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The Dream of the Butterfly

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Is the conventional interpretation of the Zhuang Zhou’s  Butterfly Dream really a misinterpretation? Hans-Georg Moeller certainly thinks so………

 

THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY—OR:  EVERYTHING IS REAL

 

Herbert A. Giles's translation of the famous allegory of the but­terfly dream in the Zhuangzi is beautiful, but unfortunately, as I believe, entirely wrong:

 

Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was con­scious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awaked, and there I lay, 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 barrier. The transition is called Metempsychosis.

 

I quote this translation because of its great influence on the Western perception of Daoist philosophy, especially among Western intellectuals and philoso­phers. Giles's translation of the Zhuangzi and, in particular, his rendering of this allegory is representative of the general under­standing of Daoist philosophy in his generation while, on the other hand, it quite obviously contradicts a traditional interpretation of the text in China.

 

Giles's translation of the butterfly dream has little to do with the original. It is rather an interesting transformation of the text into the patterns of "standard" Western philosophy. Perhaps the butterfly allegory became so popular in the West just because of this "Westernization." When one first reads Giles's version, it surely sounds very Chinese—if only because of the Chinese names and the quite "oriental" butterfly. But upon taking a closer look, it turns out to be an exotic disguise of thoroughly Western ideas. Giles's translation can be compared to the food of many Chinese restaurants in Western countries: it looks Chinese, but the cook has, nevertheless, made it wonderfully palatable to eaters accus­tomed to the local tastes.

 

Giles's version is based on Zhuangzi's recollection of his dream after he wakes up. Philosophically speaking, the story revolves around a central act of consciousness. Once the philosopher wakes, he remembers his dream of the butterfly, and once he starts remembering this dream, he begins to doubt and reflect on his being and on the problems of truth and appearance. In Giles's rendering, Zhuangzi gains an insight into the continuity of the soul within the chain of existence: he understands that he  is part of the great cycle of Metempsychosis or the transmigration of the soul. The act of remembering is at the core of this philosoph­ical realization of the truth. It seems to be the point of departure on the path towards the discovery of the truth about the world and one's soul.

 

Giles's butterfly dream story is an interesting blend of motifs from the Western philosophical tradition. It bears a certain resem­blance to the final book of Plato's Republic in which Socrates tells the myth of Er, a person who was allowed to visit the underworld. In the underworld, Er witnessed what happens to the souls there: after their lives on earth, they are judged and sent either to a heaven or to a hell. Having spent a certain amount of time in the underworld, the souls return to earth after choosing a new body for their next life. Before the souls re-enter the world, they have to cross the plains of Lethe—or: Forgetfulness. By this crossing, they lose all their memory of the underworld and go on to live without knowledge of the metempsychosis they have undergone. According to this story, it is only through the act of remembrance—through mentally reaching back before the plains of forgetfulness—that human beings can actually realize their true being and fate: the transmigration of souls.

 

Since Plato, remembrance has been a central motif within Western conceptions of wisdom and knowledge, of thinking and of truth. In Plato's Meno, Socrates tries to prove that all knowledge comes from memory by conducting an "experiment" with an une­ducated slave: Just by asking the slave simple yes-or-no questions, Socrates helps him "discover" some basic geometrical rules. He concludes that the slave already had an innate geometrical knowl­edge and only needed some help to actually remember it. In mod­ern philosophy, G. W. F. Hegel depicted recollection as the way that leads to absolute knowledge in the course of his Phenomenology of Spirit. Old-European philosophers indeed often "thought back" to find the truth. In a similar way, Herbert A. Giles's Zhuangzi has to think back and re-member his dream in order to have the re-flection which leads him to re-cognize what is true and what only seems to be.

 

A second core motif of Giles's butterfly dream story deeply rooted in the Western philosophical tradition is expressed by the most often used term in his translation: I. This I and the related question of what this I truly is make up the philosophical thread that runs through the story. Zhuangzi tells a story about himself, he tells how his I in his dream is the I of a butterfly. Then he awakes and Zhuangzi is, as he says, " myself again. " This very I then starts thinking—and what does it think about? About itself and about what it is! Giles's text is from beginning to end about the I and its reflection on its own being. It is an ironic fact, I believe, that in the history of Western philosophy, there are few texts that treat so exclusively and comprehensively the issue of human sub­jectivity!

 

A third core motif of Giles's butterfly dream story is doubt. As soon as Zhuangzi remembers his dream, he begins doubting. And again, these doubts are rather existential since they are in regard to his inner self. Did Zhuangzi dream about being a butterfly or is he now a butterfly dreaming he is Zhuangzi? The motif of philo­sophical doubt is of great importance within the history of Western philosophy. Although Rene Descartes' famous Meditations are usually summarized by the "motto" cogito ergo sum or "I think, therefore I am," one might as well use the motto "I doubt, there­fore I am." At least after Descartes, Western philosophers are often seen as experts in doubting, as depicted in Auguste Rodin's sculp­ture The Thinker. The tradition of Western philosophy has com­bined these three motifs—remembrance, the being of the "I," and doubt—in various ways. One could very well write a history of (modern) Western philosophy by following the development of these notions. In Giles's translation, Zhuangzi appears to be a par­adigmatic Western philosopher in an ancient Chinese robe!

