Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Murky Mush

Scott Bradley

While the mass of men are beleaguered and harried, the sage is dim and dense, standing shoulder to shoulder with the sun and moon, scooping up time and space and smooching them all together, leaving them all to their own slippery mush so that every enslavement is also an ennobling.
(Zhuangzi, 2:41; Ziporyn)
If the sage is dim and dense it is because he has identified himself with a cosmos understood as, in the words of Wang Fuzhi, "a murky mush". Daoism declares no grand purpose, no universal mind, no final cause, no ultimate end. But neither does it declare it to be a chaotic mush; he can only say it seems so. Allowing the Illumination of the Obvious to inform us, we accept things as they appear to be, not as we wish them to be. We and our aspirations to meaning and eternal being, that is, we in our cosmo-ego-anthropocentrism — these are set aside to allow Nature in its stark indifference to speak.

Daoism is a philosophy well-suited for the awareness of a post-religious humanity. On the one hand, the more mushiness (materialist explanations) science might discover, the more we have to smooch together so as to chariot upon it all. On the other hand, we need not submit ourselves to the hocus pocus of a New Age spiritualism in order that the life we are can thrive.

That the mass of men are beleaguered and harried is entirely a consequence of their opposition to the cosmos as it seems to be. It is because the sage surrenders into it that he rises above it. Nothing is changed. He discovers no Truth. His cosmos is no different than that which beleaguers others. Nor does he see any real difference between himself and these others — in the mush, all distinctions vanish.

"Every enslavement is also an ennobling." This potentiality is at the heart of the Daoist vision. No salvation is on offer. The Daoist sage is no super hero; she is simply one who uses every limitation, every failing, every eventuality as her dragon-stead to joyously ride above them all. If the cosmos is a slippery mush, so what? If her hemorrhoids itch and her husband has deserted her, so what? She has entrusted herself to Reality, whatever it may be, however it might be presently manifest. And when she and others fail of this, so what? Nothing is lost.

A note on this passage: This, too, is a slippery mush. Dr. Ziporyn translates it thus; another translates it differently. We can use it as a vehicle to our own philosophy of life; no authority is required because no truth is proclaimed. "All makers of theories pursue order — are they unaware that the world is fundamentally a chaotic drift?" asks Wang. "They all pursue illumination — don't they know that the world is fundamentally a murky mush?"

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

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