TAOIST PARABLE BY Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu)

Zhangzi's (Chuang-Tzu's)

Butterfly Dream Parable


Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly,

fluttering hither and thither,

to all intents and purposes a butterfly.

I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly,

unaware that I was Zhuangzi.

Soon I awakened,

and there I was,

veritably myself again.

Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,

or whether I am now a butterfly,

dreaming I am a man.

Between a man and a butterfly,

there is necessarily a distinction.

The transition is called the transformation of material things.




The famous Taoist parable attributed to Chinese philosopher

Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) (369 BCE to 286 BCE)










UNDERSTANDING THE Butterfly Dream Parable​

The Butterfly Dream is one of the most famous of all Taoist parables. It is attributed to Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) (369 BCE to 286 BCE).

It articulates Taoism's challenge toward the definitions of reality vs. illusion.


The story has had a substantial impact on later philosophies, both Eastern and Western. 

This  story raises some fascinating and much-explored philosophical issues, stemming from the relationship between the waking state and the dream-state, or illusion and reality:

  • How do we know when we’re dreaming, and when we’re awake?

  • How do we know if what we’re perceiving is “real” or a mere “illusion”?

  • 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 a waking up to “reality” as opposed to merely waking up into another level of dream?


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