Monday, May 17, 2010

Not-One is Also One, Part 15

by Scott Bradley

Continuing with the discussion from Zhuangzi, Chapter 5...

Perhaps I have here gone beyond the passage; how does it answer these questions? The opposite of practicing likes and dislikes is to accept things as they are without prejudice, to accept the ‘rightness’ of each thing as each thing presents it. Like so much of Zhuangzi’s philosophy as presented in the Inner Chapters, we are brought back to the central thesis of Chapter Two, Equalizing Assessments of Things, as Dr. Ziporyn translates the title.

There, Zhuangzi summarizes thusly: It is all just a matter of going along with the rightness of the present “this”. To be doing this without knowing it, and not because you have defined it as right, is called the Course.

All things, according to Zhuangzi, have their ‘this’ as opposed to the ‘that’ of other things. The ‘that’ of other things, however, is their ‘this’. Thus, from a more transcendent perspective, every ‘this’ is also a ‘that’ and every ‘that’ is also a ‘this’.

One who is able to obtain this perspective, therefore, is able to accept every ‘that’ as ‘this’, and in so doing, breaks the chain of mutual generation of ‘this’ and ‘that’, self and other, subject and object. It is only someone who gets all the way through them that can see how the two sides open into each other to form a oneness. Such a person would not define rightness in any one particular way but would instead entrust it to the everyday function [of each being].

Here again we have oneness. The sage sees the oneness in the not-oneness of things and is thus able to unite not-oneness into a oneness. However, consciously doing so, would be to merely posit another ‘this’, his ‘higher’ perspective, as opposed to ‘that’ of other, less inclusive perspectives. Thus, to truly obtain this transcending perspective is to act in spontaneity: To be doing this without knowing it, and not because you have defined it as right, is called the Course.

‘This’ and ‘that’ are the same words used for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and these are the source of our likes and dislikes which, when allowed to enter, harm our inner unity and the spontaneity it engenders. The Zhuangzian perspective sees ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ not as applications of a transcendent principle, but as mere expressions of personal opinions, and these as mere expressions of the self-other paradigm.

Personally, I find it easier to conceive of and apply this equanimity toward all things when things are understood as events which impinge upon ‘me’. If all is affirmed and accepted, it being understood that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose, where is there room for likes and dislikes to enter and disturb my peace? This theme is pursued in depth just previous to this passage under consideration where Zhuangzi has Confucius say:
Death and life, surviving and perishing, failure and success, . . . these are the transformation of events, the proceedings of fate. . . . So there is no need to let them disrupt our harmony, and we must deny them entrance into our Numinous Reservoir. That is what allows the joy of its harmony to open into all things without thereby losing its fullness. . . . This is what is called keeping the innate powers whole.
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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