Blog:  Well, I guess you’ve pretty much answered our questions about how to be politically involved without being politically involved—to care while not-caring—though there’s always more that can be said.

Zhuangzi:  Indeed there is. That’s why we must learn when to say, Enough! Words are an expression of our living, but they are not living. Speaking isn’t living. Nor is not-speaking living. But how can we speak of what is neither speaking nor not-speaking? All I can say is “experience understanding”—but that’s still just more speaking.

B:  Well, we have to admit that we’re loath to let you go, but I suppose we must. But before we do, can we ask you what you think of this blog and whether you think we got your philosophy right?

Z:  My dear Blog! What difference could that possibly make? If it works for you, that’s all that matters. That’s my philosophy. And yes, you got that part right—only you keep forgetting it.

B:  Well then, it seems we need to say goodbye—as hard as that is.

Z:  That’s the great thing about “not-being-together while being-together”—it’s reversible! Now we can be-together while not-being-together.

B:  Can you elucidate on that a bit more?

Z:  Ha! You’re like a child put to bed who keeps asking his mommy another question because he’s afraid of the dark. But okay, I’ll answer this one before I turn out the light—and I’ll leave it as a little night-light for you.

It’s about non-dependence. Everything I say is about non-dependence. But then, everything I say is about everything else I say. The experience is one, but its manifestations are many. Just like “Laozi’s” Dao—what a coincidence! Just like omnicentrism—amazing! Self-conscious existence is a very lonely affair, wouldn’t you agree? This is what it is to be self-so—apparently self-arising without cause or purpose, to be the infinite universe in a finite space. To be everything is to be alone. And because that loneliness scares us, we seek out others to alleviate our fear. This is dependence and a mutual co-dependence. It can only be a partial being-together. Co-dependent being-together aborts both the freedom of truly being-together with oneself and with others. Dependent friendship is as much a relationship of hate as it is of love. Love that depends is the incubator of hate. What the three friends in that story in which I have them say this realized was the joy of non-dependence on either their own self-esteem or the esteem of others, and for this reason they could truly be friends. They were omnicentric—they were utterly themselves and thus able to be everyone else.

Sorry, for the brevity on such a weighty subject, but I need to be on my way. I’m having tea with Confucius and Mozi, and they get impatient, even in eternity.

B:  Okay. And thanks. Now we’ll let you go so we can be-together-with you there.


Blog:  Can we ask you about an apparent discrepancy between what you just said about there being no such thing as “perfected human beings” and your description of just such persons in your writings?

Zhuangzi:  Yes you can. Can you answer your own question?

B:  You’re giving us a vision of an ideal that is not realizable but that can serve as an inspiration for approximating what can be realized?

Z:  Exactly! But people want things to be black and white—shades of grey remind us that we are clueless, and cluelessness reminds us that we are irremediably adrift without any hope of a secure mooring. So we default to religious-mindedness. We take things literally so there’s something “to believe in”.

B:  Have you ever thought that maybe you shouldn’t have left things so ambiguous in that case?

Z:  Not at all! What I just said can also provide fodder for religious-mindedness. Nothing we say is immune to religious-mindedness. Don’t you catch yourself turning your understanding of my philosophy into a similar literalism?

B:  We do. It’s like there’s a need for continual self-effacement, of negating what we think we know. That’s what’s meant by “spill-over goblet words”—words that self-empty when they’ve made their point, right?

Z:  You got it. It’s a perpetual dialectic or rising above and beyond what we take as “true”. Soaring! Wandering! It’s a dialectic that’s going nowhere. The dialecticism of Hegel and Marx are both teleological processes—they’re going somewhere. They’re religiously minded.

B:  So, back to Bernie’s slogan, “A Future to Believe In”,—it’s a bit like your Sage, an ideal to inspire us, but not to take literally, as if an ideal will be accomplished.

Z:  Right. We’re not religiously attached to any single possible future so we can work for a better future without dependence on a particular idea of “success”.


Blog:  Well, this interview has helped clarify things for us. At least we’re no longer chiding ourselves for our involvement in partisan politics. But still, the emotional side of that involvement continues to disturb us. We’re disturbed about our being disturbed. How can we actually learn to care without that disturbing our peace?

Zhuangzi:  You understand this point of view—this view from Dao—quite well, but you’ve got to experience this understanding. And I have no formulas for how this can happen for you.

B:  You’re not much of a guru, are you?

Z:  You got that right! And that’s the most important thing you’ve realized about me and my philosophy. Since I haven’t “arrived”, how could I tell other people how to arrive? It’s always just a work in progress; it’s always just living; it’s always just being human. It’s not about practicing some so-called “spiritual” regime that leads to “a perfected human being”. What a lot of hooey that is! Not that these regimes can’t be good and helpful, but they tend toward a religious-mindedness that is inherently dishonest, inauthentic, and, frankly, often hypocritical and counter-productive.

