Saturday, September 5, 2009

Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream 庄周梦蝶

There is a Chinese saying that life is like a dream and a dream is like life. This is illustrated vividly by Zhuangzi with the following story:

‘Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou. Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is what is meant by the transformation of things.’
The story probably also sums up much of Zhuangzi’s thought. How do we know when we’re dreaming, and when we’re awake? How do we know if what we perceive is “real” or a mere “illusion” or “fantasy”? Is the “me” of various dream-characters the same as or different from the “me” of my waking world? How do I know, when I experience something I call “waking up” that it is actually a waking up to “reality” as opposed to simply waking up into another level of dream?
It is interesting to note that he used butterfly as the thing in his dream. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation; it follows the breeze yet arrives at the flower; its actions are spontaneous and free. Thus it doesn't wear itself out fighting the forces of nature.
Once fully awakened, if one can tell, one may distinguish between what is a dream and what is reality. Before one has fully awakened, such a distinction is not even possible to draw empirically.

一旦完全清醒 -- 如果我们能知道的话,我们可以分辨清楚梦与现实。在我们还没有完全清醒之前,以经验来作出这个辨别根本就不可能。

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