Thursday, May 17, 2012

"I Have Lost Me"

Scott Bradley

Chapter Two of the Zhuangzi begins with a disciple of Ziqi finding his master in an apparent trance. In explanation, Ziqi says quite simply, "I have lost me." It might be argued that this loss of self is the central goal of Zhuangzi's vision, for it is stated rather emphatically several times. ("It turns out that I have never begun to exist. Is this what you mean by being 'empty'?" — "Exactly." (4:10); "It's just being empty, nothing more." (7:13)) But it also needs to remembered that, like a gem, the facets of this experience are many, and each one presents a window into the single reality. There are many ways to experience this reality, yet the experience is essentially the same.

Those of us who have not experienced the loss of "me" can only talk around it in an effort to understand something of what it entails. Zhuangzi has Ziqi attempt an explanation, so our efforts are not entirely out of order.

Perhaps inspired by the description of Ziqi as having been "loosed from a partner", Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692) describes him as having "a mind that has lost its coupling with an opposite". This is indeed an essential attribute of self, the requirement of an 'other'. Without an other, there is no self. This applies to self as it is manifest in the world, where it sees itself as distinct from every other 'thing' and acquires a greater sense of itself in opposing others, but it roots are to be found in the nature of self itself. Self is this self/other dualism. Self sees itself, knows itself, identifies itself. "I" have a body, a mind, a life, a self. This is the beginning of all dualism. The prerequisite of self is this internal bifurcation; this sense of being an entity which possesses.

Ziqi's explanation of his loss of self by way of the metaphor of the "pipings of men, earth and heaven" is not easy to follow, but I think we can get a sense of it if we focus on the larger picture, without making too much of the details. Ziqi seems to have arrived at this experience through an identification with the unknowable and undifferentiated Vastness. The wind blows through the forest and every tree spontaneously makes its own unique sounds; what is the source of this blowing; who is in control? We do not know; a “genuine controller” cannot be found. Lu Huiqing (1032-1111) makes this point: “Indeed, Heaven’s piping is so difficult to know, the genuine ruler so hard to see, that it is only by losing oneself, disintegrating to the point of making the mind merge into them, that they can be found. . . . [The text] tells us simply to understand that no one knows from whence they sprout and thus to make the state of our minds match and merge into that unknownness.” (Ziporyn)

It is the “me” that believes it is in charge of this life. Yet when we actually allow the Illumination of the Obvious to inform our state of mind, our sense of being in the world, we realize that we are not in control at all. Life lives us. Surrendering into this, “me” no longer has reason to believe that it has “ever begun to exist”.

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

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