Monday, August 6, 2012

Moral Soup

Scott Bradley

When you understand the sense in which east and west are opposed to each other and yet indispensable to each other, you have clarified the allotments of their positive effects. From the point of view of the inclinations of various beings, if we consider something right because someone considers it right, then no thing is not right. If we consider it wrong because someone considers it wrong, then no thing is not wrong....So if someone says, 'Why don't we make only rightness our master and eliminate wrongness, make only order our master and eliminate chaos?' this is someone who has not yet understood how heaven and earth fit together, and the way the ten thousand things really are. That would be like taking Heaven alone as your master...
(Zhuangzi, 17; Ziporyn)
This passage is what inspired Chen Jen's: "Embrace the right, and the wrong shall rule. Cling to hope, and despair will cling to you." The right is defined by the wrong, so in embracing the right, we are not being guided by the right but by the wrong.

However, the author's main point is that, in the real world, right and wrong are so hopelessly mixed together we cannot declare any one thing either right or wrong. It is interesting how he brings in the Heaven versus Humanity debate here. To "take Heaven alone as master" is idealism; it is to impose a moral standard on the world that is not in fact what we find in the real world. The essence of religion is just this imposition of the imagined on the real. Can we say that in this sense philosophical Daoism is empirical? Does it not derive its perspective from the world as it is, rather than how we might wish it to be? How do we attain the "view from Dao" except through understanding and accepting the world as it is? Is not this view in fact an attempt to let reality inform us of Reality? This is the “Illumination of the Obvious”.

The author has put these words in the mouth of the god of the ocean, and his interlocutor, the god of the river, is dismayed: "But what should I do? What should I not do?" We might wonder why he should ask; doesn't his heart guide him? Why does he require some external standard?

The god of the ocean, for his part, says, "Do not unify your conduct, but be uneven and varied along with the Dao." Does this not dynamite the foundations of our fixed and idealist deceptions? What's left? Only freedom. And fear for the world? What about all those bad people out there? What about them? If you can trust your own heart, this is for you; forget the others. To worry about how this would affect 'bad people' is to turn it into just another moral doctrine to be imposed on the world. It is not a doctrine, but a way of being, and thus has nothing to do with those not living in that way.

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

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