Zhuangzi:  “That’s an order!”?  Ha, ha. Who’s the dependent one now—me who comes or you who needs me to come?

Scott:  Well, I guess we both are—but maybe me more than you. Which is pretty ironic.

Zz:  Yes, ironic indeed. The shadow of your shadow is less dependent than you are. My dependence is by way of causation—which nothing can escape—and yours is psychological.

Scott:  But if my dependence or non-dependence is a purely psychological experience, then it figures that I would likely be more dependent. I mean—no offense—but well, you just “are”—like a rock—and I’m always trying to figure out what I am and trying to be it.

Zz:  No offense taken—like Shen Dao says, “A clump of earth never strays from the Dao.” But then, of course, straying from the Dao is as much the Dao as anything else—and I rather enjoyed it.

Scott:  You enjoyed straying from the Dao?

Zz:  Of course! That’s just being human! And I liked being human. It was fun! Does a rock have fun being a rock?

Scott:  So Shen Dao’s critics were right that his dao was a perfect dao for the dead, but not for the living.

Zz:  In one sense, yes. But they didn’t get that part of the fun can be living as if dead. Indeed, that makes for the most fun of all!

Scott:  Wait. Living as if dead is fun? Wait! I think I get it—living as if dead means taking life and death as a single string; incorporating death into one’s life is the equivalence of uniting existence and non-existence to form a oneness. And living that frees you to enjoy life all the more.

Zz:  That’s it. Death is not just taken as an inevitable—begrudgingly—but actually informs our living in such a way as to unite us with the One Big Open-endedness. That’s how and where we wander!

Scott:  I feel like we’ve hit the bedrock of your philosophy.

Zz:  Yep. Bye!

Scott:  Zhuangzi? Zhuangzi? Okay—see you when I see you.


Zhuangzi: Well, I’m off. Thanks for the libations.

Scott:  One last thing . . . .

Zz:  Good grief! You’re insatiable. Okay, what is it?

Scott: I need you to diss the blog.

Zz:  What!?

Scott:  You haven’t dissed it yet, and that’s the title of the series. Besides, I said you would.

Zz:  Okay, here’s my mouth; make me.

Scott:  No, you need to do it. Pretend you’re Penumbra—the shadow of my shadow who is as real and self-so as I think I am.

Zz:  Hmm. Okay. Your blog is an endless stream of blabber that never makes any difference.

Scott:  “Big but useless!”

Zz:  Touché! But that’s not fair. You can’t defend yourself, if you insist on me criticizing you.

Scott:  I retract that. It’s useful to me who enjoys the blabbering, but likely useless to the world at large. How’s that?

Zz:  That seems like a fair enough compromise. And, of course, neither usefulness nor uselessness is of ultimate import in any case.

Scott: All is well!

Zz:  If you wish. Keep the non-faith. Ciao.

Scott:  Wait! Come back! That’s an order! Damn, he’s taken this self-so non-dependence thing too far.


Scott:  So, if non-existence and existence . . .

Zhuangzi: Me and you! Ha, ha.

Scott:  . . . can be united to form a oneness, then whatever one “is” can be imagined as equivalent to whatever the One Big Open-endedness is.

Zz:  That’s hiding the world in the world where nothing can be lost.

Scott:  So the paradox, “No one lives longer than a dead child, and (the Methuselah-ian) Pengzu died young”, expresses this equivalence.

Zz:  Yes, but I was having a moment of . . . rapture when I said it. It’s a lot more than a conclusion to a logical argument.

Scott:  That’s why it’s more than just a paradox. Both the dead child and the long lived Pengzu equally participate in the Great Happening where existence and non-existence have no ultimate meaning.

Zz:  That’s right. And more broadly, it also demonstrates that all our distinctions evaporate in the formation of a oneness. The paradox before this one is: “Nothing is larger than the tip of an autumn hair, and Mt. Tai is small.” The tip of the hair is as “big” as anything can get, being united with Everything.

Scott:  I just focus on the existence/non-existence part because it especially matters to me who thinks he exists. I’ve taken the liberty of also saying that a dead child has had as rich and full a life as Pengzu. Do you agree?

Zz: Absolutely. I like that because it kicks our bias for existence square in the butt.

Scott:  It also relativizes all our hunger for achievement and longevity.

Zz: And when those are put into perspective, we can pursue them both without them ruling our lives. Our happiness in life is no longer contingent on success, “making our mark”, or thinking we’ll be “remembered”.

Scott:  You’re remembered!

