Monday, April 25, 2011

Feng Lui

Feng Lui
by Scott Bradley


Fung distinguishes between two trends in Neo-Taoism, the more rationally oriented like Xuo Xiang and Wang Pi, and those who pursued a more 'romantic' approach described as feng lui. He admits that he finds it hard to translate the meaning of this into English, and frankly, I suspect this may be because he didn't understand it in Chinese. This may not seem so unkind if I add that it would be a bit like defining Zen.

Feng lui literally translates "wind and stream". Its 'practioners' were those of the "pure conversation" school. "Pure conversation" is likewise a difficult thing to describe, but seems to apply to those who enjoyed conversing together in a pithy Zen-like manner. "What's the Buddha?" "The cypress in the courtyard." The enjoyment was, however, as important as the conversation.

Probably the best way to get an impression of feng lui is to look at the stories about those who practiced it; for it was essentially about living an artistic, spontaneous life. These stories are found in the Shih-Shuo, written by Liu Yi-ch'ing (403-444) with a commentary by Liu Hsun (463-521). [Alas, another work not available to us who do not read Chinese.]

But first, we need to look at the main characters of these stories as a whole. They were The Seven Worthies (or Sages) of the Bamboo Grove, who enjoyed meeting together in said grove to recite their poems, play music, discuss profundities and get drunk. "Wind and stream".

I especially like this story: Liu Ling (c.221-c.300) liked to go about naked. When a couple of stuffy Confucians paid him a visit and complained when they found him thus, he replied: "I take the whole universe as my house and my own room as my clothes. Why then do you enter here into my trousers?"

Wang Hui-chih (died c. 338), awakened by heavy snow, suddenly thought of his friend Tai and made an arduous journey to see him. But just as he reached his friend's door, he returned home. When asked the reason, he said: "I went on the impulse of my pleasure, and when it ended, I came back. Why should I have seen Tai?"

This story is not in Fung, though I read it elsewhere (and can't remember where): One of the Seven Worthies always had two servants following him, one with a flagon of wine and the other with a shovel. The wine was for his thirst. The shovel was so that, if he dropped dead, he could be buried in place.

Perhaps these characters were a bit nutty, but somehow I feel they had the 'right' idea. At least they had shrugged off the burden of seriousness.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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