Thursday, August 5, 2010

Punishing Heaven, Part 5


by Scott Bradley

The sage “roams in the limitless”, not because he is limitless, but because he has found the gateway to the limitless in the limited. Yang Fuzhi, in his commentary on Zhuangzi’s second chapter, Equalizing Assessments of Things, wrote: I equal out the assessment of things, but at the same time the assessments of things equal me out. In realizing the relative character of all distinctions, and consequentially the equality of all distinctions, the sage realizes a liberating transcendence vis-à-vis all opinions. And he realizes that this ‘opinion’, this understanding of the perspectival relativity of all opinions, is likewise relative to his own circumstances, his own limitations.

Yang Fuzhi also tells us that wherever we might run to escape limitations, they are always there. Profound indeed is this failure, this limitation! When those who do not comprehend this roam in the limited, believing it to be the limitless, those who do comprehend it laugh at them. But when those who do comprehend it roam in the limitless, they do so by finding that wherever they go, there is in fact a limit. To roam in the limitless is not to escape limitations but to forever transcend them by virtue of embracing them. Every limitation is likewise a gateway to the limitless.

Commenting on our opening quote from Chapter Five, Yang Fuzhi again picks up this theme: But do you know what it means to cuff and fetter people with this talk of cuffs and fetters? It is only when Heaven punishes man and man also punishes Heaven that the single thread and solitary string of the Course of the Mean becomes clear. And this is certainly the ultimate ambition of ‘the casualty [of Heaven, as Confucius describes himself . . .]

If, in speaking of people’s limitations, we fail to explain that there are always limitations and that they are in fact the very gate to transcendence to the limitless, we only further bind them. Confucius has seen both his limitations and how they might lead him to a transcendence unique to them and himself. And this is what it means to “punish Heaven.’ To punish Heaven is to overcome Natures’ givens. But this possibility is, of course, likewise a given.

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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