Monday, April 30, 2012

On Being Unlimited I

Scott Bradley


Daoism suggests the possibility of dwelling in the unlimited. What does this mean? I suspect that if you were to actually dwell there it wouldn't 'mean' anything at all. 'Meaning' has limits.

The limitless is the forever indeterminate. It is open-ended, yet has no ends. Perhaps 'openness' would be a helpful synonym for limitlessness. But here openness is not the opening of a door to something, but the dissolving of the walls which require the door in the first place.

We naturally think of the unlimited as that which has no limits, just as we think of eternity as unlimited time or infinity as unlimited space. But there is no 'that' to have no limits, just as time and space cannot contain eternity and infinity. 'That', time, and space are limited, however 'endless' we might think them to be.

'I' cannot be limitless for the obvious reason that 'I' has boundaries. These boundaries are not incidental but a necessary condition for there being an 'I'. Limitlessness would thus seem to require the loss or transcendence of 'I'. Or perhaps the 'transformation' of 'I', for to be human is to be a specific, and therefore limited, being.

When I consider the most obvious boundaries imposed by my own particular 'I', at the top of the list are opinions and moral judgments. I am very opinionated; I know what's right and wrong in the world. Curiously, nothing disrupts my peace more than these praiseworthy demonstrations of 'caring' about the world. Yet it is these which the Hsin Hsin Ming most explicitly identifies as hindering one's dwelling in the limitless. The Way is not difficult; only cease to discriminate between right and wrong. The Truth is near; only cease to cherish opinions. Truth has no content. No limits. It cannot be spoken or 'known'.

One need not worry about the behavior of one who dwells in the limitless; she has no reason to harm anyone. Beware the limited, however; for it those who know who require conformity.

Perhaps another helpful synonym for limitlessness is 'emptiness'. When there is something, there is something it is not. Or 'unfixedness'. Being nothing particular, one is able to be everything, or whatever is presently happening.

Limitlessness is not something alien to our humanity. It might be argued that it is what is most essential to us. When Zhuangzi speaks of the discriminating mind as “peculiarly unfixed”, he is pointing to the futile desire for fixity on the one hand, and our essential unfixedness, on the other. Finding the “empty room” is finding ourselves. Daoism suggests we consider surrendering into what we are, rather than what we would like to be. What we want to be is God as self-contained, eternal entity. What we are is God as unlimited non-specificity.

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

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