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Posts Tagged ‘Zhuang Zhou’

The Zhuangzi is considered the most essential taoist text after the Tao Te Ching.  It’s named for the author, who was properly named Zhuang Zhou.

One of his beliefs was that our past shapes the ways we perceive and understand our world. It’s our past that is responsible for the ways we experience and use language and cognition, which are intertwined. We have learned how to name things, and how we are expected to feel and behave with regard to these labels. Any of our decisions or actions might seem terribly misguided, had we experienced a different past.

He also called into question our ability to objectively know what our past truly is. I think you may have heard part of this story before, from the second chapter of the Zhuangzi:

A while ago I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamed I was a butterfly. I was completely absorbed in my butterfly experience, happily flitting about, tasting the flowers, and feeling all the marvelous enjoyment in doing what butterflies do. So absorbed was I, I didn’t even know I was Zhou; I knew only my butterfly experience.

I then woke up, and suddenly realized myself to be Zhou. I didn’t know if I had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Yet by necessity, there is something that separates man from butterfly. It’s called metamorphosis.

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