Sunday, March 4, 2012

Yuan Dao: A Heart Like a Mirror III

Scott Bradley


I have confessed to having difficulty understanding how mirroring the world relates to the world itself. If it is a purely representational mirroring — telling the world what it is like — then it hardly differs from 'normal' human activity. But Ames explains that it is just the opposite:
Importantly, the Daoist project is neither passive nor quietistic. Water is a source of nourishment; the mirror is a source of light; the heart-mind is a source of transformative energy. To 'know' as the mirror 'knows' is not representational, but casting the world in a certain light. Such performative 'knowing' is to actively interpret and realize a world with healthy and productive effect. These metaphors for xin entail presentation rather than representation, cooperation rather than correspondence. 'Mirroring' then is best seen as synergistic and responsive, like virtuoso dancing or charioting where all the elements are in step, and constitute a fluid and interdependent whole.
Perhaps key here is the concept of 'knowing' as relational engagement, as 'performative'. (Similar, perhaps, to biblical knowing: Abraham 'knew' Sarah, and she conceived a son.) The neutrality of the heart's mirroring of the world — not passing judgments upon it — is the precondition by which the heart-mind is able to 'dance' with it. For this is certainly a central theme in the Daoist vision — far from removing himself from it, the sage has learned to 'follow along with' and respond to the ever-transforming world. Again, we are challenged to discover an entirely different way of 'knowing'.

Consider, if you will, the power of acceptance and affirmation. I have said before that I suspect there is probably no greater force for effecting change in others than in true acceptance. Telling someone how they have failed of a certain standard is likely to only harden her in her position. Accusing someone of being ego-bound, given the fact of ego-boundedness, will only strengthen that condition. (And only the ego-bound would presume to do so.) The precondition to effecting change is relational engagement facilitated through acceptance.

This is largely theoretical, of course; we are all much too ego-bound to affirm and accept each other. This is understandable, given how 'wrong' and misguided we all are.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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