Tales from the Dao

Playing With The Fish

by Solala Towler


Zhuangzi often ridiculed the strenuous efforts of his contemporaries to attain immortality by subjecting themselves to various ascetic practices. At the same time, he was concerned about how the human mind—so vast, so mysterious, yet often so muddled, could ever just relax and be at one with the flow of the Dao.

In the following story we see him having a little fun with his friend Huizi about how he, Zhuangzi, could ever know what the fish knew and how could he be sure that he did indeed know it. This, of course, applies to most things that we are sure that we know or understand in this constantly shifting and ever transforming experience we call life.

Zhuangzi and his friend Huizi were ambling about in the Garden of Perpetual Harmony one fine day. Their conversation ranged from how lovely the weather had been lately to the art of compounding herbal preparations for longevity. Huizi was of the opinion that one could not only live a long and healthy life by ingesting these formulas, many of which contained poisonous minerals, but could attain immortality. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, was of the opinion that what he called “all this grasping after immortality” was a waste of time and utter foolishness.

“We are already immortal,” he would say to his friend. “As we are all part of the great unending and constantly transforming Tao, our immortality is assured. There is no need to ingest noxious brews or stretch ourselves into strange and painful contortions in order to attain immortality. Just live your life in accordance with the Tao and your immortality will manifest of it self”.

But Huizi was not convinced. “If that were true,” he argued, “then every blockhead that lives is really an immortal.”

“Just so,” answered Zhuangzi.

At one point, when they were crossing the Hao river. Which was spanned by an ancient and lovely moon bridge, Zhuangzi said to his friend, “These fish we see below us come out and swim about so leisurely. This is the joy of fishes.”

Huizi turned to him and said, “How do you know what fish enjoy, you’re not a fish!”

“You are not me,” answered Zhuangzi, “so how do you know what I know about the joy of fish?”

“Well,” said his friend, somewhat indignantly. “I am not you and so do not know what you know. But, as you are certainly not a fish, there is no possible way that you can know what fish enjoy.”

“Ah, then,” said Zhuangzi, who was letting his fingers play slowly in the water as little fishes came up to nibble them. “Let us go back to the beginning of our conversation. When you asked me ‘How can you know what fish enjoy’ you knew that I knew. The reason I know this is by walking over the river!”

As was the usual case in these kinds of conversations Huizi glared at his friend who stood, languidly moving his fingers in the water and chuckling to himself.


[Solala’s collection of Daoist stories, Tales From the Tao as well as his new book, Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters are available by writing to him at solala@abodetao.com or calling 541.345.8854.]



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