Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tranquility of Turmoil

Scott Bradley

"It is something that sends all beings off and welcomes all beings in, destroys all and completes all. Its name is the Tranquility of Turmoil. This Tranquility of Turmoil! It is what reaches completion only through its turmoil." (Zhuangzi, 6:8; Ziporyn)

Thus does Zhuangzi have one of his characters describe Tao. We should not, I think, attempt to read too much of the literal into it; it is more an immediate exclamation of wonder than an attempt at definition. Every attempt to understand reality as we experience it must deal with the what I call the messiness of things--life, death, suffering, impermanence. Here, the sage, Lady Ju, suggests it is necessary for the completion of Tao. I am not so sure. But then, as I said, there is no need to get too literal. The important thing is the realization that the turmoil is what makes the tranquility possible from this side of reality. From the human, existential experience of reality tranquility is realized through turmoil, not despite it.

For this reason Zhuangzi describes the sage as one who "understands what is unavoidable and finds peace in it." There is a burden to being human; why else this post, the Zhuangzi, the history of the human endeavor to make 'sense' of our being? Call it the burden of existence. Call it 'unavoidable'. Find peace in it.

How? The Zhuangzi's Confucius was amazed to see an old man plunge into the raging torrent below a waterfall only to re-emerge unscathed and so he inquired of him if he had some special tao which enabled him to do so. "No, I have no course (tao)," replied the man, "I just follow the course (tao) of the water itself, without making any private one of my own." (Chap. 19) Call it letting go. Call it going with the flow. Call it surrender. Whatever we call it, however we 'do' it, it is that which leads to tranquility in turmoil.

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


  1. For some reason, this is making me think of childbirth.

  2. I really do appreciate your emphasise of doing (we 'do' it). There are teachings that would rather bypass "the doing", and turn "the doing", into not a part of the path, but rather worthless endeavours. This don't-do-anything, just realize, teaching, is what I call, putting the cart before the work-horses.

    Though I agree with the spirit of your, "however we 'do' it, it is that which leads to tranquility in turmoil", I think that statement needs a little more scrutiny than what meets the eye. I have met many Christians that lay claim to a peace they possess, "that passes the understanding". Does that qualify as , how ever we do it? If not, what else does not qualify?


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