Sunday, May 9, 2010

Not-One is Also One, Part 1


It seems an act of mercy to put the Conclusion of this study at the beginning, the study itself being, by virtue of its analysis of several similar texts, both wordy and repetitive.

The ‘issue’ at hand is the relationship between “Heaven” and “Human” as expressed by Zhuangzi and his apparent school. The issue, as it concerned Zhuangzi, largely pivots on whether deliberate activity is any less spontaneous then what he calls spontaneous activity. And this is tantamount to asking whether the ‘sage’ is truly different from an ‘ordinary’ person. He concludes that, though different, they are, in fact, both expressions of the Heavenly. A product of Nature, man cannot help but act naturally. All human expression is Nature expressed. In the end, even that which is not-one is One.

Spontaneous activity is that which issues from one’s immersion in the inexplicable and formless flow of life within. Its expression is harmony, since it is a following along with Reality rather than a separation and subsequent opposition to it.

Deliberate activity, on the other hand, is mediated by the analytical mind. The most fundamental prerequisite to analysis is the self-other dichotomy; it is necessary to be other-than something in order to ‘know’ it. Deliberation is an act of separation. It is this separation that most concerns Zhuangzi. He sees this distancing of ourselves from our rootedness in Mystery, the unknowable, inexplicable Source of all that is, as the cause of our every fear and general lack of peace.

Yet, is not this deliberate activity equally an authentic expression of the Human? If Reality is One, how could we say otherwise? Of the billions now living and the billions now extinct, has this not been the near universal expression of the Human? Zhuangzi’s answer is a simple, yes, it has and yes, it is. What deer do and birds do is what deer and birds are.

Why should humanity be any different? Is the “twittering of baby birds” any different than the debates of the philosophers? The wind blows through the forest and the various shapes and hollows of the trees give forth as many sounds as there are trees; is there really any difference between them? Zhuangzi would have us see ourselves, in our entirety, as expressions of Nature.

Spontaneous and deliberate activities are both expressions of our humanity. However, what is apparently unique about the Human is that it possesses the ability to choose how to relate itself to Reality, whether in union and agreement, or in separation and opposition, harmony or disharmony. This apparent ability to choose is a given of Nature and its exercise, how ever exercised, is likewise an expression of Nature. The consequences of that choice, however, determine the nature of one’s life experience.

Disharmony is an estrangement from our rootedness in the ever-transforming and ungraspable flow of life so as to assert a self with a fixed identity. Harmony is a surrender into that flow where no such identity can abide. The assertion of a self-identity results in a fear of its loss through death and the ceaseless task of establishing its reality and validity in opposition to not-self, the other. It is an expression of humanity which is estranged from what is most fundamentally human, its rootedness in Mystery.

Harmony, on the other hand, is the truest expression and realization of the Human. If there is a ‘value’ implied here, it is the value of what is humanity in its fulfillment as opposed to what is not. Following along with ‘what is’ allows a life lived to the fullest, in peace and enjoyment of the gift. Opposing ‘what is’ issues in a life of fear and despair. ‘Virtue’, de, the true expression of Reality in the individuated myriad of things, is it’s own reward.

Yet, what difference peace or despair? Of what consequence is either in the vast, all-encompassing One which is Reality? Can anything be lost? Can anything be gained? The vast and finely meshed net of Reality encompasses all—nothing is lost, all is assured, all is affirmed. Reality is One. The human being can harmonize with it and likewise realize oneness. Yet even in not-oneness, how could the human being be lost to the One? Not-one is also One.

All this having been said, the argument having been made, Zhuangzi would not have us forget that our understanding is incapable of understanding anything of all that we have attempted to explain. We cannot analyze and dissect so as to come to an understanding of what is Heaven and what is Human, what is deliberate and what is spontaneous. Rather, it can only be ‘understood’ in the experiential living of it. Our verbal ponderings are but approximations pointing us back to life itself, where alone the imponderable is expressed.

Similarly, Zhuangzi does not speak of choice, or worry over questions of free-will (which this discussion might have spawned), for these can have no resolution apart from their expression in life itself, and this is sufficient unto itself.

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.


  1. there is a time and a place for both spontaneous and deliberate actions. i agree that humans can fluctuate between the two, but often many humans don't know that this is a talent of theirs! it's a muscle that need exercising, as people have the tendency to prefer one over the other. develop each, and put them to good use. :)

  2. I think he knew there was no free will as there is no entity to have that will.

    On his earlier note of whether then there was a difference between sage and normal person - then the only difference would be that the sage knew and the normal person still attempted to 'do'.


    PS this series is a little of an info overload right now. Huge posts full of stuff to consider, just popping up a few a day!

    Great stuff though.

  3. In truth, these posts are really essays that Scott has allowed me to "cut up" to fit within a blogging format.

    That said, I do realize this represents a lot of information to digest. While I'm not going to establish any hard and fast rules -- that would seem to go against the spirit of Zhuangzi -- I will be posting fewer installments per day to provide folks with more time to read and contemplate the points Scott makes.


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