Saturday, July 7, 2012

Every Circumstance Is Heaven

Scott Bradley

Who can see nothingness as his own head, life as his spine, and death as his own ass? Who knows the single body formed by life and death, existence and nonexistence? I will be his friend!
(Zhuangzi, 6:40; Ziporyn)
With these words four guys laughed and became fast friends. Perhaps they had also been working on a flagon of wine and this vision of the single body of Reality came easily, but their words were soon to be put to the test. Two of them soon became deathly ill.

One, Ziyu, managed to crawl to a nearby well where he could look down at his reflection and see what a mess he had become. Asked whether this displeased him, he replied, "Getting it [health/life] is a matter of the time coming, and losing it is just something else to follow along with. Content in the time and finding one's place in the process of following along, joy and sorrow are unable to seep in. This is what the ancients called 'the Dangle and Release'. We cannot release ourselves — being beings, we are always tied up by something. But it has long been the case that mere beings cannot overpower Heaven. What is there for me to dislike about it?"

If every circumstance is "Heaven", and we have identified ourselves not as discreet agents vying against Reality when it seems to threaten us, but as manifestations of its transformative nature, then whatever we encounter is simply an opportunity to follow along with it. Every circumstance is thus an invitation to deepen the experience of transcendence.

Every circumstance is "Heaven". Heaven is the presently unavoidable. Reality is never 'out there'. It is never other than this immediate experience. If that experience is one of unhappy rebellion, then that, too, is Reality. We can begin there. Can you laugh at your unhappiness?

Joy and sorrow, if received preferentially, only serve to disquiet us. Preferenced joy only guarantees painful sorrow. And in a world where we are always "tied up" by some circumstance or another, there is likely to be more of the latter than the former. It is not that the sage experiences neither joy nor sorrow, but that she is able to follow along with both and thereby find joy in both. As one commentator elsewhere suggests, her joy is that both joy and sorrow are an occasion for joy. Nothingness. But nothingness only designates what we cannot conceive. To think it means nothingness is to fail to understand nothingness.

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

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