Living With a Crowd
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
When Nanrong Chu could not realize a breakthrough with his teacher, Gengsang Chu, this worthy sent him to see Laozi. When he arrived and was still on the doorstep, Laozi asked him, "Why did you bring so many people with you?" Alarmed, Nanrong quickly looked over his shoulder, but saw no one. Where were they?
In the subsequent dialogue, related in the Zhuangzi (Chapter 23), it becomes clear that Nanrong was greatly concerned with the opinions others about himself. He had imported externals into himself and was thereby internally entangled. He had arrived with a crowd of people living in his mind.
In the previous post I shared some quotes from Linji in which he focused on autonomy as equivalent to enlightenment. The most succinct was: "Just be autonomous wherever you are, and right there is realization." Autonomy, in this instance, is to be completely detached from self-image, the self-story. It is only a first step to be free from defining oneself with reference to the opinions of others. True detachment is to be free from the need to define oneself at all. Nanrong had a long way to go.
So do I. And this is why I have returned to this theme so many times. These posts are, after all, more an expression of my own pilgrimage, than an exposition of neutral 'spiritual truths'. It is, of necessity, largely autobiographical.
I, too, live with a crowd within. Many point fingers of condemnation. All are people I want to please and impress. This would make me somebody. Special. Worthy. A "World-Honored One." (Oops! The Buddha's already got that one tied down.)
Laozi's answer to Nanrong's bondage (apart from telling him he's a "goner"!) is to suggest he become as an infant. An infant lives in utter simplicity of spirit, spontaneously and without reference to being or becoming anything. "In this state," he concludes, "neither good nor bad fortune can reach her. And if good and bad fortune mean nothing to you, how can anything human plague you?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what is the magic elixir, and how does one concoct it? There are none on offer. There is only the slow growth of awareness and the magic word of transcendent acceptance: Yes.
Oh yeah, and sudden enlightenment. Maybe.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.