Friday, March 23, 2012

Transcending the Conundrum II

Scott Bradley


Anyone who has tried to sort out the various passages in the Zhuangzi concerning the relationship between the Heavenly and the Human, Dao and human activity, will have come to realize it is a near impossible task. The contradictions are rife. Even if we decide "to take [Zhuangzi] as our master", making the Inner Chapters our final arbiter of truth, we will discover the same inconsistencies. This should not surprise us, of course, since Zhuangzi was careful to make the indefinite his only constant.

Nevertheless, he does offer a formulation of the problem which, though not entirely intellectually resolving the issues, in a very real sense transcends them. Discussing ancient hypothetical sages he says, "Their oneness was the oneness, but their not-oneness was also the oneness. In their oneness, they were followers of the Heavenly. In their not-oneness, they were followers of the Human. This is what it is for neither the Heavenly nor the Human to win out over the other." (Zhuangzi, 6:22-23; Ziporyn) In other words, even the most decidedly human activity is ultimately Dao. But this does not negate the fact that some human activity is most un-Dao-like and thus worthy of remediation. Once again, we are asked to "Walk Two Roads".

I tend to emphasize the Oneness, that nothing falls outside the Totality, not even not-oneness. "There are no conditions to meet." This is because there is no lack of recrimination and moral striving; and if we are to pursue a course of self-cultivation without guilt and striving, it is best done in the context of absolute, fundamental wellness, acceptance and inclusion. It is something like asking our lover how we might better love them; the context is the pre-existent love.

This gets me in trouble with some who worry about the preservation of 'right and wrong' when we are unmoored from a conception of the cosmos as moral and judgmental. For this is essentially what happens when we say that the un-Dao-like is also Dao. Yet we still recognize the un-Dao-like, however relative, as descriptive of some human behavior and thus, in the interest of human happiness, seek to rectify it. The real point is in how we go about it, whether Dao-ishly or un-Dao-ishly.

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

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