 

A fourth Old-European motif which appears in Giles's butter­fly dream comes into play at the end of the story: the motif of the transition of a barrier or transcendence. Once Zhuangzi has real­ized that there is a border between man and butterfly, he also real­izes that he himself as a philosopher can have knowledge of this border and thus that he can philosophically go beyond it. Zhuangzi, by his reflection, can overstep the border between dreaming and being awake, between appearance and truth. This motif alludes to the Western—and especially Judaeo-Christian -  distinction between immanence and transcendence. A “meditating”  philosopher in the West can mentally reach beyond the barriers of worldly immanence             and merely apparent reality. In this way, he or she can move to the higher realm of an infinite, divine, and true world, just like the freed prisoner in Plato's alle­gory of the cave.

 

A fifth Old-European motif in Giles's butterfly dream is closely connected to the previous one—it is the motif of the unreality or at least the relativity of the world of experience. From the perspec­tive of the "awakened" philosopher, Zhuangzi sees through the unreality of his dreams. What he believed to be true while he was asleep, his then this-worldly and temporally limited existence as a butterfly, is finally unmasked as mere appearance, as a realm of only partial reality. Once the barrier is overcome, then what only seemed to be true is seen as it is. The awakened philosopher looks down on his earlier "unenlightened" experience. Only his mental reflection can elevate him to the realm of truth and free himself from the illusions of dreamlike sensual and temporal experience. In Giles's version, Zhuangzi seems to live through the process of a philosophical transition from the dreamlike phenomenal world to the enlightened realm of the noumenal.

 

The most wonderful transformation of the butterfly dream is, in my view, not the one of Zhuangzi in the story, but rather those performed by Herbert A. Giles. Giles's rendering keeps the ori­ental surface of the story alive, but completely converts the philo­sophical content into motifs of the Western philosophical tradition. Giles's magical transformation of the story has been overlooked by many of its Western readers who do not have access to the original texts. If one, however, takes a look at what the text literally says (or rather at what it does not say), and at how its ancient Chinese editor Guo Xiang (252-312) explains its mean­ing, one will see no evidence of the five motifs discussed above. In the Chinese original, the decisive turning point of the story is not remembering but forgetting. And this forgetting also includes the I and its being—it turns out that there is literally no I and no being in the story. Where Giles introduced doubts in the story, there is doubtlessness in the original, and where he advises the philosopher to transcend barriers, the original advises one to accept borders. Finally, while Giles's story seems to indicate the rel­ativity of the dream world of temporal phenomena, the original text highlights the equivalent reality of all experience. If one reads the butterfly dream story along with Guo Xiang's commentary, one sees the text in  a Daoist light.

 

The Crucial difference between the plot of this allegory in Giles's translation and in Guo Xiang's edition is Zhuangzl's reac­tion when he awakes from his dream. While Giles implies that Zhuangzi remembers his dream, no such remembrance is men­tioned in the text, and Guo Xiang's commentary makes it perfectly clear that Zhuangzi does not remember the dream—he has, rather, completely forgotten it. Once Zhuangzi—or as he is called in the story: Zhuang Zhou—awakes, Guo Xiang inserts the following commentary:

 

Now Zhuang Zhou is just as ignorant about the butterfly as the but­terfly was ignorant about Zhuang Zhou during the dream.

 

When Zhuang Zhou awakes, he is as unaware of his earlier dream existence as the butterfly in the dream was unaware of Zhuang Zhou's earlier waking existence. Since the plot is completely dif­ferent, the story has to be read in another manner. This being so, I present my own translation based on the Chinese original and Guo Xiang's commentary:

 

Once Zhuang Zhou  dreamt—and  then he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly, self-content and in accord with its intentions. The butterfly did not know about Zhou. Suddenly it awoke—and then it was fully and completely Zhou. One does not know whether there is a Zhou becoming a butterfly in a dream or whether there is a butterfly becoming a Zhou in a dream. There is a Zhou and there is a butter­fly, so there is necessarily a distinction between them. This is called: the changing of things.

 

As opposed to Giles's translation, the original is based upon the mutual ignorance of Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly. The text indicates that because of this mutual ignorance, because of the for­getting of previous dreams while being awake and because of the forgetting of previous periods of being awake while dreaming, there are no grounds for devaluating one phase of existence. Both phases are equally authentic or real because each does not remem­ber the other. Because the butterfly does not know about Zhou, it is "self-content." Because Zhou does not remember his dream he is "fully and completely Zhou"—and without any doubts! Since Zhou and the butterfly do not remember each other, because the barrier between them is not crossed, the change between them is seamless, spontaneous, and natural! The harmonious "changing of things" is dependent upon the acceptance of the distinction and not on its transcendence.

 

In the original version of the text the core philosophical motif of the allegory is not remembering but forgetting. Zhuang Zhou's "state of consciousness" is not one of reflection or theoretical rea­soning, but rather one of a man who has been emptied of mental reflection.

 

It is quite noteworthy that the word that most frequently occurs in Giles's rendering—the "I," which is used ten times in those few lines, without counting words like "my" and "myself'— does not appear in the original! With this "I," Giles has Zhuang Zhou narrate the story—which is simply wrong, because it is not told from this perspective. Moreover, the "I" becomes, against tex­tual evidence, the necessary subject of the act of remembrance. In Giles's story Zhuang Zhou becomes "myself again"—there is nothing like this in the Chinese text.

