Sunday, June 24, 2012

The View from Nowhere

Scott Bradley

Waley (The Way and Its Power) tells us that "The first great principle of Taoism is the relativity of all attributes. Nothing is either long nor short." Whether "first" or not, it is an important one.

The relativity of the comparative concepts of long and short is both a familiar and relatively uncontroversial one. (More controversial is the application of the same principle to "right and wrong".) One thing may be shorter than another, but it is also necessarily longer than yet another. Thus, the terms are relative. The importance of this is that it gives us a glimpse of the essential equality of things, which pertains to an understanding of reality outside that dominant aspect of mind which must of necessity make such distinctions. To experience this non-discriminating understanding is to experience the view from Dao, "for in Tao," Waley continues, "all opposites are blended, all contrasts harmonized."

The consequence of such an experiential understanding is inner peace and harmony, which is ultimately (let's face it) the whole point of the exercise.

What I call the view from Dao, Waley calls the view from Nowhere, which is in contrast to the view from Anywhere, and I think this gives yet another glimpse into that transcendent view to which Daoism aspires: "Looked at from Anywhere, the world is full of insecurities and contradictions; looked at from Nowhere, it is a changeless uniform whole. In this identity of opposites all antinomies, not merely high and low, long and short, but life and death themselves merge."

The contemplation of the view from Nowhere ("the vast wilds of open nowhere", as Zhuangzi puts it) does indeed provide a means by which to understand that we naturally adopt a view from Somewhere which necessarily entails a relative viewpoint. Waley, however, might be pushing the dualistic character of the two views too far. Nowhere and Somewhere are themselves susceptible to harmonization; it is not so much a "changeless uniform whole" that Daoism envisions, but an endless evolution. And it not the negation of the relative world that constitutes freedom, but its inclusion in a broader view.

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

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