We have reached the end of the Tianxia. I will conclude then with one simple observation: The philosophy presented here is not compatible with the philosophy of Zhuangzi. So many of the words and sentiments seem “right”, but the fundamental underlying assumption is entirely antithetical to Zhuangzi.

The Tianxia believes in a fixed and true articulable Dao. Zhuangzi does not. The Tianxia is essentially religious. Zhuangzi is purposely non-religious. The Tianxia expresses the religious Daoism of Huang-Lao.

For Zhuangzi, it is our not-knowing and not-believing that invites a mystical movement, an unmediated release into the life-experience itself and into the Unknowable that that experience implies and experiences as an absence. This is a movement of trust, not of belief. Belief precludes this movement. (Though it can have a mystical movement of its own.)

If these two philosophies are antithetical, can we not then “unite them to form a oneness”? Of course. This is precisely what Zhuangzi would have us do. What is that oneness? It is the realization of the equalization of all theories about things. It’s all good; it’s all acceptable. But then this is an application of the philosophy of Zhuangzi. The rascal always seems to come out on top—even as he merges his dao with all others. This is the Dao of philosophical Daoism.

The formation of a oneness does not eliminate the differences between things or our theories about them. Zhuangzi’s dao of non-belief remains antithetical to Huang-Lao belief. As such, it has its own trajectory into a mystical response to our human experience. Huang-Lao has its own. And if someone can believe, there is no good reason why they shouldn’t dive right into Huang-Lao or whatever belief-system meets their fancy. Or one can pretend they follow no dao at all.

As for me, having found my own attempt at belief to be an experiential dead-end, I like to play with Zhuangzi.


Huizi “found no peace in it [his labors] even for himself, scattering himself unceasingly into all things . . .” (p 129)

The idea of “scattering oneself unceasingly into all things” is intriguing because it seems to suggest the dark side of precisely what Zhuangzi would have us do—completely identify with all things. “All things” in this case, however, is all things plus. If the Totality were merely all things then it would indeed be just another thing, and our identification with it would be a scattering of our self-thing. Identifying with what is not-a-thing, but is rather a “Transforming Openness”, is to have a self, an identity, that is not a thing, but an unfixed openness.

In his commentary on the Zhuangzi, Guo Xiang (252?-312) speaks of a “dark joining” with things or of “vanishing into” things. (Ziporyn; The Penumbra Unbound, p 19) Here, I think, he hit upon a fundamental aspect of Zhuangzi’s vision. Accomplishing this requires realizing oneself as not-a-thing.

For Guo, every idea that we have of the thingness of things is a “trace”, a footprint left behind by happenings to which we cannot correctly assign concrete (fixed and persisting) thingness. Our self is thus also not a thing, but a spontaneous happening. Vanishing into things is simply identifying with the Great Happening—the Transforming Openness. When the self sees itself as a transforming openness its identification with all things is not a scattering, but a uniting.

But it is a “dark” uniting in the sense that in identifying with openness something of our sense of identity cannot go with it. We don’t get to “be” our self anymore. No-fixed-self is a self with an identity that is also not-an-identity. What does this mean? I have no idea. I have no way into it by way of words or thoughts , both of which necessarily imply the identity of that which we wish to say that it is not-an-identity. Is this possible? How would I know?

Identifying with the Totality, for Zhuangzi, is thus not a belief in Universal Mind, I AM, Universal Self, or Whatever. These are all things, and things are not an openness.


“How sad!”

These are the final words of the Tianxia (and consequentially of the Zhuangzi). How sad!

This is the author’s final word on the case of Huizi who “found no peace in it [his labors] even for himself, scattering himself unceasingly into all things, ultimately gaining nothing more than fame as a skilled debater.” His “talents were fruitlessly dissipated running after things and never returning to himself. He was like a man trying to silence an echo with shouts or to outrun his own shadow.” (p 125)

Well, yes, this is sad. But isn’t it also somewhat descriptive of us all? Alas, it’s all true. But before we take a pleasurable wallow in pessimism, let’s take a look at the bright side of life. (Yes, think Monty Python’s Brian singing on the cross.)

There is a bright side, isn’t there? The reader no doubt expects me to now blabber on about the All Is Well doctrine. However, I feel more inclined to pass it back to you. Is there a bright side to your life? If so, what is it? When you’re finished with your list of positives, may I ask if their cumulative effect is enough? Since they are all transitory and utterly dependent on circumstances, might we not compare this to “running after things”? (You may have listed your children—did you include the possibility of your dead children?)

Alas, I’ve prematurely begun my wallow! But perhaps this is the best way to proceed. This is where Zhuangzi begins: “Can this [the futility of life] be called anything but an enormous sorrow? Is human life always this bewildering, or am I the only bewildered one? Is there actually any man, or anything in man that is not bewildering?” (2:11)

After this frank assessment of the human condition Zhuangzi emerges with a comprehensively positive response to and within it. That’s all any of this is about. That’s what this present exercise is about. It’s about the discovery of our own organic, inexplicable Yes!, and leapingly harmonizing with it. It’s about “returning to oneself”.

Is this trying to shout down our own echo? Perhaps. Do you have a better option? Do we ever do otherwise?


“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.