Zhuangzi Roasts Guo Xiang
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Guo continues: Since Nonbeing is what does not exist, it cannot produce Being. And whatever Being there is, before it has been produced, has no way to bring about its own production. So what is it that generates all becoming? All at once, each spontaneously self-generates. Self-generation does not mean being generated by me, the self. The self cannot generate things, and likewise things cannot generate the self. Thus, the self is “so of itself”.What would Zhuangzi make of this? He has certainly supplied Guo with the raw material for this thesis. The piping of Heaven allows each (thing) to go its own way. But since each one selects out its own (way), what identity could there be for their rouser?
This is the signature understanding of Zhuangzi and the ‘Daoist School’ of the origin of the Universe, namely that it spontaneously arises. Whatever Source there might be, it does not actively create things, but allows them to arise. It does nothing and yet all things are accomplished. And this is precisely why it is impossible to find any Rouser. But is this the equivalent of saying that each self-generates? Certainly each thing is self-so in the sense that it is and appears to depend on nothing to be, but can we say that it is thus the source of its own being? This is much further than Zhuangzi would go.
As for the argument that Nonbeing cannot generate Being and Being cannot generate itself, Zhuangzi would probably have joyfully shown how peculiarly unfixed it is. Unfortunately, the logical powers of this commentator cannot match his, but perhaps he can suggest a problem (or two) here.
Guo tells us that Nonbeing is what does not exist. If Guo is Being, how could he know anything of what Nonbeing is or is not? What does it mean to exist? Does anything exist? Can All be divided into two categories, Being and Nonbeing? Might there not be other expressions beyond the power of human intellect? If so, could not a Source be that, as well as these?
Does not Being call Nonbeing ‘that’ and Nonbeing call Being ‘that’ so that, being both ‘this’ and ‘that’, they are equal? Do they not also participate in the simultaneous generation of ‘this’ and ‘that’? If Nonbeing is the absence of Being, then does it not depend on Being to non-exist? And if Being is the absence of Nonbeing, then does it not similarly depend on the non-existing to exist? For this commentator, however, all these counter arguments are superfluous in the light of his inability to know what either term actually means.
Zhuangzi does actually address a similar comparison in this very same chapter. Prefacing his argument with the proviso that he cannot possibly know whether his ‘this’ is any different from ‘that’, he nevertheless gives it a try: There is existence. There is non-existence. But I do not-yet know whether “the existence of nonexistence” is ultimately existence or nonexistence. He concludes: Now I have said something. But I do not-yet know: has what I have said really said anything? Or has it not really said anything?
Graham comments on this thusly: "Chuang-tzu criticizes two supposed examples of describing in words the whole out which things divide. He thinks that analysis always leaves an overlooked remainder, and that the whole cannot be recovered by putting the parts together again."
Zhuangzi’s argument has many further twists and ramifications, but we will not dwell on them here. (For they are beyond this commentator’s ability, in any case.) Suffice it to say that he would look askance at Guo’s argument and especially so, since it is the basis of his categorical exclusion of an unknowable Source. But again, it needs to be emphasized that it is not a belief in the existence of a Source that would motivate his criticism, but the exclusion of one possibility at the expense of another.
It remains to be considered whether Guo’s divergence from the philosophy of Zhuangzi is of merely academic concern or if it undermines the latter’s vision of human transformation. As stated above, Guo had a similar vision, but with a different ‘method’. Having denied the possibility of a Source, Guo would have us vanish into things, for that is all that remains.
To so vanish is to lose one’s self, and this is precisely the goal of Zhuangzi. I have lost me, says Ziqi. And it is expressly to explain this experience that he presents the analogy now under investigation. Indeed, this might be said to be the culminating purpose of the the entire chapter if not of the Inner Chapters as a whole. (For this commentator similarly takes: Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the sage has no one name to be the key idea of Chapter One; But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that ‘myself’ has never begun to exist of Chapter Four; I just sit and forget. . . . until I am the same as the Transforming Openness of Chapter Six; and It’s just being empty, nothing more of Chapter Seven.)
What then is Zhuangzi’s ‘method’? To answer this we have only to understand how I have lost me is related to the analogy of the wind in the trees, but this is a daunting task. Nevertheless, we shall make the attempt.
The concluding phrase of Ziqi’s analogy provides the key: what identity can there be for their rouser? The piping of Heaven is the spontaneous arousal of the expressions of the beingness of the trees. Ziqi has come to realize in practice that his identity, his me, is a false one, analogous to the mistake of assigning an identity and activity to a Rouser. He has, consequentially, returned to the spontaneity of the piping of earth, abandoning deliberate activity by vanishing (to use Guo’s term) into the spontaneous up-welling of his life. Just as the unseen wind moves through the trees to enable their individual expressions, so an unknowable Spontaneity moves within him. This Spontaneity is the Source, but it is nameless and unknowable, a reality with no definite form, and it is into this that he surrenders.
Without the identity of a me and its deliberating consciousness, Ziqi has realized a large consciousness . . . idle and spacey. Whatever arises, arises; all is affirmed; all is included, for no circles are drawn.
Zhuangzi continues this amplification of the meaning of Ziqi’s analogy throughout the remainder of the chapter. A small, cramped, consciousness struggles ceaselessly, attempting to affirm itself in opposition to itself, circumstances and others. Held as if bound by cords, it takes the deliberating consciousness as master and its identity as fully formed.
The entirety of the Universe is fragmented by self and other, “this” and “that”, “right and wrong”. But the sage has lost the me, follows the map of the Radiance of Drift and Doubt, affirms the rightness of every “this”, and surrenders into the Heavenly Reservoir, the ever-sustaining up-welling of life within, ever not-knowing its own source. A fixed-identity unconsciously dreams its dream, believing it knows Reality, while the sage has awakened to his dreaming and wanders without fixed identity within the dream.
Does Guo’s divergent philosophy deliver all this? How can we know?
Note: If you would like to read, print or download all 3 parts of this miniseries as one document replete with footnotes, here's the link to Google Docs.