Friday, July 6, 2012

The Vastest Arrangement

Scott Bradley

The Great Clump burdens me with a physical form, labors me in life, eases me with old age, rests me with death. So it is precisely because I consider my life good that I consider my death good. You may hide a boat in a ravine...thinking it is secure there.... [Yet it can be stolen.] But if you hide the world in the world, so there is nowhere for anything to escape to, this is an arrangement, the vastest arrangement, that can sustain all things. This human form is merely a circumstance that has been met with, just stumbled into, but those who have become humans delight in it nevertheless. Now the human form in its time undergoes ten thousand transformations, never stopping for an instant — so the joys it brings must be beyond calculation! Hence, the sage uses it to roam in that from which nothing ever escapes...
(Zhuangzi, 6:26-29; Ziporyn)
This pivotal passage is well worth quoting in full since it so succinctly summarizes a major aspect of Zhuangzi's philosophy. His solution to the anxieties of death and human inadequacy is to simply identify completely with the all-embracing vastness from which absolutely nothing can escape. There is a price, of course. To so identify requires surrender of the belief that we are in control and our attachment to a sense of sacrosanct personal identity. Yet, put in a different light, it simply requires an abandonment of the source of all anxiety. Thus, this surrender is not a pre-condition to joyous roaming, it is not a 'reward', but is the experience itself.

"The Great Clump" is a term sufficiently irreverent to remind us that our surrender is into the utterly unknowable. This is not a form of bhakti yoga; we are not invited to worship. Vastness is formless, and we will find nothing there to which to attach. If there is belief, it is that there is nothing specific in which to believe. There is trust — trust in what cannot be avoided, in any case. Ultimately, "vastness" is a state of mind.

Nor is this a way of negation. Yes, a certain fallacy — the belief that a sense of personal identity has anything but a momentary existence — is discarded, but life is affirmed as joyous "beyond calculation", and the sage, having lost himself in the vastness, retains, nonetheless, that whereby he can joyously roam in the incidental gift of human existence.

It's not a bad arrangement — if you can realize it.

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

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