Since it was really all about opposing the views of others, so that he might earn fame in defeating them, he was unable to get along with the mass of men.” (pp 124-5)

We really have no way of knowing if this was the case, but clearly, the Tianxia has a special loathing for him and his fellow Logicians. Huang-Lao, despite its desire to make a grand synthesis of the philosophical schools of its time, had no place for ideas that undermined their fundamental belief in an articulable Dao. It is, in the end, religiously-minded. By this token, they should have also rejected Laozi and Zhuangzi, but they somehow were able to subvert them to their purposes.


Huizi (380–305 BCE) and Gongsun Long (ca. 325–250 BCE) were part of a philosophical trend latter called the School of Names. Other descriptive names for them are the Logicians, Dialecticians, and Sophists. All of these address some aspect of their approach. They used reason to demonstrate that reason is “peculiarly unfixed” (it has no sure foundation), does not correspond  to the non-differentiation that lies beyond words, and fails to get at the root of anything. They were skillful at philosophical debate. And, since they believed they had proven that there is really no fixed truth, they were willing to argue for any truth that met their fancy. They had the makings of good lawyers.

I must admit that my eyes quickly cross when trying to understand the School of Names, but it can in fact go a very long way in helping us understand most all classical Chinese philosophy. This is the thesis of Chad Hansen’s A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought. He would also have Zhuangzi belong to this school and dismisses the idea that he was a mystic. Zhuangzi did indeed make use of these methods and conclusions, only I argue that they led him to a kind of mysticism, rather than away from it.

Hansen rejects a Zhuangzian mysticism within the traditional definition of mysticism—that some Truth, propositional or otherwise, is discovered. I would suggest that his mysticism as a release into not-knowing was empty of all such content and that this also entailed a release into the life-experience itself. The deconstruction of language led him out of rationalism and into an all-in acceptance of the human experience.

The question pondered by the School of Names is whether words actually correspond to reality (realism) or not (nominalism). Since words are the very stuff of all our reasoning and thought processes generally, this matters.

Confucius and his followers required a realistic position—fixed truth is necessary. Thus he encouraged the “rectification of names”—making sure they correspond to reality. “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. . . What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” (Analects XIII, v 3,7; Legge)

The Laozi (and Daoism generally) takes the opposite view: “A dao that is spoken is not a Sustainable Dao; names that are named are not sustainable names.” (1)

Every philosopher between these two had to favor one side or the other. Can we know and rely upon (depend on) a fixed (sustainable) Dao, or not?

Zhuangzi position was nominalist. “You take it [human speech] as different than the chirping of baby birds. But is there really any difference between them?” (2:15) “Now, daos have never had any sealed borders, and words have never had any constant sustainability.” (2:34)


I previously alluded to Zhuangzi’s indebtedness to Huizi for his discursive method. This form of logical argument attempted to undermined the realist position with regard to “names”—words. The Later Mohists made much of logical argument to demonstrate the validity of their claims, and this required that words actually correspond to reality. Huizi took them to task. His ten known paradoxes, all found in the Tianxia, were intended to show that names make distinctions that don’t actually exist in the world. “Hui Shi argues that distinctions are not in the world.” (Hansen; A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, p 262)

Much of Zhuangzi’s argument in the second chapter, “Equalizing Assessments of Things”, builds on this observation. All distinctions are shown to be ultimately transcendable; they can all be united to form a oneness.

But whereas Huizi stopped at demonstrating the limitations of reason, Zhuangzi suggested that we then go where reason cannot go. He suggested we take a leap. But unlike Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” that has a propositional truth as its object (Jesus is God) Zhuangzi’s leap is into life itself. This is what it means to “add nothing to the process of life” and not “take one’s mind as one’s teacher”. Raw, unmediated life is our most fundamental teacher. It does not simply teach us about life, but invites us to live it in a way that is in harmony with its fundamental self-affirmation.

This is not irrational, but most rational. Nor is it rationalism, for though it completely affirms reason within its limits, it also acknowledges and embraces an experience—life—that reason cannot explain.

