Zhuangzi stories are strange and feel like reading Dr Seuss’. What is discernable in these writings is the discussions about life transformations—the differences between states of being, and the ambiguous nature of reality. One theme which has a natural counterpart in ancient western philosophy is its references to The Way, and how everything is One. Platonism had its start with Parmenides. Parmenides ideas of “the One” also spoke about nature and its variety. In his philosophy, Parmenides talked about “The Way of Truth.” One part of the readings in Zhuangzi’s Inner Chapters was eerily like Plato’s character Parmenides who is speaking of being, and nothingness, in Plato’s book of the same name. This book gave both a portrayal of the philosopher Parmenides and his philosophy. Here is one sample, “There is something. There is nothing. There is a not-yet beginning to nothing. Suddenly there is nothing. But then I don’t know whether nothing is or isn’t” (Ivanhoe and Van Norden, Location 4954).
BladeRunner has been a favourite movie of mine for many years. I also read the novel by Phillip k. Dick called “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” The film, in my opinion, was very good at conveying the overall message about life, death, and how do we know who or what is alive. Roy Batty, who is one of the androids in question has a confrontation with the Blade Runner at the end of the movie. Deckard is no match for the android Batty who was manufactured for combat. Something changes in Batty, however, as he watches Deckard struggle, hanging from the protrusion of the top of a high-rise apartment building. He realizes that he is about to die and that killing Deckard will make no difference. The entire movie looks and feels like a dream. This scene continues the dream-like atmosphere, and as Batty dies, the white bird he is holding flies upward as if it is his soul ascending to heaven. Before he dies, he says the following, “I have… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [a small cough] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…” (Blade Runner, Film Location 1:49). Batty speaks about his experiences as if it was all a dream or as if it might as well have been a dream.
Batty’s comments convey the same feelings that Zhuangzi does when the story is told about how he dreamed of being a butterfly. “One night, Zhuangzi dreamed of being a butterfly, a happy butterfly, showing off and doing as he pleased, unaware of being Zhuangzi. Suddenly he awoke, drowsily, Zhuangzi again. And he could not tell whether it was Zhuangzi who had dreamt the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming of Zhuangzi. But there must be some difference between them! This is called “the transformation of things” (Ivanhoe and Van Norden, Location 5034). It is if Batty was not sure if he were a human dreaming of being an android or an android dreaming of being human.
Zhuangzi finds a point where the philosophy of The Way meets the ritual of the Ying and Yang of life and death. There is a ritual in the way that nature moves from the Ying of winter into the Yang of summer. The cold, passive, quiet to the hot, forceful, active. It is this interplay that is important. One must find the Ying to understand Yang honestly, and this is because one cannot love life without knowing of death. Like Zhuangzi, Batty realized it is a waste of qi to struggle against death, which is just the next step and that Deckard’s death in no way would change the cycle.
Zhuangzi wants us to find our transformational nature, which is the nature of our being. That everything is one, and that there is always something. To realize that even nothing must be something because there can never be a real “nothing.” All things, are all a part of The One, and that is the cycle of The Way. Death and life are all just a part of the process of renewal. We have always been here and will continue to be, only not in our current state. To fear this is to fear The Way, of which we are all apart, and thus it is to fear ourselves.
Prometheus the professor
Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. By Phillip K. Dick. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, and Rutger Hauer. Warner Bros., 1982. YouTube. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoAzpa1x7jU>.
Ivanhoe, Philip J., and Bryan W. Van Norden. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy: Second Edition. 2nd ed. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2003. Kindle File.