Sunday, April 29, 2012

Going Viral I

Scott Bradley

“A clump of earth never strays from the Dao.” — Shen Dao (Zhuangzi, Chap. 33)

Finally, the lowly virus has gotten some of the credit it so clearly deserves. The success of a rapidly popularized idea or media presentation is now described as “going viral”.

I won’t pretend to know much about viruses. However, I do know that they are among the most successful life-forms on earth. I also know that they are perhaps the least complex of all life forms. They practically have one foot still in the inanimate. In the much touted “pyramid of life” they are at the bottom of the heap. I wonder.

Human beings do not much care for viruses since their success is predicated on their ability to feed off other organisms to their detriment. They are parasitic. This is an entirely justifiable bias from a human perspective since the preservation of our species and the improvement of the quality of our lives is of paramount importance within that context. But is this bias entirely valid within the larger context of Dao? I think not.

Dao does not favor any animate thing over another. Nor does it favor the animate over the inanimate. It’s all good. All things are of equal value. To the extent that this idea makes us uncomfortable, Daoism informs our being in the world. To the extent that we see ourselves as unique and separate from all things, we set ourselves up for a great deal of anxiety about the preservation of that supposed uniqueness. Because we think ourselves other than Nature, we fear re-integration into Nature.

None of this negates the uniquely human experience or our efforts to preserve and improve that experience. Each and every thing participates in these urges according to its ability to do so. Daoism teaches us to respect that urge in all things as well as in ourselves. Yet, within that context, there is a war of competing needs taking place, and each thing is naturally obliged to look out for its own best interests. Hence, we seek to eradicate the HIV virus.

Once again, we are asked to walk “two roads”. Our experience as a species and as individuals is informed by a larger view, and our ability to realize the uniqueness of that experience is enhanced by that view. Shen Dao recognized the quality of ‘comfortable’ integration within inanimate objects with Dao. Their ‘oneness’ is a given. He also recognized how that sense of integration was in some sense lost in the self-aware consciousness of the human. He suggested that we attempt to re-discover that integration, that we let the larger view inform our species-specific context. His critics said his dao was great for the dead, but not the living. They had a point. Only they failed to realize that the living and the dead form a unity, and that death informs life, and life is enhanced thereby.

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

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