Sunday, May 13, 2012

Guo Xiang: Neo-Daoist Philosopher II

Scott Bradley

I have asked the question how I might approach the philosophy of Guo Xiang which, on the one hand, seems deeply mystical and insightful, yet on the other seems largely intellectual and theoretical. In other words, can I 'believe' and attempt to actualize his recommendations which he most likely failed to actualize himself (that, for an example, I "vanishingly unite self and other") and yet not be engaging in an act of profound self-deception? This is not an isolated problem but one which pertains to every teaching I encounter; yes, even that of Zhuangzi. In the absence of the presence of an obvious sage (which no doubt raises similar problems), this problem seems inescapable.

It becomes necessary, it seems to me, to cast out every belief that anyone who speaks from the past (or present) can be thought to have fully realized that to which he aspired. There are no sages. This does not mean that there are not now nor have ever been fully realized sages, but that I do not know of one, and thus proceed without one.

Casting out all sages similarly means casting out belief in the absolute truthfulness of their teachings. What they pronounced was not Truth, but truth. Their truth was an admixture of intellection, experience and aspiration. It was approximation. The truthfulness of Zhuangzi, in other words, is not found in objectively stated facts or a definitive 'way', but in the authenticity of his engagement in the process of understanding and fully realizing the human experience. The fruits of his engagement can be a helpful guide in the fruition of my own. In this sense, my path is both necessarily derivative and yet uniquely my own.

If truthfulness is more existential than factual, then there is no teaching whatsoever which cannot inform my path if I find in it that which resonates with my own experience. Here then is a criterion: If it helps, use it. Pilgrimage is a quest for authentic experience, not Truth. What constitutes authentic experience is an entirely personal consideration.

With respect to the teaching of Guo, there is a great deal which resonates with my experience as encouraged by the resonating influence of Zhuangzi. As an interpretation of Zhuangzi, Guo's philosophy provides both insight into Zhuangzi's intended meanings, on the one hand, and stimulating expansions of those meanings, on the other. It does not matter whether he knew or experienced what he was talking about; all that matters is how I might be able to use them to further my own authentic experience.

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

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