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Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu

Little is known about Chuang Tzu (Chuang Chou). He would live the same time as Mencius (372-289 BC) though there's no account on the meeting of the two.

Chuang Tzu pricture
Chuang Tzu
He learned much about the philosophers of his time but choose Lao-tzu as his master. This is why he dedicated most of his homonymous book to the ideas of Lao Tzu which he illustrated in a methaphorircal form.

He was also a critic of Confucius. "Chuang was an admirable writer and skillful composer - wrote Ssu-ma Ch'ien -  and by his instances and truthful descriptions hit and exposed the Mohists and Literati."

The Butterfly Dream is the most quoted and commented parables of Master Chuang. Here's the English version by James Legge:

    Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chuang Tzu. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things. (Book II, chapter 13).

The transformation of things explains why one can be both a butterfly and a man, without having to lose his continuity. Though Legge thinks this is a hint to the Buddhist maya (illusion), I think this is rather a pleading for the principle of continuity of consciousness.

Perhaps we should link this parable with the one which precedes it or with the story about the death of Lao Tzu.

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Further Resources:

  • Click here to read the English version of the Book Chuang Tzu.

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