B:  We appreciate that, but still we feel like you’ve left us dangling.

Z:  No I haven’t! Life has left you dangling! What? You want me to trump life? Embrace your dangling! That’s the best you can do. You say you are disturbed at being disturbed—embrace the fact that you are disturbed and you’ll be less disturbed at being disturbed. Can’t do that? Then embrace the fact that you can’t. If you want to say Yes to life, you’ve got to say Yes to how it manifests in you in every moment. That’s affirmative transcendence. Transcendence is not “arriving” at some ideal state, but forever making use of the state you’re in to soar in freedom.

B:  Thank you. We get this; but somehow keep forgetting. And we also have the niggling awareness of the criticism of some that this is just a cop-out, an excuse for our failure and an avoidance of responsibility.

Z:  It can be a cop-out! Everything can be a cop-out. But does it have to be? It can be a coping-out—a tactical exercise to realize a strategic aim—a freedom from the oppression of right and wrong that enables growth. In any case, why should the opinions of others disturb you?

B:  They do! And I embrace that!

Z:  Now you’re talking!


Blog:  Bernie Sander’s campaign slogan is “A Future to Believe In”. That puts us off a bit. Wasn’t Obama’s slogan “Change We Can Believe In”? We believed and we have become very disappointed and disgruntled as a result. We don’t want to go down that road again. Do you believe in Bernie’s “future”?

Zhuangzi:  I sure do. I believe in everybody’s future—even Ted Cruz’s. There’s sure to be a future, even when there’s no future left in it. I mean this idea of a future is a human thing, isn’t it? So, yes there will always be a future until there are no humans left to believe in it, and I do. That’s the view from Dao—as you put it (and I like that, by the way). But Bernie’s “future” is also about a specific possible future and I believe that that future is more or less possible. So, since it is one that truly cares about people, why not support it? I find Ted Cruz’s possible future to be people-negating, so I oppose it. But I can live as happily in that future as in any other. If I couldn’t, then I couldn’t live happily in any present, including this one.

B:  But how possible is it? I mean, even if he wins how likely is he to actually accomplish any of his vision given the perpetual obstructionism of the Republicans?

Z:  Very unlikely indeed! But we’re not dependent on success, are we? We allow our humanity to follow its inherent humaneness. That doesn’t depend on success or fear failure. Our hope for a more humane future doesn’t depend on realized outcomes, so it’s really a kind of non-hope that won’t lead us into despair and disgruntlement.

B:  Just to complicate things further, some people think that if Bernie wins and accomplishes little the “experiment” will have been attempted and will be subsequently abandoned.

Z:  Yes, maybe that’s possible. It’s all very messy and complicated indeed. But I want to be careful not to over-think things—that just leads to a calculating mind—and before you know it we’re voting for Trump or Cruz because we think things need to get worse before they can get better. No, I’m going to follow my humanity and let things transpire as they will.

B:  So are we.


Blog:  So you “feel the Bern” and hope that he’ll become president because he seems most likely to work for our collective flourishing—but you also say everything will remain a mess in any case. Can you explain why it’s worth caring if nothing much is likely to change in any event?

Zhuangzi:  As I think you’ve gathered, I like to come at things from two directions at once. The first and most important argument I’d make for caring even when caring is unlikely to make much difference is that no argument is necessary. I care because caring is what I naturally do; it requires no argument or justification. Why should being what we are require justification? Why would we want to mediate between ourselves and our living? That’s taking your logical mind as your teacher. Confucius and Mencius got it right in pointing out that compassion is innate in human beings—only they then wanted to go about applying it like some kind of absolute principle—insisting that people have compassion.

The second argument mediates. Reality as we experience it is, as you say, a Great Mess; what I call endless transformation you call a mess, but it amounts to the same thing though your “mess” puts it more in the context of the human yearning for it to be otherwise. Things are ceaselessly changing—not evolving toward some final, perfect Omega Point—but dying, disappearing, returning to chaos. There is no self-evident final purpose for anything. So, when we care and work for change we are informed by this. It doesn’t require a Utopian vision to work for incremental change. If we require a certain outcome, our hope will lead us into despair and cynicism. If we acknowledge the inherent messiness of all things, our hope can be a kind of not-hope, a hope that endures whatever transpires because it is a hope that depends on no particular outcome, a hope that has identified itself with the Great Mess.

B:  We’re reminded of your “no one has a fuller life than a dead child”. When a child is sick, we do all we can to heal her, even though she will eventually die in any case. The fullness of life whatever its duration does not deter us from caring to extend it.

Z:  That’s it! That’s walking two roads at once!


