Thursday, June 30, 2011

"The World Under Heaven"

"The World Under Heaven"
by Scott Bradley


There are many in the world who apply themselves to some method or technique, and they all believe that what they possess is unimprovable. But in the end, where among them is what the ancients called 'the art of the Course [Tao]'. I say, there is nowhere it is not.
~ Zhuangzi, Chap. 33; B. Ziporyn ~
These lines introduce the final chapter in the Zhuangzi, "The World Under Heaven". We see this chapter often quoted by scholars because it is an invaluable source of information about the philosophies of numerous, oftentimes obscure, schools of thought in pre-Han China.

The basic outline of the chapter is an opening description of the complete and perfect expression of the Way that was to be found among the ancients, a completion now lost. There are some few scholars who, studying the Six (Confucian) Classics, continue this tradition. These are to be found in Lu (home of Confucius) and Zou (home of Mencius).

The rest of the chapter concerns itself with a catalogue of "nook and cranny scholars" who teach but one aspect of the Way, thinking it the whole. Two important philosophies have been conspicuously omitted, however. One is that of Yang (the preservation of one's own life is of paramount importance), whom Mencius thought a great danger to the world. I have read nothing suggesting why this might be. The second is Confucianism, at least by name. For it is, in fact, Confucianism which represents that complete understanding of the Way found among the ancients. This is a given, and it would be unacceptable to catalogue Confucius among the many exponents of the shattered Way.

The author, then, is a Confucian. But he is a Confucian who is also a bit of a syncretist and is able to see some aspect of the Way in most every philosophy he describes. Where is the Way? "I say there is nowhere it is not." This, I think, is a great stride forward from the rigidity of classic Confucianism.

He is almost Zhuangzian (all the expressions of human philosophy are as the sounds made by the one wind blowing through the forest), but not quite — he still believes there is one, complete and correct teaching. As is so often the case, he is himself guilty of precisely what he condemns in others, "believing what they possess is unimprovable."

Is the Way indeed shattered? Or is it rather that, just as each thing exists in and for itself, each must find its own unique way? If the Truth is simply what is, then is it not most perfectly expressed through and within each unique individuation?

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

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