 

While Zhuang Zhou emerges as the "subject" of change in Giles's version—he is first a man, then a butterfly, and then once more a man, there is no continuous subject mentioned in the text. The original text rather implies that instead of an "I" and its "indi­viduality," which undergo change (another invention by Giles), there is a kind of "autonomy" for both the butterfly and Zhuang Zhou. There is, strictly speaking, no substantial "I" that is first awake, then asleep, and then awake again. It is exactly because there is no such single, individual—which literally means in-divis­ible—I connecting them that both the butterfly and Zhuang Zhou can each be so fully real. They are real because they are divisible, not because they are in-divisible! During the dream, the butterfly is fully the butterfly, and when awake, Zhuang Zhou is fully Zhou. In the original text the change is complete: In one's dream one turns into another full reality and thus one is no longer what one was before. One is no longer "oneself' when change takes place. Change turns one I into another. While in Giles's story there is one I that takes on different bodies (like the soul in the course of metempsychosis), there are three phases in the original text, first Zhuang Zhou awake, then the butterfly in the dream, and then, strictly speaking, another Zhuang Zhou after the dream. There is no continuous I that acts as a bridge between these three phases. This is the reason that all three stages can be equally real.

 

The third motif in Giles's story, the moment of, doubt, also has no equivalent in the Chinese text. Since Zhuang Zhou does not remember his dream, he is totally ignorant about the existence of the butterfly, and so has no reason to doubt his existence. Once awake, Zhuang Zhou is, as the text says, "fully and completely" Zhuang Zhou and does not seem to doubt this fact by asking him­self strange philosophical questions. He is not "thinking back," but rather as solidly assured of himself as the butterfly was of itself in the dream. Unlike Giles's version ("Now I do not know whether . . ."), there is no question raised by Zhuang Zhou in the original. In its place the conclusion is made by a "neutral" observer: Given the fact that the butterfly during the dream is as assured of its existence as Zhuang Zhou is of his reality when he is awake, there is no hierarchy of reality for an external observer. There is a reality to the perspective of each phase, so the neutral perspective cannot say that one phase is more authentic than another or that the butterfly is merely a dream. This being so, there can be no doubt that both phases, dreaming and being awake, are in-differently valid. Both phases are indifferent to each other and thus are not differently real. Both phases prove each other's real­ity. In the Chinese text the reader is left with no doubt about this.

 

The fourth motif in Giles's story finds its reverse in the original Chinese text. Here, it is not the crossing of boundaries that gives rise to "true" reality, but rather the affirmation and acceptance of them. Only if the one who is awake does not "think back" to his or her dreams and only if the dreamer does not "think back" to what he or she was when awake, can they both be "fully real." If, in a dream, one knew that it was a dream, one's dream would no longer be experienced as real. There is no word for "transition" in the Chinese text at all! It is an addition by the translator, just as the ten "I"s are! The reality of both states are dependent on not trans­gressing the borders of their segments of existence. Just as one is no longer really asleep when one realizes that one is dreaming, one is no longer really awake when one starts "living in a dream world." If one revitalizes earlier phases, for instance by way of rec­ollection, one cannot but give up one's presence, which diminishes the fullness of the "here and now." Total presence and the authen­ticity of the here and now is necessarily based on the nonviolation of "natural" barriers. Transitions of these barriers will not bring about a higher reality but, on the contrary, take away from reality. As the text says, the changing of things goes along necessarily with distinctions. The Chinese character for "distinction" contains as its main semantic element the character for "knife." Clear-cut distinc­tions and divisibility guarantee well-proportioned change. It is dangerous to disregard them.

 

In his commentary, Guo Xiang interprets the butterfly story as an allegory about life and death. Guo Xiang explains that just as one should not see dreaming as less real than being awake, one should not see death as less real than life. According to Guo Xiang, life and death are two equally valid phases of being or segments of change. This being so, one should not be anxious about death. If one just lives while being alive without worrying about death, then one can be as "fully and completely" alive as Zhuang Zhou was awake when he did not worry about his dreams. Likewise, when dead, one will not remember life, and therefore the dead can be as self-content and pleased as the butterfly was during the dream. Guo Xiang writes:

 

Well, the course of time does not stop for a moment, and today does not persist in what follows. Thus yesterday's dream changes into a today. How could it be different with the change between life and death!? Why should one let one's heart be made heavy by being moved back and forth between them? Being one, there is no knowl­edge of the other. Being a butterfly while dreaming is genuine. Relating this to human beings: when alive one does not know whether one may later actually have beautiful concubines. Only the stupid think they really know that life is something delightful and death is something to be sad about. That is what is called "never hav­ing heard of the changing of things."

 

It seems that Herbert A. Giles had not "heard of the changing of things." In his version of the story the reader is left with the nonauthenticity of dreams and asked to be ready for a transition of the immanence of life and death. This is not what the ancient Daoist Guo Xiang believed. To him, life and death were equally genuine and no realm of experience was to be devaluated. This contradicts the fifth motif of Giles's version of the story.

 

From a Daoist point of view, the change of something into its opposite is the condition for complete, seamless, and permanent change in general. It is decisive that there are no "bridges of rec­ollection" in this process connecting the phases of change so that each phase can be fully present. This concept of change is illus­trated quite drastically by another Daoist parable found in the Huainanzi. This story parallels the butterfly dream, and it goes like this:

 

Once Duke Niuai was suffering from the illness of change. After seven days the change took place and he turned into a tiger. When his elder brother who looked after him came into his chamber to cover the corpse, the tiger caught the elder brother and killed him. A cultivated person had become a predator, claws and teeth transformed. Emotions and the heart had changed. Spirit and form had changed. The one who is now a tiger knows nothing about the one who earlier was a man. And the one who earlier was a man knew nothing about the one who now is a tiger. The two have replaced each other and changed into an opposite. Both were enjoying completeness of form.