Zz:  Yeah, but there’s no “me” in it. Have you ever googled “me”? There are lots of pictures of “me”—all different! That’s how much of “me” there’s in all this so-called remembrance.

Scott:  Remembrance and forgotten-ness are the same.

Zz:  Yep.


Zhuangzi:  Well, I suppose that’s enough profundity for now . . .

Scott:  Okay, I’ll let you go . . . but there’s one other thing that’s come to mind with regards to this non-existence of our existence—the paradox: “No one lives longer than a dead child, and Pengzu died young.”

Zz: Ha! We could go at it all day and not get to the bottom of that one. But alright, open another bottle and let’s get on with it.

Scott:  You’re going to have to help me here—I’m not sure where to start.

Zz:  Context is usually a good place for starting; and in this case it hits the target spot on. Do you remember it?

Scott:  You’ve said that your saying might say something different than what others have said, but it’s hard to know if it has for sure because being different and being similar are so similar.

Zz:  When we put things into different categories—like correct and incorrect—it’s still always possible to put them together in yet another category. So, everything is both different and similar. A cow and an ox are different, but also similar. A human and a snake are different and the same. A pebble and the universe are dissimilar, but also very much the same. Your interpretation of my stuff and that of all those with whom you so vehemently disagree, are the same. You and I are very different, but also very much the same.

Scott:  I, who “exist”, and you who “do not exist”, are different, but can also somehow be . . . united to form a oneness.

Zz:  That’s exactly where I take it with that infinite regress, as you call it. If there is existence and non-existence, then the transformation from one to the other does not resolve to logic. There’s always a not-yet-beginning-to-be-existence or non-existence—yet another category.

Scott:  So you’re not sure which is which—there seems to be non-existence and not be existence.

Zz:  Yeah. Maybe I made it more complicated than necessary—it’s just as you said: existence and non-existence can be united to form a oneness. And what’s that? Who knows? But if someone knows, then that would be another category which would require yet another category—what it is not—and those two could also be united to form a oneness ad infinitum.

Scott: So it’s all just one big open-endedness.

Zz:  Go ahead and capitalize that one: One Big Open-Endedness.

Scott:  Just like us.


Scott:  I’m reading some Buddhist stuff on emptiness, and a big part of their project is to realize the emptiness of self—to get that it has no “inherent existence”. Isn’t that what you mean when you have Yan say “I have not yet begun to exist”?

Zhuangzi:  Yep. Do you also see how we differ?

Scott:  Well, I find Buddhism pretty hard to pin down—it seems more like a bunch of schools disagreeing with each other than a single point of view. Add popular Buddhism on top of that and it’s hard to say what they believe. But generally speaking, I’d say that Buddhism is essentially a religious project—it knows stuff and it believes that people and the cosmos need saving. You, on the other hand, affirm the lot just as it is—however it is.

Zz:  Yeah, we both recognize that our human experience and expression is a pretty big mess—we suffer a lot and cause other people and things to suffer—but I see this determination as an entirely human point of view. It’s a human problem. They seem to project it onto the cosmos. That’s where they start their knowing.

Scott:  So, just because the self is empty—not a fixed and persisting entity—doesn’t mean that the cosmos and everything in it is also “empty”—that being an entirely human conception. (A rock is empty only to me—not to itself.) And just because humanity deems itself as messed up doesn’t mean that the cosmos is also messed up. It is what it is, and what it “is” is completely affirmable—because that’s how it is.

Zz:  Exactly. The realization of the emptiness of self is simply an exercise for the alleviation of our suffering and the cessation of our inflicting suffering on others and the world. It has nothing to do with setting the cosmos aright again—it’s already “right”.

Scott:  And how is that not also a kind of knowing?

Zz:  Good question! First, it is only an imagined point of view. It is a chosen understanding of the world—not a statement of fact about the world. As such, it recognizes its equivalence with Buddhism—a different imagined and (hopefully) chosen point of view. This is how they are the same. They differ in that Buddhism—at least as best as I can figure—takes its point of view as something other than imagined—but rather as the truth about the nature of things.

Scott: And secondly, since life is experienced as affirmation, you choose to affirm it. And to affirm one’s life is to affirm all things. You don’t know it—you experience it.

Zz:  Yep. So if we can consciously choose a point of view—itself a kind of freedom—we want to choose that one which we find best facilitates our practical affirmation of life and our collective-flourishing. I’m just of the opinion that a religious point of view ultimately just makes for more suffering—and fails of honesty.


Scott:  Do you exist?

Zhuangzi:  What!?

Scott:  Do you still exist—somewhere, somehow, or am I just completely making you up?

