Monday, August 2, 2010

Punishing Heaven, Part 2

by Scott Bradley

In the first, Zhuangzi’s ‘Confucius’ has come to realize the fundamental truth that human beings are not equally endowed so as to attain to all that they might wish. They can only do that which lies within the parameters of their particular givens, the givens of fate. In context, a disciple of Confucius has discovered men who, in Confucius’ words, live outside the lines.

They have transcended the bondage of conventional notions of right and wrong, and the preference of life to death. And this, in Confucius’ estimation, is superior to his own way, his need to live within the lines. But why, asks his disciple, does he not therefore follow their example and live as they? “As for myself, I am a victim of Heaven”, is his reply. He is so constituted as to be unable to follow this ‘superior’ path. And he understands this. He accepts this.

In the second instance, it is another, Toeless, who recognizes this limitation in Confucius and the consequent inability for him to realize another, ‘higher’ level of awareness.

It is common in the ‘spiritual’ literature, both ancient and contemporary, to speak of ‘man’s true purpose’ and of his ‘spiritual birth-right’, the guarantee that everyone can find the ‘highest’ degree of spiritual awakening. Zhuangzi would apparently disagree.

Many are those who aspire to that which is not within their grasp. How many would be scholars have foundered on the shoals of their too shallow intellect? How many novels have been left unfinished for lack of ability? How many artists and musicians have discovered the limits of their talents, and these well short of the expressions to which they aspired? Some no doubt lacked the necessary grit of discipline, but it is a tyrannical romanticism that does not recognize the limitations of one’s givens.

Even so, Confucius recognizes that how ever much he might aspire to the transcendent life outside the lines, it is not in his nature to be able to realize it. He recognizes no ‘birth-right’ whereby he, and everyone else, is able to realize ‘spiritual awakening’. Could he, perhaps, realize a transcendence within the lines? Might not his very recognition of his limits already be a form of transcendence of those limits?

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. If you want to catch up on parts of this or other series you've missed, go to Scott's Zhuangzi Index Page.

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