Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Being No One

Scott Bradley

Yang Ziju was a man of some spiritual standing and a confidant of Laozi. When he heard that this latter worthy was also traveling, he arranged to meet him on the way that they might travel together. After some time Laozi said to Yang, "I used to think you were teachable, but now I know it will never work." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 27; Ziporyn) We can imagine how devastated Yang must have been. Later, he humbly approached Laozi and asked in what way he had failed in sagacity. "With all your supercilious glaring and staring, who could bear to be with you? The purest are those who appear defiled; the great Virtuosos [the most te-full] are those who appear defective."

This theme is, of course, right out of the Daodejing. It is the abased, the scorned and overlooked, in which Dao is most expressed. Like water, Dao fills the low and empty places.

Zhuangzi's use of the deformed and mutilated as exemplars of Daoist virtues was intended to teach this very thing. Even today, when we are so careful to speak 'correctly' about those with various handicaps, we are likely to harbor thoughts of pity at their 'inferiority'. For the Chinese of his day, there was no question but that these deformities were Heaven's curse. And to have lost a foot as punishment for misbehavior was to have utterly failed one's ancestors to whom one is obliged to return one's body 'intact'.

Needless to say, the virtue does not reside in the deformity, but in the quality of humility and emptiness which would seem to reflect the deformity. It is not that this one possesses attributes of spirituality which transcend his physical limitations and which make these qualities all the more praiseworthy. No, the virtue does not appear at all. To the world at large, this one is still scorned and pitied. No praise or honor is forthcoming. He remains a no one, a cipher.

Yang's response was most dramatic: "Yang Ziju's face changed with a jolt. 'I will respectfully do as commanded,' he said." He had the Daoist version of satori. He got it.

On the way to meet Laozi, at every inn he was treated with the greatest of deference by all. "But on the road back, he had to fight the other lodgers for his seat."

“Who can free himself from achievement and fame, descend and be lost amid the masses of men?” (The Way of Chuang Tzu; Merton) Who can be no one special?

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

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