Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your Shadow Is Free I

Scott Bradley


Much of what I discuss here I only vaguely understand, and this is especially true in this post which addresses the universal freedom of all things from causation. Nevertheless, I think it worth the effort to at least introduce the topic, and in the process perhaps get a better feel for it. And who knows, perhaps someone else will realize the transformative potential of this understanding and will thus be able to share it with us.

Zhuangzi has the penumbra ask the shadow why it behaves as it does, now sitting, now standing. The penumbra replies, "Do I depend on something to make me as I am? Does what I depend on depend on something else? ... How would I know why I am so or not so?" (Zhuangzi, 2:48; Ziporyn)

A penumbra is that part of a shadow which is caused by diffused light and surrounds the more distinct and defined shadow caused by direct light. The Chinese understood this as a shadow of a shadow; could anything be more dependent?

It is because the shadow of a shadow appears as a thing most dependent among things that it serves well to demonstrate that ultimately nothing depends on anything else. Zhuangzi tells us previous to this passage that "even though the transforming voices [the sounds of the wind in the trees] may depend on one another, this is tantamount to not depending on anything at all." (2:45)

Guo Xiang explains: "Since their dependence on one another is not sufficient to allow any one of them to straighten out any other, it is tantamount to no dependence at all." Though all things are dependent, every one of them has that essential root which cannot be causally attributable to anything; nor can anything else change its essential character; nor can anything else pierce its mystery; everything is essentially "self-so", "self-creating". "No thing knows any other thing," comments Lu Huiqing, "and so each returns to its own root."

Everything has its root in the spontaneous coming to be of things which has no causal explanation, for Dao does nothing, yet nothing is left undone. Things spontaneously arise, and for this reason, all things are ultimately dependent on nothing. All things "attain what they are", says Guo, "and vanishingly leave no trace." This is why we cannot know them, why we cannot grasp their essence.

This is a mere sketch of the philosophical basis for the understanding that though all things are mutually dependent, every one of them is ultimately independent. On the practical side it might be worthwhile considering your own shadow. Looking down at your shadow, are you able to understand in what way it is utterly independent of you? Are you able to momentarily break free of the grip of the concept of causation? If you can, you might then be able to realize your own independence; for make no mistake, in the realm of causation, you are no less dependent than your shadow.

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

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