Sunday, August 12, 2012

Human Nature II

Scott Bradley


I am responding to the Chung Yung's assertion: "What is bestowed upon us at birth is called human nature." Stephen Mitchell (The Second Book of the Tao) suggests that a problem arises when we do not correctly understand what human nature is. I would suggest a problem arises when we assume that there is such a thing as "human nature" at all, if that is taken as something preexisting what we are or might potentially become. Am I simply quibbling? Perhaps. Yet, I do think it important, though I will restate one of my many mantras: You don't have to get it right to get it.

I admit to finding it difficult to articulate what I wish to say here. This is in large part because I am going well beyond my philosophical and intellectual, not to mention spiritual, depth. But if I cannot wade, I'll swim. I would suggest that the approach of Zhuangzi's philosophical Daoism is Existential as opposed to Essential; there is no fixed purpose or meaning or goal in life; there is no "human nature" apart from the one that arises from the unfolding of life in humans. We are all different and thus the human nature we are and might become is different in each individual. There is no template to find and to which to aspire. There is only this particular life and what we might individually make of it.

Mitchell, like the Zen he has practiced, seems to believe there is a predestined purpose for humanity. We are meant to become enlightened and realize some cosmic, metaphysical Reality. This is essentially a religious position in that it provides a goal preexistent to what we experience. This requires much more knowing than I am able to manage, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with Zhuangzi's open-ended, non-contentful abandonment into the Unknown. Zhuangzi's vision of transcendence is innocent of metaphysical belief.

I would suggest that this shift from spiritual Essentialism to spiritual Existentialism can in itself be a bursting of the bubble of our discriminating mind; it is that contrary to our typical way of proceeding in the world. Life is what you make it, not what you should make it. You are who you are, not who you should be. Human nature is the way you presently are and the unfolding of what you might become, not some platonic ideal preexisting your individual existence. We discriminate because we have an idea of how things should be, and we judge accordingly. If everything is already what it 'should' be by virtue of being what it is, what room is there for discrimination between things? Mitchell would, I believe, affirm this point of view despite his point of departure.

If there is in you a desire for greater fulfillment, this is part of your nature, and the way to realize that fulfillment is to further realize that nature. Fulfillment is not a matter of filling in the blanks with answers, but of harmonizing with those blanks. This is the “Illumination of the Obvious”, the transformative acceptance of how things actual are.

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

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