THE HAPPINESS OF FISH VII

Scott:  So I can wander in a dao like yours or I can wander in a dao like Huizi’s—and it doesn’t matter which one?

Zz:  On the level of wandering it doesn’t matter. Wandering, as you so astutely observed, is dependence on nothing. So it doesn’t matter what one wanders in.

Scott:  But how does one learn to wander if not through a specific dao? Can one wander if one has a fixed-self? Doesn’t one have to follow a dao that moves one beyond a fixed-self?

Zz:  If you can’t wander in the having a fixed-self then you can’t wander in having no-fixed-self. Wandering is not arriving at some state of being but transcending every state of being by making use of whatever state you find yourself in.

Scott:  It’s like the well-frog—liberated just where and as he is.

Zz:  Exactly. The well-frog might be able to fully realize his oneness with all things and thus be released from his need for comparative valuation—his need to be “better” than the tiny crabs and tadpoles of his tiny world, but he can still wander in his failure to do so.

Huizi:  It’s the seriousness that’s the problem. I began to wander in my own dao when I stopped taking it and myself so seriously.

Zz:  When one laughs at oneself one gets an inkling of what it is to wander.

Scott:  So the project of self-cultivation can actually hinder our ability to wander.

Zz:  Of course it can! But it doesn’t have to. Everything can hinder our wandering—and yet everything can also provide the opportunity to wander. We’re back on walking two roads—you can pursue the experience of the oneness of things while wandering in your failure to do so.

Scott: Release yourself to play—nothing more. That’s what I hear you saying.

Zz:  Yep. And when you do that you discover that there are a myriad of games to play—all of them fun.

THE HAPPINESS OF FISH VI

Scott:  There are some that say Zhuangzi was (is?) a logician. He just made a different use of what the deconstruction of language uncovered.

Huizi:  He is (was? ha, ha)—but he abandoned reason in the end.

Zhuangzi:  I am/was a logician who understood that the reasoning mind is only one small part of the human experience. We are organically connected to a vastness that the mind cannot begin to fathom. But we have so completely objectified ourselves, committed ourselves to being a “me”, that we have allowed reason, the great objectifier, to usurp the entirety of our interface with the world.

Scott:  That’s a curious twist—because we have objectified ourselves, taken ourselves as “full and real”, we take reason and language, which only work by way of the objectification of things, as the only way of knowing the world.

Huizi:  Yet reason and language can be shown to have no sure grounding. And thus we discover that that which we thought could establish our objectified selves instead leaves us groundless—adangle, as you say.

Zz:  To experientially get a sense of the oneness of things something of our own sense of being a fixed-self has to dissolve. That was the experience of Ziqi when he lost his “me” and experienced the oneness of the forest.

Huizi:  But you made that up! So you can’t offer it as proof of your assertion.

Zz:  If I told you I had experienced it, would that suffice as proof of my assertion?

Huizi:  I am not you, so how could I know the validity of your experience? And besides, the world is full of people making all manner of such weird and contradictory claims.

Scott:  Zhuangzi, are you saying that you did experience the loss of your “me”?

Zz: Absolutely not! But neither am I saying that I did not. To say that I did experience it is to offer it to you as an objectified fact—something to believe in. And that, I seem to remember, is your great stumbling block. You still need something to believe in.

Scott:  I see it, but I just can’t see any way out of the box. I mean, you’re suggesting a certain dao which is outside my experience, and the only way that I can try to experience it is to believe that it’s possible.

Zz:  Believing that it is possible and believing that it may be possible are two very different things. Can you pursue it for the sake of pursuit and not for the sake of an outcome?

Huizi:  Look. As an honorary dead guy you should be able to see how all these life-projects—mine, Zhuang’s and yours—are all the same. They all amount to the same thing—entertaining ourselves as we stumble our way through life. In the end, we all end up in the same place in any case.

Scott:  So, choosing to pursue the experience of no-fixed-self and the subsequent experience of the oneness of things is a bit like deciding to eat Chinese rather than Mexican.

Zz:  Exactly! You don’t have to believe that Chinese food is superior to Mexican food to choose the one over the other. Today Chinese, tomorrow Mexican. Now an ox, now a horse. Set yourself to wandering.

THE HAPPINESS OF FISH V

Huizi:  Okay, I’m ready for the how of your knowing of it.

Zhuangzi: Well, it seems clear that the most fundamental difference between “our” concepts of knowing in this instance is that you wish to know through reason and I claim to know intuitively.

