Sunday, June 17, 2012

Crazy Words III

Scott Bradley

The madman Jieyu continues his song challenging Confucius:
Good fortune is lighter than a feather, yet no one can carry it for long.
Trouble is heavier than earth, yet no one can get it to drop away.
(Zhuangzi, 4:20; Ziporyn)
Daoism makes a great deal of paired opposites — life and death, good and evil, honor and disgrace, good fortune and bad —i n its efforts to suggest a perspective and frame of mind which can unite them. As long as they are taken as objects of preference, we are ruled by them. Our peace is determined by circumstances. If, on the other hand, we are able to unite them as on "one string", then their constant fluctuations mean nothing more than the unfolding of the ever-transforming Reality in which we dwell.

This is not simply a mental exercise, but a prelude to a mystical one. Zhuangzi spends much time making a logical argument for the equality of paired opposites, but his aim is to bring the mind to that place where it interfaces with what it cannot know, and takes a leap there. I like to call this reality beyond knowing Mystery. Vastness also works. The 'view from Dao' speaks to its perspectival aspect. But in naming it we must remember it is not a thing, but an experience. To enter here is to experience a Totality in which distinctions do not apply. This is where independence and freedom to wander resides.

Our preference for good fortune over trouble is what Zhuangzi calls a "characteristic human inclination", and it is this which disallows our peace. Attaching to one interpretive event necessarily causes anxiety and fear, for its interpretive opposite is sure to arise, both as a potentiality and a reality. If our peace is contingent on what we consider positive circumstances, then we will have no true peace either in them or in their opposite circumstances.

Because the success of his dao requires a prescribed set of circumstances to happen in the world, Confucius cannot realize this freedom. But this is just one spin on his actual experience. Elsewhere (Chapter 17), he is represented as happily playing his zither while surrounded by a hostile mob because, as he says, his "fate is already sealed". Because he is here represented as having "handed it all over to the unavoidable", he experiences peace, despite the failure of his worldly aspirations. Thus, the paired opposites of attachment and non-attachment are likewise seen as a false distinction.

Seeking the betterment of the world, the increased happiness of others, is in no way incompatible with freedom from the success or failure of that aspiration. All is well in either case. Transcendence is not a turning of the back to the world, but that which enables one to be engaged in the world most effectively for both the world and oneself.

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

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