Friday, July 8, 2011

Under Heaven: Passing Wind

Under Heaven: Passing Wind
by Scott Bradley


Speaking of the ancient men of the Tao, Peng Meng's teacher is quoted as saying: "Their ways were like a passing wind gusting by — how can they be described?" Having come to the end of this historic overview of pre-Han philosophies as presented in the final chapter of Zhuangzi, we might ask ourselves if it all did not really amount not to a passing wind, but simply a passing of wind. Did anyone find the Truth? Was anyone saved? Did someone find the way to Nirvana? I think not.

The pursuit of a philosophy of life is, I believe, an end in itself, and perhaps the only end that one should expect. The pursuit is the true object, just as the journey is the point of travel. What it really comes down to is how we want to make the journey. Some apparently make it without a great deal of reflection, either for a lack of desire or because some 'positive teaching' has filled that need.

I do not agree with Socrates, however, that "the unexamined life is not worth living." If that is true, then no life is worth living — philosophizing does not somehow mysteriously render up meaning and purpose. But for those with a heavy dose of 'lack', the pursuit of a philosophy of life can certainly make the life experience more...fun.

The philosophy that I pursue is perhaps a bit more rarefied than some. I do not intend this to mean 'better' or more profound but to introduce the particular problems which arise in the process of growing it. It is a way of not-knowing and of purposelessness.

The problem, of course, is that the philosophizing mind always seeks to know, and that one can easily find a false purpose in the pursuit of purposelessness. My solution to this dilemma is honesty — or at least the attempt to occasionally exercise it by weeding out belief and purpose from my garden.

I have called this 'rarefied' because the philosophy is itself, in many ways, self-negating. If the point of the journey is to journey, and the object of the pursuit is the pursuit, then one must continuously attempt to remain 'unfixed', unattached to 'positive teachings' or insidious purpose. One must always keep moving, and the only way to do that is to never believe that one has arrived, or will arrive.

Is this garden then left fallow and empty? Yes and no. The point is to provide an environment for the tenuous, but incipient, seeds of life to grow — just where Nature has sown them, without my having done a thing.

I have digressed, perhaps, but in doing so, have I not provided an example of what all these others did and multitudes are now doing — growing a way to live in the world? Were they and are we simply passing wind? Perhaps, but life has its necessary functions.

There is also the very important fact that philosophy matters. How ever unaware or dismissive the world at large may be of the blabber of the philosophers, they still exercise a world view molded and directed by the accumulated thinking of countless others. There is nothing in all the world unaffected by it.

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

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