Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jostled By the Boundlessness

Scott Bradley

Forget what year it is, forget what should or should not be. Let yourself be jostled and shaken by the boundlessness — for that is how to be lodged securely in the boundlessness!
(Zhuangzi, 2:46; Ziporyn)
Finally Zhuangzi tells us "how"! Sort of.

One of our previous contributors spoke much of "going against the grain" as a means to challenging ourselves in such a way as to facilitate growth, and Zhuangzi suggests the same. Only for Daoism this is not a recommendation to confrontation with the external, opposition to the ideas of others or to circumstances, but quite the contrary; it is a process whereby we discover that within ourselves which would have us go against the grain of our circumstances (including the circumstance of “me”), and then go against the grain of that. In other words, the grain is within us, not in things exterior to us, and it is awareness of these dispositions which facilitates transformative transcendence.

"Let yourself be jostled." Let apparent reality shake you up. In this instance, it is the "boundlessness" which shakes us out of our ingrained dispositions. Boundlessness might sound innocuous enough, but when it is understood that boundlessness, as an experience, does not contain "me", it truly begins to jostle. Boundlessness is the Daoist equivalent of the Zen mu, nothingness. Only in Daoism we look at the other side of the coin; we see the fullness, not the emptiness, while fully realizing the way to fullness is emptiness.

What is jostled is "me", and "me" might be understood, in part, as a package of dispositions. This passage addresses two of them, attachment to the life-death and right-wrong distinctions. These are 'normal', ingrained means by which we have learned to establish our "me". These help to give us identity and protect us from that which would threaten it, namely, the boundlessness. "Going against the grain" in this case is allowing oneself to be jostled by a reality that does not endorse one's imagined "me".

Guo Xiang (252-312) comments: "Forgetting what year it is, life and death are mysteriously unified. Forgetting what should and should not be, right and wrong are threaded on a single string. The shaking loose of right and wrong, life and death, to form a oneness is the utmost guideline. The utmost guideline pervades unobstructedly without end, and thus one who entrusts herself to it is never able to be brought to a halt."

Zhuangzi's Illumination of the Obvious is not some profound, spiritually intuitive experience; it is simply looking our apparent reality square in the face and allowing it to challenge us to live in honest harmony with it. Boundlessness is both an experiential state of mind and an ever-present ‘objective’ reality. It is ever close at hand. There is nothing more real than the unavoidable emptiness within and without. Allowing it to jostle us requires no extraordinary exertions.

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

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