Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Reckless Words

Scott Bradley

I'm going to try speaking some restless words. How about listening just as recklessly?....So if you 'agree' with these words as right I would name that nothing more than a way of offering condolences for the demise of their strangeness.
(Zhuangzi, 2:41, 2:43; Ziporyn)
What I have edited out of this passage are some really great words about what it is to be a sage. These words may be "reckless", but they have the potential to open us up to a revolutionary way of being in the world. Yet, should we grasp and take them as some kind of definitive dao by which to live, they will utterly fail of their potential; we might as well bury them. Commenting on this passage, Lu Huiqing (1032-1111) writes, "[The sage] knows everything is Dao, so he follows no specific dao." And again: "Similarly, the Mysterious Dao is obtained through what one learns, but what one learns is not the Mysterious Dao."

We understand that all words are reckless in that they presume to capture the what and how of things when this is altogether impossible. They are a wonderful tool, but they are always a severely limited one. But there are also words which are purposely framed in such a way as to suggest both their recklessness and an understanding beyond words; we call these 'paradoxes'. Dr. Ziporyn comments that his literal translation of the word "strangeness" was coined by Zhuangzi and in modern Chinese is translated "paradox".

The context of this passage is this: Ju Quezi quotes to Chang Wuzi a wondrous description of the way of the sage and adds that though he thinks it spot on, Confucius thinks it rubbish. Chang retorts that in agreeing with it, Ju has negated it; he has taken words for reality, and the way of the sage arrives not by way of words, but by way of something beyond words. Confucius, in rejecting them, has done no better. "For Dao," comments Lu, "is conveyed by neither speech nor silence."

"Reckless words" are a necessary part of our pilgrimage, but they should never be mistaken for reality. Because one can speak of these things does not make them 'true' of reality or real in one's life. However obvious this may seem, we need to always remind ourselves of it. To "listen recklessly" is to both receive and reject words; it is to participate in the paradox of words. Isn't this yet another example of Walking Two Roads?

Similar passages in the Inner Chapters follow this same model; a vivid description of the way of the sage is presented, and then is both dismissed and affirmed. One is left in doubt; and this is, of course, the way of Zhuangzi. Always he would have us dwell unfixed, unsure, and thus, unfettered.

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

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