Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Obvious

Scott Bradley

Nothing is more manifest than the hidden;
Nothing is more obvious than the unseen.
Therefore the Master
pays attention to what is happening
within her innermost self.
~ Chung Yung (Stephen Mitchell adaptation) ~
Zhuangzi's "Illumination of the Obvious", which appears three times in the second of the Inner Chapters, is used to describe both the reason for the abandonment of definitive 'answers' and the consequence of that abandonment. There is obviously no sure answer to be found among those who nonetheless proclaim them since they all disagree with each other. Yet this lack of answers illuminates an entirely different way of interfacing with reality, a way of openness and non-knowing wherein one surrenders into the Unknown. But we need not only look to the 'answers' already provided by others, it is enough to discover the utter unknowing and unfixedness within ourselves. What is “obvious” and “manifest” is the “hidden” and “unseen”, and this is, indeed, “nothing”.

Mitchell, in his commentary on this passage (The Second Book of the Tao), concludes: "It's all about paying attention to what is happening within our innermost self, until the unseen, the unquestioned, is as obvious as the seen. When the mind is free of its thoughts, it becomes its own fulfillment." The mind is free, not because it has no thoughts, but because it has come to realize that they do not represent Reality, and thus it does not attach to them. Although Mitchell has his own 'attainment' (for lack of a better way to put it), I think we can see here, and in other 'spins' he offers, the influence of his wife, Byron Katie. The work is to question our thoughts so as to discover how they do not truly reflect Reality and, more importantly (to my thinking) make us miserable.

One reason I bring Katie into this discussion is that she makes clear how this inner work is only made possible through our actual interface with the 'real' world. It is in our response to the world that we discover the way in which our thoughts bind and harm us. Our anger at an injustice, for instance, reveals our non-acceptance of Reality. Reality, in this instance, is what happens; it doesn’t matter what speculative pronouncements we might make about whether it’s all illusion or a dream; it’s in our face, the obvious, in any case.

“Thus, the Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage’s only map. He makes no definition of what is right but instead entrusts it to the everyday function of each thing. This is what I call the Illumination of the Obvious.” (Zhuangzi, 2:29; Ziporyn) Free of knowing ‘answers’ ourselves, we are free to affirm every thing and to allow everyone his or her own ‘answers’. Thus are we able to “wander free and unfettered.”

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

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