Huizi:  True. I don’t think you can know anything—something that I thought you agreed with. But apparently you think we can know things intuitively.

Zz:  I do agree with you. Knowing intuitively is not a claim to truth but simply an expression of our interface with the world, an experience—no factual truthfulness is implied. And on the issue of our knowing-nothing, that’s simply because we cannot know what makes our knowing fixed and sure. We can know a great deal about the world—indeed, we could know everything there is to know about it—and yet still not-know what we know. But not-knowing what we know doesn’t mean there is no value in the knowing.

Scott:  It seems to me that this is the essential difference between you two—Huizi, you require that things make sense, and because they don’t you remain a hard-core skeptic, and you, Zhuangzi, agree that they don’t make sense, but use that as an occasion for a kind of mystical reintegration with life itself which doesn’t need to make sense.

Huizi:  I’ll own up to that. So let’s hear more about this supposed mystical intuition.

Scott: Okay. I’d say that Zhuangzi knows the happiness of fish in part because he is a fish. He is all things as much as he is Zhuangzi and thus he can “participate everywhere in the springtime of all beings.” The happiness of fish is also his happiness. The celebration of his own life is united with the self-celebration of all things. Didn’t you say he same? “Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body.”

Zz:  He said it, but he didn’t attempt to experience it.

Huizi:  Yes I did. I just wasn’t particularly successful in the endeavor—probably like our honorarily-dead friend here. And just like you, more likely than not; though not-being-you, I cannot say for sure.

Zz:  And let’s leave it that way. Remember, if we are to be of any real use to Scott, we need to help him past his dependence on the efficacy of this or any other dao. But Scott, I think you’ve really hit on the most important aspect of this intuitive knowledge. The loss of one’s “me”, the realization of no-fixed-identity, enables an experience of oneness with all things which makes possible a participation in the cosmic-celebration of all things both individually and collectively.

Huizi:  Blah, blah, blah. “Big words . . .”

Zz:  “But useless.” They’re only useless to you because you haven’t learned how to make use of the useless. These words may be empty, but they also have a form, and it is that empty form that pulls us in a certain direction.

Scott:  Look. Minimally, we can say that the exercise is good for a buzz; and buzzes are enjoyable; and that enjoyment can lead to changes in perspective, however incremental.

Zz:  We are always and only a becoming—which is “neither of the two”—neither this nor that, neither extant nor non-extant, neither a self nor no-self, neither real nor unreal, neither what we think we are nor what we wish to become. Our “big words” don’t have to lead us to some kind of great and final “enlightenment”—indeed, they cannot. We just move along in our not-being what we are.

Huizi:  You’d have made a great logician my friend.

THE HAPPINESS OF FISH IV

Scott:  Yes, something of the path to human happiness can be seen in the happiness of fish, which is essentially fish being fish.

Huizi:  So human happiness is humans being human?

Zhuangzi:  It’s humans being in harmony with what it means to be human. For fish, it’s automatic; for humans, who are at odds with much of what it is to be human, there’s work to be done.

Scott:  So a big part of what it means to be human is that we have to work to be happy and that’s a reality we have to harmonize with.

Zz:  We have to harmonize with the fact that we need to work to be happy, which means that “pure” happiness eludes us—unless we can learn to be happy in our less-than-happiness.

Huizi:  You’re saying that humans can’t be as happy as fish? That they can’t realize pure happiness? Doesn’t that undermine your philosophy of carefree wandering?

Zz:  I’m saying that everything human is by way of self-conscious mediation, which means that nothing is ever pure and unadulterated. My ideal sage is just a hypothetical target to help us move in a certain direction.

Scott:  Our need to work to be happy is just another real-life contingency upon which to soar, so that our happiness becomes non-dependent upon happiness or unhappiness. I have been criticized for making happiness a value since that apparently demonstrates that I’m not-yet-happy. Happiness should be spontaneous and unmediated.

Zz:  If it “should” be, then reality isn’t as it “should” be. But we take things as they manifest as “reality”, not things as we imagine they “should” be. Our first job is to understand what it is to be human, not what it would be to be more-than-human.

Scott:  And to be human is too be utterly immersed in ambiguity and contradictions.

Huizi:  And Zhuang’s dao is to make use of all that uselessness by soaring upon it—not away from it, not in the elimination of it, but upon it, and thus by way of it.

Zz: Exactly. And that makes for a happiness that can exceed the happiness of fish, since their happiness, in not being mediated through self-awareness, cannot be as consciously enjoyed.

