Zhuangzi Roasts Guo Xiang
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Ziyou said, “So the piping of the earth means just the sound of these hollows. And the piping of man would be the sound of bamboo panpipes. What then, is the piping of Heaven?”Ziqi, Zhuangzi’s spokesman, has been found by his disciple, Ziyou, in an apparently altered state of consciousness and to his inquiries regarding what has taken place, Ziqi responds: I have lost me. He then seeks to clarify what this means through the analogy of the relationship between the pipings of man, earth and Heaven. It is never entirely clear, however, which sound represents which piping.
Ziqi said, “It gusts through all the ten thousand differences, allowing each to go its own way. But since each one selects out its own, what identity could there be for their rouser?”
Guo Xiang: Just this is the piping of Heaven. How could the piping of Heaven be some separate additional thing? It is just the hollows and the panpipes and the like, combined with all living beings, that collectively form the unity of Heaven.
The piping of man is apparently not addressed at all by Ziqi, presumably because it is obviously that of the bamboo panpipes, as Ziyou assumes. He likewise assumes that the piping of earth is the sound the wind makes as it blows through a forest of trees, each one making its own particular sounds according to its unique shape. Yet these sounds are in some way analogous to the piping of man: Have you never seen all the tempered attunements, all the cunning contentions? This sounds suspiciously like the philosophical debates of men which the following arguments attempt to equalize. Indeed, these debates are just this, expressions of humanity in its ten thousand differences just as the sounds of the trees are the consequence of the unique shape of each one.
What then is the piping of Heaven? His answer is apparently that, in phenomenological terms, it is nothing other than the pipings of earth and man. The wind blows through the trees, the sounds are made, but of any actual Rouser of that wind, nothing can be seen or detected. The wind blows, the trees have the shapes they have, and the sounds issue forth accordingly; where in this is there any known Initiator? Yet Ziqi seems to have suggested that there is a piping of Heaven. The best possible conclusion would seem, therefore, to be that Guo had it right: Just this is the piping of Heaven. Seek no further; these distinctions between between man, earth and Heaven are artificial. Heaven (Nature, Reality) is the totality, the unity, of all that is.
Does this statement square with what we know of Zhuangzi’s thinking generally? Yes. And no. First of all we need to remember that Zhuangzi is very careful to avoid making definitive statements or drawing final conclusions about anything metaphysical, and the considerations here are certainly that. (It is all well and good to say that Guo eschews all metaphysics, but for him to do so on the basis of a definitive rejection of a Source is very much a metaphysical pronouncement. Denial is as equally definitive as affirmation. Atheism is as much a choice fully formed as theism.)
For Zhuangzi, the fact that no Rouser is detectable would not imply that there is no Rouser, and he would never deny that there might be. Indeed, Zhuangzi goes on to explain: If there is some controller behind it all, it is peculiarly devoid of any manifest sign. Its ability to flow and stop makes its presence plausible, but even then it shows no definitive form. That would make it a reality with no definite form.
He then offers an analogy in the workings of the body: If there exists a genuine ruler among them [the various organs], then whether we can find out the facts about him or not would neither add nor subtract from that genuineness. Zhuangzi does not know if there is a Rouser or not, though there would seem to be evidence that there is. But if there is, his knowing or not knowing really makes no difference to either the Rouser or to the roused since things are just as they are in any case. (The idea of a Rouser revealed, as in the religions “of the Book”, namely Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and their derivatives, does not even occur to Zhuangzi, nor would he be able to understand how one could find a reliable ‘footing’ in words.)
Indeed, it is this very not-knowing that is the practical pivot on which the whole of Zhuangzi’s thought and call to personal transformation turns. As for the sage, he may admit that something exists beyond the six limits of the known world, but he does not further discuss it. Hence, when the understanding consciousness comes to rest in what it does not know, it has reached its utmost. The demonstration that uses no words, the Course that is not a course — who “understands” these things? If there is something able to “understand” them [in this sense], it can be called the Heavenly Reservoir — poured into without ever getting full, ladled out without ever running out, ever not-knowing its own source. This is called the Shadowy Splendor. (Italics added). There is a Splendor, as manifest in the existence of things, but it must remain Shadowy, since it cannot be known. Consequentially, The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage’s only map. This map leads the sage to the Heavenly Reservoir, the non-cognitive experience of the up-welling of life within and, presumably, to the loss of self.
