Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Amoral Reality

Scott Bradley


When Daoists first proclaimed, "Heaven and Earth are not beneficent", it was a statement of revolutionary implication considering the philosophical milieu into which they spoke. Both Confucianism and Mohism taught that Reality was essentially moral. Morality, for the Mohists, resided in a personal Deity; for the Confucians, though "Heaven" had lost the connotation of deity, morality was still a most essential attribute of Reality.

As suggested in a previous post, the Confucians, to whom Daoism most often addressed itself, took what they saw as the most essential attribute of humanity, "human-heartedness" (jen), and rooted it in Reality. Heaven and Earth are beneficent (jen) and humanity merely reflects that ethicality. For the human sense of right and wrong to have absolute validity, no other foundation would do.

For the Confucians, the "evaluating mind", the moral sense innate to humanity by which we discriminate between right and wrong, proper and improper, holy and profane, was its most essential attribute. Through personal introspection and education one was intended to refine and obey this sense, and thereby achieve unity with Heaven.

Daoism completely rejected this notion. Nature is amoral and utterly impartial. Dao gives ceaselessly but its bounty is spontaneous and indiscriminate. It gives rise to all things, but claims no dominion over them. There are no strings attached.

This being the case, the "evaluating mind", instead of being the means to union with Dao, became an obstacle to that union. To be Dao-like is to be similarly spontaneous and impartial. For this reason Zhuangzi taught that the "understanding consciousness" (or "deliberating mind"), that aspect of human reality which seeks to "know" and evaluate things, if embraced to the exclusion of all else, stands in the way of the fullest human experience.

He did not, however, teach the abandonment of either knowledge or morality. The "understanding consciousness" is a genuinely human attribute, and as such, is to be affirmed. "Nothing is abandoned." Rather, he taught that this faculty, like all things human, was only valid in a limited sense; the understanding needs to know where to "stop". Indeed, for the deliberating mind to know its boundaries is the fullest expression of understanding.

Daoism suggests that we get out of our minds and thereby experience a more expansive reality. There is much more to us than that which the mind can know or imagine. Zhuangzi believed that in stepping out of the box, "going beyond the boundaries", we would be reconnected to Dao, which is insusceptible to "knowing" and "moral purity".

This Dao is not a "thing", however. And this connectedness is thus one of transcendence from every conceivable foundation; it is the experience of being without foundations. It is to drift where there are no boundaries. "Wandering" takes place in nowhere.

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

1 comment:

  1. Hang on!! Itz a ride, itz a journey ... No! Itz life & itz not about 'breaking the cycle' or "look[ing] pain & suffering in the eye" (Trey, Back to 2010, 12th March 2012) or about "crushing Ego" (Shawn, Journey, Part 7 11th March 2012). . . [deep breath in] it is about discovering the beginning & understanding it & the continuity it embraces, non-judgementally, about integration & accepting 'who we are' it is about "nothing is abandoned" (Scott, Amoral Reality, 13th March 2012) & with that I must morph into mom's taxi & go & fetch my kidz from school, love y'all lots ;)

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