Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guo Xiang: The Great Openness

Scott Bradley

There are those who realize total independence from things and events through vanishing into them. And there are those who remain dependent on things. Yet ultimately, there is no difference between them. Transcendence is not salvation; nothing beyond transient freedom is lost. "Since they do not lose what they depend on, they too are joined with the Great Openness. So, although I cannot make the dependent and the independent the same as each other, the fact that each rests in its own character, its Heavenly Mechanism unfolding of itself, receiving it but not knowing how or why — this is something I cannot make different among them. And if even the independent is ultimately no different from the dependent, how much less could there be any difference between the larger and smaller among the dependent?" (Guo Xiang; Zhuangzi; Ziporyn)

It is always important to remember that our pursuit of transcendence is nothing more than a realization of what is true of us, whether realized or not. Not only is there no difference between the vast bird Peng, that requires ninety thousand miles of air beneath its wings to reach its destination, and the tiny quail that requires only a few feet, there is really no difference between them and she who requires nothing at all. All is included in the Great Openness.

Why is this so? Because all that is and happens is necessarily "the unfolding of the Heavenly Mechanism". Not-one is also One. Everything is Dao manifest. The Unnamed and the named are the same. The aligned and the deviant are the same. The realized and unrealized are the same.

The understanding mind has problems with this. What of right and wrong? What of free will? These questions are endemic to any proclamation of Oneness. Guo, though an extreme relativist, understands right and wrong as a function of the human, and thus as a necessary part of engagement in the world. This does not require that Reality endorse our distinctions any more than it need endorse the aberrant behavior which requires them.

But Guo does not talk his way out of determinism; the unfolding of the Heavenly Mechanism is inevitable; nothing acts independently of this. Personally, I do not believe that all things understood as Dao manifest requires that all things are determined; Dao does not do; the doing is Dao. My doing is Dao, for I am Dao. In the existential world, Dao is Becoming. But it is foolishness to believe that this, or any similar question, can be resolved by reason. That they emerge at all is proof enough of the limits of reason. Like the millipede who hasn't a clue as to how his thousand legs are set into coordinated action, all we need do is entrust it all to the Heavenly Mechanism, and get on with living.

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

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