Saturday, June 16, 2012

Crazy Words IIA

Scott Bradley

When the Course [Dao] is present in the world, the sage perfects himself with it.
When the Course is lacking in the world, he lives his own life with it.
But in the present age, avoiding execution is the best he can do with it.
(Zhuangzi, 4:29; Ziporyn)
The madman Jieyu continues his song critiquing the impossible position of Confucius who believes the success of his dao is contingent on transforming the world. What he most significantly adds is a flexibility born of a non-contingent, utterly non-dependent dao. He basically agrees with Confucius that in some sense the complete 'perfection' of a sage is realized in bringing the world along with him in his personal realization. Yet, from a Daoist perspective, no such link is, or can be, essential; indeed, it is his freedom from the need to transform the world which, should the times be suitable, might effect its transformation.

When the political world has no intention of allowing itself to be transformed, but rather brings the weight of its violent hold on power to bear upon those who would transform it, then the sage is 'perfected' in his own experience, quite apart from his effect upon the world. From the Daoist perspective, this is no less perfection than the other, for that perfection consists in complete independence from the contingencies of life (through the contingencies of life).

It might help to look at this equation from a more immediately accessible circumstance, an interpersonal one. Let's say you are the parent of an adult child who is suffering terribly from an addiction. Ideally, you would wish that you could bring him into your own sphere of peace. But unless that child is psychologically ready to hear you, any attempts to transform him would only serve to harden him against you. The best course is to be who you are in your peace, and allow your child to respond if and when he is ready to do so. The essential thing is that you have your peace in either case.

A Christian friend recently gave me a statistic regarding the percentage of children who continue in the faith of their Christian parents; it was something like twenty percent. Might not this be because Christianity, like Confucianism, has a content-full message which it feels obliged to impose on others?

Is the present age in the United States one in which significant transformation can be effected? I suspect not. I admit to having a rather pessimistic opinion about the near-term prospects for freedom, justice and peace in the world. I would happily be proven wrong, but I think things will have to become much worse before they can become better. The federally inspired crackdown on the occupy movement is, I believe, just a pale beginning of the violence this government is willing to perpetrate on its people to preserve the power of the plutocracy which America has become. When the economy collapses and we free-range chickens hit the streets, I think this government is capable of a violence equal to that which we see in Syria or in that great American ally, Bahrain. They will have our eggs, and if that requires clipping our beaks and caging us, so be it.

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

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