Scott:  Well, debating with Mencius was sure a lot easier than debating with Xunzi, but still it leaves me with a feeling of disquiet just the same. Arguing about Dao is not experiencing Dao.

Zhuangzi:  Yes, it all seems to miss the mark, does it not? That’s why there’s relief in taking it all as the chirping of baby birds. In this, our opinions are seen as the same and equal and thus of no great consequence. The experience of Dao is just this. However much our opinions matter—and they most certainly do—there is also that sense in which they matter not at all. All happenings are the Great Happening, as you say.

Scott: That’s Dao as the confluence of all daos—as you say. It’s a oneness manifest in infinite not-onenesses. And there are no not-onenesses that are not that oneness. Getting that, it seems to me, is the experience of Dao.

Zz: It is. It is Dao as that experience, not as a something to experience. This Dao is an experience—nothing more.

Scott:  It’s as I said—like a walk in the woods. What a mess they are! Dead trees and dying. Broken trees and hale. The song of birds and the screech of the dying. All good. All one. All affirmable. All a chaotic riot of spontaneous happenings. Taking our place there is finding joy in it all.

Zz:  A pernicious oneness to be sure. Yet no perniciousness arises therefrom. All Meng’s rightness is realized in the love for all things just as they are.

Scott:  Even as we are.

Zz:  Okay. I’m off. Until next time.

Scott: Until the next time.


Mencius:  The difference between my dao and Xun’s is that he takes rightness as external and I take it as internal. His wei is an imposition of rightness from without, since he takes human nature as evil; mine is a self-cultivation that uncovers the rightness within, since I believe that rightness is found in the human heart. And that, I think, makes for an altogether different sort of wei.

Scott:  It does. But it is wei just the same. It is a tyranny imposed most immediately on oneself, rather than on others, but that still naturally lends itself to a similar tyranny imposed on others. If we are hard on ourselves, we are typically hard on others.

Zz:  Perhaps Meng has fully realized his ideal, in which case he would not do as you say. The problem, however, is that by his own admission people are far estranged from their natural humaneness and therefore that which is intended as only an inner cultivation easily becomes an externalized tyranny. Humans are a mess of entangled rights and wrongs, and the enthronement of a right quickly lends itself to wrong.

Scott: And the same problem applies to the doctrines of wuwei and the transcendence of right and wrong. We tend to make a mess of whatever dao we follow. What are we to do?

Zz:  Live the mess. Be the mess.

Mencius:  Be the mess even while cultivating less of a mess. I can go along with that. And now I think I will move along. It’s been a pleasure meeting Scott. Let your heart grow! Goodbye.

Scott: Goodbye!


Scott:  If I may summarize what I think you’re saying—To be human is to have a heart that is humane, however despoiled, one that wishes the flourishing of itself and all others; qi is the life force in us that is either diminished or expanded according to the degree to which we cultivate that humaneness; and Dao as a path of self-cultivation is the means by which we cultivate that humaneness. To experience flood-like qi is to have realized the fullness of one’s humanity as an expression of humaneness, and that is a deeply mystical experience of oneness.

Mencius:  Yes, that’s it. Do you not agree?

Scott:  It’s difficult to disagree; only I think that I must. It’s a wonderful model, and one worthy of following—once it is contextualized by the inhumane indifference of Nature and its corollary that human nature is neither good nor evil, but morally neutral, as is everything else in Nature.

Zhuangzi:  Human nature is morally neutral, yet humanity is most fully expressed in the fullness of humaneness.

Scott:  Which is to say that there is no “human nature”, if by that we mean something preordained, fixed and sure. Humanity is a happening that has evolved a dualism that discriminates between right and wrong, and participates in both. Yet it has discovered that the pursuit of the right—humaneness—is the way that leads to its greatest flourishing.

Zz:  Right and wrong are incidental—accidental—and the positive value of the pursuit of humaneness is similarly incidental.

Mencius:  I understand your desire to avoid an absolute rightness written in Heaven, but even without it you return to my dao.

Zz:  We do. But it is our understanding of the nature of Dao that makes all the difference. Your Dao is Rightness, fixed and sure; our Dao is empty and gives no guidance except to cast all our knowing and discriminations back into ambiguity. And that we take as the human condition, if not its nature.

Scott:  So it is in Dao as a means to the cultivation of humanity that we differ. The Dao of “Daoism” is yin; that of Confucianism is yang. We follow wuwei; you follow wei. And though I know that you strongly disagree with Xunzi who says that human nature is evil, you agree in the primacy of wei. And Xunzi’s wei led most naturally to Han Feizi’s Legalism and the tyranny of the Qin.

