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.