Friday, November 4, 2011


by Scott Bradley

Someone recently (07 Sept) commented on a post (Taking Zen To The Laundry Mat) by providing definitions of nihilism and inviting comment. Today is 09 Sept. and I comment, but when will you read this?

Nihilism is partly defined in this comment as "an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence." My comment: Why and how could anyone "deny" all existence? If skepticism is the suspension of judgment, then no judgments are made. Not-knowing knows not. It is as simple as that. No position is taken. Nothing is fixed. Perhaps you tire of this quote, but here it is again: "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map." Nihilism is a position, but the point is to have none.

Another possible definition is: "A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated." My comment: All values are based on "human inclinations", and the expression of our humanity is an expression of those inclinations. But we can presume no other base; our values cannot be fixed to transcendent and eternal verities.

Zhuangzi's "Walking Two Roads" suggests that we can both live our humanity and transcend it. We go along with the values which arise from our heart, and yet we do not require that they be immutably fixed. We go with the flow of existence in acceptance of its tenuous reality, and in this way discover that we can celebrate it in "far and unfettered wandering". The wanderer has no home or known destination, but only "the vast wilds of open nowhere."

This likewise applies to knowing and communicating. I know I exist, but I also know I cannot know it. Descartes would have us believe that because we think, we are. But nothing about existence reduces to reason. The "understanding consciousness", very much a human inclination, knows lots of neat stuff and is rightfully affirmed, but must know when to stop. It must also realize that it is "peculiarly unfixed".

The final possible definition I will address is this: "Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief." My comment: The key words here are "rejection" and "repudiate". To reject distinctions would be to make one. To repudiate a theory is to establish a theory relative to others. I am guilty of both, of course, but that is beside the point (isn't it?).

Perhaps the most telling aspect of nihilism is the -ism. It is a chosen position. It is a decision. It is a conclusion. It is a belief, just as atheism is a belief. Negation is belief.

We affirm life and this apparent reality as it appears to be, not because we know that it is, but simply because it appears to be and we appear to be in it. We live, not because we understand what it is to live, but because we live. We have values, not because they have a transcendent ground, but because we have them. We know, not because we know our knowing is sure, but because we know.

We "Walk Two Roads".

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


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