Now to go back to the point at which Chuang-tzu has reduced everything to a dreamlike mode of existence. Nothing in the world of Being is solidly self-subsistent. In scholastic terminology we might describe the situation by saying that nothing has — except in semblance and appearance — an unchangeable ‘quiddity’ or ‘essence’. And in this fluid state of things, we are no longer sure of the self-identity of anything whatsoever. We never know whether a is really a itself.
And this essential dreamlike uncertainty of indetermination naturally holds true of Life and Death. The conceptual structure of this statement will easily be seen if one replaces the terms Life and Death by a and b, and tries to represent the whole situation in terms of the a-b pattern which has been given above.
Speaking of a ‘true man’ from the state of Lu, Chuang-tzu says:
He does not care to know why he lives. Nor does he care to know why he dies . He does not even know which comes first and which comes last, (i.e., Life and Death are in his mind undifferentiated from each other, the distinction between them being insignificant). Following the natural course of Transmutation he has become a certain thing; now he is simply awaiting further Transmutation.Besides, when a man is undergoing Transmutation, how can he be sure that he is (in reality) not being transmuted? And when he is not undergoing Transmutation, how can he be sure that he has (in reality) not already been transmuted?
In a similar passage concerned with the problem of Death and the proper attitude of ‘true men’ toward it, Chuang-tzu lets Confucius make the following statement. Confucius here, needless to say, is a fictitious figure having nothing to do with the historical person, but there is of course a touch of irony in the very fact that Confucius is made to make such a remark.
They (i.e., the ‘true men’) are those who freely wander beyond the boundaries (i.e., the ordinary norms of proper behavior), while men like myself are those who wander freely only within the boundaries. ‘Beyond the boundaries’ and ‘within the boundaries’ are poles asunder from one another.They are those who, being completely unified with the Creator Himself, take delight in being in the realm of the original Unity of the vital energy before it is divided into Heaven and Earth.To their minds Life (or Birth) is just the growth of an excrescence, a wart, and Death is the breaking of a boil, the bursting of a tumor. Such being the case, how should we expect them to care about the question as to which is better and which is worse — Life or Death? They simply borrow different elements, and put them together in the common form of a body. Hence they are conscious neither of their liver nor of their gall, and they leave aside their ears and eyes. Abandoning themselves to infinitely recurrent waves of Ending and Beginning, they go on revolving in a circle, of which they know neither the beginning-point nor the ending-point.
For Chuang-tzu Death is nothing but one of the endlessly variegated phenomenal forms of one eternal Reality. To our mind’s eye this metaphysical Reality actualizes itself and develops itself as a process evolving in time. But even when conceived in such a temporal form, the process depicts only an eternally revolving circle, of which no one knows the real beginning and the real end. Death is but a stage in this circle. When it occurs, one particular phenomenal form is effaced from the circle and disappears only to reappear as an entirely different phenomenal form. Nature continuously makes and unmakes. But the circle itself, that is, Reality itself is always there unchanged and unperturbed. Being one with Reality, the mind of a ‘true man’ never becomes perturbed.
A ‘true man’, Chuang-tzu related, saw his own body hideously deformed in the last days of his life. He hobbled to a well , looked at his image reflected in the water and said, ‘Alas! That the Creator has made me so crooked and deformed!’ Thereupon a friend of his asked him, ‘Do you resent your condition?’ Here is the answer that the dying ‘true man’ gave to this question:
No, why should I resent it? It may be that the process of Transmutation will change my left arm into a rooster. I would, then, simply use it to crow to tell the coming of the morning. It may be that the process goes on and might change my right arm into a crossbow. I would, then, simply use it to shoot down a bird for roasting. It may be that the process will change my buttocks into a wheel and my spirit into a horse. I would, then, simply ride in the carriage. I would not have even to put another horse to it.Whatever we obtain (i.e., being born into this world in a particular form) is due to the coming of the time. Whatever we lose (i.e., death) is also due to the arrival of the turn. We must be content with the ‘time’ and accept the ‘turn’. Then neither sorrow nor joy will ever creep in. Such an attitude used to be called among the Ancients ‘loosing the tie’. If man cannot loose himself from the tie, it is because ‘things’ bind him fast.
Another ‘true man’ had a visit in his last moments from one of his friends, who was also a ‘true man’. The conversation between them as related by Chuang-tzu is interesting. The visitor seeing the wife and children who stood around the man on the deathbed weeping and wailing, said to them, ‘Hush! Get away! Do not disturb him as he is passing through the process of Transmutation!’
Then turning to the dying man, he said:
How great the Creator is! What is he going to make of you now? Whither is he going to take you? Is he going to make of you a rat’s liver? Or is he going to make of you an insect’s arm?’
To this the dying man replies:
(No matter what the Creator makes of me, I accept the situation and follow his command.) Don’t you see? In the relationship between a son and his parents, the son goes wherever they command him to go, east, west, south, or north. But the relation between the Yin-Yang (i.e., the Law regulating the cosmic process of Becoming) and a man is incomparably closer than the relation between him and his parents. Now they (the Yin and Yang) have brought me to the verge of death. Should I refuse to submit to them, it would simply be an act of obstinacy on my part ...Suppose here is a great master smith, casting metal. If the metal should jump up and begin to shout, ‘I must be made into a sword like Mo Yeh, nothing else!’ The smith would surely regard the metal as something very evil. (The same would be true of) a man who, on the ground that he has by chance assumed a human form, should insist and say: ‘I want to be a man, only man! Nothing else!’ The Creator would surely regard him as of a very evil nature.Just imagine the whole world as a big furnace, and the Creator as a master smith. Wherever we may go, everything will be all right. Calmly we will go to sleep (i.e., die), and suddenly we will find ourselves awake (in a new form of existence).
The concept of the Transmutation of things as conceived by Chuang-tzu. might seem to resemble the doctrine of ‘transmigration’. But the resemblance is only superficial. Chuang-tzu does not say that the soul goes on transmigrating from one body to another. The gist of his thought on this point is that everything is a phenomenal form of one unique Reality which goes on assuming successively different forms of self-manifestation. Besides, as we have seen before, this temporal process itself is but a phenomenon. Properly speaking, all this is something taking place on an eternal, a-temporal level of Being. All things are one eternally, beyond Time and Space.