Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's All a Story I

Scott Bradley

This is a story about how it's all a story. It really doesn't make a difference what is said or thought or believed; it's just a story. I speak of developing a philosophy of life by which to make the most of this story I call my life, and that philosophy is, of course, just a conveniently helpful story.

But there is reality; there is an earth inhabited by all manner of beasties, ourselves included, isn't there? Well, yes, but every single bit of its cognitive representation is an interpretation, and without that interpretative story, no meaning adheres to it. Here is a rock; is it really a rock, or is it just my thought that it is a rock? Without the thought, something may be there, but it isn't a “rock”. Empiricism and idealism are two seemingly antithetical stories, both of which work. Take your pick.

Consider the implications of the story that everything is a story. If this is the case, everyone has his or her own unique story about what the world (a story) is about. How are we to judge between them? Why would we want to? They're all just stories. Knowing this story, we begin to see that no great importance or truth accrues to any one story. Thus are we able to choose that story which best fulfills our needs. But first, we have to realize that our present story is a story; otherwise, we are unable to see beyond our story, which, as things typically stand, probably means we are living a story with less than optimum fulfillment.

If you know the thought of Zhuangzi, you might have already seen the parallels between this story about stories and his perspectival relativism. Everyone has their own unique perspective, and understanding this, we are able to formulate a perspective ("the view from Dao") which affirms them all; and this releases us into a freedom to wander in any story we choose without the disharmonious belief that our story is the true story.

A similar parallel can be seen in the Zhuangzian thesis that it's all a dream. After declaring that two debating sages are both dreaming, he adds that he, of course, is also dreaming. To awaken to the dreaming is not to cease dreaming; it is simply to become the master of your own dream by virtue of understanding that that is precisely what it is, a dreaming.

Zhuangzi's story does not believe one can escape all stories or awaken from all dreaming. "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map" — we remain 'unfixed'. Most stories that concern themselves with 'awakening' think in terms of the cessation of all dreaming; you wake up, realize the 'Truth', and dream no more. Obviously, if one believes he has had this experience, he is justified in expressing it thus. Zhuangzi's approach is much more modest, however, and, in my opinion, more honest in the context of life on this side of that theoretical river. It is not a search for truth, but a cessation of that search, that is the freedom found in his story.

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

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