Monday, May 23, 2011

Ming

Ming
by Scott Bradley


Ming is a word in Chinese which, like all words, has undergone a constant evolution. It is usually translated either as 'fate' or 'destiny'. From a philosophical point of view, this is as different as 'black' or 'white'.

According to Dr. Ziporyn (Zhuangzi, p. 215), its most literal meaning is 'command' and originally referred to the Mandate (Decree) of Heaven. In our context it meant 'what God ordains'. In other words, there is a purposive Power that determines how things are going to be. What happens to us is our 'destiny'. This seems to me to clearly be the meaning that Mencius assigned it.

Needless to say, this was not the way the philosophical Taoists used the term. For them, it is 'fate', that which arises without any known agent having caused it, and no known purpose for it being so. Why does this matter? It is important because it determines how we deal with the basic realities of life. For Zhuangzi it becomes yet another springboard by which to catapult oneself into the transcendent.

"Life and death are fated," writes Zhuangzi, "and that they come with the regularity of day and night is of Heaven [Nature]—that which humans can do nothing about, simply the way things are." (6:24) This having been establish, he says elsewhere, "Let yourself be carried along by things so that the mind wanders freely. Hand it all over to the unavoidable so as to nurture what is central within you...The best thing is just to fulfill what's mandated to you, your fate — how could there be any difficulty in that?" (4:15)

None of these thorny philosophical issues were of merely intellectual interest to Zhuangzi; the point is always to understand how best to live. And 'best' is never a moral consideration, what 'pleases' God or others, but what makes one's life the happiest experience possible. And that, coincidentally, works 'best' all around.

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

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