Friday, June 22, 2012

Taking My Dao To the Laundromat

Scott Bradley

Some time ago I wrote a post entitled Taking Zen to the Laundromat in which I bemoaned the fact that, though Zen is rich with spiritual insight, it is so encrusted with religiosity I find it difficult to access that insight. It would be nice if we could launder out the religious paraphernalia. Yes, I agree; that's my problem.

Here's another take on the same theme, this time a bit closer to home. Since I have used Zhuangzi as a place of departure for the growth of my own path (a dao), a great deal of my thinking and vocabulary is naturally that of his form of proto-Daoism. Dao, de, qi, yin, yang, Vastness — all these terms belong, in some sense, to a religious tradition. Even though I do not see Zhuangzi's philosophy as strictly religious, Daoism in general quickly became so.

I use these terms, but I don't believe any of them; none of them represent actual realities; they are merely terms descriptive of various aspects of spiritual experience, just as the word 'spiritual' does not, for me, denote the existence of a "spirit" within me. As such, I have for the most part been able to comfortably use them. Yet, there is a tension here (in myself) which I have tried to clarify by stating that I am definitely not a Daoist. In another post ("Faith Crisis!"), I said, "Thanks for the leg-up Zhuangzi (or pseudo-Zhuangzi); I can take it from here!" Taking my dao to the laundromat would be the process whereby I distilled out what I have learned and experienced consequent to my study of Zhuangzi and other traditions so as to free it from any religious matrix.

Doing this would, I believe, bring a great deal more clarity to this philosophy and make it more thoroughly my own. The more I can do this, the more I am likely to receive from Zhuangzi himself, in any case. Needless to say, I have been doing this all along, but I feel there's a long way to go.

I have previously made up a few "sages" (Sue-tzu, Chen Jen, Zhouzi) through whom I have been able to develop my philosophy at a remove — they were not I, and consequently I could somewhat paradoxically learn from them. As a mere devotee, I was also not obliged to embody their teachings; I was less a hypocrite. If I make up a new "sage", he will be a thoroughly modern one, one who teaches that distilled philosophy I mentioned above. All that holds me back is that he would be more "me", and thus, to avoid the hypocrisy this would entail, I wait.

(I apologize for having used "I" 31 times in the post!)

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Love this post. It mirrors my own experience with Zen and Daoism. However, I *have* met a real Daoist sage: Raymond Smullyan, whom I mentioned to you before. He doesn't follow any spiritual or religious path, but everyone who spends a little time with him comes out slightly more illuminated, so to speak. (Here's a long bio; worth reading as it captures Ray's spirit rather well -- scroll down a bit to read his own words:

  2. From that link I ended up here and found it enjoyable. I also noted I'd actually read his book some time ago. I remember enjoying the book but disliking, at that time, how he could make such a statement that the Tao is or is not anything :-)


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