Monday, May 28, 2012

No Obstructions

Scott Bradley

"It is the 'being', the presence, of things that obstructs us, while the emptiness of the Dao is open, allowing free passage. Before you have heard the Dao, everything you see is a thing. Afterward, everything is the Dao." This is part of Lu Huiqing's (1032-1111) response to the story of King Hui's cook's explanation of how he learned to effortlessly butcher an ox. (Zhuangzi, 3) When the cook has finished his explanation, King Hui exclaims, "From hearing the cook's words I have learned how to nourish life!" (Ziporyn)

Before he had realized the perspective of Dao, he only saw an ox. "But now I encounter it with the spirit rather than scrutinizing it with the eyes," he explains. "My understanding consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, and thus the promptings of the spirit begin to flow." The understanding consciousness is both purposive and thing-full. If he comes to a difficult part of the work and applies his mind with determination to overcoming it, he will make a mess of it. This is in part because, in thinking about it, he makes it a "thing"; and things are obstructions. If, on the other hand, he quiets himself and lets the open path through the problem reveal itself, he awakes as if from a trance to find the work already done.

I have just begun reading Byron Katie's Loving What Is, and am amazed at how her perspective resonates so closely with the Daoist vision. As I have only begun to read her, I can only share first impressions. Among these is her understanding that thoughts are always necessarily merely interpretations of reality. If reality is found to be stressful, this is because our interpretation of it makes it so. We are stressed because we believe our thoughts. She simply suggests we cease to do so. This is essentially what King Hui's cook tells us.

There are no obstructions anywhere in the world save those created by the mind. We need not believe that "all is well" to understand how this is true. If there is an obstruction, there is someone being obstructed. But there was a time when this 'someone' did not exist, and it will soon be the case that it exists no more. Where then is the obstruction? The perspective of Dao takes one beyond being 'someone' who can be obstructed; every obstruction is merely a negative interpretation of encountered reality.

Katie seems to suggest that we exchange our negative thoughts for positive ones. Is there a justification for doing so given that thoughts are all equally interpretations of reality and not reality itself? Yes; for two reasons. Firstly, she suggests that happiness and joy are values worth pursuing, and freeing ourselves from stress creating thoughts is a way toward realizing those values. How could we disagree? We might, if such an affirmation rested on some manufactured theory of reality, but these values are self-evident and self arising — they are an expression of our humanity. They are "the promptings of the spirit".

Secondly, she does understand that "all is well." She has had (is having) an experience of this, and this is the foundation and beginning of her teaching. Because all is well, we can turn all negative thoughts into positive ones. We can say, "Yes", to every reality we encounter.

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

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