Scott:  So our ever-failing is the means to our ever-transcending. Our inability to be spontaneously happy like fish—which would be the ideal for humanity as well—is the means by which we can realize a more transcendent happiness that depends on neither happiness nor unhappiness.

THE HAPPINESS OF FISH III

Scott:  So where should we begin in our examination of the “supposed” happiness of fish?

Huizi:  Well, since neither I nor Zhuang actually had such a conversation and since neither of us wrote the passage, you’re as qualified to interpret it as we are.

Zhuangzi:  Careful there Hui—I’ve made it a principle to not clarify facts about these matters. The more ambiguity the better.

Huizi:  Okay. Strike that from the record. It was never said—except for the part that Scott might as well tell us what it means.

Scott: Okay. Let’s start from the beginning. You two . . . can I just pretend they were really you and avoid continual qualifications?

Huizi:  Sure. Since it has yet to be established that I am in fact Huizi, I might as well assume the identity of this fictional Huizi.

Scott:  “Now a horse, now an ox.” It sounds like you have achieved no-fixed-identity.

Zz:  We have achieved death. But please continue.

Scott:  So, you two are strolling on the bridge over the Hao River when Zhuangzi looks down and sees a school of minnows darting this way and that and he says, “Such is the happiness of fish.” There are at least three levels of meaning in the passage, and I think just taking this statement at face value is the most important. After this it becomes a debate about epistemology, which has its merits no doubt, but which I take as a side issue.

Zz:  Agreed. But let’s not forget that Zhuang is also probably baiting Hui—he’s hoping for a debate.

Huizi:  No he’s not—the author is looking for an excuse to start a debate.

Scott:  I think we’re going to have to suspend any pretense of reality here—two roads are hard enough to walk at once, but this piece seems to offer several more. There’s what the author wanted to say; what we think he wanted to say; what we get from it regardless of what he wanted to say; and finally the need to pretend that you would have actually engaged in such a debate.

Zz:  Okay. So, what’s the importance of the statement, “Such is the happiness of fish”?

Scott:  Well, first he says, “The minnows swim about so freely, following the openings wherever they take them.” That sounds to me like a perfect description of a life of wandering carefree in spontaneity. And that’s happiness.

Huizi:  How do you know that?

Scott:  There you go into the epistemology of it—you must be Huizi. But before we go there, let’s consider what this statement implies. It says that things doing what they naturally are is their happiness. Rocks, trees and fish are all “happy” because they cannot do other than they are. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of making themselves miserable.

Zz:  So human happiness is something that they must work to re-claim.

THE HAPPINESS OF FISH II

Scott:  Presumably we have been blessed by Huizi’s presence because we are going to discuss one or more of your conversations as recorded in the Zhuangzi?

Zhuangzi:  Well, you did say you wanted to discuss “the happiness of fish”. As for the other conversations, I don’t think Huizi will want to be too long away from his napping and do-nothing wandering beside his stink tree in the vast wilds of open nowhere.

Huizi:  That’s Zhuang’s way of telling you he was right—I would have been better off appreciating the value of the useless. But you must realize that none of these conversations actually happened as presented? And since they have all been made up to make Zhuang’s position look superior to my own, well, they need to be taken with a grain of salt, as you say.

Zz:  Well, I’ll be roasted! I‘ve never heard you admit that I was “right” before!

Huizi:  Don’t let it go to your head—it’s only because I’m dead and dwell in the land of complete uselessness that I say it. It isn’t so “obvious” when you’re alive!

Zz:  But you admit that letting the uselessness of death inform your living would have been beneficial to your actually living?

Huizi:  Yeah, yeah. But you realize the uselessness of talking about an imagined possibility in an imaginary present, do you not?

Scott:  But presumably there’s some usefulness is discussing the usefulness of the useless in the presence of the living! I want to remind you that I, at least, am still among the living—despite my honorary inclusion among the dead.

Zz:  Yes. We must remember that Scott is still walking two roads. And we’re here to . . . Why are we here?

Scott:  You’re here to help me understand your philosophy and maybe in the process help some few others to do the same.

Huizi:  And that, you believe, will actually make some sort of difference?

Zz:  Careful! That’s kind of a sore spot with Scott!  Ha, ha.

Huizi:  Then I’ll be sure to rub it! But there’ll be lots of opportunities for that, I’m sure. But now let’s get going on the supposed happiness of fish.