Thursday, July 7, 2011

Under Heaven: Huizi

Under Heaven: Huizi
by Scott Bradley


The final philosopher the author of Chapter 33 discusses, and the one of whom he is the most dismissive, is Huizi (Hui Shi, ca. 370-310 BCE). Huizi was a Logician and, some might say, a Sophist (in the classical Greek sense). He was a Logician in that he made use of logic and the paradoxes that logic apparently spawns to dismantle common sense notions of the world. He was a Sophist in that he loved to debate, and debate, apparently, became an end in itself, an opportunity to show off his brilliance. "Since it was really about opposing the views of others, so that he might earn fame in defeating them, he was unable to get along with the mass of men." (Zhuangzi; B. Ziporyn)

But unlike the Sophists, who did apparently only debate to win (for there is no truth at which one may arrive), Huizi apparently had something he wanted to prove. He wished to demonstrate that "all things are one." "Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body," he concluded. This he proved by showing that all distinctions of time and space, similarity and difference, were completely relative to one's perspective.

What makes Huizi of much interest to those that study Zhuangzi is that the latter made extensive use of the former's techniques. "Indeed, it seems possible if not likely," writes Brook Ziporyn, "that Zhuangzi directly adopted all these from Huizi, taking them over from him wholesale." Moreover, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Zhuangzi actually wrote the Inner Chapters for Huizi. They were, apparently, fast-friends and this was just a continuation of their debates. Graham has even suggested that Zhuangzi was possibly a former disciple of Huizi.

But Zhuangzi went beyond Huizi in that he used the latter's logic to demonstrate that the success of his proofs proved that one could prove nothing at all. Zhuangzi, I believe, sensed the oneness of all things, "but to labor one's spirit trying to make all things one, without realizing it is all the same [whether you do so or not]" is folly. Huizi stopped at what his "fully-formed" mind told him.

Zhuangzi took it another step and then used this very not-knowing as a springboard into mystical experience. To the end, however, he remained consistently unwilling to make definitive statements about Reality. He did not say, "All things are One", except as one side of a paradox or in terms of their relativity.

The author tells us that Huizi's writings filled five carts, yet all that remains are the few paradoxes found here in the Zhuangzi. He concludes with this epitaph: "If only he had pushed all the way to its conclusion his idea of Oneness, which is to say, if only he had valued the Course [Way] a bit more...Instead, (he) found no peace in it for himself...never returning to himself...He was like a man trying to silence an echo with shouts or trying to outrun his shadow. How sad!"

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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