Friday, January 20, 2012

The Strong and the Weak

Scott Bradley


Su Ch'e (1039-1112) wrote: "If we control the strong with the strong, one will break or the other will shatter. But if we control the strong with the weak, the weak will not be exhausted, and the strong will not be damaged. Water is like this. If we use existence to enter existence, neither is able to withstand the other. But if we use nonexistence to enter existence, the former will not strain itself, while the later will remain unaware. Spirits are like this." (Red Pine)

I am returning to this (expanded) quote from the previous post so as to further explore this trope of the weak and the strong where the former is understood as nonexistence and the latter as existence.

The strong, assertive existence, cannot but damage the strong. One ego cannot but hurt another ego should it wish to 'help' it. Ego, by its very nature, can only displace by its presence. If it enters the world of another, it does so by way of displacement, and one existence does not gladly allow itself to be displaced by another. The strong can overcome the strong, but only hurtfully so. "This is called plaguing others — he who plagues others will surely be plagued in return." (Zhuangzi, 4:4)

The strong, should it assert itself relative to the weak, unassertive nonexistence, though it seeks to displace, cannot do so, for there is nothing there to resist. This is why the theoretical sage, who has realized no-self, remains unaffected by the world's assertions, whether of praise or of disrespect. He is weak. In the absence of ego, the realization of one's essential nonexistence, the strong has no power. The strong cannot overcome the weak.

The weak, should it seek to help the strong, does so, not as a displacing assertiveness, but as an unnoticed influence. It is an "effortless help" and a "wordless instruction" (TTC 43). It is spirit-like. In this sense, the weak can overcome the strong.

When the weak meets the weak...well, I guess that's when two sages wander together "in our homeland of not-even-anything, the vast wilds of open nowhere." (Zhuangzi, 1:15; Ziporyn)

None of this is strictly true, of course. Life does not resolve to truth. The strong do sometimes help the strong, though probably not without unanticipated problems ensuing. What we have here are principles which attempt to approximate the character of life, and the best we can do is to attempt to approximate them.

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

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