Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Galloping After Ideals

Scott Bradley


The so-called "Primitivist" chapters (8-11) of the Zhuangzi, though clearly not completely in step with the thought of Zhuangzi as expressed in the Inner Chapters, do, nonetheless, shine light on the implications of that thought. Since there are positive allusions to passages in the Inner Chapters and the Daodejing, we may assume that this Primitivist author (for these chapters are widely thought to have a single authorship) saw himself as within that tradition.

In Chapter 8, "Webbed Toes", he seems principally concerned with demonstrating how the pursuit of the Confucian virtues of Humanity and Responsibility is a vain attempt to add to, and thus subvert, one's "innate nature". As such, though armed with good intentions and lofty goals, they are "sacrificing themselves for some thing", in the same manner as those who pursue less noble goals. Two shepherds have lost their sheep, he tells us, one because he was studying books (Confucian, no doubt) and the other because he was playing dice. Though one activity might have been nobler than the other, the result is the same, the loss of one's essential nature.

"What I call good," he concludes, "is... just being good at your own Virtuosity (te)... It is just allowing the uncontrived condition of your inborn nature and allotment of life to play itself out." (Ziporyn). This is best accomplished, he tells us, through self-knowledge instead of "galloping after (external) ideals": "What I call sharp hearing is not hearing others, but rather truly hearing yourself, nothing more. What I call sharp vision is not seeing others, but rather truly seeing yourself, nothing more. For to see others without seeing yourself (is) to gain some external thing without finding yourself ..."

What this Primitivist is after, I believe, is that allusive realization that innately all is well within oneself. One need not pursue anything external; and to realize this is to realize that one need not pursue anything at all. All this striving to 'change' is to sacrifice what one already is.

Picture the Confucian belaboring herself to realize in her conduct the lofty goal of perfect goodness. Galloping after ideals, she has neglected her own inner peace which does not require the attainment of goals to be what it is. If kindness (jen) is inherent in humanness, as the Confucians believed it to be, then it will arise naturally from the heart at peace with itself. If not, then so be it; one does not shorten the swan's neck because it is long, nor lengthen the duck's because it is short. One allows things to be what they are.

Daoism is, I believe, a kind of anarchy of the heart; one ceases to strivingly conform to the dictates of the external, and consequentially, is able to "follow along with" the external without loss of inner integrity.

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

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