Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shen Dao II

Shen Dao II
by Scott Bradley


According to the probably Confucian syncretist author of the 33rd and final chapter of the Zhuangzi, Shen Dao, a proto-Daoist, said: "Just become like an inanimate object. There is no need for worthies and sages. Indeed, a clump of earth never strays from the Course (Dao)."

There is some ambiguity as to whether the author agrees with this teaching or not. He writes, "The ambitious achievers would laugh at him saying, 'Shen Dao's course is no practice for the living, but it is the perfect guideline for the dead!' In the end he was regarded as merely an eccentric." (B. Ziporyn)

I have the sense that, although 'ambitious achievers' are definitely not those to whom he would recommend we listen, he in fact uses them to convey his own disapproval, just as he apparently accepts the general opinion of Shen Dao's contemporaries that he was 'merely an eccentric'. He has, in any case, as he has every other exponent of a way he presents, already dismissed him as a mere 'nook and cranny scholar' who has only embraced a portion of the Way. Only Confucius was the complete sage, 'inwardly a sage and outwardly a king' — a great reformer and transformer of the world.

In the context of Zhuangzi's philosophy, the author is but another strident voice, proclaiming his own rightness and the wrongness of others. He has entered the forest so as to admonish the trees to stop their 'muuu-ing and yuuu-ing, grunting and groaning', whereas Zhuangzi would have us listen to and enjoy the song. It is one Wind that moves through the forest inspiring all these expressions. The author believes in the One True Way, while Zhuangzi sees every way as right to itself and accepts them as such. He "follows along with the rightness of the present 'this'."

This ‘lesson of the forest’ can, I believe, help to shake us loose from our addiction to truth, our ceaseless endeavor to fix ourselves to some sure thing. Being cast adrift, seems so frightening a prospect, yet it is the beginning of freedom.

It is true that Zhuangzi sees a 'better' way, but this way dismisses no other and itself dissolves into the unknowability of Reality. It is self-aware, and in this awareness negates itself. How do we know this? Because he can laugh at himself.

I began this post with a view to discussing Shen Dao's teaching, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

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

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