Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guo Xiang: Vanishingly Unify

Scott Bradley


"If you can ride on top of whatever you happen to encounter, what will have you to depend on? This is how the perfect Virtuoso, who vanishingly unites self and other, wanders far and unfettered. . . . It is only the one who can vanish into things and follow along with the great process of transformation who can be truly free of dependence and thus constantly unobstructed." (Guo Xiang; Zhuangzi; Ziporyn)

In this, part of his commentary on the Zhuangzi, Guo succinctly summarizes a central Zhuangzian theme: Freedom comes not through vanquishing that which stands in our way, but by accepting and using it, and thereby transcending it. Daoism understands the "unavoidable" as its most powerful ally. Death, of course, is that which strikes us as the thing most unavoidable, and for this reason it is the focus of frequent consideration. But there is a sense in which everything encountered is unavoidable. Circumstances may have been avoidable, but whatever circumstances on finds oneself in are unavoidable in the moment. Each moment, and all that is encountered within it, is the unavoidable.

Zhuangzi's metaphor of taking the totality of things encountered and transforming them into dragons to power his chariot over and above them all can hardly be improved upon. Zhuangzian transcendence is not a dismissal of things, but a complete embracing of them. They are an opportunity to share with them the only constant there is in this existential world: endless transformation. To be that transformation is to be free.

But to be transformation one cannot be attached to that which imagines itself as fixed. Zhuangzi calls this a "fixed-identity." Call it what you like, but always it stands forth as that in us which chains us to things, not as dragons to be ridden, but as dragons which terrify and rule us. To have a fixed-identity is to have something to lose, and circumstances seem never to cease conspiring to take it from us. It is self against other, and this, ironically, is to let the other rule, for it is then the other which determines how I go about my being in the world.

And this is why Guo entreats us to "vanishingly unite self and other" and to "vanish into things". This is the 'act' by which one realizes Zhuangzi's "no-fixed-identity". Becoming identical with all things in their endless transformations, one no longer has anything to lose.

I have previously suggested that the self is the first 'thing' into which we can vanish; no other vanishing would otherwise be possible. What is this self? It is whatever faces you when look at yourself. If I have a self, it is here now and unavoidable. To vanish into this is to be more than this, because it is to include it as just one more thing among every other transforming thing. To accept this is to harness it as yet another dragon for freedom's ride.

Nothing is excluded; not even self.

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

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