Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walking in the Nameless, Part 5

by Scott Bradley
If you are like this and evils still beset you, it is the doing of Heaven, not of man. Hence, it will not be sufficient to undermine your completeness. It will not be able to gain entrance to your Numinous Platform. The Numinous Platform has that which maintains it, but its exact locus is unknown: it is that which is sustained although there is nothing that can sustain it. If it operates in any way that is not also a revelation of this something that makes it complete and real, it always goes wrong. If its own endeavors end up getting stuck inside it, so that it is unable to get rid of them, then every change is really another loss.
~ from Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings With Selections from Traditional Commentaries by Brook Ziporyn ~
“The Numinous Platform”! The possessor of “the unending sustainability”, the “unthinking parts of oneself’, “the most central within you” has now been named. The Numinous Platform is our most fundamental reality, our innate nature, and it is rooted in the great Mystery of existence which is beyond our understanding and control. This, I think, is the central theme and fulcrum of the passage. The author has borrowed and adapted this concept from the Inner Chapters and much of his discussion prior to and following its introduction here is a reflection of the contexts in which Zhuangzi originally used it.

Although the term has been given its own twist by our author here, its reference to Zhuangzi’s “Numinous Reservoir” and “Heavenly Reservoir” is undeniable. Looking first at the use of Heavenly Reservoir in Chapter 2, we see that it is there preceded by the statement: “Hence, when the understanding consciousness comes to rest in what it does not know, it has reached its utmost.”

Our author practically repeats this verbatim. It is followed by descriptions of its unending sustainability (“poured into without ever getting full, ladled out of without ever running out”), a theme our author discusses both prior to and after his use of “Numinous Platform”. In the Chapter 5 usage, “Numinous Reservoir” is preceded by a description of the movings of fate, ‘negative’ and ‘positive’, which are to be denied entrance into it. Our author does the same.

What does the author of this passage mean by Numinous Platform? It is that part of yourself, the only true ‘you’, that is maintained by Mystery, and cannot be known or found. It is the up-welling of existence that is you, rooted in the unknowable. It is sustained in that Mystery. This is the aforementioned “unending sustainability”.

Dr. Ziporyn, in his note on its referent in Chapter 2, tells us that “Heavenly Reservoir” is an expression of “Daoist subjectivity” and his “wild-card mind”. In Chapter 5, in reference to Numinous Reservoir, he tells us that these terms “denote the ideal state of mind of the Zhuangzian person.” But though it is certainly the case that these three terms speak of a state of mind, I think they point to something still more fundamental, namely the source of and reason for that state of mind.

The Numinous Platform is our innate nature, that is, the human experience as Mystery, unfettered from the grasping of the ego-identity and its misuse of the understanding consciousness in an effort to establish itself as “entity”. It is the liberated self, the no-self. I use the term ‘innate nature’ with caution, as it might easily be understood to mean yet another fixed reality, a fixed identity, yet it is just the opposite. This would be to exchange one false entity, the ego-self, for another, the innate nature.

But this innate or primal nature is as indeterminate and unknowable as the Mystery in which it is rooted. It is that Mystery. It is a flux and a flow without any concrete moorings. It abides in the unlimited and the unfixed and there finds its liberation. It is the freedom that comes from having nothing to lose, the possession of all through the possession of nothing, the realization of constancy through harmonization with perpetual change.

The Numinous Platform is nothing other than ‘you’. It is “numinous”, indeterminate and spirit-like, because it cannot be known. You are unknowable. You are not who you think you are because you cannot cognitively know ‘you.’ You are rooted in the one great spontaneous up-welling and are as much Mystery as the origins of the Universe. “The Numinous Platform has that which maintains it but its locus is unknowable: . . .”

“It is that which is sustained although there is nothing that can sustain it.” Here is a theme at the very heart of philosophical Daoism. This is the birthplace of the concept of spontaneity. All things exist without any discernible cause. They enter and leave by no known gate. They arise in spontaneity. The “endless sustainability” residing in you arises beyond all knowing. Your deliberate mind does not, cannot, sustain you.

Relinquishing your false sense of control, you can rest in this wondrous and mysterious sustaining arising within you. With this surrender of an illusory sense of deliberate control all fears and anxieties fall away. There is nothing to strivingly support. There is no one to be. In infinite trust, a primal trust self-arising in the spontaneity of unknowable sustaining, one rides upon the ever-flowing, ever-transforming Mystery of life.

“If you are like this . . .” “This” is the state of mind where the three previously mentioned attributes are realized, namely, the realization of the body’s and mind’s rootedness in Mystery and its spontaneous expression in “reaching through to others”. If you are like this, even though the seemingly harmful things in life—death, slander, poverty—should come upon you, they need not disturb your harmony by invading your Numinous Platform. These things are fate, the unavoidable and inexplicable givens of existence. They are of Heaven in its attribute as fate and not of “man”, not the consequence of your own actions. This is all an echo of the Zhuangzian discussion of the Numinous Reservoir in Chapter 5 where the “doing of Heaven” is called “the proceedings of fate”.

What follows the culmination of this theoretical foundation of the Daoist transformation ending in the Numinous Platform is a more practical instruction for the disciple-practitioner. The first two sentences of this instruction are difficult to understand and I offer here an interpretive paraphrase: “If you ‘deviate from This’ and behave in a way inconsistent with this spontaneity, your efforts will fail. If you act deliberately, self will rise up and hungrily cling to ‘results’, and then your every ‘improvement’ will really be a regression.”

The spontaneous life arises from spontaneity; any effort to deliberately effect its fruits will fail. The disciple’s only task is to surrender into spontaneity.

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. I'm taking a class with Prof Ziporyn right now! We just covered the idea of ZZ' wildcard. It's fascinating.
    Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss daoist ideas!

  2. Hi. I'd love to be sitting with you there in class. And I'd love to discuss Z-z with you. Just for the record, I'm not a scholar; nor have I fully realized the liberation of which Z-z speaks. Scott


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