Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Qi-Spot Revisited II

Scott Bradley

Confucius said, 'If you merge all your intentions into a solidarity, 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. For the ears are halted at what they hear. The mind is halted at what verifies its preconceptions. But the vital energy is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings."
Zhuangzi, 4:9; Ziporyn)
Realizing that our preferential choosing between things, good or bad, is essentially indicative of the same inhibiting inclination of mind, we are able to "hear" in a different way. ("Choosing between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind," says the Hsin-Hsin Ming.) "Hear" what?

What we "hear" is our interpretation of reality, how we understand the nature of the world and our relationship to it. Hearing with the ear is taking things and opinions at face value. It might be compared to believing the sun revolves around the earth — it 'rises' and 'sets'. Hearing with the mind goes one step further and seeks to understand the actual workings of things. The earth revolves around the sun. There is, no doubt, a place for both these ways of hearing, but they are severely limited in their ability to transcend the encapsulated workings of human consciousness as presently manifest.

According to Dr. Ziporyn, "The mind stops at tallies" is the literal translation of what he renders, "The mind stops at what verifies its preconceptions." A "tally" was a piece of bamboo broken in an irregular manner and held by two parties as a means to proving their connective identity in legal matters. Proof of this relationship was demonstrated in the exact meshing of the two pieces. Ziporyn's rendering essentially says, "The mind understands what it wants to understand" or, more kindly, "The mind can understand only those things which mesh with its own nature". The nature of the "understanding consciousness" (mind) is one of words and concepts, and these necessarily stop where words cannot go.

It is necessary to discover a different kind of "understanding", one that goes beyond concepts and experiences reality directly. This is hearing with qi (chi). This concept has a long and immensely important history in Chinese philosophy and I cannot pretend to have a grasp of that history or to be able to put Zhuangzi's qi in that historical context. I can only take it as given here and that, I think, is sufficient to our purposes.

"Qi (vital energy) is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings." The ear and mind stop at their relatively limited understanding of reality because they are, in a sense, already full. They are full of words and concepts; they already 'understand' and thus cannot understand what cannot be understood. Qi is empty; and emptiness is receptive openness. Qi is not an entity, a force, or anything of the kind; it represents the portal, the 'event horizon', where things arise out of apparent nothingness. It represents the point of origin of our own existence, our inner connection to "the vastness at the root of things". It is that event in which what isn't done is done.

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

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