by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Much Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist teaching has to do with a return to our "original nature." This concept troubles me in that it asks me to believe something and comes with a package of metaphysical presuppositions that likewise require belief. This post is going to end up speaking of an existentialist approach to things-of-the-spirit, so I will in jump right now and speak of 'bad faith.' Using it somewhat differently than Sartre originally intended, I will call it 'self-deceit'.
Almost all faith is 'bad faith' — belief intended to keep us from confronting our actual situation in the world. If there is 'good faith', it is provisional — it is an upaya ('skillful means'), a fish-trap to be discarded when the fish (experience) is caught. It would be possible therefore, I guess, to 'believe' in an original nature and thereby arrive at an experience of transcendence.
The problem for me, however, is that that experience is generally interpreted in the same manner as the belief in the original nature — that is, one has arrived at a known state, the Buddha nature, for example, which is part of a grand metaphysical explanation of the Universe.
If one has had the experience, one might ask, what difference does the belief make, 'bad' or otherwise? None at all, I guess. Only I am apparently some kind of spiritual cripple who must follow a path of non-belief and not-knowing. Like Zhuangzi. You may be different; follow your own path.
The concept of an 'original nature' suggests an essential nature existing apart from and preceding the existential nature, the nature actually lived. Where did it come from? Where is it now? We must 'return' to it; when and how was it lost? Was it in the Garden of Eden? Or in some other mythical time or place?
From the existentialist point of view, existence precedes essence. There is no pre-existent Ideal Human Being that determines our existence, defines how we should be, or to which we must return. There is only humanity as it is, with the potential to experience and become what it will, using the materials at hand.
The most authentic expression of our humanity is the one that wells up from within us, the expression of what we already mysteriously are-as-a-becoming; whatever that may be. There is no ‘better’ you, ideal you, lost you, or pre-ordained you. There is only you becoming — creating — you. "There is only this one moon, there is no other," as Zen informs us.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.