Monday, May 10, 2010

Not-One is Also One, Part 3

by Scott Bradley

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

What is Heaven? It is everything except Heaven if by Heaven we mean an Ultimate Source actively at work in this Universe. What Heaven does is nothing at all. And in doing nothing, all is accomplished.

We can best keep this in mind by dispensing with the term altogether, at least as much as the text itself will allow us to do so. How long would it otherwise be before we began to fill our minds with miracle-myths and fall to worshiping a Queen Mother of the West? Zhuangzi spoke in the language of his times and we would do best to translate him into the language of our own. Let us then call Heaven: Reality. What is Reality? That is, of course, the question the given statement intended us to propose and attempt to answer.

What is Reality? What is not? Is not everything that truly is, Reality? If it is, it is Reality. Is this one of those tautologies that we’ve heard about? Probably so. But there is an apparent crack in this perfect circle of meaning and that comes in the guise of Man. Is there something in Man that is not Reality? No. Whatever is true of Man is Reality just as whatever is true of the moon is Reality.

There is something in the Reality of Man, however, that opposes itself to Reality and Zhuangzi calls this the understanding consciousness or the deliberate mind. The human mind has seemingly risen out of the matrix of Reality and, standing apart from Nature, sees itself as other than Nature. Seeing itself as other than Nature does not, of course, make it so.

Humanity is able to exercise its will and transform Nature after its own chosen whims. It can study and ‘understand’ Nature. It is god-like in its relation to Reality. But alas, this is a “god that shits”, to quote Becker’s unsurpassed summation of the human predicament. This is a god-like transcendence which cannot escape (though it ever makes the attempt) the Reality that it must die. For this is what all this ‘shitting’ forever reminds us, that we are but animals after all, and like all animals our apparent extinction is assured. And this reality and the human hatred and fear of it is a big part of what man does.

Thus this opening statement introduces and assumes this fundamental divide between Reality and Humanity, though it need not be understood to see it as a final or true expression of Reality.

(To introduce an editorial note: By Man is meant Humanity and not mere gender, but though Man includes woman as well as man, the roots of its usage doubtless go deep into the historical soil of a belief in the superiority of the latter over the former. For this reason I will try to use Human and Humanity in the stead of Man as much as the text allows.)

What is Reality? Everything. But we shall see what dimensions of It that Zhuangzi offers as important vis-à-vis Humanity. For let us not miss the point that this is really all about Humanity. Nature knows nothing of all this analysis and distinction making. To study anything belongs to the realm of man. Nor does it care anything at all about meaning or purpose or dilemmas or our petty fears. Reality neither awaits nor considers our conclusions.

All these questions and difficulties abide solely in the domain of what man does. And perhaps this fact alone best identifies both the dualism inherent in the given statement and Zhuangzi’s answer to it, namely, that the dichotomy is a false one, one of humanities’ own making, and that the harmonization of the two is not only possible, but an unavoidable given.

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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