Saturday, May 15, 2010

Not-One is Also One, Part 12

by Scott Bradley

Continuing with the discussion from Zhuangzi, Chapter 6...

This brings us back to Zhuangzi’s difficulty with the neat division of what Heaven does from what man does. How can we know which is which? How can we sort out the deliberate from the spontaneous, the free from the determined? All we can do is live it; we cannot know it.

It may be helpful to also look at a passage outside the Inner Chapters (Chapter 20) which obviously took up this same problem. In a dialogue between Confucius and his disciple Yen Hui the latter asks: What do you mean by, “What is man’s is one with what is Heaven’s”? Confucius replies: That something is man’s is of Heaven. That man is unable to take as his own what is Heaven’s is his nature. (Graham translation)

Legge renders the question: And what do you mean by saying that the Human and the Heavenly are one and the same?

The answer is that everything that man is and does is ultimately Nature. Legge sees this as so because they act with the same spontaneity, but this assumes that all that the human does is done spontaneously. Is this the case?

Even in his deliberate actions, is the human acting in spontaneity? In one sense, yes. For, whatever the human does, it is an expression of Nature, even its deliberate, non-spontaneous activity. And yet one of the givens of his nature is the ability to act out that spontaneity harmoniously with the Heavenly spontaneity, that is, non-deliberately. The oneness of Reality and Humanity is established, whatever the Human may do. Even the not-oneness of the Human is one with Reality. Yet, the Human is able to go beyond that not-oneness and ‘act’ in oneness, that is, in true spontaneity.

Graham, in his note on this passage, calls it “another attempt to solve the obstinate dichotomy of Heaven and man. In the last resort not only the spontaneous in man, but the deliberate actions for which he takes credit, derive from Heaven. The opposite position, that the man is author even of his spontaneous reactions, is repudiated.”

I think this sums it up well, as long as we understand that to say that man is not the author of his spontaneous actions does not mean that there is no ‘freedom’ in man; to do so, would be to fall back into the trap of making definitive pronouncements about that which we can have no knowledge.

There is something most re-assuring in the thought that, in the end, whether we ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ in our endeavor to live in harmony with Reality — or whether we endeavor to do so at all — Reality is expressed in however we live. In the end, our ‘successes’ hardly matter at all. What is One is one; what is not-one is also One. This is to hide the world in the world where the sage uses it (the human form) to roam in that from which nothing ever escapes.

The great advantage of the sage’s harmonization with Reality is the harmony itself; there is no other ‘reward’. We are reminded of the suggested consequence, conspicuously modest, of perfect knowledge proposed in the opening statement, a life long enough to realize the fullness of human potential. Yet even should one fail in this, Reality spreads its vast net around, over and under, all that is. Nothing is lost. Everything is fulfilled.

What have we learned in this consideration of the relationship between Heaven and Humanity? Many things. But I would suggest that the most important lesson has been that we need to unlearn. Zhuangzi gave us a tentatively proposed, positive declaration of how things are and then stirred it all up with a stick lest we think that we could know any such thing. Instead, he told us that true and genuine ‘knowledge’ is not ‘knowledge’ at all, but genuine experience, a life lived spontaneously and free of the fetters of ‘knowing’ what cannot be known.

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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