Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Under Heaven: Zhuangzi

Under Heaven: Zhuangzi
by Scott Bradley


"Since all the ten thousand things are inextricably netted together around us, none is worthy of exclusive allegiance. These were some aspects of the ancient Art of the Course. Zhuang Zhou got wind of them and was delighted." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 33; Ziporyn)

This syncretist author sometimes shows true insight into the Way of the philosophical Taoists. The first sentence above could easily be a summary of or a starting point for the whole Taoist world view. One could get lost there and forget self altogether.

"He used ridiculous and far-flung descriptions, absurd and preposterous sayings...indulging himself unrestrainingly as the moment demanded, uncommitted to any one position, never looking at things from any one corner." Even in the third or second century BCE, Zhuangzi was perceived as an in-your-face, somewhat heretical, iconoclast.

"(He) still never arrogantly separated himself off from the creatures of the world, for he rejected none of their views of right and wrong and thus was able to get along with worldly conventions...He opened himself broadly to the vastness at the root of things, abandoning himself to it to the very depths... and thus his [writings] have a liberating effect on all creatures. The guidelines within them are undepletable, giving forth new meanings without shedding old ones. Vague! Ambiguous! We have not got to the end of them yet!"

One reason I am able to return to Zhuangzi again and again is because of this very ambiguity. He suggests a place for the mind to wander, but never tells us what we will find there. This is not accidental; he was, I believe, perfectly capable of presenting a conventional and systematic document full of content and definitive profundities, but he chose instead to shake us loose from that very thing, and start us on an adventure where we alone can wander.

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

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