 

The transformation of Duke Niuai into a tiger corresponds to Zhuang Zhou's transformation into a butterfly. In both transfor­mations there is total mutual ignorance of the respective phases of existence. Just as the butterfly and Zhuang Zhou were totally ignorant of each other, so too are Duke Nivai and the tiger. This ignorance marks the barrier between the segments of change that is not to be transgressed. Only in this way can all phases enjoy their respective "completeness of form." The opposite nature of human beings and tigers highlights this idea: As a man, Duke Nivai is cul­tivated, while the tiger, as a predator, is wild. The transformation is total, it includes the "emotions and the heart," and "spirit and form." The phases of change oppose each other like day and night, and therefore they perfectly complement one another and establish an ongoing process. The butterfly dream allegory and the parable of Duke Nivai's "illness of change" both illustrate how an inces­sant process of change entails complete "forgetfulness." Both sto­ries ask the reader to accept the completeness of change in which there is no continuous "transmigrating" substance.

 

The allegory of the butterfly dream is not about metempsychosis, it is about the Daoist teaching of change. However, if a core ele­ment of this Daoist teaching is to forget about previous and future phases of change in order to fully exhaust the authenticity of the one present phase—why does the butterfly dream allegory (as well as the story of Duke Nivai) cover several phases of change? Who can actually tell these stories. What is the perspective of the narra­tor if neither Zhuang Zhou nor the butterfly have the slightest knowledge of each other? Giles "solved" this problem by invent­ing the "I" that is not in the Chinese original—and thereby com­pletely transformed the story. In order to correctly answer this important question one has to take a closer look at the first sen­tence of the original text and the particular way personal names are used in the allegory.

 

The butterfly allegory (as well as the story of Duke Nivai) begins with the word "once" (xi). If the story is told from the per­spective of a narrator, this narrator obviously talks about events that happened in the past. The personal names used in the story indicate a similar time relation* between the narrator and the plot: The text is supposedly written by Zhuang-zi, that is by Master Zhuang, the honorific designation of someone who has become a sage. This designation indicates a change in personality—it indi­cates that someone has changed into someone else. Master Zhuang tells a story about Zhuang Zhou, about a person that was alive before there was Master Zhuang. Zhuang Zhou changed into Master Zhuang, and Master Zhuang tells us a story about events that happened when once there was a Zhuang Zhou. Master Zhuang tells the story about a "Zhou" whom he no longer iden­tifies with. The story is told from the perspective of someone who is neither Zhuang Zhou nor the butterfly, but who is equally "close" to both. From the perspective of the narrator there is no difference in reality or authenticity between the butterfly and Zhuang Zhou. Before there was Master Zhuang, there once was a Zhuang Zhou, and there once was a butterfly. Now, when the story is told by Master Zhuang, he is no longer either of the two. The story is told by someone who does not identify with either Zhuang Zhou or the butterfly, but who affirms both equally.

 

The perspective of Zhuang-zi or Master Zhuang, the narrator, is the perspective of the Daoist sage. The Daoist sage is in the midst of Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly, in the midst of dreaming and being awake, in the midst of life and death. Zhuangzi's per­spective is, so to speak, the "zero-perspective." He tells the story out of the empty center of the process of change, out of the axis or the "pivot of Dao" (dao shu) as the same chapter of the Zhuangzi puts it. The Daoist sage dwells unchanged at the cen­ter of the process of change. The story is told from this neutral and empty position, not from the position of a continuous I that undergoes change. It is told from the perspective of Zhuangzi, not from the perspective of either Zhuang Zhou or the butterfly.

 

The narrator of the butterfly dream story is a Daoist sage, and this sage, at the "pivot of the Dao" occupies the same position as the hub within a wheel. The butterfly dream allegory in the Zhuangzi is structured parallel to the image of the wheel in chap­ter 11 of the Daodejing. The image and the allegory both illustrate a perfect process of change. The spokes of the wheel, switching positions in the course of time, correspond to Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly. Just as what is on top changes into what is below, so a Zhuang Zhou changes into a butterfly, a dreamer turns into someone awake, and a Duke Nivai turns into a tiger. Within the process of change each phase is always distinct. The process runs smoothly as long as there is no transgression of barriers, as long as everything does not transcend its respective presence.

 

To the sage at the center of the process of change the segments of change are not only "relatively" authentic—each is fully and completely real. The position of the sage does not introduce a sort of "relativism"; it rather guarantees the full authenticity and com­pleteness of the process of change. Master Zhuang does not take anything away from the reality of either Zhuang Zhou or the but­terfly for he affirms and founds their complete reality. Likewise, the Daoist sage does not represent an insight into the "relativity" of life and death, but rather the affirmation of their complete reality. With the Daoist sage, life and death come to their equal and full authenticity.

 

The butterfly dream allegory speaks to both the sage and the nonsage: For those who are not sages, it is appropriate to be fully content with one's reality—to be fully alive without doubting one's "being" or reflecting on one's I. If one is fully awake while being awake and fully asleep while being asleep, one will always be fully present. Like in a political or physical organism, one should just naturally live up to one's position within an ongoing process.

