Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Plaguing Others

Scott Bradley

The fourth of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi (those generally assumed to have actually been written by Zhuangzi (ca. 369-286 B.C.E.)) begins with an extensive, hypothetical conversation between Confucius and his favorite disciple, Yan Hui. Yan wishes to go set right a tyrannical ruler of a nearby kingdom by "applying" the principles Confucius has taught him. Confucius will have none of it; Yan is not yet ready.

"The Consummate Persons of old made sure they had it in themselves," says Confucius, "before they tried to put it into others." (4:3; Ziporyn) Principles are not something exterior to ourselves that we apply; they are something we are, and until we are what we wish to preach, we have no business preaching at all.

You were expecting me to shut up at this point? Well, my excuse is that I am teaching myself in public, not proclaiming "the" Way. Still, I am in some sense 'committing yang', putting forth ideas I have not fully realized and generally materializing an egoic presence which can (and has) impinge(d) upon other egoic presences. Such is life: messy.

"Confucius" calls applying to others principles which one has not personally realized, "plaguing others". And the consequence of plaguing others is being plagued by others in return. If others do not accept what we have to say, there is only one place to look for the cause, ourselves. I have previously quoted Mencius in this regard: "If others do not respond to your love with love, look into your own benevolence; if others fail to respond to your attempts to govern them, look into your own wisdom; . . . . In other words, look into yourself whenever you fail to achieve your purpose" (Mencius, IV A 3).

Zhuangzi's Confucius cuts right to the heart of this inclination to apply principles to, preach to, and govern others. "Virtuosity [te] is undermined by getting a name for it. Cleverness [zhi; wisdom, knowledge] comes forth from conflict. For a good name is essentially a way for people to one-up each other, and cleverness is most essentially a weapon for winning a fight. Both are inauspicious implements, not the kind of thing that can be used to perfect your own behavior." All this equates to the essential of egoic behavior — trying to be somebody. It can neither perfect the behavior of others nor accomplish the true work, perfecting one's own.

"Confucius" eventually leads Yan to the realization that his first responsibility is to learn freedom from self. And this he does when he discovers and surrenders into his own essential emptiness, the very conduit for the expression of Dao, and proclaims, "it turns out that 'myself' has never begun to exist" (4:10).

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

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