Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walking in the Nameless, Part 4

WALKING IN THE NAMELESS:
A COMMENTARY ON A PASSAGE IN THE BOOK OF ZHUANGZI
by Scott Bradley

Let your body be moved only by the totality of things. Let your mind spring to life from its rootedness in the unthinking parts of yourself. Reach through to others through respect for what is most central in yourself.
~ from Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings With Selections from Traditional Commentaries by Brook Ziporyn ~
What is this ‘unending sustainability’ and where does it reside? It is nothing other than that which is most fundamental in you: “the unthinking parts of yourself.”

When the understanding finds its limits, one need only return to that in oneself which is beyond understanding. Here the mind springs to life and finds a new form of expression, one unfettered of the need for answers and the discriminating duality of self and other. What are these unthinking parts? They are the original nature, the true self, the primal self, the spontaneous self, the ‘you’ that is most truly ‘you’. But it is a spontaneously arising reality which is beyond all cognitive understanding. That which my mind understands and identifies as ‘me’ is not ‘me’. The true ‘me’ is beyond the grasp of the cognitive mind.

“Let your mind spring to life . . .” Here “mind” is your total conscious experience. Must you give it up in order to realize contentment? Quite the contrary. It is in sweet surrender to that over which it has no control that your mind finds its fulfillment. Indeed, one’s conscious experience “springs to life” as it has never done before when surrendered into the apparently antithetical “unthinking parts” of oneself. “Surrender is the triumph of the heart.”

Those who speak of Tao as the Source of all that is, speak likewise of the utter and complete unknowability of it. It is complete Mystery. It is that through which all things are thought to spontaneously arise without apparent cause or purpose. Likewise, all things are spontaneously so, their rising and passing is beyond all knowing. They are themselves Mystery. That which I most truly am is likewise a spontaneous arising, unknowable and Mystery. It is here that sustainability resides.

There is but one Mystery and my being is as much that Mystery as is the Mystery of its source. This realization of Mystery enables a metaphysics without myth. One discovers a rootedness in transcendence without content. One is fulfilled, not by being moored to Truth and surety, but by being completely unmoored and adrift in the sea of Mystery. One basks in the “Radiance of Drift and Doubt”.

These three sentences are translated here in the imperative mood, but the meaning is not strictly imperative. “Let your body. . . .” “Let your mind. . . .” “Reach through. . . .” It is as if, in the midst of an unavoidable event, one were to say, “Let it be.” The event will happen in any case; it is the attitude of my mind which must change. The same applies here. The mind is already rooted in Mystery. My body is already mysteriously moved. Reaching out is a spontaneous result of my dwelling within my primal nature. What the imperative tells us is, “Get with the program; harmonize with the way things really are.”

“Let your body be moved only by the totality of things.” What is your body? It is part of the “unthinking parts of yourself.” What moves your body? Whatever moves all things likewise moves your body. What moves all things? Their origin and movement is shrouded in utter Mystery; they are rooted in the inexplicable and spontaneous flow of existence. Understand this and let your whole being likewise spontaneously flow.

To be moved “by” all things is to be moved along with all things. Zhuangzi exhorts us: “Let yourself be carried along by things so that the mind wanders freely. Hand it all over to the unavoidable so as to nourish what is central within you.” There is this one, incredible, spontaneous up-welling of all things, each one fulfilled in being what it is. Your body ‘knows’ this. He says “Let your body . . .” but it is really your mind that you must let be similarly moved. The body is already so moved. Your body ‘knows’ where it is rooted, but you do not. So learn what your body need not learn. “Learn what cannot be learned.” Realizing and harmonizing with your body’s rootedness in spontaneous freedom you also become free. Even as your body entrusts itself to Nature, so do you also learn to entrust yourself to the flow of all that is.

Is it the body only that is “moved by the totality of all things”? Is it not also the totality of one’s conscious experience that surrenders into the totality of all things? Relinquishing the illusion of control, the heart lets go into the vastness of this mysterious up-welling and flowing of life. What up-welling? The one you experience and without which you would not be at all. This up-welling is not other than you; it is you. To re-discover your rootedness in Mystery is not to go somewhere else, but to return to where you are. What flowing? Is not your life experience, like all other things, a continuous transformation, a flow through apparent time, a beginning and an ending?

If we consider the human experience from the standpoint of control we might ask who, in fact, is in control? We like to think we are. Yet when I consider that which is most concrete about ‘me’, my body, I discover that it operates largely outside my control. How few of its functions are under my direction! Breathing I can control, though the need still rules. But what a burden if I not only could control my breathing but had to do so. I would die in my sleep.

So the body has a ‘controller’ other than my cognitive self, a controller that is implied but cannot be found. This body spontaneously operates with no known why. It, too, is Mystery. This being the case, its operation is indeed a movement “by the totality of things.” To step into Mystery, which is what this rootedness in the unknowable is, is to enter a world without limits, a world where all is equally a part of one limitless flow and where everything is affirmed.

The body ‘knows’ this and lives this. To step into Mystery, into the unknowable self, is to likewise become open within the “Great Openness”, where all that arises is affirmed and one flows with events in imperturbable trust. This is “hiding the world in the world” where nothing can be gained or lost.

This subjective, inner work is never divorced from our ‘moral’ interface with the world. The objectives of philosophical Daoism are not that far removed from that of the Confucians. The difference is in the means by which to arrive at that objective. For the Confucians, the work of becoming ‘good’ is an effort of the will, a direct work upon one’s character.

Our author here, on the contrary, teaches that this objective of ‘moral goodness’ is a spontaneous derivative of an awakening within. The objective is reached by having no objective at all. If “reaching through to others” is a ‘good’ thing, it will happen because it is ‘good’, and is ‘good’ because it happens. The sage does not set out with a pre-established definition of the ‘humane’, but rather discovers ‘humaneness’ when it arises from his being.

What is “central within you” is your total existence dwelling in trustful harmony within the vast unknowing. It is that in you which is “endlessly sustaining” by virtue of its rootedness in the all-sustaining Mystery of all that is.

“Reach through to others . . .” is, as noted above, not strictly an imperative but rather means something like: “You will reach through to others when . . .” When you are in harmony with all things, how could you not also be in harmony with ‘others’? All things are rooted in the one great Mystery and all therefore partake in the one reality. What “reaching through to others” might mean practically is amplified in the rest of the chapter that follows this chosen passage.

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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