The Butterfly, the Mole and the Sage

Asian Philosophy 19 (3):213-223 (2009)

Abstract

Zhuangzi chooses a butterfly as a metaphor for transformation, a sighted creature whose inherent nature contains, and symbolizes, the potential for transformation from a less valued state to a more valued state. If transformation is not to be valued; if, according to a recent article by Jung Lee, 'there is no implication that it is either possible or desirable for the living to awake from their dream', why not tell a story of a mole awakening from a dream? This would be a more perfect story. There would be no point of a mole awakening since (setting aside tactile, olfactory, auditory and taste sensations for the purpose of the example), there is no way to distinguish between the world of the mole's imagination and the real world that is forever unavailable to a mole. In addition, Zhuangzi relates the story of the coming of a great sage in which it is clearly stated that 'Only at the ultimate awakening shall we know that this is the ultimate dream'. Such textual evidence both from the choice of metaphors and evidential passages indicates that the message of the Zhuangzi is not epistemological relativity, but one of transformation from a state of intellectual blindness to a state of true understanding.

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