Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Points of View, Part 2

Scott Bradley

"Ruo of the North Sea said, 'From the point of view of the Course [Dao], no thing is more valuable than any other. But from the point of view of itself, each thing is itself worth more and the others are worth less. And from the point of view of convention, the value of things is not determined by themselves.'" (Zhuangzi, Chap. 17; Ziporyn)

In the previous post I began a consideration of this passage with the assertion that, though there is clearly a hierarchy of value implied in the contrast of these three perspectives, the perspective of Dao is not intended to completely negate the others. If the perspective of Dao does not judge between things, then it does not declare less worthy those things which do. In the final analysis, one might be said to enjoy less tranquility as a consequence of failing to realize the perspective of Dao, but one's value is unaffected.

This disturbs Ruo's interlocutor, the God of the River: "But then what should I do? What should I not do?" If transcendent of an insular self-love and of the conventional valuations of right and wrong, how can one know how to behave?

Ruo's reply is no less disturbing: "Do not restrict your will, but expansively limp and stagger along with the Course [Dao]... Do not unify your conduct, but be uneven and varied along with the Course... The becoming of things is like a galloping horse, transforming with each moment, altering at each moment. What should you do? What should you not do? You will in any case be spontaneously transforming!"

Ruo basically replies, Let go your grasp on any fixed standard; there is none. If that seems messy, then so is Reality. Not to worry, Dao is spontaneous transformation and so are you. This 'mess' is Dao. All is well.

The River God then asks the obvious: "In that case, what value is there in the Course?" If all is well, what point is there in self-cultivation? If in Dao there is no valuation, why should one value Dao?

In reply Ruo simply appeals to the temporal, ameliorative benefits of following Dao: "When you understand the Course, you will be able to see through to the way things fit together, then you will certainly understand what is appropriate to each changing situation. This will keep you from harming yourself with things." If there is value here, it is simply found in the preservation and realization of that to which each thing aspires, the valuation of its own unique existence.

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

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