What does it mean to leap into life? It means to say, Yes, (thank you). Life is affirmation—an affirmation that requires no “reason” to self-affirm. Thus when Zhuangzi says, “Because my life is good, so also is my death good” this is not primarily a reasoned conclusion. It is an expression of the pre-cognitive self-affirmation of life.

Because we live in our minds and do take reason as our teacher, the deconstruction of language can become the springboard into a more organic, mystical experience of life. But this latter is not the negation of the former. Think on! This Zhuangzi did when he wrote the Inner Chapters.

Similarly, we can embrace Huizi as Zhuangzi’s springboard into his own philosophy.


How could we reject Huizi when without him there would be no Zhuangzian philosophy as we have it? It was in their opposition that their philosophies grew. This is especially the case with Zhuangzi, whose debt to Huizi was substantial, both as having provided a worthy foil and as contributing the discursive tools by which Zhuangzi proceeds.

Ziporyn makes the point that the Inner Chapters themselves can be seen as a direct and personal response to Huizi. (p xv, note 8) I can do no better than quote him:

“He [Huizi] appears explicitly at 1:14, 1:15, 2:28, and 5:23, but implicit references and critiques of his thought are found much more frequently. Indeed, the rhetorical framing of Zhuangzi’s first chapter . . . might suggest the hypothesis that the Inner Chapters were written . . . precisely as a response to Huizi, perhaps intended for the latter’s eyes particularly, almost as a private joke.”

Thank you Huizi!

C. Graham has even suggested that Zhuangzi might have once been a disciple of Huizi. That may be going a bit too far—he would also have him have been a disciple of Yang Chu, the arch-“egoist”. But, again, the point is that there’s much of Huizi in Zhuangzi. [To my thinking, Graham, despite his unquestionable scholarship, often over-indulged in flights of speculative supposition.]

The point then is that we are all dependent upon the thoughts of others, whether we agree with them or not—especially if we do not agree with them, because then we are linked together as opposites. In the case of Zhuangzi and Huizi, Zhuangzi would likely have us unite them to form a oneness and see where that leads us.

Where does it lead us? To the confluence of all daos. But then we feel our cherished Zhuangzi slipping away. We must let him go—toss aside the fish-trap, and experience the message.


If you’re still with me after the extremes of the last post, let’s further explore how we can take the rejection of Huizi by the Tianxia as an occasion for enfolding him into a broader acceptance.

The point of the last post was that he is a human being just like us, and if we can take a somewhat more transcendent view of humanity generally, we can see a sense in which we are all the same and equal. This does not eliminate our differences, but only gives us a different perspective on their significance.

Practically speaking, this provides a new tool in our kit by which we might improve the human condition generally and that of some individuals in particular, including ourselves. Informed of our equal participation in one humanity, we understand that ultimately it is humanity itself that needs transforming, and that the individuals within it are representative of humanity as it is. This might influence how we approach the behaviors of individuals we deem harmful to our larger good. In sum, we would not demonize anyone, since to do so would be to demonize us all.

Consider taking a further step: Regard humanity for a moment as you would an ant hill—that’s an even more transcendent perspective. That can give you a sense of being more-than-just-human—part of something larger, something inexplicable. Now do your human thing informed of that experience—that’s an enlightened engagement.

Thus far we have considered how to achieve a oneness of behaviors, but the Tianxia’s rejection of Huizi is based more on doctrinal grounds—his dao was utterly false. It is curious how the author’s True Dao is represented as “all-embracing and non-partisan” and yet it fails to embrace Huizi. This is to be expected, of course; when there is Truth there must also be Falsehood. Truth cannot avoid partisanship.

Zhuangzi’s Dao is the confluence of all daos, and thus no dao can be excluded from it. Psychological Dao is thus this very act of uniting to form a oneness. The perpetual transformation of all things requires that the realization of this Dao itself be a continual process. Thus did Zhuangzi “respond to every transformation”.

“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’.” (2:24) The rights and wrongs, the various daos, though they are all wrong in their negation of each other can all be affirmed from within the perspective of Dao as confluence.