Zz:  Ha! That’s a new one. I’m used to people asking if I ever existed. Sure, some people think I still exist as an Immortal—ha, ha. But no one ever seems to wonder if I existed before I supposedly existed. So . . .

Scott:  Wait. Let me finish it. In the view from Dao, if you didn’t exist prior to your supposed existence then you didn’t really exist even when you existed. And so continuing to exist is completely out of the question, since you never really existed in the first place.

Zz: Yeah, that’s it pretty much. But we don’t want to be dogmatic—it’s just a way of imagining things. But when we take a close look at ourselves—like I had Yan do—we can get a sense in which we have never really existed as a concrete entity at all, ever.

Scott:  We are a becoming, a happening—part of the Great Happening in which nothing is permanent and fixed. All identities are in flux—no identity persists, not even for a moment.

Zz:  Yep. That’s the idea. Have you experienced it?

Scott:  Maybe a little? Have you?

Zz: I’m not saying! I like your “Great Happening” trope, by the way.

Scott:  That’s a few things of mine that you like!

Zz: Yeah, well, don’t let it go to your head—since that’s where it, me and my agreement came from in the first place.


Scott:  I feel like we’ve touched on something important here; let’s spend some more time with it, what do you say?

Zhuangzi:  I say what you want, remember?

Scott:  Yes, but you still say more than I would say if only I were saying it. What I have you say is “neither of the two”—neither what you, a dead guy, says, nor what I would say without you. It’s something new, unfixed from either of us. And that’s its value—it’s somehow removed from my actual experience, and the empty gap between that and my experience acts as an attractor—it pulls me in that direction. That’s how I teach myself. That’s the dynamic of becoming.

Zz: And that’s what I make qi to be—“an emptiness” that provides the space for becoming. Find it in yourself, and you’ll realize that that is all you really “are”: a becoming—a happening.

Scott: It’s the yin that enables yang.

Zz:  Exactly. And that’s the way everything works. That’s the sum of what you call philosophical Daoism—the way of yin that occasions the fullest expression of yang.

Scott:  And anyone who reads my drivel—as you so endearingly call it—is doing the same thing. Whatever they get from it is neither what I intended nor what they already think, but something new that is neither strictly theirs nor mine. And moving toward it is learning without being taught.

Zz:  And what you think I said isn’t what I said, but that’s the value of what I said. There’s no fixed truth anywhere to be found.

Scott:  And that’s liberating! But scary.

Zz:  Yes. It casts us adrift. We would prefer to be securely moored to some fixed truth or another—but whatever one we imagine is only just that—imagined. (I do like your sailor-talk, by the way.)

Scott:  And since our actual experience is one of adriftedness, our clinging to an imagined truth or our failure to successfully imagine one when we think we need one causes us to suffer.

Zz:  And makes us rigid and judgmental—and bloody-minded.

Scott: Though we prefer to kill for the truth, we would also die for it.

Zz:  Yes, embracing our own emptiness is equivalent to openness—and openness embraces all things in caring and tolerance.


Scott:  If the story of a shadow conversing with its own shadow—Penumbra—can illuminate the dynamics of my conversation with you—a dead guy—then it’s on you to do make the connection. I love the story, but find it near impossible to understand.

Zhuangzi:  That’s quite an admission given that you’ve “explained” it on several occasions. But if it makes you feel any better, I don’t understand it all that well either.

Scott:  You made it up, but you don’t understand it?

Zz:  Honestly, sometimes you are so dense! If I were a Zen master your head would be covered in knots. Its value is in that I don’t understand it, not in that I can or do. But its applicability here is a bit different than its overall intent—which is to question causation and to suggest the self-so-ness of things. Do you know how Penumbra literally translates?

Scott: If Ziporyn is right, it means “neither of the two”.

Zz: He got it right. Penumbra is neither the person who makes the shadow nor that shadow. It is neither this nor that. Its identity is unfixed. It is totally dependent on the other two, yet somehow is uniquely and non-dependently itself. It is neither real nor unreal, neither substantial nor insubstantial. Can you see how that applies here?

Scott:  I put words in the mouth of a dead guy, and they are neither my words nor his. They seem real, but are somehow empty. They are real but somehow unreal.

Zz: Exactly! They are something new—something said, but clearly unfixed. Can you see how this applies to your entire enterprise of engaging with my writing?

Scott:  You meant something specific when you wrote, but when I try to understand it I bring my own needs and presuppositions into it, and thus what comes out is neither what you said, nor what I think, but something new and unfixed to either of us.

Zz:  Yes! And how does it apply to me and what I wrote?

