Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Declaration of Un-Dependence

A Declaration of Un-Dependence
by Scott Bradley

In Zhuangzi’s story of the vast bird Peng and tiny quail that laugh at its long, high-flying journey to the Southern Oblivion is the lesson that comparison is an expression of dependence. In the scales of the egoic mind it is being better, prettier, smarter, richer, younger, older, more spiritual....that gives substance to an otherwise hollow existence. My being ‘someone’ depends on my perception of being somehow better than some other. This can reach pathetically amusing proportions when we see our obvious inferiors proudfully establishing their own inferiors. Pathetic, aren’t we?

“Even Song Rongzi would burst out laughing” at such as these. And this is because he had come to realize that his own self-image need not be dependent on the opinions of others. The whole world could praise or despise him and it wouldn’t matter. Little is known of his philosophy, but we know from the final chapter of the Zhuangzi that he said, “to be insulted is not a disgrace.” If my self-image is independent of the image that others form of me, how could their insults touch me? It is my own inner integrity that matters. Yet Zhuangzi says “even Song Rongzi” because he still depended upon his own self-opinion; he still needed to ‘be someone’.

Liezi is said to have ridden upon the wind, so great was his independence from “anxious calculations about bringing good fortune to himself.” Yet, though he was thereby able to avoid walking, still he depended on something: the wind. We know from his enchantment with the prophetic powers of the shaman Jixian that Liezi was enamored with overt manifestations of ‘spirituality’. It must have been a happy day when he discovered his own. And yet, his bondage continued in his dependence upon them.

But what if you could be free of all dependence? asks Zhuangzi; “so that your wandering could nowhere be brought to a halt? You would then be depending on — what? Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name.” The Zhuangzian vision of ultimate freedom is not independence from the other, but complete transcendence of the self-other mechanism. Or, as he simply sums up, “just be empty.” His philosophy is a declaration of un-dependence.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.


  1. Zhuangzi does indeed point at a good "philosophy". So how does oneself take these "words" about being empty to "living" this philosophy in one's life? These words are quite entertaining but the entertainment of these words by themselves surely does not lead to living these words. What is step number two to this invitation on how one should live.

  2. @ Mark and Susan: Meditate. That's where "un-dependence" is found. Or not.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.