Monday, January 30, 2012

Daily Requirements

Scott Bradley

In previous posts we began to consider how the so-called Neo-Taoists took Zhuangzi and Laozi to task for failing to reach the level of the true Sage, Confucius. They did not achieve oneness with non-being (according to Wang Pi) as had the Sage, and thus endlessly spoke of it. Guo Xiang's peeve, on the other hand, was that they failed to incorporate their "perfect understanding" into the "world transformation". Guo wrote: "Chuang Chou may be said to have had knowledge of the fundamentals. . . . These did not meet the requirements of daily life, his writings being merely subjective soliloquies. If a statement cannot meet the requirements of daily life, it follows that although the statement might be right, it is nevertheless useless. . . It may be lofty, but it is not practical."

This criticism is amazingly like that of Huizi, as related in the Zhuangzi, to which Zhuangzi replies that Hui has failed to understand the usefulness of the useless. Its practicality resides in its being ‘impractical’. The world is also transformed by forces not immediately discernable.

But I would like to address this criticism from another point of view which I will call the view from two steps removed. On the one hand, we observe that Guo requires that Zhuangzi be wrong. This alone tells us a great deal. It is an exercise in the kind of partisanship which Zhuangzi eschewed. His message was that of an inclusiveness which the mind cannot easily imagine, for this is not how the mind typically functions. The mind requires thesis and antithesis, right and wrong.

This kind of argumentation also requires the construction of straw men. A straw man is something we construct in order to tear it down. It is a caricature of that which we wish to oppose (and we require something to oppose) because the thing which we wish to oppose, because of the complexity of all things, cannot be so easily torn down. Democrats are socialists. Republicans are pro-war. Taoists are escapists and quietists. Confucians are moralists. Take your pick. Choose a name. To be this kind of someone requires not being someone else.

We are often told what Taoists believe and how they fail of some test or another, but frankly, I rarely see any resemblance between these statements and the literature of Taoism itself or the way in which I personally seek to live it. They are straw men.

Zhuangzi was sitting on the bank of a river, fishing (to fulfill a ‘daily requirement’) and minding his own business, when a court official arrived and offered him high office. Zhuangzi declined. Why? Because he preferred sitting on the bank and fishing to being yoked by the necessary compromises of office. We need not derive universal principles from his choice. Let’s call Guo a Taoist and affirm him in his presumed political involvement. In any event, Taoists did eventually enter politics, gain power and predictably begin eliminating their 'opposition', just as had the Confucians before them — too bad Guo did not live to see it.

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

1 comment:

  1. I read this viewpoint of Taoism in the Chaan/Zen book Transmission of the Light. It seemed as Chaan had so much Taoism they must find a way to involve the Buddha so they spoke of Chuang and Lau Tzu as greatly wise but having failed to reach the complete enlightenment and so the stories are mainly about how that message passed down generations. For a book its time it shows positives in both schools as they integrated the ideas rather than fighting for dominance. There was competition to involve ideas from both but not to fight to the exclusion of one.

    I notice that I'm not really talking about the same thing as the post so I'll shut up now.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.