Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Walking Two Roads

Scott Bradley

If you have been reading these posts for any time, you will have noticed my frequent reference to Zhuangzi's concept of "Walking Two Roads". I may very well have taken it beyond what he meant in its original context (where it is used to describe the ability to "follow along with the present this" as evinced by a monkey trainer's flexibility vis-a-vis the demands of his monkeys), but still I think it might be useful in understanding his philosophy in its entirety.

"Walking Two Roads" describes the sage's full embrace of things both Human and "Heavenly". Because the monkey trainer realized that it made no difference whether he gave his monkeys two nuts in the morning and three in the evening or visa versa, he was able to comply with the monkeys' wishes. His transcendent perspective, one that embraced all perspectives, enabled him to walk two roads. He was able to be both in the world and yet beyond it.

In his discussion of the differences between the Human and the Heavenly (Chapter 6), Zhuangzi tells us that for the sage, Oneness and non-oneness are the same. On the one hand, he understands and affirms human aspirations, yet on the other he understands that they are of no great consequence. On the one hand he is able to say "all is well", yet on the other, he is able to endeavor to make them so. He is able to understand the world as transcendent of right and wrong, yet he is able to work for the harmony of things.

This affirming flexibility begins with one's individual experience. Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692) comments: "If you possess Genuine Knowledge, but reject the unevenness of things...then you posit the Heavenly and the Human, opposed counterparts that can never be one. You want to use the Heavenly to overcome the Human and set about waging war on the Human. But for the Heavenly to win out over the Human in this way is perhaps no real victory. For the Heavenly is Heavenly, to be sure, but the Human is also the Heavenly. To 'labor your spirit trying to make all things one' [2:23] is to see the Heavenly but not the Human...." (Zhuangzi; Ziporyn)

Understanding that Dao is all things as manifest enables one to both embrace the Oneness and the non-oneness. It enables growth toward the harmony of Oneness without waging war on non-oneness. The way to growth is a way of peace, not of war. Understanding that no conditions need be met, conditions change.

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

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