Monday, March 5, 2012

Yuan Dao: Objectless Objectivity

Scott Bradley


I have several times quoted Liu Xianxin (1896-1932) in his contrast between Buddhism and Daoism: "The main principle of Buddhism is Emptiness; nothing is wanted; all is to be abandoned. The main principle of Daoism is vastness: everything is wanted; all is to be included." (Zhuangzi, p. 137; Ziporyn) Whether or not this is a fair assessment of Buddhism, it does, I believe, fairly represent the position of Daoism, and serves to highlight how it does differ from a world-negating point of view.

Essentially, Daoism affirms all that manifests; yet it does not attempt to explain their origins or to anchor them to fixed, eternal sureties. In this sense, it follows a common-sense approach, just as Zhuangzi could confidently proclaim the happiness of fish solely on the basis of his observations of their chosen activities.

Ames (Yuan Dao) amplifies this world-affirming perspective:
There is, with appropriate Daoist qualification, an 'objectively' real world. And the sage does try to entertain this world as 'objectively' as possible. The qualification, then, is that for the Daoist, the objective world is objectless. The world is a flow of events which belies any discriminations that would lay claim to fixity or certainty. "Things' are a gloriously complex yet passing pattern of discriminations that give way to novel patterns in the flux of irrepressible transformation.
The sage accepts the world as it manifests and engages with it just as it is manifest, but she recognizes as essential to their nature that they are part of a more fundamental transformative process which does not support a continuity of their individual identity. It is their participation in the emergent Dao in which their continuity resides. The unity of all things is found just here, and the sage realizes that unity by participating with them in their transformation. He does this by way of accepting and affirming them as they rise and pass.

Ames makes the further point that, far from being a generalized and abstracted attitude, this perspective affirms and embraces things in their particularity:
Perhaps more importantly, however, it is also an encouragement to become one with 'this' or 'that', reveling in the bottomless particularity and sustained uniqueness of each passing event made possible by the transformation of things.
Thus is all the world affirmed as objectively 'real', yet that reality is ceaseless transformation. Things are not entities, but events. One does not flee from things because of this fleeting 'realness', but rather, embraces them as a means to further psychologically participate in that 'eventing' which is Dao.

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1 comment:

  1. But the two positions are the same thing. Like, does me sense of self expand to include the whole world, or shrink to totally become subsumed into the world... the result is the same.

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