Nie Que and Wang Ni: going beyond species understanding

Photo by Plush Design Studio

Nie Que asked Wang Ni, “Do you know of something that all agree in affirming?” “How would I know that?” replied Wang Ni. “Do you know what you do not know?” “How would I know that?” replied Wang Ni. “Then do you know nothing?” “How would I know that?” replied Wang Ni. “Nevertheless, let me state this. How do I know that what I term knowledge is not in fact ignorance? How do I know that what I term ignorance is not in fact knowledge? “Moreover, let me ask this of you. When a man sleeps in the damp, his waist pains him and one side loses all sensation. Is that so of the loach? When he dwells in a tree he trembles in terror. Is that so of the ape? Which of these three knows the proper place to dwell? Men eat grain-fed beasts; deer eat grasses; centipedes relish snakes; owls and crows have a taste for mice. Which of these four has the proper sense of taste? Apes mate with other monkeys, deer couple with deer, loaches roam alongside fish. Lady Li and Lady Mao were beauties in the eyes of men, but when fish saw them they swam down to the depths, when birds saw them they flew high, when deer saw them they bolted away at a gallop. Which of these four knows what is truly beautiful in the world? “As I see things, the sprouts of ren and righteousness, the paths of what is so and what is not, are all hopelessly confused. How could I know the distinctions between them?”

Nie Que said, “If you do not know benefit from harm, then the True Man surely does not know benefit from harm!”

“The True Man is spirit-like,” said Wang Ni. “Were the great lakes to burn he would not feel the heat; were the Yellow River and the River Han to freeze he would not feel the cold. Were terrific thunder to rend the mountains and whirlwinds stir up the seas he would not be startled. One like this would ride the qi of the clouds as his carriage and mount the sun and moon. He would wander beyond the four seas. Death, life: these would make no change in him – how much less the sprouts of benefit and harm!”