Scott: Hmm, I need to think on that one. What you wrote and what you experienced and knew were not the same—the product was neither of the two. You were creating something new and . . . you weren’t what you were imagining? It was just an exercise to move you in a particular direction!

Zz:  You got it! I wasn’t a “sage” telling you how it is, but a guy just like you creating the vacuum—the space between the real and unreal—the qi!—that could move me where I wanted to go.

Scott:  So that means I can stop apologizing for not walking my talk!

Zz:  Well, in your case the gap is so vast that it might be a good idea to make the occasional disclaimer.


Scott:  This conversation started with something important that we didn’t finish, but I forget what it was.

Zhuangzi:  We were discussing whether you believed your own drivel or not.

Scott:  Yeah, but it was something that led into that. I know; you said you’ve moved on from what you wrote—but I’m still there trying to “get” it. Can you elaborate?

Zz:  I was mostly just twisting your tail. But it’s simple enough—what I wrote was a fish trap; now I’m eating my fish. If it’s all about depending on nothing—and yes, congratulations, you got that much right—then that includes not depending on even that. It is just an idea after all.

Scott:  Well, when you put it that way, I don’t feel so bad about still messing around with the idea—maybe I’ve set my sights too low, but I don’t expect to ever get much further than that. But there’s some fun and freedom to be had in even that.

Zz:  Your theory of “approximation”. I rather like that actually. People just seem to want to take everything so seriously—so absolutist-ly.

Scott:  We want the answer—clarity—an end to our existential dangle. But if you’ve moved on, then I guess that means you’ve gone further than that to which I aspire.

Zz:  Or maybe I’m just dead. Ha, ha, ha.

Scott:  Ha, ha. Why does that comfort me? But that brings up something important that I think is to be learned here, but I don’t know how to address it. This conversation I mean. And not just this conversation, but my engagement with your philosophy generally. There’s something unreal about all of it, yet somehow there’s something . . . genuine (?) in it.

Zz:  You’re having a conversation with a dead guy and putting words in his mouth that you pretend are not your own words—and yet somehow, in some way, they are not—and you’re learning from the process. Yes, most unreal—and yet genuine. Reminds me of life and everything having to do with it actually.

Scott:  And the same applies to my reading of your work: There is something that you actually said, but whatever I take away from it is not that, but rather what I think you said, so that I’m in effect putting words in your mouth once again. Do you agree?

Zz:  Abso-tutely! Maybe Penumbra can help us here—after we refill our glasses, don’t you think?


Zhuangzi:  “Zhuangzi disses this blog”? When have I ever dissed your blog?

Scott:  Well, you’re going to.

Zz:  Okay, but that’s entirely up to you—just remember that it’s you who does it.

Scott:  But wait a minute—you’ve actually read yesterday’s post?

Zz:  Of course I have! I read them all—religiously! Ha, ha.  It’s like reading the “funnies” every morning—a great way to start the day.

Scott:  There! You’ve already started dissing the blog!

Zz:  I have? You call my writing “The Equalizing Jokebook” and say that I’m trying to make people laugh—so, is that dissing my writing?

Scott: Well, no. The difference is whether you laugh with it or at it. And I take you as meaning the latter. Am I wrong?

Zz:  Hmm. I see your point. Admittedly, I do laugh at you a bit. But don’t you also laugh at yourself? Is that dissing yourself? If you aren’t laughing at yourself you’re taking yourself and your blabber entirely too seriously. The day you start doing that is the day I’ll really start dissing you. No I won’t—I’ll just not bother with you anymore.

Scott:  Yeah, I get that. I say the same all the time. Maybe I just don’t always practice it. But, then does this mean you were laughing at yourself when you wrote your stuff?

Zz:  What’s the alternative? You want that I was some kind of “sage” who wasn’t as full of shit as you are? Or some fool who believed his own drivel? Come on—you know better than that. My stuff is no different than your stuff—and your stuff is no different than my stuff. This isn’t scripture, is it? If there’s any truth in it, it’s in that it recognizes no such thing.

Scott:  So, your philosophy is also just a philosophy of cope?

Zz:  Of course it is! And a big part of the coping is doing the philosophy.

Scott:  So, what’s in it for others? I mean, I do have a readership.

Zz:  Yeah, a vast readership! Ha, ha. What’s in it for others is the same as what’s in my writing for you. Your writing and mine are the same—only you use mine as your point of departure.

Scott:  Yes, I see their sameness. But they are also qualitatively different—and I won’t stop pointing to yours rather than to my own.

Zz:  I understand completely. It’s the “ancients” who really got it. Ha, ha!