 

If one has become a sage (and the Buddhists will later call this step the attaining of "enlightenment" or wu), if one is no longer either asleep or awake, either alive or dead, one has lost all identifications. One is then equally close to all phases, but never present in any, and nonpresent in the midst of a changing presence. From the zero perspective one observes the spinning of the circle – like Zhuangzi observes the change from Zhuang Zhou to the butter­fly. While everything else is what it is, the sage lets it be. In this way the sage can be identified with the whole process of change, just as the hub can be identified with the whole wheel, or the heart with the whole body, or the sage ruler with the whole state. In the midst of changes, the sage is no longer a distinct phase, but the core of the whole process of Dao.

 

From Daoism Explained: From the Dream of the Butterfly to the Fishnet Allegory  by Hans-Georg Moeller pp 44-55

 

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Hehehe.  You don't want to hear my comments yet.  But they are forthcoming.

 

I'll await your comments with interest. Personally, I like Moeller’s approach. He is a gifted communicator steeped in both Western and Eastern thought. His insights have given me new perspectives on how we humans construct meaning.   

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I'll await your comments with interest. Personally, I like Moeller’s approach. He is a gifted communicator steeped in both Western and Eastern thought. His insights have given me new perspectives on how we humans construct meaning.   

I'm hoping others will post to this before I do.  I actually feel a little uncomfortable talking about Moeller because I have never read him and all I see are thing others have said about him.  And when I do respond I will speak to only the Butterfly story and his translation and comments regarding it and the translations of others.

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Well, I don't want this thread to die so I will speak to it now.

 

First, I will agree with Moeller in that many translations of both the TTC and the Chuang Tzu have been done from a totally Western mind.  Also I will add that many translations include the biases of Christianity.

 

To be fair, Giles' translation was one of the first, if not the first, translation of Chuang Tzu into English.  There was no attempt to view the text from Chinese mentality.  He translated for the Western reader who did not read Chinese.

 

Also, Giles had no other translations to compare his understandings against.

 

But yes, it is true.  Translations into English are done with the reader in mind.  That would be Western readers.  Westerners think like Westerners, not like the Chinese (back then).

 

To the Butterfly story:

 

Burton Watson and Lin Yutang both follow the flow of the story as presented by Giles.  This is true of all other translations I have seen.  For Moeller to be right every one else has to be wrong.  And that would make him the only one right.  Sounds suspicious.

 

Note especially in Moeller's translation:  Once Zhuang Zhou  dreamt—and  then he was a butterfly ...

 

That is illogical.  We don't become something else just because we are dreaming.

 

I can't speak to any other part of his translation as I do not read Chinese.  I do like the flow of Giles' translation over that of Moeller though.

 

And I don't like his last line:  This is called: the changing of things.

 

But then, really, I don't like anyone else's either so I can't say much to that.

 

However, it does appear the Moeller is trying to present a translation that has more Chinese "feel" and I give him credit for that.

 

And after all is said, there was a Chuang Tzu for everyone to see and there was a butterfly in a dream and the point is that it is difficult to realize that we are dreaming when we are dreaming,  It is only after we wake up that we know we were dreaming.  Sadly. there was no butterfly for others to see.  Just a dream, Just a dream.

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Our regular waking experience isnt so different, yes some things are based on physical situation, but much is not. Its a dream with some different rules.

Why equate the two if not to draw attention to the similarities? Does one not imagine themselves to be what they are,? Is the soldier still a soldier ,when he isnt soldiering? The dreamer, is he still Chuang ,when he isnt ...fulfilling the life of Chuang?

We think ourselves constant, a body persisting.. but the body is not exactly the same moment to moment, emotion to emotion, situation variable.

I see no need to nail the wording down when the rabbit is caught. Its fine vague, perhaps clearer,since overprecise wording can be quite misleading.

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My main motivation for posting Moeller’s interpretation of ‘The Dream of the Butterfly’ was to provide a reference resource for those interested. To my mind, such detailed commentary by a learned researcher schooled in both Eastern and Western thought deserves the widest possible audience. Whilst I welcome comments – and fully appreciate that there are different perspectives on the meaning of the allegory – I don't expect anyone to find flaws with his arguments as presented.  His interpretation is the product of much research utilising a network of Chinese and Western academics, and has been peer reviewed by some of the best minds in the field of comparative philosophy. It was first published as an article in the journal Philosophy East and West in 1999 and later in his book Daoism Explained in 2004. The abstract below gives a good outline of his purpose. 

 

Zhuangzi's "dream of the butterfly": A Daoist interpretation

Hans-Georg Moeller

Philosophy East and West 49 (4):439-450 (1999)

 

Abstract:             

 

Guo Xiang's (252-312) reading of the famous "Butterfly Dream" passage from the Zhuangzi differs significantly from modern readings, particularly those that follow the Giles translation. Guo Xiang's view is based on the assumption that the character of Zhuang Zhou has no recollection of his dream after awakening and therefore does not entertain doubts about what or who he really is. This leads to a specific understanding of the allegorical and philosophical meaning of the text that stands in contradistinction to most modern interpretations.

Edited by Darkstar

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Guo Xiang's (252-312) reading of the famous "Butterfly Dream" passage from the Zhuangzi differs significantly from modern readings, particularly those that follow the Giles translation. Guo Xiang's view is based on the assumption that the character of Zhuang Zhou has no recollection of his dream after awakening and therefore does not entertain doubts about what or who he really is. This leads to a specific understanding of the allegorical and philosophical meaning of the text that stands in contradistinction to most modern interpretations.

Wait as minute.

 

How could Chuang Tzu tell the story of his dreaming if he "has no recollection of his dream"?

