Saturday, January 21, 2012

Affirm or Deny

Scott Bradley


Perhaps it makes little difference whether we affirm all things or deny all things. Void or Vastness, All or Nothing, it all comes to the same thing. In either case, the point is to not deny one thing so as to affirm another, or to affirm something so as to deny another. This is to build on the shifting sands of relativity. The surest foundation for any point of view is that which transcends the negation of its opposite. The rightness of one way is little different than the wrongness of another way if its rightness rests in the wrongness of the other.

All things are deniable. All things are affirmable. To deny all things or to affirm them — both are ways to transcend the relative.

"Short and long exist only in comparison with each other." (Tao Te Ching, 2) One reed is short only in comparison with a longer reed. It is short, the other long. But let us add two more reeds, one shorter than the previous short reed, and one longer than the previous long reed. Now the previously short reed is both short (relative to the previous long reed) and long (relative to the new short reed). The same applies to the previous long reed. Thus, in the world of things, there is no reed that is not both long and short. In this they are the same.

Zhuangzi made this point with a view to pointing to an all-inclusive and transcendent way of living in the world. This inclusiveness is the heart of Tao. Tao is in all things; Tao is all things. Nothing is excluded. Again, this is reflected in how we view Nature. Though we may not feel warm and fuzzy about scorpions, we recognize their right to be by virtue of their being.

When asked what is the essence of Buddhism, a Zen master took his inquirer into the garden and pointed at some bamboo. I don’t get it, said the novice. Some bamboos are short, others are long, replied the master. Though he was apparently making a comparative statement, his intent was precisely the opposite; he was pointing to the sameness of all things by virtue of their given-ness.

The application of neti, neti (not this, not this), whether with reference to the Mystery of the Ultimate or of our own reality, is not a negation with a view to arriving at something affirmed; it is not a traditional dialectic. Rather, its purpose is to transcend both negation and affirmation. The Madhyamika, the Middle Way, both denies and affirms the reality of things, not to arrive at some affirmable synthesis, but in order to free us from the grasp of every fixed idea. Its aim is to bring us to Emptiness.

But whether we embrace Emptiness or Fullness, Void or Vastness, it cannot be either when grounded in the negation of its opposite. Whatever our point of view, it partakes of Tao-ish-ness to the extent that it appreciates the inclusive given-ness of short and long. The truest ‘yea’ requires no ‘nay’.

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

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