Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Life Is Good

Scott Bradley

"It is precisely because I consider my life good that I consider my death good." (Zhuangzi 6:26; Ziporyn)

My life is good. This is true in innumerable practical ways, most of which are a consequence of the luck of the draw. I am not an infant dying of starvation in Somalia, for instance.

But this is not the kind of 'good' which Zhuangzi had in mind when he wrote the statement quoted above. There is a more fundamental sense in which life is good which seems almost to pre-exist the expression of life in 'me'. Life is good in and of itself. Life is by nature an affirmation of itself. It is the nature of life to live. And where life is expressed in choice, life chooses to live. In this sense, even the life of the dying infant is good.

In the human experience, where life is expressed in a self-awareness which is also aware of its impending death, this affirmation of life can also result in fearful clinging to life. And yet, the condition for life in the particular is death. The two are inseparable. It is for this reason that Zhuangzi suggests we accept life and death as a single package. If life is good, so also is death.

But if death is bad, then so also is life. If our affirmation of the goodness of life rested in a logical construction, we could just as easily come to this conclusion. But our affirmation of life arises from life itself, not from argument. When we say Yes to life, we are agreeing with life. The entire 'Taoist' enterprise rests here. Live. There is nothing else to do. We do not give ourselves life; nor do we add anything to it. It is a gift; and our happiest and most genuine response to it is that which lets it arise as it will, as the package it is. Spontaneity begins here. Harmony begins here. And they are the same.

There are other forces at work within us. We have identified life with a particular 'me' and thus we fear its loss. We have developed an 'understanding consciousness' which dwells at a remove from the primary experience of life, and which requires 'reasons', purpose and meaning beyond the unarticulated givens of life. And however derived and secondary these experiences might be, they are also the givens of our experience. In this sense we see how the 'Taoist' vision is remedial. There is a problem. We could discuss it metaphysically or ontologically, but it is most accessible to us as the simple experience that it is. The suggested solution is a return to that which is still more fundamental to our experience.

However, this solution never loses sight of the larger context of the goodness of life or, by extension, of the Totality (or, as Zhuangzi has it in this context, The Great Clump). If my life is good, then so also are its messy bits. If my death is good, then so also is the decaying corpse which will result. The affirmation of the life which is aware of itself is also an affirmation of all of which it is aware. And this affirmation, though it may appear to us as a choice, is always but an agreement with, a harmonization with, what the life that opens the world up for us to experience intrinsically is, affirmation.

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

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