Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not-One is Also One, Part 16

by Scott Bradley

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

Equally affirming all that befalls one is both the evidence and expression of Humanity realized, Humanity in harmony with Reality.

Or, to put it all in a different way, it is to live without trying to add anything to the process of life. What constitutes trying to add to life? Whatever does not naturally arise from one’s deepest nature is added to life. The Confucian virtues, the positing of purpose or meaning, mythologies which blunt the mystery of death, the elaboration of metaphysical systems which go beyond what the understanding understands — all that is imposed upon the human experience from without, these are adding to the process of life. The alternative is to live in the spontaneous flow of life, allowing the manifest to manifest and the lack to lack. It is to leave questions unasked, as well as unanswered.

Dr. Ziporyn’s rendering of this key sentence diverges from that of other translators. He has understood it as a continuation of the theme of following along with things, i.e., accepting all we encounter with equanimity: . . . instead making it your constant practice to follow along with the way each thing is of itself, going by whatever it affirms as right, without trying to add anything to the process of life.

As discussed above, this is a continuation of the central theme of Chapter Two. Watson comes closest to this: He just lets things be the way they are and doesn’t try to help life along. Giles comes near: falls in with whatever happens. Others render it more simply, as the exercise of spontaneity: he constantly goes by the spontaneous (Graham); is always in accordance with nature (Yu-Lan); always go by what is natural (Cleary); he always pursues his course without effort (Legge).

Though I cannot explain this divergence of opinion, it is clear that in every rendering the exercise of spontaneity is seen as the opposite of allowing value judgments to disturb one’s peace. Value judgments hinder the natural expression of one’s humanity because they disallow the acceptance and affirmation of things and events with equanimity.

It is important to note, however, that when Zhuangzi speaks here of transcending value judgments on the basis of perspectival relativism, he does not conclude that there is no value. Quite to the contrary, he affirms the value of everything. In saying that it is not the case that some things are right and others wrong, he is not making the case that there is not right or wrong, but that there is only right. Break the chain of mutual generation, cease to oppose right to wrong, and what is left is right.

But this ‘right’ has nothing to do with the ‘moral’ right of the right/wrong paradigm. What makes things right is that they are. Nature is right. The natural is right. What is is right. But this is not a right that can be grasped, distilled out, explained, articulated, or applied. It cannot be opposed to wrong, for there is no wrong to which it may be compared; there is, after all, only what is. It can only be experienced outside the mediation of the understanding consciousness. Zhuangzi’s philosophy is most fundamentally a resounding affirmation of all that is.

However, there is a problem here. How do I know that all that is is not ‘wrong’ rather than ‘right’? We have come to understand, in the light of perspectival relativism, that the right/wrong paradigm is a manufactured distinction, that the one generates the other. And we have thus declared that ‘right’ has nothing to do with this paradigm but is simply things as they are. And to this we respond in affirmation, we say Yes! to all that is. But why not say No!?

Many existentialists of the modern era chose No! to Yes! Reality nauseated Sartre. Camus saw the contemplation of suicide as a man’s most genuine expression of honesty in the face of Reality. The Human Being hungers endlessly for what Nature does not provide: immortality, meaning and Truth. Humanity is thus absurd and its most authentic response would be to shout a resounding No! to Reality. Why should we say Yes! and not No!? Might not disharmony be more truly Human than harmony?

To this objection we can only reply: Follow the path of your own choosing. We agree, the span of your life is absurdly short and however lived, in the end, matters not at all. But we affirm the affirmative path because we awake each morning in affirmation. Our awakening is affirmation. Our morning coffee and meal, and all that we do is affirmation. We follow life which, by its very expression, is an affirmation. We choose life. We choose what is natural to us. Our choice is rooted in our rootedness in the up-welling of the life experience within. Trust arises. Life is Trust.

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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