Friday, June 29, 2012

Freedom from Fame

Scott Bradley

Who can free himself from achievement and fame,
Descend and be lost amidst the masses of men?
He will be like Tao itself, unseen.
He will go about like Life itself, with no name and no home.
(The Way of Chuang Tzu; Merton)
I have quoted this passage from Thomas Merton's adaptation of the Zhuangzi many times; for me it cuts right to the heart of the Daoist project. (I have quoted it from memory on this occasion, and probably not without error).

Personally, at first glance, it might seem that there is little for me to free myself from. Achievement? Fame? I frankly can't lay claim to a whole lot of either. But it isn't really achievement and fame from which one needs to be free; it is the desire for them that is at issue. And this desire is not some appendage attached to a larger self, but the very essence of the egoic-self itself. It is the instinctual need to be 'somebody'. Overturn this, says Zhuangzi, and you are free.

To be free of this insular, Ptolemaic orientation is not unlike the Copernican revolution that so effectively shook humanity from its sense of centrality in the Universe. Suddenly, the Universe is vast and Earth a mere speck on the outer edge of a minor galaxy; we are not special.

To truly identify with Dao or Life is to lose the need for an individuated identity. Is there Dao? Is there Life? It does not matter. What matters is that one understands experientially that he is an expression of the Whole.

To lose one's self is to gain it. What is the pursuit of 'name' but an acknowledgement that one's self is essentially a lack, an emptiness that cannot be filled? There is no achievement or fame that can fill that void. Only in identification with that emptiness — call it Dao or call it Life — is one free of the need to fill it.

Universality is the redemption of individuality. Oneness is the guarantor of not-oneness. Lost amidst the masses of humanity, one's individuality finds all that it needs to flourish.

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

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