Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Qi-Spot Revisited I

Scott Bradley

In the next several posts I am going to indulge in some textual commentary on what seems to me to be one of the most definitive passages in the Zhuangzi, "Confucius'" explanation of the "fasting of the mind" as a means to...let's call it "awakening".

Yan Hui has asked leave to go transform a tyrant. Confucius tells him he isn't ready and suggests fasting of the mind as a means to become so. It is worth noting that when this path is explained and Yan has actually realized it, the implications are then re-applied to the practical job of politics; the so-called spiritual is not seen as in an other-worldly vacuum.
Yan Hui said, 'What is the fasting of the mind?'" Confucius said, 'If you can merge all your intentions into a singularity, you will come to hear with the mind rather than with the ears. Further, you will come to hear with the vital energy (qi) rather than with the mind."
(4:9; Ziporyn)
This is rather vague and suggestive at this remove, being open to several interpretive translations and still more interpretations of that. At best we can only interact with it and allow it to mean what speaks to us.

What does it mean to "merge all intentions into a solidarity"? Yan has already demonstrated himself to be full of intentions, plans and schemes. Does this mean that he should have only one single desire — awakening — and when he manages this, awakening will occur? There are advocates of this approach. Richard Rose, the "hillbilly" guru, was probably one of them. He said something to the effect that, "In the moment when you want it with your entire being, it will be true in you." His approach seems to have been direct, confrontational, and in-your-face. If you will allow me to bend terms out of their original meaning, I would say that he was a Yangist (in the Yin/Yang sense). Assertiveness and confrontation lead us to Truth.

Personally, I subscribe to what might seem to be an exact opposite approach, a Yinist view, which I believe to be the Daoist view; awakening comes through openness and acceptance. From this point of view, neither of these approaches is right or wrong; their only evaluative merit resides in their effectiveness, and both have proven 'successes'. To "merge all intentions into a solidarity", in this case, means to understand that all intentions are the same; in the end, it does not matter what motivates them, whether we might think these motivations good or bad, it is the fact of their scheming and planning of which we must become aware.

This parallels the understanding of Buddhism and Hinduism that love and aversion, apparent opposites, are but two sides of the same coin, expressions of a singular attribute of mind which disallows transcendence. When we understand this, we are able to dis-attach the mechanism of our preferential choosing from its objects. Our focus is on the choosing, not the right or wrong of the reasons for doing so. It's about how we respond to the world, not how the world is, that matters most. "The Way is not difficult," says the Hsin-Hsin Ming, "only let go of choosing."

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

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