Friday, August 31, 2012

No Offense

Scott Bradley

Shortly after the sentencing of members of the band Pussy Riot to two years in the re-education gulag, one of their husbands commented that those Orthodox "Christians" who were offended by Pussy’s cathedral performance were lousy Christians. I said, Amen.

But is that entirely the case? Were they orthodox Daoists or Buddhists, it certainly would be, for neither of these would, at least in theory, have anything 'sacred' to defend, and thus no reason to take offense. They would take offense, of course. Indeed, the offending party might not have survived the offended's riot. Daoism and Buddhism are religions after all.

The revealed, Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) do in fact have things sacred and thus things to defend. It's true that we are told we may defer justice because, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord", but it's hard not to be God-like when God is so human. God gets angry and offended, so why shouldn't we?

Though I don't recommend one do this, for practical as well as heartful reasons, I have long thought that the quickest test of the validity of any religion is to bad-mouth what it holds most sacred. It's then that we see whether they truly make a difference in the transformation of the human. Alas, they do not. This is why we have imagined "masters", "sages" and "saints"; it is necessary that we believe that at least someone gives truth to the validity of what we ourselves constantly invalidate.

All this was meant as an intro to a consideration of theme of "the empty boat" found in Zhuangzi 20. It's one of my favorite tropes. No one would get offended by an empty boat colliding with his own, but put someone in that boat and he would. In an unexpected twist, the moral is that it is our boat that should be empty. If no one is there, no offense is given or felt — ever.

Mitchell (The Second Book of the Tao) takes it a step further and adapts it thus: "Realize that all boats are empty as you cross the river of the world, and nothing can possibly offend you." Though such an approach echoes the assertions of ‘Eastern’ speculative metaphysics, its roots in this case are grounded in a philosophy much more concrete. Once again, we are confronted with the perspective that all is well. Everything that happens — relative to our individual being in the world — is good and perfect. Mitchell comments, “Once you take total responsibility for your life, you understand that no one is the doer.” When your boat is empty, all boats are empty.

If you are having a hard time connecting all these dots, that’s understandable. Yet they can be, if we care to spend the meditative time necessary to allow the picture to emerge. But you’ve no doubt got a life that demands to be lived right now in a more practical way, and no time for connecting seemingly disparate dots.

I hope that doesn’t offend.

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

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