 

Remember, Chuang Tzu was a mystic.  He would naturally wonder if he really is a human dreaming or a butterfly dreaming.

 

Moeller might be trying to make Chuang Tzu a Materialist.  He was not.

 

Also I will mention that Lin Yutang, born and educated in China.  Yes, his Father was a Caucasian Christian.  Lin was further educated in the West.  His translation of the Chuang Tzu is consistent with Giles'.

 

We cannot remove the mysticism from Chuang Tzu.

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I don't expect anyone to find flaws with his arguments as presented.

 

Well, you know.. to someone like me, that sounds like a challenge... ^_^

 

 

Firstly, let me say that I agree about Giles's translation. It is not good. "I" should certainly not be used, and in general it is too specific and presumptive. But Moeller has given us enough to go on as to why Giles's is no good, I think.

 

On to Moeller's own:

 

 

The Crucial difference between the plot of this allegory in Giles's translation and in Guo Xiang's edition is Zhuangzl's reac­tion when he awakes from his dream. While Giles implies that Zhuangzi remembers his dream, no such remembrance is men­tioned in the text, and Guo Xiang's commentary makes it perfectly clear that Zhuangzi does not remember the dream—he has, rather, completely forgotten it.

 

For sure, no such remembrance is mentioned in the text...but neither is it made clear that ZZ does not remember the dream. If we're talking about a direct, loyal translation, we must not specify either way.

 

 

 

Let's look at the text itself, with a loyal (& non-presumptive) multi-choice translation:

 

 

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶              once/formerly  zhuang zhou  dream  become  butterfly

栩栩然胡蝶也                     content   understand  butterfly

自喻適志與                         self  explain/understand  fit/just  will/ideal/remember/consciousness

不知周也                            not know  zhou

俄然覺則蘧蘧然周也           suddenly  awake  then  leisurely/surprised  understand  zhou

不知周之夢為胡蝶與           not know  zhou  dream  become  butterfly

胡蝶之夢為周與                  (or)  butterfly  dream  become  zhou

周與胡蝶則必有分矣           zhou  and/with  butterfly  then  must  have  difference

此之謂物化                         this is called  wuhua

 

 

For me,  物化 wuhua  is important. We cannot claim that either rememberance or forgetfulness are implied in the text; we can only infer. But we can figure out a more precise meaning for wuhua, and see if that helps.

 

Bear in mind that it literally means the changing/transformation of things/stuff:

 

物  =  things (as in wanwu, the ten thousand things)

化  =  change, transform, melt, die

 

and it seems to be a contraction of the structure 万物化生  "the ten thousand things die and are (re)born", i.e. the life cycle

 

 

http://ctext.org/pre-qin-and-han?searchu=%E7%89%A9%E5%8C%96

It comes up a number of times in the Zhuangzi. Let's look at instances where it appears alone as 物化 (not as 万物化生):

 

 

http://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=en&id=2789#s10036103

Here, we might want to read the whole chapter so as not to take it out of context (the speaker is using it to describe action that should not be taken):

 

 

方且與物化而未始有恒

Moreover, he would be changing as things changed, and would not begin to have any principle of constancy. (Legge)

 

or, less specifically:

 

 

方且與物化而未始有恒

Moreover, he would wuhua with no beginning, only eternal

 

 

 

Then, from The Way of Heaven:

 

知天樂者,其生也天行,其死也物化

Those who know the joy of Heaven, their life is moved by Heaven, their death is wuhua

 

 

 

Then, from Ingrained Ideas (using almost the exact same sentence as the previous):

 

聖人之生也天行,其死也物化

The sage's life, moved by Heaven; his death, wuhua

 

 

 

Then, from The Full Understanding of Life:

 

工倕旋而蓋規矩,指與物化,而不以心稽

The artisan Chui made things round more exactly than if he had used the circle and square; the operation of his fingers was like wuhua, and required no application of his mind

 

 

wuhua also comes up in the Liezi, Wenzi, and Huainanzi, and some historical and medical texts, but generally in all of these it means "the transformation of things" or the cycle of life and death.

 

Except in that last one, about the artisan Chui. How can one's fingers operate like the cycle of life and death? What ZZ means here, I think, is a seamless, fluid motion; a constant rising and falling; no beginning, only spirit. Just like Cook Ding, Chui is moving with Heaven.

 

周與胡蝶則必有分矣           Between Zhou and a/the butterfly, there must be a difference/distinction

此之謂物化                         This is called wuhua

 

The experience of dreaming is.. dreamy. We often don't know that we're dreaming, and when we wake up we often forget that we dreamt at all. If we do remember, it might be vivid and realistic or fuzzy and fading.

 

Why does ZZ have to be implying total remembrance or total forgetfulness of the dream?

 

And, going back,

 

俄然覺則蘧蘧然周也           suddenly  awake  then  leisurely/surprised  understand  zhou

 

The meaning of 蘧蘧 is unclear to me, but I can find no definition of it as "fully and completely" -- more likely, it means "leisurely" or "surprised"

 

In The Revolution of Heaven,

 

仁義,先王之廬也     Benevolence and righteousness were as the lodging-houses of the former kings

 

implying to me that ZZ's other use of 蘧, in the Butterfly Dream, carries the 'leisurely' connotation rather than 'surprised'

 

So he suddenly awoke, and then leisurely realised that he was Zhuang Zhou. Again, no total remembrance or forgetfulness is implied, I think.

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Wait as minute.

 

How could Chuang Tzu tell the story of his dreaming if he "has no recollection of his dream"?

