ars libertatis

369 BC – 286 BC

Huizi said to Zhuangzi, “I have a big tree called a shu. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road, and no carpenter would look at it twice. Your words, too, are big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns them!”

Zhuangzi said, “Maybe you’ve never seen a wildcat or a weasel. It crouches down and hides, watching for something to come along. It leaps and races east and west, not hesitating to go high or low—until it falls into the trap and dies in the net. Then again there’s the yak, big as a cloud covering the sky. It certainly knows how to be big, though it doesn’t know how to catch rats. Now you have this big tree, and you’re distressed because it’s useless. Why don’t you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village or the field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it? Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?”

The Complete Works of Zhuangzi, 1. Free and Easy Wandering

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up, and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he were Zhuang Zhou who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly, there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

The Complete Works of Zhuangzi, 2. Discussion on Making All Things Equal

Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Zhuangzi said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”

Huizi said, “You’re not a fish—how do you know what fish enjoy?”

Zhuangzi said, “You’re not I, so how do you know that I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

Huizi said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish—so that still proves that you don’t know what fish enjoy!”

Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy—so you already knew that I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”

The Complete Works of Zhuangzi, 17. Autumn Floods