Thursday, July 5, 2012

Forgetting One Another

Scott Bradley

When the springs dry up, the fish have to cluster on the shore, gasping on each other to keep damp and spitting on each other to stay wet. But that is no match for forgetting all about one another in the rivers and lakes. Rather than praising Yao and condemning Jie, we'd be better off forgetting them both and transforming along our own courses [daos].
(Zhuangzi, 6:25; Ziporyn)
There is in both Daoism and Zen persistent reference to the necessary solitude of the spiritual journey. Those envisioned as having awakened to the nature of things are said to walk alone in total solitude. For some, this may seem appealing; for others it may be off-putting and even morally questionable. But, though we must certainly bring our personal human inclinations to the party, in the end, it is not we that determine the nature of things. Reality, even as filtered through the human experience, must ultimately reveal itself irrespective of our preferences. The Illumination of the Obvious is just this: allowing Reality to speak. Only then are we able to harmonize with it. The alternative, telling Reality what it is, may be a way helpful to some, but it is not the Daoist way.

It is commendable that the fish should wish to support one another in their distress when the springs have dried up, but Zhuangzi would likely suggest that there is a spring which has not dried up, and as long as the fish insist on focusing on the other, and themselves in relation to the other, they will not find it. This theme of the complete non-dependence of the individual on anything is central to Zhuangzi's way. We are, each one, utterly responsible for our own harmony. It matters not one iota whether the creek has run dry or others find us lacking or worthy of praise. Harmony is not something arrived at through the manipulation of circumstances, but that which arises in relation to every circumstance.

No doubt you find reason enough to find fault in me through some of what I say here; I can assure you that were you to actually know me, you would find much more. Unfortunately for you, this effort would be better spent understanding why you find it necessary to find fault in the first place. But still I, for my part, would do well to listen closely to what you have to say, for that which impinges upon us is that through which we grow. It is not a question of being oblivious to others, but of not taking things onboard personally; this is what Zhuangzi means when he tells us to avoid letting things enter our Numinous Reservoir. Having no dog in the fight, no 'name' to defend, there is nothing that can befall us which can destroy our peace. And to the extent that we allow things to upset us or to cause us to react defensively, we have failed to let them teach us.

Yao and Jie were taken as supreme examples of good and evil men respectively. Zhuangzi recommends that we forget how others behave and allow our own characters to transform as they will. This requires immense trust. For my part, despite my many character flaws, I have no fear where this might take me. Nor do I worry about where it might theoretically take a Jie, for he is only Jie for his failure to follow such a course.

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

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