Exactly...and it goes all downhill from there.

 

 

 

 

Once Zhuang Zhou  dreamt—and  then he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly, self-content and in accord with its intentions.

The butterfly did not know about Zhou. Suddenly it awoke—and then it was fully and completely Zhou. One does not know whether there is a Zhou becoming a butterfly in a dream or whether there is a butterfly becoming a Zhou in a dream. There is a Zhou and there is a butter­fly, so there is necessarily a distinction between them. This is called: the changing of things.

 

 

whats the moral of this story? This?

 

 

 In the midst of changes, the sage is no longer a distinct phase, but the core of the whole process of Dao.

 

he just said there is a distinction. then he turns around and says there is not. which is it?

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Go on, it's nice to read this.

 

Never having heard of both authors, I'm a blank slate.

 

I liked the way it became clear to me how entrenched we can become in ways of thinking when i read the OP. And liked the story too, both versions.

 

The only thing i wondered about was: eh...something like: like its the sage thats looking down with a helicopterview on the changing butterfly-human business.

 

But seems to me, no need to be a sage for that. There are people who are definitely not sages , who do remember one or several earlier lives and realize very well that these are just changing manifestations of   eh  'reality'

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We cannot remove the mysticism from Chuang Tzu.

Sorry ,I think the mysticism not only can be but  should be removed , its the only way to give the work its just appreciation IMO. Ill drop out of this. 

 

Love these though!

 

Let's look at the text itself, with a loyal (& non-presumptive) multi-choice translation:

 

 

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶              once/formerly  zhuang zhou  dream  become  butterfly

栩栩然胡蝶也                     content   understand  butterfly

自喻適志與                         self  explain/understand  fit/just  will/ideal/remember/consciousness

不知周也                            not know  zhou

俄然覺則蘧蘧然周也           suddenly  awake  then  leisurely/surprised  understand  zhou

不知周之夢為胡蝶與           not know  zhou  dream  become  butterfly

胡蝶之夢為周與                  (or)  butterfly  dream  become  zhou

周與胡蝶則必有分矣           zhou  and/with  butterfly  then  must  have  difference

此之謂物化                         this is called  wuhua

 

But I might add, that last line makes a huge difference and I think giles is greatly flawed to do so.. It clearly resolves the mystical confused reverie aspect ,into a normal consideration of the experience. 

Understanding , remembering , etc  is a situation of  personally relating to the past event ,, the forgetting need not be of the facts but rather the first person experience of those facts, and Im thinking we now know what wuhua is.. subjective first person experience. 

Edited by Stosh
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Exactly...and it goes all downhill from there.

 

Well, I appreciate Moeller's interpretation, and it offers a lot to think about.

 

 

 

Sorry ,I think the mysticism not only can be but  should be removed , its the only way to give the work its just appreciation IMO. Ill drop out of this. 

 

I don't think that there is any mysticism involved... we're talking about dreaming. Everyone dreams. To infer a mystical aspect is fine, if someone for some reason wants to go there, but there is not one single reason to think that ZZ was being anything other than philosophical.

 

 

 

The only thing i wondered about was: eh...something like: like its the sage thats looking down with a helicopterview on the changing butterfly-human business.

 

But seems to me, no need to be a sage for that. There are people who are definitely not sages , who do remember one or several earlier lives and realize very well that these are just changing manifestations of   eh  'reality'

 

There's no mention of sages. And one might infer that he's talking of "past lives", but it's not explicit, and it'd be the only time he does that, wouldn't it?

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. And one might infer that he's talking of "past lives", but it's not explicit, and it'd be the only time he does that, wouldn't it?

here is another instance when ZZ is explicit about past lives and reincarnation

 

 

至樂 - Perfect Enjoyment

English translation: James Legge [?]

 

 

至樂:

 

 

種有幾,得水則為㡭,得水土之際則為蛙蠙之衣,生於陵屯則為陵舄,陵舄得鬱棲則為烏足,烏足之根為蠐螬,其葉為蝴蝶。胡蝶,胥也化而為蟲,生於灶下,其狀若脫,其名為鴝掇。鴝掇千日為鳥,其名曰乾餘骨。乾餘骨之沬為斯彌,斯彌為食醯。頤輅生乎食醯,黃軦生乎九猷,瞀芮生乎腐蠸。羊奚比乎不筍,久竹生青寧,青寧生程,程生馬,馬生人,人又反入於機。萬物皆出於機,皆入於機。

 

Perfect Enjoyment:

 

 

 

The seeds (of things) are multitudinous and minute. On the surface of the water they form a membranous texture. When they reach to where the land and water join they become the (lichens which we call the) clothes of frogs and oysters. Coming to life on mounds and heights, they become the plantain; and, receiving manure, appear as crows' feet. The roots of the crow's foot become grubs, and its leaves, butterflies. This butterfly, known by the name of xu, is changed into an insect, and comes to life under a furnace. Then it has the form of a moth, and is named the Qu-duo. The Qu-duo after a thousand days becomes a bird, called the gan-yu-gu. Its saliva becomes the si-mi, and this again the shi-xi (or pickle-eater). The yi-lu is produced from the pickle-eater; the huang-kuang from the jiu-you; the mou-rui from the fu-quan. The yang-xi uniting with a bamboo, which has long ceased to put forth sprouts, produces the qing-ning; the qing-ning, the panther; the panther, the horse; and the horse, the man. Man then again enters into the great Machinery ..from which all things come forth (at birth), and which they enter at death.

