Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Value of Oneness

Scott Bradley

"The birth of man is just the convergence of energy. When it converges, he lives. When it scatters, he dies. Since life and death follow each other, what it there to worry about? . . . Thus do I say, 'Just open yourself into the single energy that is the world.' It is for the sake of this that the sage values oneness." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 22; Ziporyn)

Here again we have the Daoist call to surrender into oneness as a remedy for apprehensions regarding death. Identify with the Singularity, "hide the world in the world", and nothing can be lost. There is, however, one thing which must be offered on the altar of peace — one's attachment to life as a personal possession.

Religions typically offer a continuity of personal identity as a palliative for death; philosophical Daoism suggests quite a different approach: Give it up, and life will be full; give it up, and it cannot be lost.

This description of life as "just" a temporary convergence of energy might be said to go too far in explaining the nature of things. It may be otherwise. Yet, as what might be called both the most likely scenario and the one most unpalatable (if we dismiss the various 'hells' of religious belief), it serves to prompt a considered response. It is not that it is 'true', but that as the most challenging prospect (extinction), it facilitates a response which meets every other possible contingency.

Similarly, the concept of "oneness" is not valued because it is 'truth', but because it facilitates a means to worry-free living. It is a "skillful means" which should not to be taken for something known. This understanding can be a hard one to swallow; is Daoism merely a philosophy of 'spiritual' pragmatism? On this side of the gate, perhaps it is. But we must not forget that should one experience the promised release into "far and unfettered wandering", "oneness" becomes experiential.

The "subjectivity" of oneness is an important aspect of the philosophy of Zhuangzi. Ziporyn quotes A.C. Graham (Chuang Tzu, p.56) in this regard. We might have expected Zhuangzi to have at least agreed with Huizi's conclusion that "Heaven and earth are one unit", he tells us, "But to refuse to distinguish alternatives is to refuse to affirm even 'Everything is one' against 'Things are many'." Indeed, Zhuangzi criticizes Huizi for "belaboring [his] mind, trying to make things one”. "Oneness", if there is such a thing, is an experience, not a 'fact'.

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

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