Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reviving Chaos

Scott Bradley


The final passage of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi is the story of the death of Chaos. There were three emperors who were good friends, and since Chaos was the emperor of the middle empire, the other two would often meet there. So great was their appreciation of his hospitality they decided to do him a favor. "'All men have seven holes in them, by means of which they see, hear, eat and breathe,' they said. 'But this one alone has none. Let's drill him some.' So each day they drilled another hole. After seven days, Chaos was dead." (Ziporyn)

The lessons here are many. Perhaps the most obvious is that the imposition of our good intentions upon another are likely to do more harm than good. This is a recurrent theme in Zhuangzi's philosophy. Somewhere he says that, like fish, "The best thing we can do for each other is to forget each other in the rivers and lakes." If we are interested in the cultivation of our inner selves, here is a wonderful opportunity to explore why it is that we so readily first judge and then seek to change others. This urge is not incidental to our world-orientation; it is a fundamental expression of our bondage to self. Why not explore this?

More broadly, we see here the paramount Daoist appreciation of Chaos. Chaos represents Reality without the imposition of concepts. We do not know what Reality is. Stripped of all our metaphysical presuppositions, we face...Chaos. Calling it Nothingness or Void or Emptiness or Dao can be helpful, but unless we simultaneously realize it is not these 'things', we murder Chaos. In the Daoist vision, it is this Chaos which calls forth the abandonment and release of ourselves into...nothing.

If this sounds nonsensical, it might be helpful to remember that 'release' requires no object. This is all about us; it has nothing to do with 'something' outside of us. Ground zero is this subjective experience, yours and mine. "There is no faith deeper than at the end of all belief." (Chen Jen) "There is no greater love than love with no object." (Rumi)

To revive Chaos in ourselves is to return to the "uncarved block". Though we possess the "seven holes" common to all humans, and are typically enthralled and possessed by them, our most fundamental reality is Chaos. Daoism does not seek a Ground of Being; it seeks no 'place' to set an anchor secure and unmovable; it asks for no explanations, no answer, no purpose, no ‘birthright’, no ‘who I really am’. Rather, it finds its freedom in Drift and Doubt, in having no anchor at all. The "uncarved block" is what we are before the imposition of what we think or wish ourselves to be. It is the "us" that inexplicably and spontaneously happens; it is Chaos.

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

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