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When you cling to a hairsbreadth of distinction,
heaven and earth are set apart. 
      Seng Ts'an, "The mind of absolute trust"

Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction.
     Chuang Tsu (Lin Yutang translation)

Chapter two of the Chuang Tsu is a very important piece of the taoist philosophical puzzle.  I am not sure whether it provides more clarity or more puzzlement.  It ends with one of the most famous taoist stories in which Chuang Chou dreams he is a butterf;y.  The chapter sometimes is named for that dream; but often the title (e.g. "Discussion of making all things equal" --Burton Watson) has something to do with equality.  The Declaration of Independence only uses the word "equal" once, but the entire documentt depends on that concept and its meaning.

The chapter alleges that, in the light of Tao, everything is as if it were the same as anything else.  If there were differences among things we could not know it; if we could know it we could not prove, if we could prove it we could not establish qualitative distinctions, and if we could establish qualitative distinctions it would not matter anyway at a spiritual level.

Now, if the way has been lost, we may feel we have to have compassion, when compassion is lost, duty, when duty is lost, law, and when law is lost, force.  But none of these, not even compassion, substitutes for the loss of Tao.  It is better to find one's way back to Tao.  But look what I just did!  A moment after criticizing our tendency to  make distinctions, to create barriers, to be judgmental, I am doing just those things.

If there were a perfect person, a spiritual person (and Chuang Chou admits he sure isn't one of those) she or he would still be living out the material life in a world full of imperfect people.  From these people she or he could remain aloof, or perhaps he or she might engage with them.  If he or she, engages, he or she probably could not explain what following the Tao means.  Tzu-yu wanted Tzu-ch'i to explain to him what the music of heaven was, but Tzu-ch'i could not do it.  I understand.  My spouse hears celestial music, she says it is i beautivul and unlike anything else she has heard, but she cannot take my ears and make them hear it.  The way will be found by individuals with the grace or the luck to find it; it will not be found by families, or organizations, or communities.  The people who find the Way will not know why or how they found it, and will therefore be relatively helpless to guide others.  So what do we do in the meantime.
Little clues come to us from the beyond, from the mystery, from the cloud of unknowing, from the other side of the event horizon.  Scientists say that everything in the material world is made from photons which are indistinguishable from other photons.  Mystics say that God loves us all equally.  Lao Tzu, Buddha, and Jesus all recommend attitudes and actions which do the least amount of physical, psychological, and spiritual harm to ourselves, other people, and other things.  Figuring it out is easy, doing it is hard.  Is this the Way? probably not.  But it will have to do "until the real thing comes along."

In Rumi's story of "Moses and the shepherd", Moses is angered by the shepherd's ignorance of God and how tp worship him  God informs Moses that he and the shepherd are equal in their ignorance of Gpd and in their love of God.

Chuang Chou says we must distinguish between men and butterflies while admitting that he cannot do so.

* This is the second in a series of personal commentaries on the Chuang-tzu.  The first which I called "Freedom" was posted on December 16, 2009.  These are in no sense scholarly works and reflect my private understandings which are part of an effort to become a spiritual person.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
Yes. And no.

I have trouble conceiving of a non-spiritual person. How will you know the difference, when you are one?

I'm not trying to be difficult, but I can see that this is coming out that way. I can't fix it, though. Or not yet!
Jan. 19th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
"A perfect person is a spiritual person" is a line from Lin Yutang's translation. Thomas Cleary says "complete person."

"(Wang Ni says) 'From my point of view the beginnins of humanity and justice, the roads of gain and loss, are mixed up--how can I know their distinctions?'
Nich Ch'uch said, 'if you don't know what is gain or loss, theb does that mean complete people do not know gain or loss?'
Wang Ni replied. "Complete people are spiritual, a huge conflagration cannot heat them, freezing cold cannot chill them, lightning storms and gale force winds cannot upset them. If you can be like that you can ride on the energy of the clouds, mount the sun and moon, and travel beyond the four oceans. Even death and life do not change you, much less the edge of gain and loss.'"

So I was just having a little fun with Chinese myth, as perhaps Chuang Chou was also. Still when I encounter spiritual people, I don't expect them to "mount the moon," but if, for some reason one did, I would not be totally surprised. Since these things are all metaphors, they mean something else. To me the something else may be that "complete" or "spiritual" people have, as the reporter said of the young, smiling, legless earthquake survivor, " put things in perspective."

So: yes, we are all spiritual persons.
No, Chuang Chou's "perfect people" do not exist.
And, take everything I say with a couple of grains of salt.
Jan. 19th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, what you mean is something I mean, too. :) I like that.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 28th, 2010 07:12 am (UTC)
Well, the logical fallacy of relativism is that if all views are appropriate to some extent, at some times, in some situations then relativism, being a point of view is only appropriate to some extent, at some times, and in some situations. Absolutism, also a point of view, is appropriate to some extent, at some times, in some situations. Nevertheless, I remain a relativist. But I am probably actually a "fallibilist" (thank you for introducing me to a new word) because if I were convinced that some current of future point of view contained all truth, or at least such a sufficient portion of truth that other views could be dispensed with, then I would adopt that point of view. Relativism is obviously not that point of view---which is why I'm a relativist.

The Way may surmount relativity to the extent that it partakes of the "perennial philosophy" If people of all religions (or none) look up to their saints, and if those saints seem to be in general agreement with one another about the nature of the cosmos and the spiritual aspects of reality, I must take seriously the possibility of that reality toward which so many fingers are pointing..
The prayers of neo-Platonic Christians, Hindus, Sufis, Buddhists and aboriginals are so similar that if you black out the 'brand names" they are indistinquishable from one another. Following the Way seems so similar to following the eightfold path, or the sermon on the mount, or a thousand other ethical systems that they are almost interchangrable. The only exception seems to be the modern path of industrial and post-industrial materialism, which in some ways seems to turn the older ethical systems upside down!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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