Edited by Taoist Texts

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Sorry ,I think the mysticism not only can be but  should be removed , its the only way to give the work its just appreciation IMO. Ill drop out of this. 

No, we should never change what the person said.  We can, however, accept those aspects of what was said that appear useful in our life.

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I don't think that there is any mysticism involved... we're talking about dreaming. Everyone dreams. To infer a mystical aspect is fine, if someone for some reason wants to go there, but there is not one single reason to think that ZZ was being anything other than philosophical.

I agree totally... except that If there IS a reason to read the stuff, then one has to demystify to understand,,  the mystery of mystical is not understanding.,, and Im not as certain the word dream refers to the nightly sleepy alpha wave histrionics. It could be.

Edited by Stosh

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No, we should never change what the person said.  We can, however, accept those aspects of what was said that appear useful in our life.

I agree with that as well , leave the original intact, glean what one can , then take a fresh look at the grace of the original.  ( I just dont think he was intellectually 'mystical' , he explains it all as far as he possibly can , drums the point home even. ) I didnt know him personally tho , its my speculation.

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here is another instance when ZZ is explicit about past lives and reincarnation

There are many places where he spoke to the concept of "the transformation of things" but I doubt he had any interest in the concept of reincarnation.  And it is true, all things (energy) are constantly transforming from one aspect to another.

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I agree with that as well , leave the original intact, glean what one can , then take a fresh look at the grace of the original.  ( I just dont think he was intellectually 'mystical' , he explains it all as far as he possibly can , drums the point home even. ) I didnt know him personally tho , its my speculation.

But remember, I am much more of a Materialist then he ever was so my perspective of what is mystical will likely be different from others' perspective.

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But remember, I am much more of a Materialist then he ever was so my perspective of what is mystical will likely be different from others' perspective.

Ok then I dont know what you consider mysticism in a materialists world, please elaborate briefly ,  and then Ill drop out like I thought I was going to :)

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here is another instance when ZZ is explicit about past lives and reincarnation

 

...
 

馬生人,人又反入於機。萬物皆出於機,皆入於機。

 

...

 

and the horse, the man. Man then again enters into the great Machinery ..from which all things come forth (at birth), and which they enter at death.

 

Your definition of 'explicit' is different to mine...

 

I prefer Watson's translation, just for loyalty:

 

...and leopards produce horses and horses produce men. Men in time return again to the mysterious workings. So all creatures come out of the mysterious workings and go back into them again.

 

I doubt he's suggesting that all men were leopards in their past lives, or that before that all leopards were plants. That would be a little specific, no? He's just using simple language to illustrate the idea that all creatures were, previously, different parts of the same system.

 

All he's explicitly said, all that is only interpretable in one way, is that living things die and are born, coming out of and going back into the system.

 

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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Ok then I dont know what you consider mysticism in a materialists world, please elaborate briefly ,  and then Ill drop out like I thought I was going to :)

A perfect example would be wondering if I was actually a butterfly after awakening from a dream of being a butterfly.

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All he's explicitly said, all that is only interpretable in one way, is that living things die and are born, coming out of and going back into the system.

 

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This is the important concept here, IMO.

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Yes, it is the important part of both that and the Butterfly Dream.

Darkstar, you'll have to forgive me...I tend to need to figure things out through discussion etc, but after all that, I realize that I basically agree with Moeller's premise. Though something tells me others won't be so convinced..

 

In his commentary, Guo Xiang interprets the butterfly story as an allegory about life and death. Guo Xiang explains that just as one should not see dreaming as less real than being awake, one should not see death as less real than life. According to Guo Xiang, life and death are two equally valid phases of being or segments of change. This being so, one should not be anxious about death. If one just lives while being alive without worrying about death, then one can be as "fully and completely" alive as Zhuang Zhou was awake when he did not worry about his dreams. Likewise, when dead, one will not remember life, and therefore the dead can be as self-content and pleased as the butterfly was during the dream.


Wuhua is well-translated as "the transformation/changing of things", but yes, refers to the cycle of life and death.

Whether or not we want to interpret other mentions of wuhua as reincarnation, in this case I don't think we can go so far as to suggest that Zhuang Zhou is being literally reincarnated as a butterfly when he dreams. That would be a little bizarre even for ZZ.

 

 

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶              Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamt of being a butterfly,1

栩栩然胡蝶也                     Vividly just that, a butterfly,

自喻適志與                         Completely at peace with itself,

不知周也                            Unaware of Zhuang Zhou.*1

俄然覺則蘧蘧然周也           Suddenly he awoke, and it gradually dawned on him that he was Zhuang Zhou.2

不知周之夢為胡蝶與           He did not know if Zhuang Zhou had dreamt of being a butterfly,*2

胡蝶之夢為周與                  Or the butterfly was dreaming of being Zhuang Zhou.

周與胡蝶則必有分矣           Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly, there must be a difference!

此之謂物化                         This is called the Transformation of Things.3

 

 

1  It is explicitly Zhou dreaming, once upon a time, of being a butterfly

 

2  He comes to this realization slowly -- I am assuming that he remembers, at least in part, his dream, and is a little confused

 

*1  The use of 不知 means that the current subject is unaware of the other -- in this case, the butterfly is unaware of ZZ

*2  The current subject is unaware/does not know -- in this case, ZZ does not know whether he is a butterfly or vice versa

 

3  Or, the Inseparability of Things, or the (Life and) Death of Things, etc

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