Blog:  Okay, we more or less understand how we can care intensely about the presidential elections while not having our peace disturbed by whatever their outcome might be. But “caring” implies taking sides—you’re “feeling the Bern”. We know “two roads” is going to fit in here, too—but can you explain how exactly?

Zhuangzi:  Would you agree that humanity is absolutely powerless when it comes to ultimate outcomes? There is really no difference between the inevitability of the death of an individual and the death of our species, our solar system, our galaxy and our universe as we pretend to “know” it.

B:  Yes; this is what you call the “unavoidable”. And we can “hand it all over to the unavoidable”.

Z:  Yes. And what does that mean to you?

B:  It means that our existence, by its very nature, requires a release of ourselves in trust. Every waking moment we are entrusting ourselves to the “goodness” of life—and that implies the “goodness” of death and all other outcomes, including the death of Everything. All is well.

Z:  Exactly. And this is not adding to life—we haven’t thought it up and now wish to apply it to life to make ourselves feel better—it is what life is and does. To live is to trust; so we simply get our worrying minds out of the way and let go in trust. So, if someone who doesn’t truly care about our collective flourishing, except perhaps as somehow manifest in the so-called survival of the fittest, wins the election, then, since we have entrusted ourselves to the ultimate “goodness” of the Happening, we are not disturbed in our fundamental positivity and peace.

B:  That’s the “higher” road. And the other road is caring about our collective flourishing. And why is that our highest value?

Z:  Because that’s what life is and perpetually seeks to accomplish. It’s what every individual thing does—pursues self-flourishing. And we understand that the flourishing of any one thing is inextricably united to the flourishing of all things. We are one, even as we are each one inviolably a different self-so. I really like where that Ziporyn guy took this—following where Tiantai took it—“omnicentrism”. Every individual thing is Everything while still just itself. Every individual thing is both the center and the periphery. Good stuff that. And I admit to feeling a bit of pleasure in having inspired that, at least in part. But, of course, I was inspired by others who were inspired by others . . .

B:  So, you “feel the Bern” because you think he has the best vision for our collective flourishing.

Z:  I do. But only in the context of the inherent messiness of the entire human enterprise—it’ll remain a mess in any event.


Blog:  So, let’s see if we’ve got this right: It’s consistent with your philosophy that we care about these elections, that we see the present way of doing things in America as inhumane and that that angers us, that we believe that positive change is possible, and that we have chosen a particular candidate as the best one on offer to ameliorate the situation. Do you agree?

Zhuangzi:  I do. And I am doing all these things. But I’m not saying these opinions are the “right” opinions, only that they are the ones that arise from my own heart.

B:  But all of these activities seem contrary to what we have been taught about Daoism—that we shouldn’t care, get involved, be angry, have hope for a better future, or choose one thing over another. And this is because . . . ?

Z:  Because “Daoism”, like most every “ism”, is typically understood as a logical system with fixed principles to be applied to life. But life is none of these things. This “Daoism” takes its mind as its teacher rather than letting life happen. There’s no logic in life. In life there is no “A is not non-A”. Life simply doesn’t make sense, but people want it to make sense and thus tend to see only one side of the coin. We can’t see the other side, so we forget it and take the side we see as complete and final. Now it makes sense. Now life is coherent. But of course it’s not and can never be. Any “-ism” that tells us how we should behave is taking its mind as its teacher.

B:  So, your “Daoism” basically says: “We can be fully engaged in the messiness of life, but remember that the messiness is unavoidable and perpetual—there are no cut and dry answers to anything.”

Z:  Exactly. We can be fully engaged because that’s how life manifests itself in us. But let everything simultaneously “bask in the broad daylight of Heaven” as that Ziporyn guy translates me (not too badly either, a bit poetically maybe, but he usually captures the spirit of things)—that’s the other side of the coin. That’s the side that tells us that though everything matters absolutely, nothing ultimately matters at all. It’s the side that says “all is well”. What? Donald Trump becoming president is going to mess up the cosmic harmony? Ha, ha!

B:  So we can hope not to see Trump or (shutter) Cruz as president, but we can still have a good laugh if they do.

Z:  Yep. If you can’t have a good laugh whatever happens, then you’re just walking one road.


Blog:  So, we asked for this interview because our minds are so wrapped up in this presidential election that we despise some candidates and love one, we’re angry about the status quo, and we’re worried that our favorite won’t win and bring real change. We’ve got hope, for God’s sake! This is really stressful and it all seems the complete opposite of what you teach is possible. Wouldn’t you agree?

Zhuangzi:  Absolutely! You’re a mess! But it doesn’t matter all that much. Your mess, my mess, the Great Mess—it’s all “good”. Can you see how your failure is no-failure in the light of there being no failures? You’re a perfect mess—just like everyone else.