Zz:  Well now, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to equate Meng’s wei with Xun’s, though I agree that Xun’s disciple Han Feizi did take Xun’s belief in the necessity of external controls to its logical conclusion.

Scott:  Granted. But any wei uninformed of yin tends in the same direction.


Scott:  Once again we must agree to disagree. Is there a oneness to be had in that?

Zhuangzi:  There is if we wish to unite them, but it is only you and I who so wish. We must let Meng have his unadulterated not-oneness. That’s “going by the rightness of the present ‘this’”.

Mencius:  Thank you. And I will go by the rightness of my rightness.

Zz/Scott:  Agreed!!

Mencius:  But you are wrong to call my dao an unadulterated not-oneness. To be human is to have a heart that knows right from wrong and hungers for the right. To hunger for the right is to be one with one’s own nature; to accumulate rightness is become one with Heaven.

Scott:  And to fail of the right and to do the wrong, is that not also a oneness?

Mencius: Your oneness is indeed most pernicious! To do wrong is not-oneness.

Zz:  Then there is much that is not a oneness and that is no oneness. It is because right and wrong must forever sunder the world that we opt for its transcendence. For this reason the Laozi says that Heaven is not humane. But we would not deprive you of your hunger for rightness, nor of your belief that humaneness is a human oneness. Only we take them to be a purely human anomaly, and find no such discrimination in Heaven.

Scott:  Thus, a sense of oneness with Nature is both the transcendence of right and wrong and an affirmation of the human hunger for the right. We are left to walk two roads.

Mencius:  And I walk but one alone. Who then, knows true oneness?


Zz:  It is true that we know no true oneness; we can only imagine one, since we are by nature dual. Only we wish to honor our actual human condition of adriftedness and ambiguity and thereby do not let the human conquer Heaven or Heaven conquer the human.

Scott:  So we agree with you that when humanity is humane it has achieved a oneness with its own nature and has furthered the flourishing of its qi, the very élan of life. But because we differ in our understanding of Heaven, we also differ in how that humaneness might best be achieved.

Mencius:  Your precious wuwei. Pure nonsense.

Zz:  Yes, it is nonsense. Dao does nothing, yet nothing is left undone. Things do best when left to be and become themselves. But even Confucius understood true humaneness as spontaneously arising and unmediated by questions of right and wrong.

Mencius:  That is indeed the experience of the sage. But how one achieves sagacity is another thing altogether. For that much wei is required.

Scott:  Much wei is required for the achievement of wuwei, and neither can be said to ever stand alone and without the other. And sagacity is a chimera, though one worthy of imagining for the wei that it inspires.


Zhuangzi:  Do you both agree with me that we all sometimes make claims about our so-called spiritual experiences that exceed their actual significance? Can we at least admit a oneness in prevarication? That, I think, would be something of Scott’s pernicious oneness—an idea to which I think I could warm.

Scott:  I most certainly do.

Mencius:  And I do not.

Zz:  Well then, let’s look for something upon which we can all agree.

Scott:  Before we do, could I just say that I see this need to believe in sages as an expression of our fear of ambiguity and of our propensity to conjure up religious solutions to our human predicament rather than to live in honesty.

Mencius:  You could—and have. Truly, Zhuang, you have acquired a disciple in this new millennium!

Zz:  I guess I have. But if we two, at least, are one in our prevarication, then I might as well be his disciple as he might be mine. Scott, “I beg to be your disciple”!

Scott:  You already are! Do I not make you say what I wish you to say and interpret you according to my own needs?

Zz:  Neither of the two! Neither of us is either master or disciple, but a becoming beyond all things fixed!

Mencius:  If it’s ambiguity that you two want, then you have succeeded admirably. Some of us, however, would call it folly and chaos.

Zz:  Indeed! And you too can join us in our pernicious oneness!

Scott:  Or we, at least, can include him.

Mencius:  I am flattered, but must decline the invitation to join you, though you can imagine what you wish.


Mencius:  “Participating everywhere in the springtime of each being!” That’s what it is to experience “flood-like qi”.

Scott:  Really? I haven’t been able to figure out what you meant by that.

Zhuangzi:  No one can!

Mencius:  You should talk! But I should think that if one experiences qi as that which “fills the space between Heaven and earth” then it would be easy enough to see how that is also an experience of a oneness with all things and a participation in the joyful arising of all things.

Scott:  And you say you are “good at cultivating flood-like qi”—so, you have experienced that oneness. And you also said that after forty your “heart has not been stirred”—which I take to mean that nothing has “entered your Numinous Reservoir” to disturb your peace—the experience of Zhuangzi’s hypothetical sage. Zhuangzi made no such claims and won’t confirm or deny the realization of those experiences to me. That, by Zhuangzi’s definition, would make you a sage; and by implication, more a sage than he.

