UNDER HEAVEN LXXIV

“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”.

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