Returning then to Guo, when he says just this is the piping of Heaven, if he means, as he seems to imply, that there is no Rouser, then he diverges significantly from the thought of Zhuangzi. And this makes a profound difference in terms of the practical application of his teaching that by surrender into the limitation of not-knowing one is able to directly experience the limitless rousing which is life. Guo knows, Zhuangzi does not.
Atheism is cognitive denial and closure; Zhuangzi’s active and non-cognitive agnosticism is affirmation and openness. Indeed, it is the possibility of an experience of an all-inclusive consciousness that is the whole point of Ziqi’s analogy as Zhuangzi points out immediately upon taking up the theme from Ziqi: A large consciousness is spacey and idle; a small consciousness is cramped and circumspect. Yes, the piping of Heaven is just this, the totality of every expression. But it is a great deal more than this to a spacey consciousness.
Guo would bring together all things and call it All, but Zhuangzi would consider this cramped and circumspect since it presumes to draw an all-inclusive circle in a vast unknown. This is the exercise of the understanding consciousness and the mistake of following whatever has so far taken shape, fully formed, in our minds, making that our teacher . . .
Every summation is also a subtraction. Every categorical inclusion, even when it is of ‘all things’, is also an exclusion. The way of Zhuangzi is one of vast spaciousness which, through surrender into not-knowing, draws no circles at all. Take as an example Chao Wen not playing the zither, writes Graham, not yet committed, with all his potentialities intact. All knowing is fixed, limited, and exclusive. Not-knowing is unfixed, limitless, and all-inclusive by virtue of forming no inclusive category at all. This is Zhuangzi’s gate into the Great Openness but Guo would shut it fast with chains and padlocks.
All this might seem unfair to Guo who was adamant in his rejection of cognitive understanding as a means of truly ‘knowing’ anything, but in this instance, his exclusion of a Source which one cannot know, because it cannot be known, he fell short of his own principle. Likewise, though he has his own ‘method’ of transcending self-identity (“vanishing into things”), it is not Zhuangzi’s ‘method’ (returning to one’s rootedness in the inexplicable up-welling of life within). The relative effectiveness of either ‘method’ is not within the parameters of this study, however.
On the other hand, Zhuangzi would agree that just this is the piping of Heaven because all existence is an expression of Reality. But even here he would probably express his ever-present non-commitment and add his patent qualifier: However, there is a problem here. This he says with respect to the relationship between Humanity and Nature, where on the one hand, he must acknowledge that what Humanity does deliberately would seem to diverge from what Nature does spontaneously, while on the other hand, he must admit that Humanity, being an expression of Nature, must be one with Nature. But since all this dividing and uniting is an activity of the understanding consciousness and its precarious dependence on words and their definitions, he has no basis for resolving the paradox. He goes on to say: For our understanding can be in the right only by virtue of a relation of dependence on something, and what it depends on is peculiarly unfixed. So how could I know . . . ?
Likewise, Zhuangzi would agree that there is a unity. That ‘all things are one’ is a statement with which he would certainly provisionally agree, but, alas, there is a problem here, too, and for the same reason. Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one. But if we are all one, can there be any words? But since I have already declared that we are “one”, can there be no words? The one and the word are already two . . .
Thus, although Zhuangzi would agree with the term ‘non-dual’ (so as to avoid creation of two when speaking of One), he would not muddy the waters of his limitless not-knowing by believing that such a term has any relation to Reality. This, he would tell us, is: But to labor your spirit trying to make things one . . . Rather, he would encourage to: Let yourself be jostled and shaken by the boundlessness—for that is how to be lodged securely in the boundlessness!
Looking again at the three pipings, we see how they are indeed one. To hear the piping of earth is to understand that the piping of man is just that — the piping of earth. To hear the piping of Heaven is to understand that the piping of earth is just that — the piping Heaven. And to truly hear the piping of man is to understand that it is the piping of both earth and Heaven. Could we not say that there is but one great piping, the expression of Reality? Yet though the piping of Heaven is the piping of all things, it is not necessarily all that it is.
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.