The larger context of this passage is Zhuangzi’s criticism of other daos that do negate each other. Is he thus also caught in a contradiction just as was the author of the Tianxia? Is he also partisan? Not if he understands his dao as just another dao, albeit one that advocates a perpetual process of enfolding into a oneness. This dao also flows into the confluence that is Dao.


The Tianxia saves Huizi and the other Logicians for last. It has absolutely nothing positive to say of them. For this reason, we are inspired from the Zhuangzian point of view to see how we can completely affirm and enfold them so as to realize a oneness. This has absolutely nothing to do with what they taught or how they behaved; that’s another issue altogether; though our very opposition to those things is precisely the catalyst that occasions this movement of uniting. Nor does such a uniting eliminate that original opposition.

Can we similarly affirm and enfold that putative devil amongst us, Adolf Hitler? If we cannot, then we cannot truly do it with anything or anyone else. This oneness is either universal or it is a sham.

“Seen from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one.” How was Adolf the same as us? He was a human being. You and I belong to the same class as Adolf. This is humanity. Humanity is not an ideal; humanity is what humans are and do. We do not have the privilege of excising Adolf or anyone else from the category of human.

You and I thus participate in Hitler-ness. He is in us all. There’s benefit in realizing this painful reality—this oneness.

Never again! Really? There is something to be learned from the fact that this understandable cry, when taken as a “sworn oath”, can lead to a willingness to inflict tremendous suffering on others in the pursuit of that end.

Adolf was right—in his own mind. He didn’t do evil because he wanted to do evil—he wanted to do the right thing—for his tribe.

Go ask the chickens, pigs, and cows if we humans are not Hitlerian. Go to the slaughter houses and industrial “food” factories. Ah, but they are not human, not of our tribe. And anyway, I’m a vegan. Can that absolve you?

But let’s get some relief and unite Adolf and ourselves in still broader onenesses. We, the chickens, pigs and cows are all beings. We are part of the same Mess. We are one. I might therefore want for all beings what I want for myself.

And then there is the Oneness that opens us out into . . .  Openness. We cannot contain it, cannot think it; we can only be affected by it. And here, the self-affirmation that I feel as a matter of course extends out into this Totality and I sense that all is well in this Great Mess.

And now let’s return and tackle the wrongness in all these rightnesses.


“Although his writings are a string of strange and rare gems, their intertwining twistings will do one no harm. Even though his words are uneven, their very strangeness and monstrosity is worthy of contemplation.” (p 123)

A. C. Graham (Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters; p 283) sees these observations as an attempt to bring Zhuangzi into the fold of Huang-Lao religious-philosophy. Yes, he is a bit of an eccentric uncle, but still he is family. There’s some good stuff in his writings, only we needn’t take him too seriously. Adopting this attitude, he can “do no harm”.

The importance of the School of Huang-Lao has only come to be understood relatively recently, with the discovery in 1973 of texts in a tomb sealed in the 2nd Century BCE. The school itself seems to have roots deep into the Warring States Period. The Tianxia is seen as expressing Huang-Lao sentiments, which accounts for its syncretic agenda. Huang-Lao was an attempt to bring the best of the five main schools of thought (Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, Daoism, Naturalism) together in a grand synthesis. Needless to say, and as we clearly see here, this required negating much of importance to each of those philosophies (with the possible exception of Confucianism).

What was thereby lost in this co-option of Zhuangzi? The most important thing of all—that there is no single articulable Dao—no definitive guidance from Above. The author’s “Ancient Art of the Dao” is a religious fantasy.

Huang-Lao is also seen as the beginning of religious Daoism. There may be some truth in this, but it is also clear that philosophies of Daoist sentiment that predated Zhuangzi already evince a thorough religious-mindedness. The Neiye (Inner Training) chapter of the Guanzi is such a document.

The reader will know that I make much of the difference between not-knowing and religious-mindedness. This is because Zhuangzi’s dao begins in and never departs from our fundamental cluelessness. The alternative, belief, is a flight from our actual experience. He suggests trust as a more authentic response. The difference between them is that belief has an objective focus (truth, fully realized [immortalized] sages, the existence and spiritual efficacy of qi, an explicable Dao), while trust is an affirming release into the givens of our experience.

Nothing is “added to the process of life”.