Mencius:  Well, yes. But I also make no claim to being a sage. “A sage is something that even Confucius did not claim to be.”

Zz:  But you believe that Confucius was a sage nonetheless, do you not?

Mencius:  I do. Do you not?

Zz:  I do not know. He talked the talk, and made claims very much like yours, but we all get carried away and imagine more of ourselves than we can rightly claim.

Scott: You do have to admit that there’s a lot of ambiguity in your statements—contradictions, frankly. You seem to think yourself a sage, but see sagacity as an unwillingness to make the claim.

Mencius:  Since Confucius did not claim to be a sage, then sagacity would indeed include not declaring oneself a sage.

Scott:  But then why do you claim that he was a sage? Surely, not because he made no such claim. I, too, can declare that I am no sage, but that does not make me a sage.

Mencius:  I know by his life and words.

Scott:  But what do we know of either, except what others said of him? And it’s easy enough to talk a talk while falling well short of the walk—as I am most personally aware.

Zz:  Please don’t take Scott’s objections personally. It’s just that he sees belief as a flight from reality and wishes to meet life with utmost honesty. But he too is sometimes a prevaricator, as are we all.

Mencius:  No offense taken. Neither your opinions nor Scott’s can change the fact that Confucius was a sage.


Scott:  To tell you the truth, I prefer a walk in the woods to these logical exercises to occasion an experience oneness.

Zhuangzi:  So do I! It’s the story of Ziqi and his forest that comes from my heart. But you just have to remember that I was rubbing shoulders with the Logicians and so used their methods. I was mostly writing in dialogue with Huizi especially. So tell me about a walk in the woods.

Scott:  There’s nothing at all profound in it. My guess is that just about anyone, who lets her- or himself, experiences a sense of transcendent belonging when in Nature.

Zz:  And when are we ever not in Nature?

Scott:  True. Nature is everything. However much we think otherwise, we and all the supposedly artificial accoutrements of our manufactured hive are not other than Nature. In every moment and in every direction we turn is an invitation to experience oneness. That’s the beauty of it. It’s just being human. It’s all and always just being human. Nothing is added to the process of life, as you say. But there is something about a rawer and less humanized experience of Nature that makes the experience of oneness easier.

Zz:  Granted. And it’s also when we experience a sense of oneness with Nature that we come up against that which prevents us from complete release into oneness.

Scott: The fixed-self. The self that takes itself as a fixed-identity and fears its own loss. But that too is an opportunity for experimental play. We can imagine releasing our grip on our identity and can thus imagine ourselves into a deeper oneness.

Zz:  What’s there to lose!? Whatever we “are”, we cannot become other than we “are”. Nothing is lost in imagining the loss of our “me”. If the “me” is fixed and real, well then, it cannot be lost. And if it is not, then all we have to lose is our fear of its loss.

Scott:  And losing one’s “me” isn’t the loss of the self-experience in any case. It’s just experiencing it in a different way—an open-ended way that “participates everywhere in the springtime of each being”. It’s a self-experience that comes not at the exclusion of all other “selves” but that actually includes and celebrates the self-ness of all other selves.

Zz:  You like that passage.

Scott:  I love that passage!

Mencius:  And so do I!

Zz:  Meng! Glad you could make it! And your timing was perfect!

Scott:  If surprising me and making me jump out of my skin was the object, it was perfect timing indeed!  But you are most welcome. Take a seat and I’ll get you a glass.


Zhuangzi:  Do you agree that when we create something we also destroy something else? When we carve the jade pendant we destroy the raw jade.

Scott:  Yes.

Zz:  The artisan assigns greater value to the jade pendant, but from another point of view the raw jade had the true value.

Scott:  The logging industry thinks the board feet to be obtained from a two thousand year old redwood are more valuable than the living tree. And some of us disagree.

Zz:  Precisely. And didn’t we agree that from the point of view from Dao those two opposite valuations are equalized? The value of the tree and the value of the boards are equal?

Scott: As an inveterate tree-hugger, I have difficulty with that. Maybe it wasn’t the best example.

Zz:  But that’s precisely why it is a good example. If it doesn’t cut against the grain of your chosen inclinations then it’s of little use. And remember, even when you have equalized these opposing values you can return to your chosen value. Only now you are informed of a broader view—the felling of the tree will not lead you to despair; you have realized that all things are created in the destruction of something else, and all destruction is the creation of something new. You will have had an experience of the Transforming Openness wherein all identities are in flux and nothing is ever lost.

