Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Creator

Scott Bradley

There are a few passages in which Zhuangzi refers to a Creator, though never with an air of any great conviction. It is much as he speaks of Yin and Yang, dragons, and vast fish and birds; without belief himself, he is free to make use of popular lore and belief to serve his purposes. His point of view requires no negation of other points of view to prop itself up. In this, one gets a sense of his freedom.

Zhuangzi had the advantage of never having been a true believer, of course. Nor was he immersed in a culture that subscribed to belief in a Creator; perhaps to speak of a Creator was itself as strange as discussing sages who subsisted on dew alone. In any case, it's informative to consider my own reaction to a reference to a Creator in contrast to Zhuangzi's ease in making it.

There is a surprising similarity between one such reference and a biblical one. It has to do with acceptance of one's circumstances. Would it not be as ridiculous for metal to leap out of the forge and demand to be made into a legendary sword, asks a fellow being twisted into a pretzel by disease (Zhuangzi, 6:42)? Rather, he accepts with equanimity whatever befalls him. Paul, in Romans, makes almost the exact same point using the same analogy — who are we to be resentful of what God does or does not do?

Admittedly, Zhuangzi's forger-creator has by now transmorphed into "The Great Clump", and Paul's chunk of metal would be rebelling not merely against benign circumstances but against having been created and chosen for the express purpose of eternal torment, but still the parallel is curious as well as instructive.

Could Zhuangzi have taken Paul's horrendous proposition and run with it to the same conclusion that there is vast freedom in joyful surrender into what is? I'm not sure, but think not. There are beliefs the contents of which are inherently destructive of the realization of human fulfillment. Nevertheless, Mitchell (The Second Book of the Tao) in reference to this passage from the Zhuangzi, comments: “‘The Creator’: That's one way of putting it. Let's project a personal god, an intention, to see if even a trace of resentment can be found."

If one were a sage and had indeed realized the release of surrender (having embraced the Totality where nothing can be lost or gained), perhaps no such trace could be found. But, alas, we are not sages, and as those who must work toward a realization of that freedom, a belief in the whims of such a Creator-Torturer would be a poor means of doing so. A raised, one fingered fist would seem a more appropriate response. Yes, much more than a trace of resentment remains, but thankfully, we have become better than the gods we have created and need not give them further thought. (Even as Socrates declared himself not against the gods, but only against the ridiculously immoral, fabricated gods of his culture.)

Still, Mitchell's proposed test of our release from resentfulness into thankfulness challenges.

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

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