B:  Yes, we get that; but aren’t there more perfect messes? Isn’t your mess better than our mess?

Z:  Well . . . yes . . .and no. If by “better” you mean happier and freer, well then I guess my mess is better. But it’s not more perfect. Nothing can be more perfect than perfect. Since everything is perfect in being precisely what it is, how could anything be more perfect than anything else? That’s the “higher” road. The other road is the possibility of you being freer and happier. But you can’t realize that until you also walk the other.

B:  Yes, we get that. That’s one of our biggest take-aways from your philosophy—being perfect in being who we are. Realizing that—brushing the edge of that—seems like the closest thing to “enlightenment” that you suggest. It’s the essence of freedom. But it’s a hard nut to crack.

Z:  Of course it is! Do you think I’ve cracked it? No—I’ll tell you what nut I’ve cracked—I’m perpetually cracking the nut of never cracking the nut and finding freedom in that. Absolutes! Arriving! Completion! Enlightenment! Eschew them all! Embrace your existential dangle! That’s freedom!


Blog:  “Two roads at once!” We should have expected that—it seems to be your answer to just about every conundrum.

Zhuangzi:  True enough. Would you prefer something more logical? The way I experience it, being a human being is to embody paradox—there’s no escaping that. And the metaphor of having to perpetually walk two roads at once sums that up pretty well. You wonder how I could be politically active and yet simultaneously appreciate that politics do not ultimately matter. As you put it: “All is well in the Great Mess. No historical outcome can deviate from Dao. Every happening is the Great Happening.” So why bother with politics? How could I choose one candidate over another when I appreciate the equality of all points of view? How could I work to be the change when I preach non-doing—non-being the change? I just walk two roads at once. It’s simple enough.

B:  Simple for you perhaps, but not so easy for most of us.

Z:  I disagree. We are all forever walking two roads—even when we don’t know it. Death puts the nix on our every waking moment, but we enjoy life just the same. Isn’t that walking two roads? Humanity will likely one day become extinct, as will the cosmos, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to save ourselves from ourselves in the moment. We all obviously walk two roads at once—we just don’t realize and embrace it. But that’s where the freedom from fretting is—caring while not-caring, believing while not-believing, wanting while not-wanting, being angry while not-being angry, hoping while not-hoping. That’s living Dao. Living Dao is just being authentically human—nothing more. There’s nothing “spiritual” about it. To be human is to be a paradox—living Dao is happily living the paradox.

B:  So, walking two roads at once is unavoidable, but it’s hard to acknowledge that that’s what we do. And your “walking two roads” is like on a higher level—the awareness that we do it and fully embracing and living that. That’s the hard part it seems. Have we got it right?

Z:  Yep.


In an effort to realize a bit of Zhuangzian peace and freedom I swore I wouldn’t care overmuch about the presidential elections this year. Not surprisingly, given the intensity of my political sentiments, this has not been an especially successful resolution. So, I thought I’d interview Zhuangzi to see if he could perhaps give me a bit of transcendent relief.

Blog: Zhuangzi, thank you so much for consenting to be interviewed regarding the upcoming US presidential elections. Let me cut to the chase and ask if you are going to vote, and if so, for whom?

Zhuangzi: Of course I’m going to vote! Maybe we can better arrange the Mess—who knows? As for whom, I’m feeling the Bern!

B: But we’ve been told that you’re a recluse who disdains all political involvement. Doesn’t voting and having some hope for positive change contradict that?

Z: Sorry for having to say so, but you’ve been taught a lot of rubbish about me. Since the day they put my jottings in that book with all those other opinions, my opinions have been smooshed together with them. They’ve made me a “Daoist”—whatever that is.

B: So, that story about your preferring to drag your tail in the mud than to be prime minister . . . ?

Z: All made up! None of these people know anything about me. But it’s a great story, don’t you think? There’s some good stuff in it. If people could just stop taking things so literally they could find it without turning it into ridiculously fixed and dogmatic maxims. That’s the whole point of telling stories, isn’t it? Stories are about life, and life can never be reduced to unchanging “principles”. In any case, who am I to complain about people making up stories about me! (Laughter) Hell, I’ve helped launch a few good legendary characters myself. Laozi . . . Liezi . . . people just can’t take a joke. Why they think believing stuff is better than having a good laugh completely escapes me. Well, not really . . . I understand their need for “truth” . . . I just think it’s unfortunate since it only makes their existential dangle hurt all the more.

B: Okay, so you’re not a recluse and don’t advocate withdrawing from the world . . . So, you believe in doing things in the political realm, voting, supporting one candidate as better than others . . . we’re sorry, this all seems to turn what we’ve learned of Daoism on its head. What are we missing?

Z: Two roads.