Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Forgetfulness I

by Scott Bradley

Chui the Artisan's swooping freehand arcs could match the lines made with compasses and T-squares, for his fingers transformed along with the thing he was making, his mind never lingering to check or to verify. Hence his Numinous Platform was unified and unshackled to any one place. The forgetting of the foot means the shoe fits comfortably...And when the understanding forgets right and wrong, the mind fits comfortably. When the encounter with each thing fits comfortably, the internal is not altered and the external is not made master. When everything fits from beginning to end, even this fitting is forgotten, and that is the perfect fit.
(Zhuangzi, Chap. 19; B. Ziporyn)
Forgetfulness is a constant and recurring theme in the Zhuangzi, and it has many levels and facets. It is not always an easy idea to grasp or affirm, forgetfulness being largely a negative attribute to our normal ways of thinking. Here, in this extensive quote, most all the bases are covered, but I would just like to consider one: Spontaneity.

Chui could draw a perfect circle because he let his hand do it without second guessing. It is this kind of spontaneity that can be expressed in all we do. It requires a deep connectedness to and trust in our innermost heart. With this trust, what need is there for vacillation and confused deliberation about the subtle rights and wrongs of things? Just do it! The rightness is in you.

I've dabbled a bit with sumi, Chinese ink painting, and it is amazing how one line can be so beautiful or so...hesitant. The spontaneity expressed in that single sweep of the brush can literally bring tears to my eyes. But such lines are rare for me, lacking as I do the acquired skill that lets me comfortably forget what my hand is doing.

Spontaneous living is also the expression of acquired skill. Paradoxical as it might seem, it is through patient practice that we learn to require no practice at all, and eventually to forget even our forgetting. Is this not true of every art form we might wish to pursue? So, too, with the art of living.

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


  1. Sumi-e is the Japanese term for ink painting, in Chinese, it is shui mo. Similar styles, but different terms.

  2. And as my Chinese painting teacher says, practice, practice, slowly, 30 years you will have the skill...

  3. And I love the idea that "his fingers transformed along with the thing he was making." I think that's
    the key point in this passage.


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