by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Zhuangzi, I suspect, had a great sense of humor, and had a thoroughly good time poking fun at the conventional thought of his day. Yet one never senses a spirit of malice or disrespect. Perhaps that is because he so often also poked fun at himself.
Confucius is often the object of this fun. There is a fantasy dialogue between Yan Hui, his favorite disciple, and Confucius in which three times the disciple comes to Confucius to tell of his progress. The first time he says he has "forgotten Humanity and Responsibility." "That's good," replies Confucius, "but you're still not there." This must have caused some good chuckles among Zhuangzi's contemporaries, for these forgotten qualities are precisely those which Confucius most treasured. He has stood Confucius on his head.
This likewise applies to Yan's second visit where he claims to have forgotten "ritual and music", the traditional Confucian methods by which to cultivate the aforementioned virtues.
It is not that Zhuangzi did not value these qualities. In fact, he was so much in agreement with the fundamental Confucian belief that these things were rooted in the human heart, that he suggested we forget all about them as exterior values and simply let them arise from within. The attempt to be 'good', he believed, obstructs our innate capacity to be so.
On his third visit Yan declares that he has made still further progress: "I just sit and forget." Confucius is "jolted as if kicked" and asks what this means. Yan replies that it is a state in which his physical and mental being is forgotten to the point that he is "the same as the Transforming Openness."
Confucius' response reveals that he knows in theory exactly what Yan has experienced: "The same as it? But then you are free of all preference! Transforming? But then you are free of all constancy!...I beg to be accepted as your disciple." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 6; B. Ziporyn)
This last line must have raised some wide smiles, but the experience described is serious stuff for those who seek transcendence. The only comment on this experience I will make is that it is simply that — pure, contentless experience. The "Transforming Openness" is just that, and is not described as God, Universal Self, I AM, or any other religious Entity — to the end, Zhuangzi remains free of fixed beliefs, and this is both the essence of the experience itself and the gate through which it is realized.
I won't discuss it further, since it seems clear enough, and like Confucius, I can only beg to be Yan's disciple.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.