Thursday, August 16, 2012


Scott Bradley

Nothing in the world is bigger
than the tip of an autumn hair.
No one in the world has lived longer
than a stillborn child,
and Methuselah died young.
The universe came into being
the moment that I was born
and all things are one with me.

(Zhuangzi 2; Mitchell's adaptation)
Though I often nit-pick, I do find many of Mitchell's adaptations in The Second Book of the Tao very inspiring. Because of the complexity and apparent obscurity of much of Zhuangzi's discourse, it can be a big help to read it simplified.

For the most part, Zhuangzi's argument for the relativity of all things and perspectives seems to proceed on logical grounds, but the point to which he hopes to brings us is anything but. This passage is as powerful as any koan, and dares us to go where reason cannot.

Every comparison is necessarily rendered absurd by virtue of being relative. This hair tip may be small, but there is always something smaller to which it is bigger. If we wish to compare, everything is both big and small, so how can we call anything small?

Ziporyn renders "a stillborn child" as "a dead child". There's a big difference between the two; or is there? A dead child has lived; the stillborn child has not. Is this apples and oranges, or is there really no difference between what has lived and what has not? Here is a point at which we can disappear. Or, if you prefer, consider that the few years of a dead child is as full and complete as the centuries lived by the biblical Methuselah — just as the life of a "morning mushroom" is as complete as that of a sequoia.

If the universe is born together with me, does it not also die together with me? If it has no objective reality, how could it not? We think it will continue without us, that it is a "thing" apart from our thoughts, but doesn't it die with us? Isn't it just an idea, a dream?

There are two sides to this perspective. On the one hand, all things are infinitely negated. On the other, they are infinitely affirmed. There is negation in understanding that 'has lived' and 'has never lived' are the same. There is affirmation in understanding that, without comparisons, everything is complete and fulfilled just as it is. The dead child had a full life because that was the life it had.

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

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