Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walking in the Nameless, Part 3

WALKING IN THE NAMELESS:
A COMMENTARY ON A PASSAGE IN THE BOOK OF ZHUANGZI
by Scott Bradley
One who wants truly to learn should learn what cannot be learned. One who wants truly to take action should do what no deliberate action can do. One who wants truly to distinguish what is so by debate should distinguish what no debate can distinguish to be so. When understanding stops at and rests on what it does not understand, it has reached its perfection. If there were anything that deviated from This, it would be destroyed in [the turning of] Heaven the Potter’s Wheel.
~ from Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings With Selections from Traditional Commentaries by Brook Ziporyn ~
Here we have a first step in the cultivation of humanness: to find and realize the limits of the ‘deliberate mind’. The key idea here is: “When understanding stops at and rests on what it does not understand, it has reached its perfection.” Its perfection is to realize its limits. The knowledge one seeks cannot be found. The questions one poses have no answers.

Learning, though it knows no end, cannot find the end it seeks. Philosophical debate, however enjoyable and self-image-affirming, leads to no truth. Try as one might, whatever one does, one cannot do what one wants done. One is brought to the limits of ‘humanness’ and it is only here that the true work can be done. Here one must learn what cannot be learned, do what cannot be done, and distinguish what cannot be distinguished.

Not only does understanding stop at what it does not understand, it also “rests” upon it. This realization of not-knowing becomes the very platform from which a further and entirely new form of inquiry is launched. Not-knowing becomes the very portal through which one discovers a connectedness with that which he cannot know. Not-knowing is not simply not knowing, an end to inquiry and the beginning of a frustrated mind. Not-knowing is a state of mind wherein an entirely new form of inquiry into and relationship to the world begins.

The limitations of the understanding consciousness, like every human limitation, becomes a gateway to a realization of the limitless. “Every enslavement becomes an ennobling.” This is echoed by Zhu Boxiu in his commentary on Chapter 2: “(One must) seek the nonknowing in himself and thus find the inborn nature.”

Similarly, in Chapter 3, Zhuangzi writes: “When the understanding consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, the promptings of the spirit flow forth naturally.” Far from being overcome by frustration, the understanding “rests” in what it does not understand. Is this not the fulfillment, the “perfection” of understanding? Needing to go no further, having found and realized its full potential in its limitations, it is content in itself. Far from despising and discarding the understanding consciousness, this philosophy nurtures it, taking it to its very limitations where it is perfected. The perfection of all things is the realization of their full potential within their limitations.

What tools replace the rational mind in this new form of inquiry? Nothing has yet been said.

“Heaven the Potter’s Wheel” is Nature trimming away what is not nature. The ego-identity is, at best, a phenomenon derivative of the self-consciousness, Nature’s given; it will not endure. It is unsustainable. It is unreal. For though the human is Nature, the human has the capacity to deviate from nature. The human is capable of disharmony with its own roots. All such deviation is trimmed away by Nature. Only the real is sustainable.

The understanding “stops” at what understanding does not understand. Where would it otherwise go? It would devise theories to be believed, metaphysical speculations to grasp in the hope of finding a purpose and a meaning for the deliberate and pseudo-independent mind. All these the Potter’s Wheel trims away, bringing one back to itself, to its own Mysterious center. How does it ‘do’ this? By simply being what it is, Reality.

“Heaven the Potter’s Wheel” is borrowed from Zhuangzi’s Chapter 2. (It is also used by (an)other unknown contributor(s) to the book in Chapters 24 and 27. In the second chapter, assumed to be written by Zhuangzi, Nature is seen as the Potter’s Wheel, the great equalizer, and the sage is seen as resting at its center. Through its never-ending transformations it trims away the false assertions of the human and brings the human back within its own unavoidable embrace.

Is is not the case that Heaven the Potter’s Wheel is at work within the person who “cultivates the humanness”? The disciple-practitioner has realized in himself this internal dialectic of self-examination and rectification of perspective and conduct. Expose your heart and all its motivations while abiding in the center of the Potter’s Wheel and it will trim away all that is false within you. The square is made round, the corners are lost, all things are equalized.

Looking back at the larger context of this passage, the instruction of Nanrong Chu who “tortured himself” in his attempt to “purify” himself, we see that the true and effective way to realize change within is to surrender into this internal Potter’s Wheel where transformation is accomplished by Nature, not the deliberate activity of man. What would “deviate from This”? When understanding does not stop and rest on what it does not understand, this is deviation.

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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