Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flying Without Wings, Part 4

FLYING WITHOUT WINGS:
A COMMENTARY ON A PASSAGE IN THE ZHUANGZI, CHAPTER 4
by Scott Bradley
Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided. This will get you close to success. It is easy to wipe away your footprints, but difficult to walk without touching the ground. It is easy to use deception when you are sent into your activities at the behest of other humans, but difficult to use deception when sent into activity by Heaven.
Having no-fixed identity, one is homeless in the particular yet dwells in the vastness of everywhere and in everything. Where one comes to temporarily dwell is determined by the flow of events, and wherever that may be, it is equal to every other possible dwelling place. This refers back to crowing or letting it rest, depending on the vagaries of the Prince’s behavior. Having realized freedom from “having something in mind”, a pre-determined and intentional goal, Yan Hui can happily accept whatever happens.

“It is easy to wipe away your footprints . . .” This may refer to the deception in the sentence following. Yan Hui previously proposed deception as a means to transforming the Prince—hiding his true intentions, while ‘innocently’ mentioning the teachings of the ancients which in fact are a criticism of the Prince. Covering one’s tracks is not criticized here because of its dishonesty, however. The problem is one of intentionality as opposed to spontaneity. “Walking without touching the ground” refers to doing without doing. Like the Tao itself, the sage “does nothing, yet everything is done.” Footprints are often translated “traces” in the Zhuangzi as in “ the true man leaves no traces.”

Most all the translations consulted (Cleary being the only exception) render this sentence differently, as does Fung Yu-lan: “It is easy to stop walking, but rather difficult to walk without touching the ground.” In apparent support of this translation, he offers a sentence from the commentary of Guo Xiang: “It is easy to do nothing, but rather difficult to do something without hurting the spirit.” In the end, however, the meaning is more or less the same: if one actually endeavors to accomplish something, as opposed to being quietist, then something much more difficult than quietism or determined activity is required, namely, spontaneity. A critique of quietism may very well be the meaning that Confucius (and Guo) would prefer, but I think Zhuangzi would prefer the other since ‘quietism’ and ‘activism’ are both transcended in true spontaneity.

Deception is a matter of course for those on a mission inspired by the goals of men, but when one is “sent into activity by Heaven,” it really does not arise, since this is, in fact, spontaneity. We do not, of course, understand this as a “mission from God”; it is an activity spontaneously arising from the Mystery within and is without the mediation of the deliberate mind, divine or otherwise.

Note: At the conclusion of this miniseries, a link will be provided for those interested in downloading or printing the entire document replete with footnotes.

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