Scott:  So, creation is also destruction, and vice versa; and thus we can see how they themselves negate each other and form a oneness. And that oneness is the sense of Dao.

Zz:  Yes; and you are right to say the “sense” of Dao. This Dao is not “The One”, but the psychological movement that experiences oneness.

Scott:  As Laozi says, “Reversal is the movement of the Dao.”

Zz:  Well, whoever wrote it had something similar in mind, though I admit I’m not always sure what he or they had in mind.


Scott:  Like your writing.

Zz:  Yes; I guess so.


Scott:  So one of the positive outcomes of experiencing oneness is a hope that is also not-hope.

Zhuangzi:  Life is a great hoping—an affirming élan, is it not? “Hope dawns eternal”, as you say. But it also eternally sets. We become ill and hope to recover; and maybe we do. But eventually we do not. The hope that depends on particular outcomes is the mother of despair. Conditional hope and despair are mutually generating opposites; you can’t have one without the other.

Scott:  But they can be united to form a oneness.

Zz:  And when we do that we put an end to the conditionality of hope and return to our intrinsic hope. In their mutual self-negation all that remains is what life itself is—a hopeful affirming.


Scott:  Explain again how we can unite them to form a oneness. I basically get the mechanics of it, but it does seem like a lot of word-play—a kind of trickery.

Zz:  It is word-play and trickery! What is not? I use several mutually generating opposites to show how we can unite them to form a oneness. Which would you prefer I now use as an example?

Scott:  Remind again of the options.

Zz:  Well, there’s self and other, right and wrong, and creation and destruction, for starters. But once we start, it becomes applicable in the case of all our dualistic self-experience. Remember, that’s what we’re doing—moving from our inherent dualism to an experience of oneness. And when we emerge, we have a dualism that is informed of oneness so that our not-oneness is also experienced as a oneness. And it’s all psychological—tweaking our experience, playing with our humanity. We’re not talking Truth and Reality here.

Scott:  That last is so important—it makes the word-play seem more acceptable. Okay, how about self and other.

Zz:  First we want to see how they generate each other. Do you agree that without self there is no other, and vice versa?

Scott:  Well, self thinks of itself as independent, fixed and real; so no, I don’t see that as self-evident, though it’s likely the case. Can we take creation and destruction as an example instead?

Zz:  Sure. I take your point. Shall we refill our glasses first?


Scott:  So our so-called hedonism does not lead us to evil-doing, but quite the contrary, it leads us to a greater fulfilment of the concerns of morality than does morality itself.

Zhuangzi:  Correct. And why are we “hedonists’?

Scott:  We are hedonists because we take the enjoyment of life as the greatest good. And we follow that because that is what life itself is. Life is self-flourishing. And so we harmonize with how life manifests in us. We pursue our own self-flourishing.

Zz:  Right. And we “pursue” it, and are not simply spontaneously it, because we are by Nature warped. Self-consciousness and the dualism it creates is an apparent anomaly in the world, and this requires us to make conscious choices.

Scott:  So the sage is merely a hypothetical?  And complete spontaneity is likewise hypothetical?

Zz:  They are for you, are they not?

Scott:  They are.

Zz:  Well then; that’s what they are.

Scott:  Then oneness is also only a hypothetical? But I know that. It’s only a chosen interpretation of the world where some interpretation is necessary even if it must remain hypothetical. And we choose this one because we discover it enhances our enjoyment of life.

Zz:  Yes. And what’s interesting is that we can experience it—at least in approximation. But if it is only a hypothetical, then experiencing it is not confirming it as factually true, but simply tweaking our own self-experience.

Scott:  It’s cool that we can do that. But then I guess that’s what we must always do. What we take as a “normal” self-experience is really only the one that we have decided on as a species. Taking ourselves as “full and real” is our default tweak. Believing that we are absolutely different than all other things and not in oneness with them is nothing but a similar tweaking of our self-experience.

Zz: And since that leads to fear and alienation, why not try a different tweak? It’s all made-up; so why not make up the most enjoyable interpretive tweak?

Scott:  The self-experience is really essentially malleable. We only experience it as fixed and rigid because there are millennia of our having done so as a species. So a revolution in consciousness—something that many see as the only hope for our future flourishing as a species—is actually feasible, though given the extent of our present rigidity, unlikely.

Zz:  Yes. I share your pessimism. I hope for the best, and my work was an attempt to further it, but in the end it might be hoping too much. That’s what’s so great about being free of all conditional hope. The experience of oneness gives us an unconditional hope. All is well!